View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Being a Christian may mean breaking laws

There’s all sort of hullabaloo about the immigration issue and allegations that some Catholic leaders like Cardinal Mahoney are calling for breaking the law to help immigrants.

As far as I can tell, that’s not what he said, but some folks hate him so much that if he sneezed they’d accuse him of intentionally trying to infect people.

Putting aside the immigration issue, I think we have to keep some things in mind when it comes to Catholics obeying secular laws.

As Catholics, we are called to obey secular laws. But we are also called to obey our consciences.

My understanding is that if there is a conflict between obeying a law and obeying one’s conscience, the conscience takes precedence.

The provisos to this are that such a decision should only be made after much study and prayer, and that the conscience must be well-formed.

It can’t just be a rash or impulsive decision. It must be a carefully considered moral decision.

Catholics and Christians in general certainly have a long history of breaking the law for moral reasons.

Early Christians broke the law simply by being Christians. They were legally imprisoned, tortured, and even executed for breaking the law.

Heck, Jesus was executed as a criminal. So were many of the Apostles.

Jesuits broke the law by going into England during the Reformation.

Prior to the Civil War, Christians broke the law to help slaves escape.

During the NAZI era, Christians broke the law by hiding Jews and smuggling them to safety.

In some parts of the world, Christians break the law by conducting religious services and practicing their faith. I know a man who was flogged in the 1980s for attending a Mass in our good ally Saudi Arabia.

In the 1980s, a number of Christians broke the law by harboring political refugees as part of the Sanctuary Movement. (I was one of those lawbreakers, by the way.)

There are more instances. The point is that Christians have sometimes found themselves in situations in which they have to choose between obeying the law and obeying their faith.

As for me, I am a Catholic Christian first, and an American second.


Anonymous BP said...

True, very true. But, in the case at hand, there's nothing to break the law for, except to help someone break the law.

I don't know if Mahoney said that either, but we must keep in mind that by 'immigrants' we mean 'illegal immigrants'. There's a big difference between that and the cases cited.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

The Salvadorans we harbored in the 1980s were considered illegals.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous BP said...

Because of my age, I'm not that familiar with the specifics of that. (I.e., who did the sheltering, under what authority, from what specific threat, etc.) My point, however, is that, if that was indeed a valid thing to do, we didn't do it willy-nilly. There was an extenuating circumstance (much like the case of Cuban refugees here). If general poverty were sufficient a reason, we may as well have completely open borders. Speaking of which, we have to take scale into consideration. We're talking about over ten million people.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

BP -I noted in my blog entry that I wanted to put asside the immigration issue.

To be honest, I can see both sides in the debate. People don't call me a raging moderate for nothing!

My main point here is not the issue itself, but a number of comments I've seen in which people seem to be making blanket statements about Catholics having to obey the law. They seem not to allow for any variation.

Moreover, the tenor of some of the comments seem to be racially motivated. I was reminded of Bill the Butcher from "The Gangs of New York" and his racist, Nativist views.

As for the 10,000,000 figure, large, yes. But back between 1900 and 1910 we admitted some 8 millin immigrants while our population was below 100,000,000 - about a third of what it is now. Proportionately, that 8 million then was much higher than the 10 million you referenced. (the figure would have to be closer to 24 million to be comperable.)

8:46 AM  
Blogger Don said...

Excellent post!!! You are absoluteley correct. I think we've entered another one of those times when we are called to be salt and light. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago and I think I referenced Cardinal Mahoney. Catholic Social teaching is a great moral construct which calls us to be in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.

I can see both sides of the immigration issue, but in this case the immigrants are being demonized. There has been very little mention of the employers who hire these people and at substandard wages which of course displaces American workers. I think very few people would be trying to get in if there were no promise of economic opportunity. Penalizing employers who hired illegals would be fairer than targetting the illegals.

9:58 AM  
Anonymous BP said...

As I said, I take and enthusiastically agree with your general point, but think that there's something significant in being precise about how and why we defy the law. I.e., we don't defy just because we think it could be better. Sorry for dipping back into the immigration issue directly, but it was a ready counter-example.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

BP- I agree. We can't just do it because we think it would be better. As I noted in the original post:

"The provisos to this are that such a decision should only be made after much study and prayer, and that the conscience must be well-formed.

It can’t just be a rash or impulsive decision. It must be a carefully considered moral decision."

5:08 PM  
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