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.


Top 200 Church Blogs and Then Some

Photos: puuikibeach on Flickr

A few weeks ago, Kent Shaffer’s Church Relevance Blog posted a list of Top 200 Church Blogs. And while I am honored to have cracked the charts at #90 the list, like many others, on first glance, I felt as though the list lacked diversity in many areas: gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. Of course, I did not walk through each and every blog to record and analyze demographic identifiers and I don’t think the make-up of the list would change that much if a different set of matrices was used, but, just as Kent acknowledges in his final FAQ, the church-based blogging landscape is dominated by dudes. This list bears that out big time.

Where are the top Christian women bloggers? Some are undiscovered. Some write outside of the topical scope of this list. Many write for the multi-author blogs on the list and aren’t listed by name. However, we must also acknowledge that there is a huge gender gap within the blogosphere as well as within church leadership that ultimately affects this list. Be sure to read our lengthier explanation as to where are the top christian women bloggers.

And in this explanation, he does do a little more in-depth sharing about the bloggers, lifting up the female bloggers who might not be so easily identified by the blog name or are part of a group blog. Be sure to take a look at the filtered list and as well as the comments to see even more folks. At the end of the note Kent lays out another acknowledgement:

So while there is a gender gap, keep in mind that the disparity isn’t just among gender. There is an even greater gap with racial disparity (most are white), and the greatest disparity is that very few of the bloggers are not from the United States. With time we can hope that things are better equalized.

Kent later follows up with an Open Letter to Christian Women Blogs where he tried to address some of the reactions to the list. I know from seeing some of the reactions to the letter that not all were were satisfied by his response, so I am glad to see that Kent continues to come back to the post and offer edits and explanations. From the public posts, he seems to have handled the critique with a genuine spirit of openness.

Still . . . the list, as many point out is still pretty White and, I would guess, hetero.

So rather than pile on Kent and give his list, or any other lists like it, more power or clout than it would organically generate, I will simple offer 10 blogs and a few kick-ass lists that can broaden your blog reading experience. Still missing are bloggers outside of the United States, but let me offer these other folks who might expand your experience around race, gender, sexuality, etc.

MUST READ LISTS: First and foremost, you MUST check out D.J. Chuang’s 2010 list, Top Church Blogs By Minority Leaders for some racial diversity. I would also commend to you Rhetoric, Race and Religion for a solid group blog and API Women Faith & Action for some great histories as told through this blog. Glancing through these lists, these are some solid folks on here. Still light on female bloggers, this is a good place to start.

10 MORE BLOGS TO READ: So here are 10 folks that I am drawn to, not always because I agree with what they write, but because through their sharing, I am given the privilege of seeing the world through lenses that would not otherwise be possible. This is a list of academics, practitioners, friends and strangers each with a little snippet from their blog bio. In no particular order . . .

Randy Woodley // Rev. Dr. Randy S. Woodley grew up during the turbulent 1960s in the multiethnic Willow Run district of Ypsilanti, Michigan. With his roots steeped deep in southern working poor families, he is a legal descendent of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. Education: B.A. Rockmont College; M.Div., Palmer Theological Seminary; Ph.D. Intercultural Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary, E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission. He is the author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.

Alex Patchin McNeill // Alex’s driving passion is working for queer and transgender inclusion in sacred spaces, and fundraising for progressive social causes. He is the first openly transgender ministry candidate in his conservative Presbyterian region in Western North Carolina. Alex earned his Master’s of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School with scholarship on the intersection of religion, gender, sexuality, and reproductive rights. He has been writing, organizing, training, and preaching for LGBT equality for the past nine years.

Jenni Clayville // Welcome to my chaotic world. Sometimes, it’s chaotic because of life circumstances… but usually it’s chaotic because I excel in CHAOS. I guess I find it more interesting that way.First and foremost, I am the CEO of my home. I make sure everyone’s loved up, fed up and clothed up. I have also been a Worship Leader/Pastor over the last 15 years and am currently the Worship & Creative Arts Pastor at Paseo Christian Church in El Paso, Texas.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim // Grace Ji-Sun Kim received her M.Div. from Knox College (University of Toronto) and her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. She 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 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.

Eliacin Rosario-Cruz // I am a husband & father, wandering spiritual companion, photographer, communitarian, community cultivator. I unashamedly drive a mini-van. I’ve been known for paradoxically falling asleep watching movies and drink way too much coffee. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. In 2005 my family and I moved to Seattle as part of our pilgrimage toward a more harmonious life and vocation.

Soong-Chan Rah // Professor Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church. Soong-Chan is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism and North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL.

Katie Mulligan // Itinerant Pastor. Parent of Oldest and Little Guy. Cat Person. Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation. It also does not represent my children’s perspective, nor my mother’s; they think I am funny, but misguided.

Yolanda Pierce // Yolanda Pierce is an Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary. She holds a Ph.D. and a M.A. degree from Cornell University and undergraduate degrees from Princeton University. Pierce’s research specialties include African American Religious History; Womanist Theology; African American Literature; and 19th Century American Culture. She is the author of Hell Without Fires: Slavery, Christianity, and the Antebellum Spiritual Narrative.

Nanette Sawyer // I’m the founding pastor of Wicker Park Grace and Grace Commons in Chicago. I grew up in very rural upstate New York and later lived for many years in Massachusetts, including five in Boston. I received a Masters of Theological Studies in Comparative World Religions from Harvard Divinity School in 1997 and made my way to Chicago in 1999 to attend McCormick Theological Seminary. From there, I graduated with a Masters of Divinity and became ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2002. She is the author of Hospitality-The Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome.

Roland Stringfellow // Rev. Roland Stringfellow works to create dialogs on the topic of LGBTQ equality with congregations as the Director of Ministerial Outreach with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Sexuality on the campus of Pacific School of Religion. He has conducted multiple workshops on the topics of race, religion, class and sexuality.

Like Kent’s, D.J.’s or anyone else’s list of blogs, there are many great folks who have undoubtedly been left off and deserve to be read. The additions that I offer are limited by my own experience, relationships and context, so, if there are some bloggers who you think need some love, please leave comments in this blog post or this Facebook Update. Lastly, for all of my blogging friends who I have not included, please know I still love you and I’ll try to get you the next time around.