The statement today by Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, that churches are not above the law, reveals two things.
The first thing it reveals is obvious: The secular state won’t allow religious sensibilities to get in the way of its goals.
In case you missed it today, the High Court of Australia decided that the Government’s desire to return a group of refugees, including 37 infants, back to offshore detention on the island of Nauru is legal.
Hence back to Nauru they will go. A legal decision, but hardly a moral one surely. Indeed an immoral one definitely.
This has led to a push by a number of churches to invoke the centuries old idea of sanctuary, in which churches and cathedrals are deemed placed safe from the arm of the state. The idea is that refugees will be housed in churches, and the state will be challenged to cross the threshold if it wants to do anything about it. That’s guaranteed social media suicide right there for the government. You can read about the sanctuary idea here.
Peter Dutton pushed back, stating categorically:
“Churches provide lot of assistance to refugees and they feel very strongly about this issue. In the end, people have to abide by Australia law, regardless of who they are.”
Let’s be frank. The secular state does not recognise sanctuary. It does not recognise sacred spaces because the secular state does not recognise the sacred. All must be subsumed under the secular. Invoking a practice from the Middle Ages during the height of Christendom just won’t cut it.
But the second thing that Dutton’s statement reveals, is that the conservative Christian Right and the progressive Christian Left have both been complicit in allowing the secular state’s over-reach on religious freedom and practice.
How? By each side’s marked silence on matters pertaining to religious freedom with which they disagree that the other side holds to dearly. Such silences have simply emboldened the state’s push to fill every nook and cranny of religious life.
Here is how this has happened. When the secular state threatens over-reach on a so-called conservative matter, the so-called Christian progressives seem strangely silent: One arm of the church goes MIA. And when the secular state threatens over-reach on a so-called progressive cause, the so-called Christian conservatives seem strangely silent: The other arm of the church goes MIA.
So when it comes to the issues of sexual ethics at the forefront of the culture wars at the moment, the social media platforms of the Christian Left rarely if ever (and I check this stuff) vocally supports continued state sanction of alternative ethical communities (Catholic Adoption Agencies, certain Christian schools for example). The Christian Left seems happy to let their Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with them on this matter to swing in the secular breeze when it comes to the legal ramifications of laws that threaten religious freedom of expression and practice.
And conversely when it comes to issues of human rights such as the pressing matter of decent living arrangements for asylum seekers and refugees , the big guns on the social media platforms of the Christian Right often fall strangely silent. Those most opposed to Government overreach on sexual ethic matters, probably won’t register a Facebook protest if the immigration department heavies break down the church doors and drag people out. The Right seems happy to let their Christian brothers and sisters who disagree with them on this matter to swing in the secular breeze when it comes to the legal ramifications of laws that threaten religious freedom and practice.
And all the while the secular state is playing both sides for suckers. Our silence to speak up for those we disagree with within the church is akin to a decision to dine with the devil with a short spoon on the off-chance he’ll be too distracted by the dining guest seated on his other side to bother us.
Psalm 24, quoted in 1Corinthians 10:26 cuts across our personal Christian fiefdoms, and lay down a direct challenge to the secular state:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.[a]
7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.