Since my last political post on MLK, Jr. holiday I’ve been challenged to think more deeply about the relationship between believers and their government, specifically the role of political activism in the Christian life. This relationship is most strained, perhaps, when the state uses its power to pressure Christians to act in ways that are contrary to a biblically-informed conscience. One current instance of such pressure is found in the relationship between Catholic Charities (a mercy organization that runs homeless shelters, feeds the hungry, and cares for foster children) and the city government of Washington D.C.
Recently, the D.C. city council legalized gay “marriage” in the city (it now awaits Congressional ratification). This act may seem innocuous to Catholic Charities, but it puts the organization in a situation where they have to choose between keeping the law and obeying their conscience. With such a law in effect, Catholic Charities would be legally obliged, as a city contractor, to provide marriage benefits to same-sex couples and allow them to adopt children through the agency. Yet such actions would violate the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. If they refuse to comply with the laws they will have to end their relationship with the city government and cut back on their charitable services (they receive some of their funding from the government).
It is possible to pass such laws with provisions for religious bodies to choose not to comply with them (this has happened in states like Vermont that have also legalized same-sex marriage), but the city council did not add these to the law. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal about the decision observes “In the conflict between gay rights and religious rights, the city favors gay rights.” There is a deep irony in our culture illustrated here that while secular liberals often criticize evangelical Christians for forcing their views on others, they show no moral qualms about forcing their “tolerant, live and let live” values on groups who hold traditional views on marriage, family, and sexuality.
When the government uses its power in such a way as to force its citizens to violate the dictates of conscience from religious moral teachings, it is a clear, unwarranted expansion of the sphere of government into the sphere of the Church. Yes the Lord Jesus instructs us to support our government (“give to Ceasar what is due to Ceasar”), but, as the recent Manhattan Declaration (see link) states, “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.” God created marriage and has the sole right to define its essence. Let us not render God’s prerogative unto Caesar.