God and Politics – Grace Ji-Sun Kim

Flickr image: ford_paul

I will never forget the answer that George W. Bush gave in an early presidential primary season debate – December 13, 1999 – when he was asked, ‘who is your favorite political philosopher’.

He looked into the camera and with a child-like demeanor, he said, “Jesus Christ, because he changed my life.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at his answer.

Bush’s answer opens up the discussion of how religion and American politics are intertwined. As much as the government wants to separate church and state, American politics shows how differing political opinions influence religious decisions and differing religious confessions influence (or are used to validate) political values.

I am Canadian and I grew up in Canada. Most of the people who run for Prime Minister are Protestant or Roman Catholic. Many of them are religious and attend Sunday worship service. However, religion and politics do not mix up in Canada, where much political thought is influenced by its being an officially bilingual country. If a Prime Minister candidate talked about God on the campaign trail, Canadians will believe the candidate is strange or has become a little crazy. If a candidate ever did that, the candidate will certainly lose their opportunity at becoming the Prime Minister.

It is the opposite in American politics. The presidential candidates believe they have to often talk about God, refer to God, and how their God is viewed by their faith, and therefore in their politics. As the recent Vice Presidential debate between Joseph Biden and Paul Ryan demonstrated, this means they must even speak to the issue if their point is that their religion has no influence on their politics. Both Vice President Biden and Mr. Ryan are Catholic, and the two have very different views on the influence of faith and politics.

However, 2012’s election campaign has seen relatively little “God-Talk”. It is usually the conservative right who like to push the God-talk upon the candidates. They like to use “God-talk” to illustrate which candidate is “more” Christian than the other. Christianity or “God-talk” within the campaign trail has been frequently used by the parties to sway voters and to convince that one candidate is the better Christian than the other. Or even to paint the false picture that the other candidate isn’t even Christian at all. Much religious talk and some phony issues revolve around the character of the candidates. The ink and sound waves spilled over President Obama’s birthplace and Mr. Romney’s tax returns are less about substance than they are about whether or not the candidate is lying.

Mitt Romney has been shy to talk about God, but once in a while he goes off script and brings God back into the conversation.

He said, “I will not take God out of my heart, I will not take God out of the public square, and I will not take it out of the platform of my party.”

This is in reaction to the Democratic Party that had to argue to get God back into its platform at the convention.

However, Mr. Romney is still avoiding discussions of his own faith conviction and what it means to believe in God. Since Romney is a Mormon, a minority religion, possibly not even truly Christian, and he is having such a difficult time with that issue, the conservative right commentators are shying away from religion, God-talk and Christianity.

The presidential candidate who can sincerely and genuinely talk about God will win the voters, because regardless of their faith, an honest stance in the faith demonstrates a positive character. This worked well with Jimmy Carter. However, to use God and to use God’s name to sway voters to either candidate is simply manipulation. It puts voters off, because it is no longer a matter of personal conviction, it becomes a matter of “you must do what I believe.” This is poison, especially in social issues such as feminist matters and the environment.

Furthermore, having faith is does not merely mean ‘talking about God’ but is about ‘living out the gospel and showing God within our lives’. If a candidate cannot live out the faith, but just ‘talk about God’ it means nothing. “Faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26). Living out the gospel means obeying God’s commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. This includes taking care of the poor, the elderly, the widow, the distraught and the down-trodden. When a candidate merely “talks” about their faith without wanting to live out the gospel, it makes us wonder which God they believe in. We all know that actions speak louder than words.

As we reflect upon this election and who to vote for, we should remember that using the name of God to manipulate an election is general ‘politics’ and “character building”. It does not reliably reveal anything about the candidate’s beliefs or faith in God. This does remind us of a commandment, “Do not use the name of God in vain’ (Exodus 20:7). It comes down to “when you do it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”


Rev. Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim received her M.Div. from Knox College and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is an Associate Professor of Doctrinal Theology and the Director of the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program at Moravian Theological Seminary. She is the author of two books, The Grace of Sophia: A Korean North American Women’s Christology and The Holy Spirit, Chi, and the Other: A Model of Global and Intercultural Pneumatology. Grace was recently ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and also blogs for 99 Brattle and at gracejisunkim.

I occasionally host guest bloggers on my blog to expand the breadth of topics I cover as well as help share the perspectives and ideas of people who I feel are particularly compelling.  If you think you have a great idea or know of someone who does, please feel free to contact me and let me know.

 

Sorry, But I Don’t Hate Mitt Romney

flickr: mafleen

This past weekend, I had the privilege of spending 36 hours in Ohio. Apparently they are getting a good deal of presidential election attention. In fact, I came “this” close to being at a joint Paul Ryan Rally and Pumpkin Chucking event.

Good times in Ohio. I am sure the election season can’t be over soon enough for my Ohio friends.

While I was there I had a good talk with a friend about what seems to be a genuine HATRED of President Obama. I realize that during election season there is always some level of mud-slinging and personal attacks, but the tone this year feels different than just trying to sway voters. This year it feels like the disdain and hate of Barack Obama is clogging up whatever free-flow of public debate that was left. I almost don’t care about why the hate seems to be so strong and I am not so naive to think we can all “just get along,” but I do think this tone has to be challenged and we must all refrain from stoking the fires of hate.

This past week, with my “People really HATE Barack Obama” antenna up, I clicked on an article, Fear and loathing in campaign 2012: As patriarchal, Christian dominance fades demographically, its backlash politics have only become more vicious by Arthur Goldwag, author of Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies.

…the kind of hatred that I’m talking about goes way beyond ordinary politics and deep into the realm of abnormal psychology. In its full-blown manifestations, it is akin to what an ophidiophobe feels at the sight of a snake: visceral and existential; categorical and absolute. It turns on the gut certainty that your adversaries aren’t looking just to raise your taxes but to destroy your whole way of life: that they are not only wrongheaded, but preternaturally evil. Comparatively few people experience these feelings on a conscious level, but they lie latent in many more of us than we might suspect.

Now I have been pretty clear that I am not a Romney Supporter. I would say that I am an Obama supporter, with a soft spot for Stein. And while I vehemently disagree with what Romney stands for on marriage equalityimmigration, government programs, etc. and think his election would be horrible for the United States in so many ways, I can honestly say that I do not hate him. In fact, I am one of those people that does not hate anyone. Be it political, professional, or personal, hate is a waste of my breath, a waste of my energy and a dishonor to God.

  • I don’t hate the girl who dumped me in high school.
  • I don’t hate the colleague who I think is incompetent.
  • I don’t hate George W. Bush, who I believe a horrendous President.
  • I don’t hate the person who beat me as a child.
  • I don’t hate the man who shot and killed my brother-in-law.

Disappointed in, angry with, livid towards, offended by, yes, but hateful towards another?

Never.

Hate is a powerful driving force and when repeatedly called upon, it strips us all of our humanity. As a parent, I do not forbid saying the word, but its use never goes unchallenged by a conversation with my children about what they are feeling. Call it hippie-talk, “politically correct” or whatever, but I believe that actions driven by hatred have allowed us to one-dimensionalize one another and our apathy towards it is tearing our culture and our country apart.

Hate in personal or professional situations has its own set of problems, but in politics hate renders us unable to separate the human being from the politician. One can hate and fight against what someone does or believes, but to hate the human being behind those things is a dangerous place to be for us a individuals or as a country. When hate invades our politics we begin to create legislation based upon assumptions and understandings that are not driven on a deep understanding of complex issues, but upon how we want to culturally and institutionally hold captive the other.

I understand that at this point, folks who are going to vote against Barack Obama are not going to change their minds. All I am hoping for is that, in the pursuit of the common good, our decisions on election day and beyond are made based on disagreement about the issues and not hatred of the individual. For when hate is the lens through which we view the world and form our policies, a cycle of reciprocated hatred by those who are targeted will undoubtedly be the outcome.

When we hate we all lose, no matter who gets elected.

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