Thursday night, President Barak Obama spoke publicly of his plans to invoke an executive order allowing millions of those who entered America illegally and those who have stayed beyond their visas to remain in the United States without threat of deportation.
Before the speech was finished, the division such an executive order would affect was obvious forcing some to face how often personal values go against government demands and to question how to live with both.
America is not the only nation to face challenges which divide people of faith, nor is immigration the only issue to cause division. Abortion, care for the less fortunate, education, gun rights, marriage, and taxes are just some of the many issues that divide people around the world and which governments often attempt to control, sometimes dictating outcomes simply by failing to pass legislation in support of Christian values thereby allowing anti-Christian practices to become accepted common practice.
So what is a good Catholic who also wants to be a good citizen to do?
First, we must beware of our places in the Mystical Body of Christ. When we speak of Christ as the head of the church and each of us as having a part in His church, we realize how connected we all are. We realize that no government decision affects just one individual or group. Today, decisions often have repercussions even beyond our own borders. We must prayerfully consider the best outcome, not just for ourselves, but for all God’s children and then tirelessly do the work to make that best outcome a reality. We must realize that when one of us is hurting, we all feel the effects.
Second, we cannot mindlessly support “Feel Good Laws.” These are laws passed because our hearts hurt for those have heard about. Because of our imperfect desire to Love our neighbors, tragedy makes us want to rush in and fix things. Because we cannot usually simply fix a neighbor’s pain but still feel we must do something, we often acs with emotion instead of thoroughly examining all outcomes and longterm repercussions. The Bible tells us to guard our heart and to watch such acting on emotion. This does not apply just to marriage but to all decisions that should be made with Wisdom over emotion.
With all vigilance guard your heart,
for in it are the sources of life. Proverbs 4:23
Third, with few exceptions, we should do what the government dictates. In several places, we are told to obey our leaders, whether we look to the marital relationship of the submissive wife, the child to the parent, or the servant to the master, we see no reference to submit only if we agree, just simply, submit. This is most openly seen in Mark 12 when Jesus told the Pharisees,
Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.
Fourth, we must realize that submitting to the government is certainly not the same as blind submission or acceptance. When Jesus saw his Temple being used for trade and gambling, He fashioned a cord of whips, drove out the animals, and brought the tables crashing down stating He would rebuild in three days. While it may take us significantly longer to fix a broken government, we are also called to drive out those who corrupt, protect those who are in need of assistance, and build a Strong, Good, Just “kingdom.”
Fifth, in addition, while we balance submission to our leaders with our call to do God’s will, we must be particularly careful to understand the limits of a human-run government. No government, no country can provide for all God’s children. Governments that arrogantly say they can provide while attempting to win hearts, governments that promise rights given by God combined with entitlements given by man fail to admit their own limitations. They are building for themselves a Tower of Babel and when the tower falls as it will, the number of people scattered and hurt is often in promotion to the size of the tower.
Finally, we cannot be tempted by lures governments provide in return for our self-reliance, our independence, our free will. We must realize that no government entitlement comes free of charge. There is always a cost financially, physically, or spiritually when one relies on the government. This can be seen in the emptiness in the eyes of those standing on welfare lines. Salvation does not come in the form of government legislation or handouts. We must keep our eyes on the One who does provide Salvation and show His way to others as well.
But be careful lest your heart be so lured away that you serve other gods and bow down to them. Deuteronomy 11:16.
When government legislation or action conflicts with our personal belief system, it causes conflict within us too.
We are called to be loving of all God’s children and to recognize we are all one body in Christ. Yet we are also called to be Wise rather than emotional when making decisions, when listening to and taking part in debate, and when voting.
We are called to be submissive to government. Yet we are also called to recognize its limitations and to stand up to it when it goes astray, becomes too powerful, or tries to buy submission.
Most importantly, we are told to always keep our eye on the Lord when earthly things distract our attention, to submit to Him over government. The Lord, the Loving Father of all nations, is the One ruler that will make no mistakes, that causes no conflicts in our conscience, and that is always Just when enacting laws and consequences.
All nations must pray for guidance in these troubled times.