"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Saturday, May 19, 2007 Church, State and St. Dunstan
"The Church shouldn't be involved in politics."
I hear this one all the time ... particularly when I'm talking about the ONE Campaign or urging people as part of faithful living, to be in dialogue with their senators and representatives particularly about issues concerning the poor.
Enter Dunstan, 10th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, whose feast we celebrate today. Dunstan led a reform movement that closely bound the monasteries of England to the crown. He was a trusted friend of King Edgar and had a great deal of in the royal court.
Talking about Dunstan today as a positive model is liable to make lots of people nervous. Certainly the kind of merging of the State and a particular institution of the Church that existed in England (and greatly encouraged by Dunstan's efforts) is part of what this country was founded over against. Certainly a great fear with the current administration is that they are repeating exactly what happened with Edgar and Dunstan -- that the Church is being invited into the courts of the State and that the Church is actually doing the ruling.
I'm not arguing a return to the court of King Edgar. But I am arguing that even though it isn't part of our tradition as Americans, it is part of our tradition as Christians not to shy away from involvement in affairs of State. Sam Portaro, in his great companion book to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, "Brightest and Best," makes this point better than I:
"People are sometimes rattled (or annoyed)that I do not often wear my clerical collar. It is not that they need the symbol, but that they resent a religious person who goes stalking their world in plain clothes. Collaring their priest is rather like belling the cat so the birds will hear it coming: clerical collars warn the unsuspecting of a dangerous intrusion of religion into those spheres of life they prefer to keep separate from the church.
Dunstan believed that such separations are false, even contrary, to God's reality. There is no place in this world where God is not, and no place where we should not be. For him, politics and government were as much a part of life in God as his monasticism.
...God formed the earth and made us keepers of the chaos, co-creators. Dunstan brought this conviction to everything he did, closing the gap between religion and government, between religion and the arts, between religion and labor. He believed that the work of reconciliation entrusted to us is more than bringing affections together, uniting sentiments; it is also bringing the physical world back into union with its Maker. Doing just that, nothing more nor less than doing the work God has given us to do, here and now, is as sure a recipe for blessedness -- happiness -- as any."
The separation of Church and State is a critical thing to maintain ... but it is up to the State and the vigilance of the people to maintain it. It is about avoiding a merging between the State and the official structures of religion. It is about avoiding a State that is coterminus with the Church, where participation in the State mandates participation in the Church. It is not -- as it has developed into in much of the public consciousness -- a prohibition of the faithful from public life and discourse.
When we say "The Church shouldn't be involved in politics," we're perpetuating a dualism that not only bankrupts the Church but cuts the legs out from under the State. If there is a clear demarcation from the sacred where the Church should be and the secular where the Church should not, then what relevance does the Church have as a transforming force for the world. Likewise, if we eliminate from the State all vestiges of theological thought, all words and actions motivated by faith, we rob the public sphere of not only some of the great thinkers of human history but of some of the best motivation for positive change.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."