When Law and Faith Conflict...
I was recently reading to my daughter from her children’s Bible the story of Naaman from 2 Kings 5. Naaman is a general for an enemy of Israel, who is sent to the prophet Elisha for healing in Israel by a slave girl who was taken from Israel during a military raid he led.
I thought about that story as I have watched the recent coverage of the clerk in Kentucky refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. The details of that case aside, every Christian faces the issue of how our faith informs our engagement with civil government and the political system in which we live, and how it affects the way we our civic responsibilities.
Regarding the case in Kentucky, I think the clerk is mistaken in understanding her duty. Given her position, I could understand if she felt the need to resign, but I don't think that performing her duty as a government official is the same as giving her approval to something as a Christian.
But suppose everyone took her position. We unfortunately know more about her personal life than she would probably want now that she is in the public eye. Suppose a Christian judge decided that one of her divorces was not on Biblical grounds. In her view, could that judge have refused to grant the divorce? Perhaps a Hindu or vegan public health official might refuse to give a BBQ restaurant a license because they did not believe in eating animals?
Working in and around politics, this is not just a speculative or theoretical discussion for me. Every day, elected officials make these types of decisions, some of which their staff and supporters may not agree with. Some of which might even offend their beliefs of supporters or staff members in specific ways. Executive appointees may have to carry out laws they disagree with for many reasons. We should be wrestling with those issues all the time, never blindly allegiant to any person, party, or country.
If I am called to work in politics or government, I must discern to know how my faith informs my actions and decisions. Knowing when to fight, when to stay and influence, and when to walk away is difficult even on the most seemingly clear-cut issues.
I feel I must be especially careful to avoid hypocrisy, or selectively moralizing on issues that are comfortable to me. Any time I think that enforcing God’s standards by the rule of law would leave me completely blameless, it is a sure sign I am ignorant of my own sin.
The right of freely exercising religion has also come into this discussion, and all of my Christian countrymen should be grateful for the rights we have in the United States. But to what end will we exercise those rights? I think there may be times we choose to not exercise some of our rights in order to elevate Christ. Think of Paul's responses in Acts, when he could have used his rights and privileges as a Roman citizen as a shield or even a sword, but often did not and chose to suffer for the gospel instead.
I hope we can show love to our neighbors even when we disagree. If our goal is sharing the Good News and not just moralism, perhaps there is a better way. I don’t think that simply denying a marriage license will bring someone closer to Christ.
That leads me back to Naaman and the girl. As the children's version points out, she had no reason to help the general who stole her into slavery and likely killed members of her family in the process. She owed him nothing. Yet she showed love and pointed him back to the healing power that God has, even for those we consider to be enemies.
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