Friday, June 17, 2005

On Religion and Politics

The Christian Science Monitor has an editorial this morning which I found absolutely right on target when it comes to expressing my own thoughts about the role of organized religion in politics. The piece begins by noting the polarizing effect religion has been playing in American political life recently, on issues ranging from fuel efficiency to gay marriage to the war in Iraq, and then goes on to say:

"To counter this [polarizing] trend, more than 40 US denominations took part in a Convocation on Hunger last week. Members from the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and other evangelical churches prayed alongside Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, mainline Protestants and Jews. They had found an issue they could agree on and which could be raised publicly. For a number of years, many denominations led the call for debt forgiveness in Africa recently agreed to by the developed nations.

Such unity shows that religious beliefs need not be captive to one partisan view. Yes, different religious beliefs may have different social implications. And yes, a civil democracy can often serve as a win-lose contest of opposing beliefs.

But democracies work best long-term only with a spirit of respect and compromise, and protection for minority views and interests. Reasoned argument and compassionate listening offer ample opportunity for religious beliefs to play a public role without ruining public discourse and the political equilibrium.

For religions and civil democracy to live together, what must be graciously accepted is that the political expression of one's religious faith does not have secular validity simply because individuals who hold these beliefs think they are divinely endorsed.

Secular government helps protect all religions in their diversity. And religions, by judiciously using their moral authority, as shown in last week's conference, can protect secular government in finding common ground for public action
" [emphases added].

Well said.

Also today, former U.S. senator/U.N. Ambassador John Danforth writes an important op/ed in the New York Times, laying out the case that moderate Christians, just as much as those on the far right of the theological spectrum, "have strongly held Christian convictions, that we speak from the depths of our beliefs, and that our approach to politics is at least as faithful as that of those who are more conservative. Our difference concerns the extent to which government should, or even can, translate religious beliefs into the laws of the state."

Danforth goes on to note "In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility. ...

For [moderate Christians], religion should be inclusive, and it should seek to bridge the differences that separate people. We do not exclude from worship those whose opinions differ from ours. Following a Lord who sat at the table with tax collectors and sinners, we welcome to the Lord's table all who would come. Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their clear voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics. "

I won't cut and paste the whole of Danforth's essay, but it is an important one. If you have the opportunity this morning, read it in full. I certainly welcome Senator Danforth into this discussion; his insights and thoughts are going to be vital as we move forward in our political discourse.


At 2:03 PM, Anonymous William Swann said...

Nice post, Jeremy. I also wrote a kind of a reaction to Danforth's piece over on Centerfield. Most of it is just a personal story about the church I grew up in, but it ends with a comparison to Danforth's views.


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