Wednesday, August 11, 2004

A Holy Task

I want to respond to a comment that was left here while I was away;

I pray that someday you will shed your religion of the democratic national committee, and return to Jesus.

How can you be gleeful at the convention of those who would eliminate religious thought and speech from the public square, and advocate the killing of the innocent?
I must assume that this person is speaking from outside of progressive Christianity and making sweeping generalizations based on his perception of who we are. As a sacramental Christian, my understanding of the duty of all Christians is to represent (as in re-present) Jesus Christ in this world. Since it cannot be denied that there are many Christians who happen to also be Democrats, the assumption that Jesus is not a part of the DNC dismisses most of the Christians I know as not being "real" Christians. That is a generalization based on an erroneous projection of what defines a Christian and a Democrat.

To claim the goal of the DNC is to eliminate religious thought is to reveal a lack of understanding of most of the Democrats I know. Actually, just the opposite is true. We encourage more religious thought, not less, from a wide diversity of faith traditions. Some of us do not support the attitude of some Christian fundamentalists who want to claim that Christianity is the only religion that matters. I certainly oppose those who want to characterize this country as a "Christian nation," and force-feed their peculiar brand of Christianity on us all. I also oppose a leader who would wage a preemptive war against another nation because of the claim that God told him to do so. Do I want to eliminate such speech? No. But I do want to remove such a dangerous man from office, through the appropriate democratic method; by voting him out. Let him say whatever he wants from his ranch in Texas.

As far as advocating the killing of the innocent, I assume this is a reference to the abortion issue. I have discussed this issue previously, and will refrain from saying more, except to repeat that the stance of many Christians on this issue is that in some difficult situations, abortion may be an option that has to be considered. Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.

But, if we are to discuss the sanctity of life, I must suggest that the killing of over 11,000 innocent Iraqis is an immoral act that has caused God to weep. This preemptive war I cannot support. Nor can I support a leader who is responsible for these innocent deaths.

Recently, I was able to worship with the people of All Saints, Pasadena, one of the largest progressive parishes in the nation. Both services I attended were packed. The liturgy was graceful. The language was inclusive. The spirit of the living God filled the place. I picked up a transcript of a sermon given on February 15, 2004 by George Regas, who was the rector of All Saints for 28 years. The title of his message was "Mixing Politics and Religion is a Holy Task." Here is a brief excerpt;

When I say mixing politics and religion is a holy task, I am not referring to the particular religiosity of a candidate or even how devout they may be. That is less important than how their religious and moral commitments and values shape their political vision and their policy commitments.

During the days of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon spoke again and again about personal morality. The President's men tried to uncover the immoral behavior of congressional people on Nixon's enemy list. They wanted to know how much they drank and with whom they slept. What distorted virtue and integrity. Those sleeping in proper beds would almost destroy a system of government. Vietnam, Watergate, the Contra scandal - maybe all those predominant actors in those sordid stories of American political life slept in the right beds. But their concepts of morality and virtue were grossly warped. They focused on personal morality and ignored those corporate evils that hurt, rob, oppress and kill human beings.

The United states has a long history of religious faith supporting and literally driving progressive causes and movements. From the abolition of slavery to women's suffrage to civil rights, religion has led the way for social change. That's the holy task of mixing politics and religion.

The separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. America's social fabric depends on such values and vision to shape our politics - a dependence the founders of the nation recognized.

It is possible and necessary to express one's faith and convictions about public policy while still respecting the pluralism of American democracy. Rather than suggesting that we not talk about God, progressives should be arguing - on moral and religious grounds - that all Americans should have economic security, health care and educational opportunities. True religious faith results in a compassionate concern for those on the margins of society.

Jim Wallis, in a recent insightful op-ed piece in the New York Times writes: "God is always personal, but never private. Democrats are wrong to restrict religion to this private sphere - just as Republicans are wrong to define religion solely in terms of individual moral choices and sexual ethics. Allowing the religious right to decide what a religious issue is would be both a moral and political tragedy."
I will continue to mix politics and religion, as I see such considerations a part of my duty as a Christian leader. If I may be so bold, I will even go so far as to suggest that I agree with George Regas; such mixing is a holy task.


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