On the intersection of religion and politics

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Sep 14, 2018

One of the vexed questions our country has wrestled with for the last many years has been the proper intersection of religion and politics, and -- if you'll allow me to extend the metaphor -- the proper way to play in that intersection.

It has often been maintained in the past that Religion and Politics are two parallel streets that do not, and must not, intersect. But, for anyone whose faith is more than skin deep, who actually believes the things they hear and say in church, that simply won't wash. Real religion is not about who's in and who's out, and it's not much about private piety -- it's about how we treat each other and the rest of creation, and how that treatment reflects our love of the Creator. And that, like it or not, is very much the stuff of politics.

Politics, after all, is also about how people in a society agree to treat each other and the world around them -- whether we allow those with money to take advantage of those without it, whether we let corporations pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink and drive whole species to extinction in the name of profits, whether we expect government officials to treat everyone fairly, or let them favor their friends and those with influence.

The junction of politics with religion is there, whether we choose to recognize it or not. Not recognizing it merely means that what happens there may go unacknowledged.

Admitting that sincerely held religious beliefs may, even should, influence individuals' political beliefs and behavior does not mean that our government should be controlled by one or another religion, that it should favor or privilege one, or all, faiths, or that a single approach to spiritual practice should rule. The United States should not be (and, in my view, is not) a Christian nation, in the sense that Christian doctrine is incorporated deliberately into its laws or policies or requirements to hold public office. It should be no offense to Christians that a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist or an atheist becomes president -- and there should never be any question that such an eventuality is legal.

The fact that my Christian faith leads me to protest an immigration policy that separates young children from their parents, or that your beliefs lead you to protest abortion, does not mean that either of us has the right to impose our beliefs on other people. Our right to use moral suasion -- to appeal to ethical principles enshrined in religion that we hope others share in order to make our argument -- stops short of compelling others to do what we want. Indeed, when the urge to violence -- coercion without its formal attire -- overtakes us, it's time to step back and ask ourselves if we are living up to our own religious beliefs. When we start feeling righteous, we should take it as a warning that we may not be right.

Christianity proclaims a God who was willing to take on the human condition, with its anguish, its misunderstandings, its joys, cruelties and wild humor -- and then to die, horribly -- in order to bring humanity into God's own heart. Jesus is not shown in the gospels rebuking the outsiders, the sinners and the weak. No, his strongest criticism is aimed at those his society presumed (and who presumed themselves) to be righteous, the powerful, the religious authorities and Roman overlords. We give in to the temptation to identify with those figures at our peril.

Jesus is clear: we are to forgive, that we may be forgiven; to refrain from judging others so we may, in turn, escape judgment. We are to love others as God has first loved us. I take that to mean that we are to identify with others, to see that, in essence, we are them, following the example of Jesus' incarnation, in which he identified with suffering humanity.

If this is our view, our faith will surely take us into the political arena, but it will never lead us to harm one of God's creatures, to wish harm on them, or to justify harm done to them.

So, may people of faith go forth into the public square to offer our ideas and hopes for our nation, glorious and strife-riven as it is; to listen as we wish others would listen to us; to argue passionately and faithfully for what we believe is right, keeping before us always the humility of the one we claim as role-model and savior; and always, to trust that divine love and mercy guide the course of history with a wisdom far beyond mere human understanding.

May it be so.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Sep 14, 2018 15:11

Glad that you are around, Sarah Reynolds. Excellent insight. Nice to know that you walk the walk of your faith. Jesus made it really simple, "Love one another as I have loved you.".



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