Religion and Politics
One of our cultural clichés oft-quoted is that we do not bring politics and religion into
discussion when friends and family get together.
Why is that?
Is it the implication that these topics invariably lead to disagreement and by extension disharmony?
Are we left then with having our only sources of information on politics and religion be those outside our
circle of friends, the family culture to which we belong and the personal religious climate in which we live?
Must we form our religious and political opinions from someone else’s magic – someone else whom
we assume is more knowledgeable, more spiritual or more “right on the money?”
We are again at a time in our society where politics and religion have come to prominence in our national
debate. Only this time there is greater urgency. An election is coming in which some of our deepest personal convictions are
going to be touched as we endeavor to decide which political philosophy to support for the next four years.
Our presidential candidates now campaign in a landscape that more and more is framed around morality and there
are those who openly advocate that this political season is a season of choosing between good and evil.
The incumbent Republican administration has, since prior to the previous election, portrayed itself as one
of high moral value with emphasis on the family, on the sanctity of life, on all the things that Christian believers treasure
most. But it has also used the label "evil doers" quite freely and the label seems to be running loosely in more directions
than just international terrorists.
The Democratic party is campaigning for a political change in this country and a removing from office of that
same administration. Based on the public philosophical stance of the current administration, are we to assume that the Democratic
candidate and party are therefore against family values, the sanctity of life and, by extension, supportive of low morale
Are we ultimately going to see, as the election remains closely contested, TV ads in which desparate political
activists label their opponents "evil doers?"
"Enemies of Christ or of God?"
Those labels have already been used by the extreme Christian Right as they've campaigned around political
Who really owns or monopolizes morality in this country?
Have we as a people and citizenry relinquished our own authority to others to decide for us what is moral
and who we should support?
If so, why have we done that?
Whoever defines your reality owns your reality. That particular proprietorship must always be your own and
not someone else’s.
Recently, I’ve had my focus against what I’ve always group-labeled the “fundamentalist”
mentality seriously altered - partially because of interaction with readers who participate in this topic site and more recently
by taking the time to search and discover that not all whom I have labeled “fundamentalist” in the past belong
in my personally imagined “fortress on the far right of religion and politics.”
What is needful is not only an acknowledgement of the integrity and practice of a more moderate fundamentalist
view of Christianity, but, as I’ve pondered how such relates to those values I treasure within, how much in agreement
I’ve found myself.
No, I’m not Paul and I have not seen a light in my journey of opposition to what I have considered excessive
literalist and fundamentalist thinking. But I have come to discover that at this time in our lives we are not yet as polarized
as I had ignorantly assumed previously. (But if we’re not careful we could get there!) With chagrin I have to admit
that the more I speak openly the more I am exposed to differing – even opposing – viewpoints that are not only
valid, but cause me to rethink my own assumptions.
One cause of this adjustment in thought for me is a more increased awareness that even now there are Christians
out there who have been and remain distanced from the extreme Christian Right and its political agenda. One such entity with
whom I agree – are some of thosee who have been labeled “free style evangelicals.”
Representative of free style evangelicals for me are exampled by those who support Jim Wallis of Sojourners
Magazine and who is the convener of Call to Renewal, a national network of churches working to overcome poverty.
Last December, Wallis published an editorial in the New York Times entitled “Putting God Back in Politics.”
In that editorial, he wrote, “As the Democratic candidates for president attend religious services for the holidays,
their celebrations may be tempered by an uncomfortable fact: church-going Americans tend to vote Republican.”
Wallis goes on to say that Democratic politicians err by not understanding how much most Americans care about
the role of religion in public life and continues, “By failing to engage Republicans in this debate, the Democrats impoverish
Have the Democrats yielded or conceded the moral high ground to the Republican Party, regardless of whether
or not the Republicans have embraced the far Christian Right and adopted that particular strain of morality as their own?
Liberal Democratic concerns about everything from political correctness to an almost transparent reluctance
to speak on religious values because of an inordinate and unjustified subordination to the concept of separation of church
and state have left their political counterview to Republican Conservatism somewhat hamstrung.
Do liberals really include a sense of public morality in their advocacy of a liberal approach to governance?
We liberal Christians absolutely must include it.
Are there liberal Christians who in recent national and local elections have found themselves having to support
a conservative candidate whose views are more extreme than their own because they cannot get enough information as to the
true moral feelings of the opposition candidate?
Do liberal Christians then find themselves voting for the conservative candidate as the lesser of two extremes,
or - perish the thought - the lesser of two evils?
The most successful Republican politicians recently have done so primarily by assuring people of faith –
American voters – that they will in fact allow their religious beliefs to affect their political views.
Yet this is what we ought to desire in this country – a high moral ground from which decisions affecting
our way of life can be made. Liberal politicians and liberal Christians, though certainly not one and the same in this country,
have allowed the conservative politicians and Christians to claim ownership of the moral high ground and in doing so we find
ourselves subject to flaming political value judgments tossed from catapults in the moral castle built by extremists on that
Our towns, villages and houses at the base of the moral high ground are suffering under a rain of these flaming
bombs that land in our homes, our market places, our courthouses, our gardens and parks – even our places of worship.
It is time for us to charge that moral high ground and take it back. If we do not, we may very much find ourselves
in the Letter-of-the-Law Jewish world Jesus was born into 2000 years ago. Many ideas and concepts that have already been legislated,
advocated and expounded upon by the Christian Right are not biblical, not scriptural and certainly not “what Jesus would
Regardless of the political rhetoric, we do not have to accept as absolutes the advocacies of those who insist
that such and such is precisely what Jesus would do or precisely what Jesus wants or wanted.
The judgmental Letter of the Law, essentially Old Testament thinking that had evolved into the lethal judgmental
society of Jesus time (and accurately portrayed in the Gibson film) was not and is not something that Jesus supported or advocated
in any way provable by the extreme Christian Right.
We read that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and others are of the view that Old Testament Law would
and will be quite viable as a foundation for a remodeled American legal system if our political process, influenced by the
Christian Right, is used to bring about a revolution in how this country is governed, how it perceives itself and how it relates
to the rest of the world.
Scalia has written that government as an instrument of capital punishment is something ordained of God. That’s
Jesus in Matthew says “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to
destroy, but to fulfill.”
At what moment did he fulfill the Law? Was it sometime during the final 12 hours – The Passion of the
Christ? I suppose there are those who insist that in his dying, he did so.
However, is it not possible that when confronted with the woman caught in adultery, when he would have been
justified – even required – by “The Law” to join in the stoning, Jesus, as the Son of God, brought
the Law to fulfillment by introducing the idea of sinlessness and innocence as a requirement of those who judge and execute.
At that moment did he not repudiate the Law of rigid and inflexible imperative and replace it with a new testament
of governance that requires wisdom, consideration and compassion?
Must the moral high ground be a place of condemnation first, judgment second and then culminating with punishment?
Does the Sermon on the Mount preach that idea?
Do the parables of The Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son preach that idea?
Can we honestly declare that Jesus was a Conservative Capitalist who favored the rich at the expense of the
poor and whose life incidents and teachings inform the radical objectives of the extreme Religious Right?
Wallis continued, “For too many Democrats, faith is private and has no implications for political life.
But what kind of faith is that? Where would America be if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had kept his faith to himself?”
Honest people realize the implications of their own convictions. Dishonest people pursue what they want by
compromising their convictions at the expense of their own integrity and end up attempting to manipulate others by withholding
truth. Political parties and candidates can weaken themselves by denying the source of those internal convictions that inform
their highest aspirations.
Did we really, in 2000, elect someone as president who has done and will do what Jesus would do?
Are we remaining quiet and non-participating while the political forces around us are turning this land of
the free and home of the brave into a land of the deceived and the home of the brave new cowards?
I believe that those of us with a liberal Christian viewpoint can and ought to connect with and encourage
those who have been called “freestyle evangelicals,” a term coined by Steven Waldman, editor of the interfaith
These are those who have defied my own conventional wisdom about fundamentalist Christians. Folks like these
responded in 1976, I believe, in support of Jimmy Carter whom, regardless of his success as a one-term president, more personifies
what a “Christian” President of the United States ought to look like.
It has been said that freestyle evangelicals are offended by the self-righteous antics of the leaders of the
so-called religious right. They are legitimately concerned about gay marriage and abortion but may find themselves having
to choose between a Christian candidate whose supporters have a strict, inflexible and extreme ideological agenda and another
candidate too concerned with suppressing his own religious beliefs that he appears to be ashamed of it.
We must take that moral high ground from those who think they own it and that they can dictate to the rest
of us. That includes those who have, as a blend of political and religious understanding, an expectation that we can abuse
and disenfranchise each other, ignore our poor in the name of profit and greed and attempt dominion of our planet by mindless
exploitation as much as we want - simply because in a coming time there will be a supernatural intervention that will clean
up the mess we are making.
In that regard, if we as Christian liberals do not charge the moral high ground we will be Left Out, not Left
The Rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party http://www.4religious-right.info/index.h...
Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace http://www.sojo.net/
The Right Christians http://www.therightchristians.org/
Liberals Like Christ http://www.liberalslikechrist.org/