The world is inhabited by millions of human beings living on a large sphere, made up of land and water, called Earth.
Each person, born healthy into the world, has the ability to perform actions within the limits of human nature.
Each person has a conscience with which to evaluate actions as good or bad before performing them.
Each person has a free will with which to choose to perform or not perform actions. Though free to choose to do good or bad, every individual is responsible for and accountable to God for their actions.
If every individual lived in isolation, actions would only affect that individual. But, being social beings by nature, human beings are drawn together to form groups for social, economic and religious reasons.
Social groups help individuals with similar interests accomplish common goals, provide greater security and form families that continue the human race.
Economic groups provide easier access to resources, more efficient division of labor, utilize individual talents and abilities more productively and accomplish things collectively, such as schools, highways, markets and the like, that would not be possible to accomplish alone. The advantages of forming groups are many, but they do come at the price of having to forfeit some personal freedoms.
Leaders emerge in groups, who assume or are given authority to enact and enforce certain laws of order for the group. Taxes may be imposed to ﬁnance group goals and maintain order. When leaders are chosen, their powers are defined and limited in order to safeguard individual freedoms.
Religious groups share common religious beliefs and goals based on faith and morals. Religious leaders, who are more learned than most in the foundational doctrines and traditions of a religion, are looked to for guidance in living out the faith and morals on which the religion is based.
When individuals belong to more than one group, decisions made in one group can conﬂict with decisions made in another group. That is when church vs. state problems can occur.
Socio-economic decisions made without regard for faith and morals can conﬂict with religious group decisions based on faith and morals. One must then ask: what overall powers does a church or a state have over its members? How are their powers limited? The answer to these questions must begin by determining where genuine authority comes from and how limited authority may be received by others.
All legitimate authority begins with God, who created all things, ordered all things, and endowed all thing with certain powers and abilities according to each created things nature. Human beings, by nature, are endowed with individual powers and authority over their own lives and actions. An individual may choose to not use certain freedoms, such as the freedom to sin, or may delegate ones freedoms to someone else under certain conditions, such as giving someone else authority to act on their behalf in case of a debilitating illness, or for the better functioning of a group. If delegated authority is abused or ceases to serve an intended purpose, the delegation can always be revoked. The individual always remains responsible for actions personally committed or committed by others delegated to act on their behalf. God will be the ﬁnal judge of all actions.
With regard to Church and State separation, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, drafted by James Madison, declares that Congress “shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Madison’s friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson was proud of his role in drafting and winning assent to Virginia’s religious liberty law (l786). In a letter of 1802, he referred to the need for a “high wall of separation” between church and state. Both men considered religious liberty not just a convenient political response to the actual diversity of denominations in the new Republic but as a natural right. (Reference: Dictionary of American History | 2003)
Some serious questions of separation of Church and State in the U.S. today are concerned with issues such as the deﬁnition of marriage, abortion, the use of contraceptives, the imposition on all of certain freedoms desired by some. These concerns not only have socio-economic considerations but involve faith and morals as well. When disagreements such as the legalization of abortion verses respect for life can not be satisfactorily resolved, the individual becomes responsible for being faithful to their conscience and choosing what their conscience informs them is morally right.
Let’s create an example. A man and a woman have relations, whether properly or sinfully, and the woman conceives a child. Both are responsible for their actions and for the child, whether conceived intentionally or unintentionally. If the conception of the child is intentional, the child will be accepted as a blessing. But the man and/or woman may see the birth of the child and the responsibilities associated with it as a possible hindrance to other plans they want to pursue. Society may consider certain other potential effects of the child, such as: increase in population in densely populated countries like China and India, welfare and other government assistance needs in countries like the U.S., and need for help from other family members or groups. The child in the womb, unable to be seen or speak for itself, becomes considered by some simply as a burden rather than a human being and a blessing. Abortion becomes a consideration to eliminate a burden. But to abort the child forming in the womb remains the killing of a human being.
The child in the womb was always considered to be a human being by every country in the world up until the last 100 years. To approve of abortion as an acceptable way to eliminate a burdensome child, states began to redefine “human being” to not include the child forming in a mother’s womb. The problem is, you may call an apple an orange but it still remains an apple, and you may call a child in the womb inhuman but it remains a human being. While a state without consideration for faith or morals can make laws indiscriminately, the Church must remain consistent and hold that to abort a child is to take a human life, to murder, an act that should be condemned by every human society.
The Church, viewing the same situation through the eyes of faith and morals, accepts the humanity of the child in the womb and that it deserves the same respect shown to every other human being. Unless the child is posing an immediate threat to the life of another, its life cannot be taken by another. But, aware of real socio-economic hardships that the birth of a child may cause for some parents ill prepared to take care of a child, the Church also tries to help individuals meet their responsibilities and in severe cases to help ﬁnd parents who will adopt the child if birth parents cannot adequately care for a child.
While the Supreme Court of the United States has made it legal to have an abortion within certain limits, the moral responsibility for having or performing an abortion remains falls upon each individual. While states may be given authority to allow certain freedoms that not all approve of, States do not have the authority to force practices on those who appose those freedoms for reasons of faith and morals. If a doctor, who believes in his conscience that abortion is the taking of a human life, were to perform an abortion insisted upon by the state, it would be a mortal sin for him. He would be committing a murder.
Throughout Church history, religious martyrs have been legally put to death by some states for refusing to comply with laws that were immoral and against their consciences. Church involvement in state matters needs to be limited to matters concerning faith and morals; likewise, States need to avoid involvement in matters that concern faith and morals. Situations will arise where divisions between the two are cloudy. The ﬁnal choice to act or not to act will always remains with the individual. God will always be the ﬁnal judge, whether one believes in Him or not.
May God bless us with the wisdom to discern truth correctly and the courage to be faithful to Him.
Featured Image: Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States