OMGōsh, In Context

In celebration of the anniversary of Independence of the oldest continuous democracy in the world, the United States, this week we are looking at issues of church and state.

Part 3: Oh My Gōsh, in Context

Mkhitar Gosh was an Armenian scholar, writer, public figure, thinker, and a priest of the Armenian Church. While America deals with issues of church and state and the separation of one from the other, a glance back to the 12th Century reveals this monk, who is inspired and motivated by his faith in God. He writes a code of law which includes civil and canon law that was used in Greater Amenia and Cilicia, as well as in Poland and  in parts of Europe. We focus on his clerical background, that as a priest of the church, he intertwined the law with an ethical standard of living.

Politics and religion intersect at different points through their functioning life within a community. Politics may define a world view for an individual, but it is religion that checks and balances that view along the lines of an ethical code. Yes, Jesus said, “Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” (Mark 12:17)  when asked whether or not taxes should be paid to the Roman Emperor, but he also spoke of the need  for charitable giving, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and your gave me drink, naked and you clothed me and in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25)  Jesus sets the moral imperative squarely on the shoulders of the individual, not on a government body or entity. But contemplating the needs in the world, it becomes obvious that we can become more effective and reach more people if we can participate collectively. Hence, religion appeals to politics and politicians for help to further its goals.

Mkhitar Gosh’s book “Lawcode” sets the framework for civil law, marital law, relationships, personal freedoms and expressions. It’s important to mention that the book “Lawcode” in Armenian is called “Girk Datastani” which translates to Book of Judgement. This, in itself, describes one of the fundamental reasons for the separation of church and state in a pluralistic society. It is important to understand that all laws, all regulations as well as religion exist inside of a context. What may work for a society where everyone is the same faith and same ethnic background, with the same common history, may not work where these differ. For instance, when St. Paul writes about obeying the government, it is very important to understand that he was writing in a time when the end of the world and end of the time was imminent. The first century Christian had this understanding, and so, yes, obey the government, as bad as it may be, because Christ is coming back and all will be well. Context is fundamental to understanding the unfolding of politics and religion.

We pray, O Lord, help us to understand one another and acknowledge that our differences are a reflection of your creativity. Help us to treat one another with compassion and respect. Amen.

Read the Lawcode here.


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