Should we express our faith publicly or keep it to ourselves?

Faith publicly

In a recent edition of The Weekend Australian Magazine, Greg Sheridan wrote about three well-known people who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Scott Morrison became a Christian at the age of 12, Peter Cosgrove has been a Catholic all his life and Bill Hayden “was a conscientious and intellectually serious atheist” until he decided to embrace Catholicism in 2018. 

Around the same time I read this article, there was also considerable commentary about the Catholicity of US President Joe Biden, especially in relation to his views on life issues. And, back home in Australia, the debate about whether the Lord’s Prayer should be prayed in Parliament was causing Christian politicians to stand up and be counted.

Considering many people support a separation of Church and State, it’s interesting that so many people are interested in the faith lives of well-known people. Why is this?

One thought I have is that people like the idea of well-known people practising what they preach — until one of them actually does. For example, if a politician votes in accordance with his/her Christian values — that is, practises what they preach — and that vote is contrary to secular or popular view, then there is often an outcry that so-and-so should keep their religious views to themselves. Confused?

And what happens if a self-declared Christian does something considered immoral by secular society? That is, they don’t practise what they preach, does that taint the person and the religion they espouse? Do we declare them hypocrites?

As a Catholic I must admit I am encouraged when a Christian in the public arena bravely holds onto their values despite public opinion. And I do feel let down when they simply go with the flow or toe the party line, even when it is at odds with their Christian beliefs.

When I read about politicians or celebrities who publicly profess their faith in God, I wonder how they discern the will of God when there must be intense pressure on them to lean towards views that are outside their Christian values.

What are your thoughts? Should people keep their religious views to themselves, especially if they hold a public office? Are there complexities here that require thinking through?

 


Thoughts for the journey

Faith publicly

In the Scriptures we find an event where Jesus is challenged for acting in a way that is contrary to the accepted norms of the day. But Jesus believed he was doing the will of God, and was — in essence, practising what he preached.

Jesus cured people on the Sabbath, which was against the rule of working on the sacred day. He touched lepers who were considered unclean, thus making him ritually unclean. His reputation was put at odds because he ate with sinners.

When the Pharisees challenged Jesus about his behaviour and his flouting of the laws, Jesus called them to account. He could see they were trying to trick him into denying what was rightfully owed to Caesar and what rightfully belonged to God. Here is an excerpt from Mark’s Gospel:

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. (Mark 12:13-17)

What can we learn from Jesus’ actions? How should people in public roles live out their Christian values? Should they keep their religious beliefs locked away and only pull them out at night when they come to God in prayer? Should they be brave and, when moral and ethical issues are debated, use their Christ-centred conscience to speak up for what they believe to be God’s will?

It’s complicated isn’t it?

 

Going Deeper

This month I invite you to read a short homily from Pope Francis on the Scripture passage mentioned above. It is a reminder to us that the Scriptures still offer us guidance about how to follow God’s will, while trying to navigate the culture in which we live. Here is a short section of the homily:

In this maxim of Jesus we find not only the criterion for the distinction between the political sphere and the religious sphere; clear guidelines emerge for the mission of believers of all times, even for us today. To pay taxes is a duty of citizens, as is complying with the just laws of the state. At the same time, it is necessary to affirm God’s primacy in human life and in history, respecting God’s right over all that belongs to Him.

 

References
Greg Sheridan, “God’s Servants: Leaders discuss their Christian Faith” in The Weekend Australian Magazine, July 31-August 1, 2021, pp 20-23.
Pope Francis, Angelus address, Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, October 18, 2020.  
The story of Jesus responding to the Pharisees question about paying taxes can be found in Mark 12:13-17, Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26.

Images: Alan Edgecomb/Purple Moon Photography; Lightstock

Words: Sharon Brewer