Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Church's "Involvement in Politics"

This morning I jogged for three hours. I came back in time for the 10:30 mass. This is what I preached in our church:

29th Sunday A
Mt 22:15-21

There are politicians and commentators who are annoyed by the Church's vigorous opposition to House Bill 5043 (Reproductive Health Bill). They see this as, once again, the Church's unwarranted involvement and interference in politics - a travesty to the principle of separation of church and state.

"Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."

This is the favorite text of those who think the the Church should mind its own business and not be involved in political matters.
President Marcos used to appeal to this text when Church leaders denounced the abuse of power and corruption of his dictatorial regime. When I was arrested, and imprisoned during the early years of Martial Law, this was the text that my interrogators quoted to me while torturing me.

In our Gospel today, Jesus did say these words. But to interpret the text in reference to the separation of Church and State is misleading. Neither can it be understood as a prohibition against the Church's involvement in "political matters."
Let us remember that Jesus was asked by the Pharisees who wanted to trap him whether Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. If he answered yes, he would be accused of collaborating with the Roman occupiers. If he said no, he would be accused of subversion.
Jesus does not give a direct answer. When Jesus says that one should render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God, what Jesus is saying is that while a person can be respectful of civil authority, the ultimate loyalty and obedience is due to God alone.
Caesar and God are not co-equal. Nor can the world be divided into 2 spheres: that religious and political sphere. God is greater than Caesar. No civil authority can arrogate to itself what belongs to God. "I am God and there is no other." This is what our first reading reminds us.
The members and leaders of the Church are called to be good citizens. And everyone should obey that laws of the state. But this does not mean that we have to agree with all the policies and laws that are to be imposed on us, especially when these are against our conscience and against the law of God.

The Church have often been accused of interfering in politics and violating the principle of separation of church and state But the separation of Church and state simply means that there should be no official state religion and that the state should respect and guarantee the free exercise of religion for all. It does not mean that the Church has no right to oppose or criticize laws and policies that are harmful to the common good.
The Church leaders cannot dictate to its members who to vote for and what laws to pass. Nor can it take over the function of civil authorities. But it is part of the Church's prophetic mission to proclaim the message about the sacredness of life, the rights of all - including the unborn, about justice and peace. The church is called to be the conscience of society. When political issues become moral issues, then the Church has the duty and obligation to speak out. It is part of the Church's prophetic mission to denounce evil - especially the culture of death, of violence and corruption, of injustice. When the Church does so, it is not to protect its vested interest or to prove its power but out of service.
Those who oppose the Church's "involvement in politics" should remember EDSA I and II could not have happened had the Church remained silent and stayed in the sidelines.

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