Tuesday, May 03, 2005

on the Archbishop of Canterbury overreaching himself and on empowering the laity

A recent report from the Economist refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury's, Rowan Williams', words at a recent celebration of the 60th anniversary of Christian Aid. The archbishop reportedly challenged our “naive confidence in free trade." He is reported to have said that free trade “forces choices on vulnerable countries, whose effects may be in the short to medium term very costly indeed to a whole generation of workers, to the environment, to political stability.”

Well, the folks at the Economist took exception to the archbishop's words: "the archbishop would do well to hearken to the advice of his own top spiritual leader. 'Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's,' said Jesus, thus making clear his belief that church and state should stick to their core competences."

On the whole I lean towards agreeing with the Economist. It isn't within the competency of the members of the clergy to function as "experts" in the temporal realm (in politics, economics, education, law, medicine, and others), unless the cleric has acquired additional training on these subjects and can speak authoritatively. Having said that, I do think that clerics, including the archbishop, may indeed offer guidance (not expertise) on these temporal matters in light of the message of the Gospel--a message which is within the competence of clergy members.

C.S. Lewis in his Mere Christianity speaks directly to this and it would have helped Rowan Williams a bit if he had remembered Lewis' words: "People say, 'The Church ought to give us a lead.' That is true if they mean it in the right way, but false if they mean it in the wrong way…But, of course, when they ask for a lead from the Church most people mean they want the clergy to put out a political programme. That is silly. The clergy are those particular people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever; and we are asking them to do a quite different job for which they have not been trained."

No, clerics are not trained in the complexities of foreign trade, law, economics, and so on. And therefore, "Do pastors need to understand economics?"--a question and a topic featured in Acton Institute's site. I say they most certainly do. Should they become experts in the field? I say they most certainly should not (unless they feel called to do so as part of their ministry).

Lewis then identifies on whom the task of addressing these temporal concerns falls: "The job is really on us, on the laymen. The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists--not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time."

Get that? The task of molding the whole world--its politics, economics, medicine, justice system, education, trade, and a myriad of other temporal matters--into the contours of the Christian message--into the figure of Christ Himself--falls squarely on the laity. Because, simply put, you, the laity, are more competent in dealing with these things; you are better trained with these concerns and can think more creatively in reforming your field than, say, the archbishop of Canterbury ever can.

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council said the same thing: "The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, "Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People," article 7).

This is also why I think John Kerry in last year's presidential campaign got it somewhat wrong when he was "rationalizing" as a Catholic his stance on certain issues which run counter to the Church's position. As a lay person, Kerry and all Catholic lay men and women (including Catholic politicians of course), are called to bring their faith into their vocation and their work. One can't be Catholic and say, "my faith is one thing and my work is another." That will not do in the mind of the Church. The laity is enjoined to think creative ways to bring their Catholicity into their everyday lives and work without necessarily "imposing" their religion on others. This takes creativity, ingenuity, and thought. Saying that one can't bring one's beliefs into one's livelihood shirks one's vocation and calling. A goal after all of our Christian journey is integration of the whole person.

And so, going back to clerics, what are pastors to do? According to Vatican II, "Pastors must clearly state the principles concerning the purpose of creation and the use of temporal things and must offer the moral and spiritual aids by which the temporal order may be renewed in Christ." In other words, the task of clerics is moral and spiritual--helping the laity in their task of shaping the temporal realm into the kingdom of Christ.

If anything, this is a call for the laity to take their rightful place in the Church and for their empowerment.

Powered by Blogger