A recipient of the 2012 Alliance Defending Freedom Edwin Meese III Award (see story, p. 3), Charles Chaput is Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the former Archbishop of Denver (1997-2011). An outspoken conservative, he has drawn wide attention this year for his bold leadership among Christians opposing the threat to religious liberty posed by the health care-related mandates of the Department of Health and Human Services. In his book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, he strongly urges people of faith to take a “more active, vocal, and morally consistent role” in the political process.
How does the Imago Dei – the belief that we are made “in the image of God” – shape the Christian worldview, and impact how believers see their responsibilities to society?
Knowing God From Caesar: The Duty Of A Christian Citizen
St. Ignatius of Antioch said the coins of the Roman Empire were stamped with the image of Caesar, and our coinage, as Christians, is stamped with the image of God. We can give Caesar the coinage of taxes, because his image is stamped on them, but we can never give Caesar the coinage of our human reality, because it’s stamped with the image of God.
It’s so important for us to understand that each of us can be, as St. Thomas More said, “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Being faithful to the image of God in our own life – and seeing the image of God in everyone else – leads us to love and serve others by speaking the truth to them.
What are the responsibilities of a Christian citizen?
“We need to be careful ...but to avoid any engagement on these issues is cowardice.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput
We have a responsibility, because of the Ten Commandments and the ethical teachings of Jesus, to be responsible not only for ourselves, but for our families, and beyond that, for others. We see everyone in the world as our brother or our sister, and we see our local community as people who should be our friends, because of our understanding of who Jesus is, and what He teaches.
Politics is really a way that community organizes itself, and it seems to me that Christians would anxiously want to be part of that organization, so that society will constantly support the dignity of every individual and [serve] the common good. If you believe in the Ten Commandments, you believe in political engagement.
Why is it important for pastors and priests to speak out on public policy issues?
It’s very important for pastors and spiritual leaders to be prudent [and not] substitute their own opinions for the teachings of the Gospel. We have to be cautious about that – especially if we are engaged actively in a political party, and somehow identify the activities of that party with the demands of the Gospel. The church should be separate from any political party.
But pastors should encourage members of their church to become involved in parties, and to do what they can to make sure the party platforms align with the Gospel and the teachings of Christ. We need to be careful … but to avoid any engagement on these issues is cowardice. We’re supposed to avoid giving to Caesar what belongs to God, and sometimes Caesar – government – tries to take more than it should.
How should Christians respond when the government tells us to go against our faith beliefs?
We say, “No – we’re not going to do anything contrary to our conscience. Government is asking us to render unto Caesar what properly belongs to God, and we can’t do that.” We fight against it with every means possible. Sometimes, that leads to civil disobedience, if it’s a matter that you can’t find your way around in a morally acceptable way.
Is it coincidence that we’re seeing more conscientious resistance on university campuses?
The campuses are a place where the truth wins or loses in big ways, because they’re institutions of education and reflection. I very much stand in admiration of people who are willing to fight the fight on the campuses, because that’s such an important battleground for the truth. The next generations of leaders for our country are coming from those universities.
Sometimes young people of the church are more courageous than their parents, or grandparents, or church leaders, and they’re willing to stand up for the truth in the face of opposition in ways that older, more settled folks are not willing to stand. I thank them for their leadership, and hope they’ll continue to be a good example to their seniors about how to be faithful to the Gospel.
Why is the work of Alliance Defending Freedom so important right now?
I don’t know what we’d do without Alliance Defending Freedom, because the ministry has an expertise when it comes to dealing with the government, and with the laws of our country, that most individual citizens, and most church communities, don’t have. I’m deeply grateful for the work of Alliance Defending Freedom, and especially grateful to the donors who support its work, because without those donors, the work wouldn’t be possible.