Friday, December 03, 2004

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

Patrick Henry Reardon, a priest of the Antiochean Orthodox tradition and editor of Touchstone magazine, weighs in on the current separation of Church and State debate with a provocative essay entitled "Free Press & Pulpit: On the First Amendment." This article was used (with permission of the author) as a basis for the December Colloquium of the Center for Theology at Lenoir-Rhyne College, with Dr. J. Larry Yoder leading the discussion.

One of the issue to surface, left unaddressed by Reardon, was the issue of the tax-exempt status of Churches. While some present felt the question irrelevant, others pressed the issue, some arguing on the one hand that this should prevent churches getting mixed up in politics, others arguing that churches ought to abandon their tax exempt status in order to freely address the public square and endorse political candidates.

It seems to me that one of Reardon's most salient points was implicit in his title: "Free Press and Pulpit." The press has traditionally been seen as the public arena where "the facts" (policy issues, etc.) are freely addressed and debated. The Church has been viewed for some time as properly belonging to the sphere of private and personal "values" (religious and moral beliefs). This distinction conforms to the post-Kantian bifurcation of "facts" and "values." The problem, however, as we now see clearly, is that the press does not withhold its value-judgments in addressing various public policy issues. Likewise, Church teaching is replete with implications for the public sphere of politics. The "fact" vs. "value" dichotomy, as tidy as it looks, just doesn't work. The fact is, genuine values (the immorality of rape and murder, the goodness of courage and mercy) themselves are facts, as Peter Kreeft notes in his book, A Refutation of Moral Relativism. The upshot of Reardon's article, at least in my reading of it, is that the Church ought to be freely proclaiming her teachings, and she shouldn't be hesitant to do so just because these teachings have implications for public policy, as do Church teachings (at least of the Catholic and Orthodox churches) on such matters as abortion, stem-cell research, and same-sex "marriage."

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