Orthodox Christian Responsibility in the Public Arena

HT: OrthodoxNet blog

Fr. John Peck

Read more of Fr. Peck’s writing at Preachers Institute and Journey to Orthodoxy. Fr. Peck pastors St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

By Fr. John Peck

First published in 2004.

First of all, let me begin by saying that it is my duty, as a priest and pastor, to impose moral standards on you. Part of my job and function is to teach Christian morality and to get us, as a body, to adhere to Christian moral standards, so before you come to me with complaints about the separation of Church and state, be aware that I am doing my duty in telling you what the Church, as the Body of Christ, teaches about life and responsibility.

Moral theology in the Orthodox Church in America is pretty loosey-goosey, as is clearly evidenced by the Reflections on Voting for Orthodox Christians article that was posted, at first anonymously, on the OCA website. I have said, and will say here, that a more poorly reasoned collection of moral mish-mush does not yet exist. If you have read it, you can see that what is being said behind the lines is, ‘Things like abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell experimentation are wrong, but we don’t like the candidate who stands against these things, and anyway, capital punishment is wrong, and harming the environment is wrong.’ The statement that we are forced to become ‘reluctant republicans’ or ‘reluctant democrats’ betrays the writer’s real concern, which is to look impartial politically. He would have been very welcome by the Soviets in Russia, as a Christian who does nothing about his Christianity…

The reality of our moral environment is this: who is deciding the significant moral issues of our day? It is, of course, the judiciary. The judiciary is generally appointed, not elected. Judges are currently reigning like sovereign kings over the abortion debate. Judges decide whether or not starving someone to death is murder…or not.

Judges are deciding whether or not you will be required to recognize sexual unions between homosexuals as legitimate marriages. They are also deciding whether or not humans can be farmed for research. (Yes, that is what fetal stem cell research is about. Farm humans, destroy them for research, and then farm some more.)

And who confirms these judges, who we can not vote in or out of office? Of course, our legislators.

As Christians, we can certainly have opinions about a multitude of public and social issues, but not on moral issues. Christian morality is not some amorphous fog of teaching that makes us a taillight on the automobile of humanity, never quite able to solve moral problems until they are so obvious to all that we can speak with 100% comfort on the correctness of our teaching. Our teaching is 100% correct. We must be the headlights of our race. We must illuminate the road before us, watching out for unexpected obstacles to our journey, dangerous twists in the road, and who we may run over in our rush to go faster.

I am here to tell you that abortion is not morally equivalent to capital punishment. One kills millions of innocents, and scars millions more every year. Just a look at the numbers should, by itself, tell you which of these needs to be acted upon first and foremost. Likewise, euthanasia, gay marriage, fetal stem cell research, and human cloning are not morally equivalent to environmental issues, management vs. labor, or economic issues. These are not negotiable in Christian moral teaching. How dangerous it will be for us to ‘vote our pocketbook,’ when children and elderly are at such risk, and being literally murdered daily. The chief moral issues of our day are being decided, and we can elect men who can establish a judiciary who understands this.

Finally, we see the acting out of our failure to speak out with our actions on the public sector. Hundreds of thousands of Christians in Kosovo displaced, persecuted, and with no protection within sight of U.N. Peacekeepers, who do nothing to help, but only watch government sponsored Islamic terrorist gangs destroy their 1000 year old monasteries and churches. Millions of Sudanese Christians –black Christians– murdered, raped or displaced, living in fear of extermination by their own government. Our Secretary of State at the time, himself a minority, called it genocide. Where was the moral indignation over this?

I was enraged when I read the article yesterday in the Canton Repository (our local newspaper) about local pastors who want to remain politically neutral, so they don’t lose their IRS non-profit tax exempt status. They refuse to teach their people Christian moral responsibility, in exchange for money. Personally, I hope they take tax exempt status away from us (churches). Oh yes! Then we will ‘beholden’ to no one. These same pastors know full well that one presidential candidate has political rallies during minority church worship services. I don’t see the IRS bothering those churches. This same candidate canceled a church appearance in West Virginia when the pastor informed him that there would be no politicking there. We are buying into this double standard.

Talk is cheap. Complaining about a less than perfect world is worse than useless. Its sates our desire for action in frustration, and given us the sense that at least we have vented our exasperation, though truly helpless. When it comes time for us to participate in our democracy, we must participate. We are announcing once and for all that we are children of the Kingdom when we vote. We choose, first and foremost, LIFE and protecting the lives of the innocent. If not we, then who?

It’s time to be headlights again. If our nation and our government has taken a wrong turn, a turn we know will result in the removal of God’s blessings from our country, we must bring her back. If not now, then when?

Now we must contend for the soul of our nation. Now we must contend for the Faith, because a faith which does not impose moral values on you is no faith! It is merely a feel-good-about-yourself religion that calms you when excited, gives you impetus for moral indignation, but really requires nothing of you, and therefore can do nothing for you.

If not we, then who? If not now, then when? If not over this, then what could possibly shake us from self-satisfying lethargy? There is a time for everything, according to the Scriptures. Now it is time for the Lord to act. Now is the time for the Church to act. You and I must act. These should all be exactly the same thing. Make sure that they are.

“Orthodox Christian Responsibility in the Public Arena,” by Fr John Peck, from a sermon to Orthodox Christians.


  1. George Michalopulos :

    Bravo Fr John! Enough of moral equivocation. I for one am sick and tired of the the moral equivalency arguments posited by “enlightened” prelates such as Bishop Savas (an otherwise honorable man). I pray that the GOA does not punish you as they did with your essay from a few years back.

  2. The pastor ‘imposing’ standards ‘upon you’ as he opens?

    Christianity is nothing if not an invitation to learn of and to see morally clearly what’s what. And so it is a challenge, only meaningful if chosen and not imposed– to accept to do the work to lift oneself and so also others to betterment ‘both now and forever’.

    Imams and cults impose their standards. Pastors inspire people to accept right and clear challenges in their hearts.

    Avoiding mushyness and being clear about the challenge is what Fr. Peck aims for.

    • Very important point, Harry. One the one hand, you can’t “impose morality” – only compliance with a particular behavior. One the hand – and far, far more important – our goal is the healing and transformation of the person. This prohibits “imposing” anything. Communion (the ultimate goal) is always and only an act of love, requiring the free and full offering of the self. So, when we see groups “demanding” or imposing a particular behavior, we can immediately know that they are after compliance, not communion. It may lead to many beneficial things, but not salvation.

      Of course, you are also right, that Father almost certainly meant that he is calling people to a clear, unequivocal – and narrow – path, which is also necessary for transformation and salvation.

  3. Whether the layman adheres to a biblical standard because he feels like he has to (imposed), or because he genuinely wants to (inspired) – Church leaders owe it to their people to tell them clearly what the standard is, and those leaders should live out their words with actions. Then, hopefully, hearers of the word will become doers.

    Some things are open to prudential judgment, but not everything.

    Great article.

  4. The government imposing morality and equivocation, bad. A pastor teaching and imposing morality, good. An Orthodox Priest writing about it and breaking the equivocation, priceless!

    • Corrected 😉
      The government imposing morality and equivocation, bad. A pastor teaching and imposing the morality of the Church, good. An Orthodox Priest writing about it and breaking the equivocation, priceless!

      • I’ll be the first to admit I need correction. Keep it coming 🙂

        Dibs on the “Break the Equivocation” T-shirts!

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    I’m at Starbucks again and just spent a half-hour talking with a 33 year old guy coming out of a decade of drug-induced egocentrism (his words, not mine). Sobriety is returning, and a big part the increasing sobriety is his growing awareness that the calling he is discerning deep inside himself is really God calling him.

    Here’s the problem. There is almost two decades of teen-age rebellion hardened into deep habits of thought that war against that realization. This might take a while. Still, God is patient and sooner or later this man might end up serving the God now calling him.

    Here’s the good part (it’s all good but this is the really good part): I told him God was calling him, and when he is ready he has to check out the Orthodox Church. Turns out his uncle started going to the Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee, and even though a lot of the service is in Greek and he doesn’t understand it, he goes because “it’s serious stuff.”

    I said maybe he has to get knocked off his horse like St. Paul was. He told me he has already been knocked of his horse. So I said, well, check out the Orthodox Church here then. It’s Fr. Peck’s parish. I’m not sure if the man is ready for this yet, but I do know that if he takes my advice and attends, he’s not going to hear any equivocation from the priest he meets there.

    • Father, I believe that it was providential that he met you. I hope he will listen to you. Certainly now he has ears to hear all those things that he wouldn’t have heard before even if told a thousand times. I hope you can direct him to somebody who can take care that he won’t travel again down the dead-end roads. People tend to resort to prayer after they looked for answers to their problems in all the wrong places. Only then are they willing to open their ears to the Church and finally benefit from all Her spiritual riches.

  6. Question: How would you all respond to a potential Presidential Candidate and former New Mexico Government Gary Johnson who has stated that he is “personally pro-choice” but if elected into office he would work to repeal Roe Vs Wade and make it a State issue.

    Also, while in office this pro-choice Governor received the endorsement of the Right to Life Committee for his work in reducing abortions through parental consent, informed consent, banning partial-birth abortion, and ending Medicaid funding for abortions. As Governor, he supported every piece of legislation offered by the Right To Life Committee.

    For him, it seems that the conviction against abortion isn’ so much faith value but that it’s not something the “state” should be undertaking.

  7. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Sounds reasonable to me. I could support this.

  8. George Michalopulos :

    One of the great canards to come out of the 60s was the cliche that “you can’t legislate morality.” Actually, that’s what all law is, the legislation of morality.

    • It is – and was always – a canard. The law, by definition, proscribes certain behaviors. What is particularly galling is the degree to which the Left has abandoned any pretense to that position (except when it comes to abortion); it has been trying to legislate a incredibly wide range of behavior – including those grave threats to civilization: incandescent light bulbs, toilets that actually work (if it takes three flushes to accomplish what one once did, does it really save water?), and now high volume shower heads. Clearly, these require legislative action. God forbid we let the market address these issues. Isn’t it ironic that we can’t be allowed to choose a light bulb, toilet or potentially (if passed) a shower head, but we “must” protect by all possible means the “right” to choose to terminate a life? (O.k., I’ll turn the sarcasm “off” now.)
      The romance with government coercion rather than moral suasion is beyond me – yet too much in the political sphere seems unsatisfied withe the latter and focused on the former. (Of course, demanding things is what entitled folks do.) Spot on, George.

    • Father Justin Federick actually wrote a pretty nice piece on his blog on this topic.

  9. Bravo, Father John! Your piece breathes life into the notion that “politics is applied theology.”

  10. Michael Bauman :

    I find it sad that Fr. John’s sermon is deemed exceptional, necessary and worthy of praise rather than just an ordinary homily that is greeted with normal expectation. What does it say about the level of depravity, prevarication and yes, heresy that passes for ‘Christian’ leadership in the Church and elsewhere in the Christian world?

    Isn’t he just doing his job?

  11. In the book, “Mind Siege,” by Tim Lahaye, the author states that “politics is nothing more than private views held in the public domain.” Orthodox lifestyle is not something that is done solely on Sunday, but it is the focus and crux of our lives on a daily basis. As the sun is the center of the universe in which the planets revolve around and receive light and warmth, so is The Son in each person’s life. And the hierarchy have a duty to excommunicate those in public office who do not adhere to the basic tenets of Christianity, those mainly being Life, Traditional Marriage, etc. Politics and the Ancient Faith are not two separate entitites nor are they mutually exclusive facets of our lives but are complements, like two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together which create the synergy that drives us toward Theosis.

  12. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Alexis, yes and no. Put another way: Lahaye needs to read Aristotle.

    While it is true that politics reveals “private views held in the public domain,” it is not true that politics is “nothing more” than that. Politics also shapes those views; it works in both directions.

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