Dialogue may produce the resolution of differences or decrease the differences (It may, in fact, increase differences, but it should never do this, because we have spoken and acted poorly). When we differ with our neighbor or enemy about certain essential things, what then do we say and do? We must live together in peace, if at all possible.
The Founding Fathers wrote a constitution that provided both for free exercise of religion (Note that free exercise of religion takes in a much wider ambit than freedom of worship) and for no-establishment. No-establishment is different from separation of church and state. Any institution in society must have a relationship of some sort to the government. Total separation is impossible. No-establishment has to do with the prohibition of an officially established church, protected and supported by the government. Legislative statutes and court decisions decide what this means over time. Originally, the Constitution prohibited only the Federal goverment from establishing religion. In later court decisions, the states were also prohibited from establishing a religion. The last disestablishment of a church occurred long before these judicial decisions were made (Massachusetts, 1833).
Even when we disagree on essential matters with others, we Christian are called to live in peace with atheists and unbelievers and all people. We are to disobey human laws that contradict the law of God. We are to work for the rescinding of laws that oppose the law of God. The Book of Revelation describes a time when Christians in Asia (modern Turkey) were refusing to offer sacrifice to the emperor for which some of them paid with their lives. John, the prophet, who wrote the book based on his visions, called the Christian communities to resist but without violence. The complete defeat of evil will take place at the end of the world. God would vindicate the saints and martyrs. Non-violent resistance to evil (Gandhi’s Satyagraha) is an active mode of opposition. Violence is unacceptable.
When laws are enacted that would have us transgress essential beliefs, we are to disobey the law, no matter what the consequences. Where and when free exercise is protected, we are to live in peace with our unbelieving neighbor and continue our efforts at greater understanding. We must continue witnessing to the faith so that others may believe. We are to win over hearts and minds to Christ. Remember that the Church grows, not only during times of tolerance and favor, but also during times of persecution. We are to do the will of Christ in all circumstances.
When Christians are the majority, we are never to persecute religious minorities. Such a policy is in complete opposition to Christ’s teachings and His own sacrifice on the cross.
Michael G. Tavella
September 13, 2019
St. John Chrysostom, Bishop