Does the church have an answer to modern society’s questions regarding human rights, family life and other areas? Although the world is technologically advanced, it seems unable to answer the deeper questions of what a “person” is, of what a family is and, more recently, of what a marriage is. We seem unable to define peace, or teach a just economy, or explain suffering. While society works to hide God because of a flawed understanding of the separation of church and state, the possibility of God and his church contributing to finding answers to these questions is ignored or outright rejected.
Does the church have something to add to these discussions? Yes. But before the church addresses specific issues, she wants the world to understand the reason and inspiration behind her truths.
One of the principal beliefs of the church is the dignity of the person. She finds the grounds for this in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, which shows us our full dignity and destiny. In that mystery God became a man, and we can come to understand our own potential and possibilities for greatness. Everything we do as human persons, God has now done. He has perfectly walked our walk and lived our experiences.
In seeing his example, we can realize that as human persons we have many dimensions — religious, moral, sexual, familial, social, cultural, economic and political — which must be respected, mutually fostered, and integrated into the fullness of who we are. If we ignore any one of these important dimensions, we cause an imbalance in ourselves, as well as promote a false view of who the human person is. From this mistaken view of the human person, additional mistakes regarding marriage, family life and questions of social justice are believed and propagated.
Based on the truth of man’s dignity, the church gives her answers to society’s questions in her social doctrine. This doctrine consists of practical principles which help the church to make prudential judgments on social issues and allow her to teach clearly on relevant concerns of humanity. Called the “public policy” of the church, the social doctrine contains the church’s answer to our modern questions. It has always and will always use as its starting point and conclusion its enduring belief that each human person has an inherent value and worth which must be respected.
Before addressing specific issues which pertain to the human person, family life and society — such as the hot topics of abortion, preferential option for the poor, gay marriage, and just war — the church wants to assert and teach the foundational truth of man’s dignity. From her balanced view of the human person, the church’s views on these and other topics can be understood and assist in society’s own search for answers.
In the discussion on social questions, tolerance must be given to religious-based truths which can contribute and help society to find the answers to its questions. The church, commissioned by Christ, offers the persistent answer of human dignity in her social doctrine.
Jeff Kirby is a seminarian of the Diocese of Charleston. He is currently on a pastoral assignment at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors.