Division of church and state

The church-state discussion this week is whether mandatory reporting of child abuse should be extended to the confessional. What are the rights of a church, priest, pastor or imam? 

Other recent faith issues have included Australia's right to prohibit the circumcision of girls and how to legally identify people wearing facial veils.

What should be a Christian response? In Matthew 22:21, Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's".

The famous Ten Commandments had two parts. The first laws outline our responsibility to God, including "Do not have other gods", "Do not make idols".  The second part defines our responsibility to society. This includes the laws "Do not kill", "Do not steal" and "Do not commit adultery".

The apostle Peter explained in Acts 5:27-29 how we are solely responsible for our relationship with God, as defined in the first part of the Ten Commandments. Religious freedom must be upheld.

Despite this religious freedom, in Romans 13:1-10, the apostle Paul told us that God gave authority to governments to administer the second set of laws that safeguard society.

The reporting of child abuse, circumcision practice and the right of government to identify its citizens do not affect any individual's right to a private relationship with God. These recent issues are about safeguarding Australian society.

The government must have the ability to protect its most vulnerable young against abuse.

God freely gives grace and forgiveness to any human for any crime - that's the wonder-filled message all Christian faiths share. This forgiveness extends beyond church. It may be realised at home, in a prison, while talking to a priest or pastor and, of course, asked for in prayer.

Any wrong doer may seek forgiveness from God. Any wrong doer should expect natural justice from the state. I don't think that seems too radical a notion.

"If we confess our sins, God will forgive us our sins.” It is God who forgives. The government's role is to protect. That protection must include all children, everywhere. 

James Toogood is a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Yass. The views expressed here are his own. He can be contacted on 0406 080 190.

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