Thursday, April 07, 2005

Faith and Politics

Bob Carlton has invited a few folks to engage in a discussion of Jim Wallis' new book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it. Over the next few weeks, various blogs will be discussing specific chapters of the book. You will find a proposed schedule for this discussion here.

I must admit to having mixed emotions about the blending of faith and politics. When I first entered the ordained ministry, there were some basic "dos and don'ts" that my mentor taught me. For instance, to mention just a few of the "don'ts"; clergy do not date members. Clergy do not make deposits and keep the books. Clergy purchase libations at the liquor store in the next town over. Clergy do not mow the lawn in a torn t-shirt and baggy shorts. And, finally, clergy do not endorse candidates or political parties.

For the most part, these unspoken rules have served me well, although I must admit that it has been a long time since I reflected on why these are good standards to uphold.

I can understand why some folks are nervous about faith playing an important role in politics. We don't have to look very far to see the dangers of a theocratic government. The attempt to meld faith and politics is not limited to nations far away; it is alive and well in America. The theocrats, with their extreme understandings of "God's law," which they desire to make the law of the land, should make us all a bit nervous.

The reality is that faith has often played a role, to some degree, in politics, and probably always will. I'm old enough to remember when John Kennedy was elected. I can recall my parents (a Greek Orthodox and a Baptist, who compromised and both became, of course, Episcopalians) talking about being uncomfortable with electing a Roman Catholic, as his first allegiance would be to Rome. Years later, I heard very little of that kind of talk regarding Jimmy Carter, who made it rather clear that his first allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.

This is the point where I can understand the concern of those who are not persons of faith. If I am honest, I would have to admit that I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and secondarily an American. If someone believed that religion was a crutch, the opiate of the masses, delusional thinking, etc., then they wouldn't want a politician who gave a high priority to his faith in office, as there would be another loyalty fueling their agenda.

The difficulty right now is that in the last election, Christianity was blatantly used as a political football. Some, like Jim Wallis, are claiming that it is time for persons of faith to become more vocal to counteract the message of religious right and the secular left (disclaimer; no, I don't think all Republicans are a part of the religious right, or all Democrats are part of the secular left; this is simply one way to define the tension, by identifying the extreme poles). To be quite honest, I was dubious of the faith of both Bush and Kerry. It sounded to me like they were being fed lines to show how religious they were by their handlers.

Since the pollsters came out with their claim that the election was decided on "moral values," now every politician, Republican and Democrat, is looking for opportunities to talk about God. I'm not sure that more God talk is going to convince anyone anymore that the speaker deserves their vote. It won't convince me.

What will convince me are actions. Specifically, actions that reveal a desire to offer a hand up to the poor and a willingness to explore the systemic causes of poverty. What will convince me to support a candidate are actions that give evidence of a consistent life ethic that includes not just discussion of abortion and euthanasia, but also of the thousands of innocent Iraqis who have died due to the American invasion and those on death row who will be murdered in the name of the state. What I'm looking for are politicians who express their belief in the dignity of every human being by standing up for those who would be excluded because they are different in some way from the majority. I want a leader who recognizes our responsibility to be good stewards of all of creation, if for no other reason than to make sure that we don't leave our children's children a toxic wasteland.

Will these actions merge faith and politics? Most likely. The changes that need to be made are going to require using every tool we have. But if you trot out your faith thinking it will get my vote, save your breath. Actions speak louder than words. Show me, don't tell me.

Bob offers some good discussions regarding faith and politics here, here and here.

Dave begins the discussion with a call for more humility and restraint here.

Naomi links to a good background interview with Jim Wallis here.

To be continued. Stay tuned.


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