Where Does Faith Fit in Today’s Politics?

Where Does Faith Fit in Today’s Politics? October 12, 2012

It’s always annoyed me when people assume that, because I’m a Christian, I must also be socially conservative on all requisite issues. And while I understand those who lean further right because of their Christian beliefs, I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.

In fact, most of my positions on social issues can be traced back to my faith, which goes to show that the spectrum of beliefs taken from any given faith, as well as the many ways in which those beliefs are applied, is wide and arguably still growing as we continue to become increasingly pluralistic and intertwined.

Depending on your perspective, it could be argued that the landscape of presidential candidates either reflects such religious diversity, or that it’s still more of the same old majority rule at play, with a few minor cosmetic adjustments. For some, the fact that a Mormon is the Republican nominee is nothing short of astonishing, and what’s more, that the evangelical right is generally finding their way toward alignment with Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.

It’s also worth noting that last night’s vice presidential debate was the first time in history that we’ve had two Catholic VPs running against each other. The only fairly typical one in the group (unless you ask the Muslim conspiracy theorists, that is) is Barack Obama who is a member of the mainline protestant Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ.

Of course, a person from a non-Christian faith or who claims no faith at all would argue, I’m sure, that this is still a bunch of Christians, vying to be in charge. But we’ve come some distance from the Kennedy era when some folks feared it was impossible for (gasp) a Catholic to become President.

So what role is faith playing in today’s politics? Certainly the evangelical right lays no exclusive claim to the Republican ticket’s agenda, with a Mormon and a Catholic at the top of the ticket. Granted, the Romney/Ryan camp wants to maintain a cozy friendship with the Evangelicals, but there’s no denying the fact that, for the first time in decades, the evangelical Christian right doesn’t have one of their own aiming for the Oval Office.

Is this a sign of changing times? Will there be a day when a Jew, Muslim or even atheist may be elected president? I think all are likely in time, though I’m not sure how many of the underlying values of either party will change. Both Republicans and Democrats depend, in large part, on their ability to lay claim to the lion’s share of popular views on big issues. But despite the changes, many of the discussions taking place are similar to those of the past.

And while the political parties seem fairly static in their positions, some within the various religious groups are redefining the expression of their values as the cultural context changes. For example, a growing number of conservative Christians are championing environmental stewardship as a central cause of their faith, while more centrist and left-leaning Christians are considering broader perspectives with regard to the sanctity of life and what it means to defend it.

If we’re not careful, we might actually end up working side-by-side on some of these important issues before we realize we’re not supposed to be so close.

Meanwhile, the political system seems to be fracturing itself into a state of paralysis, one side so desperate to distinguish itself from the other that no common ground is left to be found once the dust settles. And the binary attitude of those playing the political game reflects a tremendous disconnect with the changing world around it in the opinion polls about the efficacy of our government.

Faith in the political sphere is at its worst when it allows itself to be allied with any particular political group for the sake of consolidating power. When such alliances are formed, compromises inevitably follow that forsake values for the lure of victory. If we can take anything away from Jesus’ ministry, the fact that he stood in the face of such allegiances is clear, challenging their oppressive breadth at the expense of the Gospel call to align with the powerless and marginalized.

Unfortunately, such folks don’t count for much as a voting bloc, so little ends up changing for them in such imperial systems of power grabbing.

But there is promise as well when so many expressions of a common Christian faith can be found in the same debate. While some may still seek to claim ultimate purview over what it means to be Christian, it’s hard to ignore the fact that reality presents a much richer picture. Yes, we still have a long way to go if we’re to see the reins of power shared equally by those from so many other groups of people, largely without voice at such high levels of power. But when such differences become relatively unremarkable, it’s a sign of progress.

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  • Excellent points, Christian, though perhaps I’m a bit more jaded in my view. In today’s party politics, religion is just a brand name. It’s akin to slapping a fish sticker (for my generation) or a “NOTW” sticker (today) on your business vehicle. You put it there to attract Christian business (or votes). Yes, I hope and pray that we each let our faith guide us to political positions, but having that outweigh the corporate religion approach by today’s political parties is a long way off. Don’t get me wrong…I’m 100% behind the effort…I just think its going to take a very long time.

    Alas, it’s stuff like Billy Graham endorsing Romney and then scrubbing his site of anti-Mormon content that discourages me: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/breaking-billy-graham-endorses-romney-then-scrubs-site-calling-mormonism-a-cult/politics/2012/10/12/51106. Mr. Graham is, of course, welcome to endorse whomever he chooses, and I’d be the first one to applaud if he truly took down the anti-Mormon stuff because he’d come to the conclusion that he was wrong in his earlier accusations of it being a “cult”. However, this is clearly motivated, as you point out, by a desire for political victory, not out of religious conviction.

  • Tom

    Christian….this is brilliant. It’s refreshing to hear this type of political rhetoric stemming from a faith-based point of view. Thank you.

  • stage9

    “I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.”

    Take issue all you like, but those positions ARE often mutually exclusive! Many liberal “Christians” believe in Jesus as a good man, but deny His Lordship over their lives. They believe in the Love of God but utterly ignore holiness and righteousness outlined by that same God.

    How can some liberal Christians believe that you should protect some life and then callously abort others? How can you claim to be a disciple of Christ, which is what a Christian is — one who not only believes Jesus is God, but also obeys His Word (that He is Lord) — and then turn around and ignore His prohibitions on sexual immorality?

    This is what is at issue here. Not whether you believe in feeding the poor and caring for the least among us. BOTH sides are actively involved in this area. This does not distinguish us. In fact, this is your DUTY as a Christian and politics is irrelevant in regard to this obligation. You are obligated by GOD to do this. But you are also obligated by God to OBEY ALL that he has taught you. We are to be SANCTIFIED by the truth; HIS WORD IS TRUTH! — ALL of His Word, even those parts that don’t align with our own finite view of the universe or your cultural persuasion. The Word of God TRUMPS ALL cultural persuasions.

    And as for Obamney, the evangelical vote is more of a sign of a displeasure with Obama than a satisfaction with Obamney. Neither represent the Word of God IMO NOR does either party. One gives us lip service, the other is godless. (See the Democrat Convention)

  • jerry lynch

    Any faith in the political sphere is always at its worse for faith. The reality is this and only this: we are citizens of heaven. You appear to believe such a recognition is to be of no earthly good; if so, it is far, far better than your attitude of being of no spiritual good.

  • FesteAinoriba

    Egalitarianism IS the state religion, the government is actively interfering with our moral and legal rights to disposition our time, energy, talents in accordance with our own individual conscience and forcing us to support and sustain broken philosophies, corrupt cultural practices, irresponsible behavior.

    This isn’t charity – true charity enobles the giver and receiver by lovingly guiding the recipient into principles and beliefs that produce the fruits of prosperity. Both the giver and receiver are ennobled by an act of love received in gratitude and deference.

    The government, thru compulsion, destroys charity, replaced gratitude with a sense of entitlement, reinforces bad behavior, de-incentivizes virtuous living, and promotes poverty. The government has no legitimate authority for social engineering, social programs, and means-tested benefits – the moment it ventured into this moral terrain, it breeched the separation of church and state and became, instead of the legitimate role of protector of liberty, an enemy of liberty: trampling the Constitution and undermining civilization.

    Yes, I have an obligation to lift my fellowman, but this is a moral obligation derived from my obligations to God. It is not, nor ever should it be a legal obligation imposed by the state by enshrining egalitarian moral philosophy in law. It is very clear under the most rudimentary rational and objective analysis that such violates the so-called separation of church and state clause in the first amendment.

    The repugnant idea held by some that liberty is the right to compel others to share the fruits of their virtue with those who refuse to follow virtue’s path is the very spirit of slavery and the essential philosophy of criminal behavior. This is the wellspring at the heart of the modern “progressive” movement that has consumed the democratic party like a cancer. Socialism is a criminal philosophy and those who espouse it are wittingly or witlessly members of a criminal enterprise.

    Wake up America, it is almost too late: See through the sophistry and seductive lies of those who tell you that you are entitled to share the fruits of virtue without walking in virtue’s paths. Shed these grinning impish agents of slavery like the vile unAmerican, Anti-Constitution, Anti-Theist, thieving socialist criminals that they are.