Higher Authority

Today, everyone is quoting the Founding Fathers.  The words of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, to name a few, are appearing in newspaper articles, Internet blogs, and radio commentaries.  But for those who lived in the turbulent years between 1760 and 1785, it was the words of others who actually moved the opinion of the public to support the efforts of their more famous political counterparts.

Those others were pastors.  And they spoke in the pulpits of the American colonies -– passionately and eloquently defending the ideas expressed in the American Declaration.  Men like Jonathan Mayhew, John Wesley, Moses Mather, John Witherspoon, Richard Price, Jonathan Edwards, and Noah Webster, who used the voice of the church to explain why tyranny was indefensible, and how King George’s actions constituted tyranny.

As America grew, the churches were not silent bystanders.  They spoke, often and clearly, about the issues confronting this nation.  They spoke against corruption, no matter what office the corruption arose from.  They spoke about the need for diligence in protecting America’s freedoms.  They called attention to injustice, and demanded its correction.

Their input reminded everyone, government official and citizen alike, that there is an authority higher than the state; an authority to which all are equally accountable; an authority that does not bend with the political winds, but judges by unchanging standards of right and wrong.

But in 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson orchestrated the addition of certain language to the IRS tax codes.  The language said that, for the first time in American history, the churches were to be silent on issues that were “political”.  A church that dared to speak out would be punished.

Under the 1954 standards, every single one of the sermons delivered in support of the work of our Founding Fathers would be considered illegal.

What happened?

The answer is both simple and frightening.

Government grew, and it wants to keep growing — in power and in size.

And for government to continue its growth, it must silence any voice that reminds the citizen that there should be a limit to the authority of the state.  The church is pre-eminent among those voices because the church, by definition, represents the REAL ultimate authority.  The denomination does not really matter in the eyes of the state — no matter what name a particular religion gives to that authority figure, every religion is based on the premises that 1) this authority exists and 2) it is higher than the government.

No government intent on growth can tolerate this.  So as the government grows, so does the hostility to the church.  Today we not only have a ban on church speech, but some elected officials even insist that churches cover any religious symbol on their own property if a government program or person is in attendance.  After all, that symbol might remind someone that the government is accountable to Someone.

The fact that the government worries so much about silencing the churches seems ridiculous.  After all, no pastor commands an army, and no local reverend can actually change any vote or remove any official just by speaking about it from a pulpit.  No citizen has to join a church, or attend its services.  And any pastor will tell you that those who do attend do not listen to and heed his words every time — response is purely voluntary.

But whether an individual responds or not, the voice of the church is a constant reminder that government is not the ultimate authority, and should have limits.  It’s a voice that needs to be protected.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • c-kingsley

    I find it shocking when the General Intercessions pray that the government do a better job taking care of the poor. I thought that was the job of the people of God, not the government.

  • Yes, c.kingsley, I do not remember, the corporal works of mercy list anywhere in the constitution.

    It is the resposibility of the Church to exersise them, not the Government.

  • theshahids

    I had not considered this before, but it makes perfect sense. How do we go about changing the tax code so that churches can speak out again? Is it too late already?

  • c-kingsley, that is the same argument I made when I first argued against W. Bush’s faith-based programs grants initiative, at http://arkanabar.tripod.com/grants.html

    I have also thought that it would be better for the Church to give up her tax-exempt status than her voice. The Temple in Jerusalem was not tax-exempt.

  • We should remember that the Government is not a collection of human beings maliciously bent on oppression. Oppression results, but the conspiracy is a spiritual one, not a human one (though we seem to have many humans who are ready to take numbers to cooperate with it). As Saint Paul said, “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12).

    The Devil is the ruler of this world, and he seeks to oppress human beings in order to ultimately win their souls for Hell. What better way to do that than by harnessing the power of human governments?

  • PraireHawk

    Nice to here from you again, the spiritual war is as much inside the Church as outside.

  • goral

    The gov’t should help the poor under the provide for general welfare clause.
    The church helps the poor as a Commandament of loving our neighbor and other works of mercy.
    The two institutions have always found it difficult to be good neighbors to each other. What makes it increasingly so is that the number of religious genuflectors is shrinking while the numbers of big brother boot lickers is growing.

    It’s very possible that the Church will pay homage to the gov’t. The pay’t of taxes is the recognition of some body over you. That’s why I’m against the church paying homage to the gov’t.
    Before the gov’t was there was the Church.