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.


Five Reasons to “Animate” Your Church’s Adult Education Program

Tony Jones recently posted some info about a project that I am part of, the new Animate Faith Formation Series, from SparkHouse. I have already been compensated for my part in the project, so my gushing over the project is not so much about sales as it is about hoping people take advantage of this resource that I am truly proud of.

From what I can tell, the folks at SparkHouse wanted to bring together seven of the greatest Christian thinkers in the universe in order to create an adult formation curriculum that was, not only theologically solid, but engaging and thoughtful. As the tagline reads:

Seven leading Christian voices.
Seven big conversations about faith.
All you need is seven weeks.

As it would turn out the seven greatest thinkers were already booked, so they scraped together seven other folks who have been known to flap their gums about God, faith and life:

And over about six months we wrote, procrastinated, wrote, submitted, re-wrote, gathered, critiqued, re-wrote and finally recorded our thoughts on God, Jesus, Salvation, Spirituality, The Cross, the Bible and Church. The results of our efforts can be seen in this first of many teaser videos:

Here are five quick reasons why I think you should order it today:

  • We invite rather than instruct. While we each give our perspective on faith, these are not offered in order convince anyone of anything, but rather to present a compelling reason to think about each topic and then explore what this means for each person.
  • We were allowed to be ourselves. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but we were each encouraged to bring our own stories into this project and the process. The danger in this kind of openness is that our personalities and styles might not always jive with the hearer, but the potential for folks to hear a genuine invitation to conversations about faith hopefully comes through.
  • We modeled what we encourage. Part of the process was to engage with one another through a script read-through and workshop. Gathered in one room over two days, we each read, critiqued, received and eventually left with a better message than we could have developed on our own. This mutuality and respectful exploration was an important part of this project and we hope this same kind of interaction will take place for the participate in the series. And in case you were wondering, YES this was a tad bit intimidating.
  • Not everyone will be happy with what we say or who we are. There will be some who will try to place the seven of us into some theological box from which we are collectively destroying Christendom and perverting the Gospel with our false theology in word and deed. And while there are times when I WISHED for that kind of power, rest assured that I stand proudly with these folks, not because I agree with everything that is said, but because we have each entered into a liberating journey to make faith real in a world where too often Christianity is experienced as anything but freeing.
  • It just looks awesome. Okay, I have to admit that when I was told that there was going to be animation, I thought to myself, “Cool” and immediately hoped for some Speed Racer version of myself. Well, not only is the artwork and graphical layout great looking, after previewing my own segment, folks will be moved by how the animation helps fill and form the words and thoughts that are trying to be expressed. Also, the journal that tis part of the series is one of those rare “workbooks” that people will keep on their bookshelves, not as a reminder of a moment in time, but as a way to look back on their journey of faith.

So, thanks to Tony Jones, Paul Soupiset and Team and the rest of the SparkHouse crew for their vision, leadership and support during this project. It was a blast. For more information about the “voices” of Animate including bio’s, links and trivia, click HERE and here are the various Social Media  links of interest: FacebookTwitter and YouTube.