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Faith - Public or Private?

By Barry M. Smith
Real faith then needs to get out of the sanctuary and into our homes, our schools and our offices.

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The issue of faith in the public arena just won’t go away, and I say, “Amen.” For decades secularists have vigorously tried to push faith out of the public marketplace and into the exclusive domain of things private and personal. They have even tried to rewrite history by saying that not only shouldn’t faith have a role in the public life of America but that it never really did. All those stories about religious motivations among the founders are nothing more than legends.

Well, the secularists got it wrong then and they will continue to get it wrong because faith cannot be kept out of the public marketplace. It is too central to who we are as humans. We are creatures of faith because by nature we reflect the image of our Creator. Once again issues of faith and its integration into the public arena are in the news.

The current hot topic of faith and public life has to do with Roman Catholic politicians and their relationship to their church. But there is an even deeper, and more important, matter manifested in this issue. It is the role that one’s view of faith and life issues plays in the living of his life.

Last week Cardinal Francis Arinze of the Vatican announced that any politician that violated the church’s doctrine on abortion and took an “unambiguously pro-abortion” position “is not fit to receive communion.” To be refused communion is a very serious matter for a Roman Catholic. To be cut off from the sacraments in general, but perhaps especially communion, cuts one off from salvation.

There are many Catholic politicians who do hold a pro-abortion position. Their argument has typically been that their personal beliefs should not influence their public behavior, which is an incredibly ridiculous thing to say. In the United States the U.S. Conference of Bishops has established a task force to consider imposing sanctions on Catholic politicians who support abortion.

This issue has moved up in the attention of news organizations because it involves presidential candidate John Kerry. A Kerry spokesman said, “John Kerry is a believing and practicing Catholic.” Yet, on the same day that Cardinal Arinze made his pronouncement Kerry said in a speech at an abortion rights rally, “We are going to have to have a change in leadership in this country to protect the right of choice.” Clearly Kerry is at odds with his church on the issue of abortion. Some news organizations have considered assigning reporters to a communion watch to follow Kerry on Sundays to see if he is refused communion.

Back to the broader issue, Arinze got it right, finally. Ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973 there have been Catholic politicians who have claimed to hold private beliefs against abortion informed by their faith as believing, practicing Catholics, who then refuse to bring their beliefs into the public arena because of some misguided view that faith should be excluded from public life. For a politician to say that in his private life he lives according to a set of beliefs which he ignores in his public life is foolishness. Faith, if it is real and true, must inform all of life. For a person to say he believes abortion is wrong when he is in church and right when he is campaigning or governing is either hypocrisy or cultural schizophrenia.

As Stephen Carter of the Yale Law School said, “The word integrity comes from the same Latin root as integer and historically has been understood to carry much the same sense, the sense of wholeness: a person of integrity, like a whole number, is a whole person, a person somehow undivided.” A person of integrity does not live his life in compartments, a church compartment and a political compartment.

The deeper issue here is not just should practicing Catholic politicians veer from church doctrine in the practice of their public duties and still continue to participate in church rituals. The more important thing for everyone to understand is that to be whole people their beliefs must inform and influence what they do in all parts of their lives. If belief does not do so it is not really faith, it is not really a belief, and we are fractured broken people. And that’s why in this current situation Cardinal Arinze got it right. Faith has to be taken out of the sacred closet and spread across every aspect of life.

If faith is real then it needs it get out of the sanctuary and into our homes, our schools and our offices. Real faith is not just for Sunday, it’s for every day, and it needs to inform everything that we do.
TE Barry M. Smith is associate pastor of Severna Park Evangelical Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pasadena, Md.

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    God Substituting Himself for Man

    The concept of substitution may be said to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

    John Stott in The Cross of Christ

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