By The Rev. Carlton Kelley
Many of you were quite happy that I preached the sermon I preached on June 25 which called into question the propriety of the Senate’s health care bill. Some of you were not. I want to take this opportunity to explain more fully why I preached that sermon.
As Christians we are called to pray for all people everywhere according to their need. This, of course, must include the officials of our government. We pray for them that they might do the will of God, a will that bids all come to a fuller vision and experience of life. When any government of any time or place begins to discard people because they are too old, too ill, too deformed, or simply too expensive which is, without doubt, the case of the current Senate health care bill, then the church must speak out as forcefully as possible to encourage and promote change because it is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ. Our final allegiance is not to any government or political party. In fact, I am afraid that many of us give more attention to the demands of our political affiliations than we do to the demands of our Christian faith. They are not and never have been one and the same. We are not a state church and, despite much belief to the contrary, our country was not founded as a Christian one. Our Founding Fathers were Deists, at best. They believed in God but one who was far removed from the affairs of ordinary men and women. We Christians believe in a God who in Jesus Christ became one of us so that we might enjoy eternal life with Him. If the United States truly “trusted in God” as our money says, this country would look far different than it does. An occasional prayer by a congressional chaplain or a state funeral at the Washington Cathedral does not a Christian nation make.
If some of you heard a criticism of your political affiliation, it was because that party needs to be recalled to the highest ideals for which we stand as Christians. Sometimes those ideals have been affirmed by our government. Many times they have not. Everyone deserves to have health care. Everyone deserves to eat. Everyone deserves to have a home. Everyone needs to feel safe. It is clear that the proposed reforms to the Affordable Care Act will hurt the most vulnerable among us by taking from them to give to those who already have the most – in the form of unneeded tax cuts. That is not what Jesus wants. Does the Affordable Care Act need reform? Yes, of course. Do people need to be destroyed in the process? Absolutely not.
St. Paul reminds us that “our commonwealth is in heaven.” It is not here. But until that great and glorious day when the thoughts of all hearts will be revealed, we are bidden by our Lord Jesus in the prayer that most of us have prayed thousands of times…”your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” On earth, as it is in heaven. That is our goal. That was my goal when I preached the sermon. God surely does not want others to die so that the wealthy might have more of what they do not need.
Any political party, Democrat or Republican, Tory or Whig, conservative or liberal stands under the judgment of God. Our parties are not the final word on anything. At best, they are but efficient tools to order a better society. At worst, they are instruments of wickedness, a wickedness of which both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty. Our eyes must always be on the Cross, not on anyone’s flag. Many, many Christians have died opposing the tyrannical demands of the governments of their time and place. They went to their deaths knowing they were proclaiming as best they could the will of God in Christ by doing so with their very lives. They did not fear because they had already died to their old selves in Holy Baptism and been raised to new life in Jesus Christ. Death did not and will never have the last word. Their deaths witnessed to Christ’s life.
Despite the obvious advantages to a separation of church and state, the chief disadvantage is that we are encouraged to separate our spiritual and religious lives from our more broadly public ones. Thus, we are able to compartmentalize our public and secular views from the demands of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What generally suffers is the religious side of the equation. It is regrettable that some churches have allowed an ultraconservative wing of the church to control the public forum. We, as faithful Christians, have been given the freedom to disagree on the implementation of many divisive public issues. What we have not been given the freedom to do is disregard any human being as unworthy of our care and support or to permit any government to trample on the dignity of any human being.