I’m on the National Working Group of the “Faith as a Way of Life Project” at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and we meet twice a year to have “on the ground” experiences followed by discussion about how faith does or does not intersect with various spheres of life. In order to reflect on faith in our political life, we convened for three days in Washington, D.C. We met with various individuals at different levels of government, from the neophyte congressional staffer to a high ranking senator. As usual, the discussions over dinner and our traditional “late night cigar fellowship” were the best.
Among the highlights was a thirty-minute meeting with Senator Joseph Lieberman. After brief introductions, he talked about his deep faith (which happens to be Jewish) and how it affects him daily.
Lieberman is known as a moderate Democrat, a member of the “Group of Fourteen” that has tried to present a third alternative to the ideologies of the far left and far right. And, most importantly for our purposes, he has been outspoken about his faith in his public life.
He told us about growing up in a very religious home and in a home that valued public service. And then he asked us for questions. One of the things we asked was how he was able to work with those on the far right and far left, how he was able to work for consensus, and how he co-sponsors legislation with senators who disagree with him on most things — basically, how does he maneuver in a radically plural context for a principled pluralism?
Interestingly, Sen. Lieberman quoted a Jewish teaching in response. “We are to perfect the world,” he said. Then he continued, “And the second half of that verse is the part that you don’t hear quoted as much in Washington: ‘Under the sovereignty of the Almighty.’” So, he continued, the pragmatism of that Jewish theology leads him to a pragmatic political philosophy. “I disagree with conservative evangelical Christian politicians on gay rights,” he said, “but we both believe that God created the Earth and that we are stewards of the Earth. So I work with conservatives on environmental protection legislation.” He also talked about his personal hatred of abortion, but that he thinks that Roe v. Wade is a faithful and balanced interpretation of the Constitution.
In other words, Lieberman’s faith clearly influences his political philosophy. and it influences his day-to-day decisions. The pragmatism he espoused reminded me of what I know of Jewish theology, but also of early American politics (and current philosophies like Jeffrey Stout). And it made me wonder how we can develop young Christian politicians who are less ideological and more faithful…and pragmatic.
Finally, it was nice that several times Sen. Lieberman remarked at how refreshing it was that he got a time in his day to talk about faith, especially in a day that was consumed with Harriet Miers and Scooter Libby.