Thursday, May 30, 2013

Religion & Politics Part I

A friend of mine once preached a sermon entitled, "What Does Athens Have to Do with Jerusalem". It was a powerful presentation that sought to bridge the gulf between the secular and the sacred. The point being that the Christian faith connects all of life.

I'm thinking about this because I've kind of been called to task for mixing a religious sentiment in a political event. Recently, when a politician decided not to run for reelection I responded, that it was 'an answer to prayer'. The response was interesting, because my 'prayer' was not that this person would be injured, scandalized or harmed in anyway, but that they would no longer be in public life as an elected official.

Harsh? Maybe. But let's be clear: I don't seriously spend much prayer time asking for anything regarding a politician except that he or she receive guidance, wisdom and protection. The 'prayer' comment wasn't serious, but an expression of relief that this politician, is particularly unable or unwilling to engage the American electorate with, well, intelligent facts and the truth - by hardly any objective measure. Now I realize that 'facts' and 'truth' have recently become 'subjective' things. But I'm not talking about stances on issues (although in some cases this has indeed been a part of it), but when actual events, proven facts, etc. become fungible, at the very best such people become something less than serious. At worst they bolster the fringe elements in our political discourse and we lose the capacity as a nation to engage in critical and substantive dialogue.

But what if I had 'prayed' that this person, or any other get out of politics? Does that mean that employing such a tactic is wrong or unsophisticated? Let's be clear about something else - the way to get politicians out of office is to find better candidates to run against them and to work for those candidates. Even then, if you are a person of faith, at some point, at bare minimum, you pray that your efforts on behalf of your candidate for office are successful. You pray for them to have wisdom, that they become great Godly leaders.

The real question becomes "Is it wrong to mix faith/religion and politics?'

The answer is 'It depends'...

I recently spoke with a group of college students and I explained to them, that when Christians come into the public square, its important that they learn how to be 'multi-lingual'. In other words, at CitySquare, although most of our organization is comprised of people of faith, we advocate for housing for the homeless is a moral issue, it is an economic issue - it costs more to shelter the homeless or leave them on the street than to provide them with housing and case management. It is a loss an almost unfathomable loss of human capital. It is a health care issue. It is a mental health issue.

But it is also a moral issue.

The Bible doesn't speak specifically about the homeless, but it does talk about our responsibility for the poor...
  • "This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place." Jeremiah 22:3
  • "'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD." Jeremiah 22:16
  • "Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked." Jeremiah 20:13
  • "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy." Ezekiel 16:49
  • "Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need." 1 Timothy 5:3
  • "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
  • "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" James 2:2-6
  • "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." 1 John 3:17-18
The point is, what is morally right is right in a number of ways that make sense by other measures. And believers need to be able to speak the 'language' of those disciplines in the public square. It's not enough to say 'Because God says so...' because that's really not why legislation is passed or why people get elected. It may be a motivator for me as a Christian, but I also need to know how issues important to me speak to others who don't share my faith, or who don't view issues of 'fairness or equality' the way I do. Ultimately and eventually, though what as fair, good and just resonates with even those who don't share my faith because almost all of us have a sense of how we want to be treated and our own sense of dignity. 

The political and the faith orientations align in ways that can speak to all of us. 

Is the Bible 'political'? It is a story of God and man that often takes place within the contexts of tribes and cities and nations  (politics). God deals with them (religion) in those contexts. 
The Bible has books called I and II Kings (political office). It speaks about wars between nations, treaties between governments (foreign affairs) and it tells tales of laws, immigration policy and domestic policy in how citizens of kingdoms are provided for. It all takes place among peoples hostile to the faith of people who serve God and it tells stories of how those people who serve God sought to influence political policy and custom.

No serious person can say that religion doesn't belong in politics. 

More on this. But I think it's important that we get this straight: prayer, faith and faith commitments are not wrong in the public sphere. My values and perspectives are informed by my faith.But it is incumbent upon me to express those values and perspectives in inclusive ways and build a constituency in support of my issues just like anyone else. 

Even if a decision by a politician to leave public life as a politician is an 'answer to prayer' because I considered that person to be an ill informed, frivolous and misleading public servant, and because I thought that room should be made for a more serious person, I would actually hope you would join in such a prayer. 

By the way: what happens if such a 'prayer' is prayed and the person doesn't leave office? Well, 'No' is as much an answer to prayer, as 'Yes'. We push on...

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