When Faith and Government Collide
As Catholic Christians living in America we can all name several instances in which our faith and what we believe to be true, good, and just has been brought into conflict with the actions or laws of our country and its leaders. However, based upon many of the verbal (and nonverbal) reactions that I have seen and heard, I believe too few of us have a Biblical understanding of how to approach such conflicts. While taking the “side” of faith in a given issue, we tend to express our disapproval, outrage, etc. via the standard secular means instead of acting and speaking in ways that reflect the Biblical faith we are claiming to defend. (Perhaps this is why we are so often unsuccessful). It may be helpful for us to briefly reflect on the example which Daniel provides for us. For the purpose at hand, I shall briefly summarize chapters 1-6.
At the beginning of the Babylonian exile Daniel found himself under the rule of the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar. He was one of my many designated to be servants of the King. He was to spend three years learning the Chaldean ways. During which time he was to be fed with traditional Chaldean meat and wine so as to make him fit to serve the king. However, he denounced the food in loyalty to God and ate only kosher vegetables. God rewarded him with great wisdom, and he quickly gained the respect of the king.
Some time later, Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream, and he called upon his seers and magicians to interpret it for him. They were unable to do so, and he ordered that they be put to death. Upon hearing this Daniel offered to interpret it. He prayed fervently to God for wisdom and vision. Daniel correctly described and interpreted the dream to the king. He and his three Jewish friends were rewarded handsomely by Nebuchadnezzar who seers were spared.
Years later Darius became ruler of the kingdom. Some of the Chaldeans, jealous of Daniel’s success, pressured Darius into passing a law which decreed that people may only worship him and no other god for the next 30 days. They found Daniel worshipping his God and turned him in, reminding Darius that no law may be revoked. It is absolute. Thus, Darius reluctantly had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. The next morning Darius found Daniel still alive, and Daniel proclaimed “O king live forever! My God has sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not hurt me. For I have been found innocent to him; neither to you have I done any harm O king.”
Perhaps we can learn a few lessons from Daniel.
First, he is absolutely always respectful of the king. Even though Nebuchadnezzar and Darius were both pagans who worshiped other gods, Daniel never looked down upon them. In fact, he even exclaimed “O king live forever!” after the whole lion den thing. This is far from the demonizing of our leaders which often occurs on both sides of the political aisle by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Second, when there is a conflict, even a life endangering one (like “worship me or die”), he does not go up in arms and respond with verbal or physical violence, etc. Nor does he allow himself to be bullied into compromising his loyalty to God. He peacefully and nonviolently disobeys the laws which infringe on his faith while remaining absolutely under submission to them. In other words, he knows that he cannot follow the law because that would mean disobeying God, but in breaking it, he unreservedly accepts the consequences of his choice and places his hope in God alone. He does not even argue that the law should be overturned.
He submits. He prays. God saves. Law changes.
Wow! How radically different is Daniel’s approach from the one which we normally choose to pursue. We normally prejudge an elected leader, pigeon-holing him/her and choosing to focus only on the bad. Knowing where his/her views run counter to Church teaching we predict immoral actions, legislation, etc. only to act surprised, cry foul, and demonize the figurehead once the actions occur. Furthermore, while our intent may be to defend the faith and to attempt to protect the soul of our nation or the lives of the helpless, we betray ourselves by abandoning our hope in the omnipotence of Love. Instead of exhibiting that peace which only God can give, as Daniel did in the face of pagan persecutions, we panic, revealing to our opponents how shallow our faith is. They in turn are free to presume our complaints are mere political and ideological posturing, politics as usual. Thus, by choosing not to reflect Daniel’s humility, confidence, and peace in the face of an adversarial authority, we reduce our truth claims to just one opinion among many. Joe’s post, How We Shouldn’t Engage Obama, perfectly makes practical what I am trying to say in a general way here.
May God give us the grace and the peace necessary to place our hope in the victory of Christ, so we may charitably and humbly confront our authority figures calling them to conversion, while willingly submitting ourselves to the consequences and sanctions which the law prescribes.