Friday, May 31, 2013

Religion & Politics Part II

Religion and politics. A volatile combination. But why? They are two of the most interesting subjects in the world and they speak to the most vital interests of humanity: our individual lives and our life together. They are indeed emotional topics. Who do you know that speaks of either dispassionately? Yet they are the sources of the greatest divisions among humanity, leading to wars, bigotry, injustice and intolerance.

Of course that's not all that religion and politics lead to: breakthroughs in science, magnificent art, literature and architecture, education, health, philosophy and notions of democracy and freedom - to name a few benefits.

Yet there are those who believe that they cannot co-exist in the same place - and yet they do. They always do. They always have.

Religion and politics have battled one another, as in the days of Galileo and Henry VIII but they have complemented one another as in the labor and civil rights movements.

Of course the founding fathers of our country sought to make sure when it came to the governance of the new nation, that there was a 'bright red line', as it were, between religion and it's influence on politics and vice-versa. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." But this is far, far from the cry of 'Separation of Church and State', a phrase employed by those who try and silence the voice of religion when it tries to speak in the political sphere. Ironically, the notion of separation of church and state, is not a Constitutional establishment. It is a phrase coined by Thomas Jefferson, written in a letter to the 'Danbury Baptist', not to warn them of involvement in politics, but to assure them of the wall existing between the church and state as a protection for the Church!

In America, both the free exercise of religion and participation in public (political) life is a guarantee that all voice can be heard in the public square. Unfortunately we try and silence one another. We say we shouldn't 'introduce politics' on one another; or that we can't interject religion into a political discussion. Yet our country doesn't move forward very far without either and more often than we want to admit - without both...

Admittedly, most of us, whether in religion or politics, blend the two badly. I'll try and explain that in another post. But one who did it well, perhaps better than anyone in the 20th century was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We think of King as a civil rights leader, but we forget, that he was also pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and later, co-pastor with his father, of Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. When Dr. King would take courageous and controversial stances putting him at odds with either other civil rights leaders or even the President of the United States, in opposition to the Viet Nam War, for instance, he was said to have reminded those who questioned such stances, 'You must not forget that M.L. is a preacher of the Gospel.'

It was blending of religion and politics, that has inspired countless leaders, producing changes that have led to a more equitable existence for blacks, Hispanics, women and freedom movements throughout the world. 

Sometimes mentioning specific passages of scripture, sometimes specific pieces of legislation or policy, King spoke to the moral center of our lives and his voice reminds us of most basic cravings and demands for love, justice and brotherhood in time and eternity. 

Perhaps its because religion and politics are so powerful and volatile combinations, that has clumsy as we are at 'mixing' them. We need to embrace them both and get better at it...

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