Circumstances have conspired so that I have had a three week hiatus in writing sermons - something I have not intended. However, we find ourselves with the fact that, as human beings, we simply cannot have our way. We should thank God for this!
At the time of writing, there is a bit of a hoo-hah in the blogosphere over the United States Supreme Court legalizing the civil marriage of homosexuals. I don't need to say much on this, save what I have already said here. The fact of the matter is that Church and State are built upon very different principles, even if the development of both have been closely intertwined. In some sense we are faced with the Divine Personhood of Our Lord here who was both fully divine and fully human and inseparably so. Likewise, the life of human beings has the opportunity to find and acquire divinity in the body of Christ. Each one of us has an opportunity to see ourselves as part of both State and Church so that we can do justice to being more Christ-like. Humanity needs both State and Church in order to live.
Why is that?
Clearly, every human being needs the State in order to survive. Secular Government should provide us with all the rights that we need in order to live comfortably and in peace with other human beings who may or may not share the same beliefs. The fact of the existence of other beliefs does mean that a sympathetic State Government is necessary and vital; for the most part, there is often a sufficiently common core to human beliefs on which a secular government can be built. However, it is also true that there are some freedoms which that secular government permits which cannot be permitted by different faith groups, indeed some of those freedoms are almost intolerable to those other faiths. Given that every Christian must carry the cross on which he or she must be eventually crucified, the Church has a duty to be tolerant of the secular government and its effects in the State Society, yet not accepting of any deviation from the Christian Faith. What does this mean?
The State can pass any law that it likes, essentially, but clearly not all laws are good, just, honest or fair in the higher moral scheme. Some, like the allowing of the recognition of men as women and vice-versa, are largely self-contradictory and allow for the breakdown of common sense and common language by which human beings can communicate. The Church, in Her battle against evil must set itself in opposition to all things that are rooted in the deception of the Devil. Those things may indeed appear good and motivated from good desires, but they are often founded on some moral misconception. In any moral position, careful thought must be made as to the source of that moral position. If a State Law is found morally lacking, it must be opposed, but it must be opposed well and with thought and Love.
We know that Love bears all things, but it doesn't rejoice in iniquity but in the truth. Likewise, the Church must bear, even in tears, sorrow, sackcloth and ashes, all things legalized by the State, but also must proclaim Her doctrine against anything that simply is not true, accepting the consequences to opposing unjust and self-contradictory laws. That's the enormous challenge the Church faces. Are we willing to be arrested for our belief that God is the author of the moral law to which all secular laws must yield? We should be! But there are ways and means of opposing unjust and unfair laws which can be more effective in their execution. Some ways of opposition, as the Reformation shows, throw the baby out with the bathwater.
For example, the State has attempted to legalize Abortion (i.e. sanction the termination of a human life) under certain conditions which, it believes, reflect the freedom of human beings. Under the Law of the State, all have the freedom to choose that option. Yet, for the Church, this must be borne in agony just as Christ Himself bore the agony of each and every one of our own personal sins in His own body on the tree. The Church can never, ever accept Abortion as part of its doctrine: She must oppose it at the source. Therefore, the Church must seek ways to help women circumvent the problem, preferably by actively seeking ways to stop the need for it in the first place rather than resorting (with what amounts to abusive language and truly horrible propaganda) to protest it without due care, thought and love! Yes, the Church must be loud in its opposition, but it has to do so by looking at the reason that each and every single woman has come to an abortion clinic and treat her in the situation she is in. The Church must come to her as she is and help, not demonise.
The State needs the Church in order to survive. For the Church, this much is obvious. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus! Humanity can only ever know about what Salvation is from the Church because the Church has received the Word of God by which all people can be freed from sin. The trouble with the State is as I stated earlier: the State must allow the freedom for people to operate according to their beliefs. If God has allowed us freedom to choose Him or Not-Him, then we have to allow that freedom too as far as human beings can. The days of coerced church attendance are thankfully over and thus the churches are filled with those who have some modicum of belief, no matter how rudimentary. Of course, that makes it difficult for the Church to proclaim Her Message but, as St James and St Francis of Assisi observe, the Message is better transmitted through Acts of Mercy rather than by berating people for not believing.
Church and State are effectively a hall of mirrors created in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The State reflects the nature of humanity to the Church in all its brokenness, its sin, its frailty and fallibility, in its lack of understanding, its confusion, its need for God. The Church reflects the Divinity of God in the graces of the Holy Sacraments, in the reflection of Christ present with us, in the reflection of Heaven. There are so many times when these reflections are muddled, when the State tries to be Church and when Church tries to be State. When Church hierarchy becomes political, and Bishops are seeking to be governors of the minds of people, when the clergy act in unholy ways pretending to make sacred that which is not sacred, when ecclesiarchs seek their own vaunting and care more about their image and impact on the people around them seeking people to fawn and doff their caps, rather than the humility of Christ, then we see less of the Church and more of the State.
Yet when the State believes that the laws it passes must necessarily be passed in the Church and necessarily outride the beliefs of all people, when the State believes that the truth is necessarily passed by a majority decision, when the State declares that its law is the moral law, then the god that it is reflecting is not the God worshipped by Christians and to impose that god upon them is a denial of the very freedom that the State professes to maintain. That makes the State out to be a liar and a tyrant even as the Church has allowed Herself to be in the past.
Today we celebrate the feast of St Peter and St Paul, two very different Christians with very different lives and very different ways of being human. With St Peter, we see a fallible, bumbling, yet strong, robust, and loud humanity acting in the Name of Christ. With St Paul, we find a zealous, hard-nosed, former-polemicist and anti-Christian who realizes his mistakes with true contrition, repentance and love, and finds tolerance and acceptance in the Church once he has accepted the Truth. On them, in their frail and fallible humanity is the Church built, because they rest upon the foundation of Christ Himself. Their example of Christian witness holds up the mirror of the Church in which we see ourselves convicted of human failings, small broken and fallible, yet they hold up the mirror of Humanity in which that frail humanity is reflected to God in conjunction with their frail humanity. When you hold two mirrors up to each other, they produce reflections of reflections of reflections all the way to infinity. And Infinity is where we find God!
If the State says that homosexuals may marry meaning that homosexual couples are eligible for the same Statutory Rights as heterosexual married couple, then that is surely easier for the Church to tolerate as it preaches about the moral benefits of heterosexual marriage and celibacy outside marriage, because the rights that come from laws are designed to care for human needs and people have a legal right not to listen to the Church: the Church must tolerate that freedom. However, the State has no moral right to demand that the Church recognise that homosexual marriage is a sacrament and that the Church has a duty to confect such a sacrament. If that means that the Church be stripped of Her legal rights to perform legal marriages, then that can only be a good thing.
Ultimately all human authority will pass away. There will be no need for State laws, or even Church Canon Law since we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ whose Divinity and Humanity will judge us all. Nor must we ever think that any one of us is purely State or Church, for within each of us Church and State are inextricably mixed. The State as a human institution will pass away to be replaced with the Divine Rule of Christ. When this happens the Church will be revealed as the true Bride of Christ and will yield up Her mandate to Her Bridegroom and King.
It is right that Church and State be separate, neither one becoming the other and operating in different spheres, but they must both recognize that they are not actually separable. The key is listening, but listening very carefully to expose the deceit with the mirror of the Truth.