Church as the Moral Conscience of Society (Part 2)

Last week we introduced a series examining the necessity and yet complex nature of Church and state relations.

It was emphasized that the Church has a spiritual (Matthew 5:13-14) and moral responsibility to be a catalyst, a force for good for all of society. Then the introductory article highlighted the following points:

The aim of the series is to help the Christian Church generally to understand its obligations to society whether in the area of politics or the numerous other ways. 

Some definitions of the Church were given as well as the primary responsibility of the Church to society being identified and delineated.

How then does the Church fulfill this dual responsibility of honoring God and serving mankind for His sake? One area of human existence that affects directly or indirectly most other areas of life is politics. Politics affects the social, economic, religious and the day-to-day living of all people in a state. Should the Church then steer clear of such an important dimension and focus solely on praying, saving souls and taking care of the afflicted of society? This is a vexing and complex question. 

Some politicians and Christian denominations take the view that the Church should steer of politics and leave it to the politicians while the Church should focus primarily on saving people’s souls and taking care of their spiritual needs. 

They say, “Church and politics do not mix”. Others vehemently oppose such a view, advocate that the Church should be involved, and if possible take the lead in politics. To get our heads around his complex subject, we need to define our terms clearly.

The Church being the people of God includes all of its members in the different spheres of life, business, politics, education, law, medicine, technology, the sciences, the social sciences, sanitary and artisan practitioners who make their contributions to life. 

In this sense Christian men, women, boys and girls should be involved in all areas of human endeavor that are ethical and uplift humanity. Jesus Christ needs his people in all areas of honest human endeavors who make the Christian difference of honesty, respect for all persons and their contributions, giving everyone what is due them, and promoting justice, peace and reconciliation. 

The institutional Church headed by its clergy and official heads representing the countless denominations is to be distinguished from the Church in all its members regardless of where they find themselves. 

In this wise, one can speak about the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal, and Pentecostal Churches. A head or group of persons can speak for each of these denominations and one can say that so-and-so Church spoke on such-and-such issue of concern to human society.

Should the institutional Church be involved in politics per se? We need to know what is meant by politics. In the broadest sense, politics is the art of living together and managing our affairs in such a way that works for the common good of all. 

Originally politics comes from the polis, the life of the city, and polites, the responsibility of its citizens. Politics, in this wise, means the art of governing our common life. That is what Socrates meant when he said that man is a political animal. In this broader sense, all human beings should be involved in politics, and should be concerned about how well their common life is managed.

Politics is used in the narrow sense of the science of government. This refers to people who learn and are experts in helping us manage our common life in a way that ensures harmony. 

Over the years, this science of government has evolved into modern democracies that have in turn evolved into party politics whereby different political parties are given the mandate to govern the state for a specific term. These parties have their ideologies and policies that drive them and make them different from each other. 

Again, should the institutional Church be involved in party politics? As far as I know the Baptist, AME and others maintain that no area of human interest should be barred from Church leaders. 

They should aspire for and go for any professions and positions that affect all of human societies. The goal is that when they get there they should serve as if they were working in the Church and should treat their jobs as sacred, to be used to honor God and edify people everywhere.

The Episcopal Church and others take the view that Church leaders should not be involved in party politics believing that this may compromise their neutrality. Since most Churches have members from different political parties in modern democracies, they believe that the spiritual leaders should play a role of being for all and without taking side with any. In this wise they can proffer the qualities required of good leaders and help their members choose without telling them which parties or politicians to vote for. 

Thus, if a priest (pastor) wants to be elected or appointed to a political office, he or she will have to get a special dispensation from the bishop and relinquish his/her pastoral functions such as leading worship Services on Sunday and representing the Church at official functions until he or she has left that position. 

The person has not ceased to be a priest but cannot function in both capacities at the same time. She or he can only do one at a time. Of course, other denominations believe in the opposite.

The next article will delve into the question of how well the Church is playing its multifaceted role to society.