Faith, Values, Politics

Today, besides preaching and leading worship at my church, as well as visiting a parishioner in the hospital, I participated in a faith forum at the local Obama headquarters. The numbers were small, but I was a presenter (actually I think I was the non-staff presenter). It was an interesting conversation -- our leader wanted us to focus in some part on creating an action plan, but we didn't get much of that done before people had to leave.

But the conversation was helpful. It showed in part that Democrats as a whole are not sure where faith fits in and their concerned that religion can be an impediment to political change. But when we turned to the question of how we can start a dialogue about faith and values and politics, that would lead to a conversation about Obama, I think we came to the conclusion that biggest barrier to conversation is fear. If we are to move forward and solve the problems of our day, we need to recognize the reality of our fears. But instead of preying fear and manipulating it, we must bring out and deal with it. At this point, people are afraid of a lot of different things, and economic survival may be the biggest issue out there. A member of own congregation is struggling with the fact that her husband, who is hospitalized worked for GM, is now retired, and has been cut off from being insured. What does she do?

I tried to interject into our conversation -- the principles of being my brother's or sister's keeper (a theme that Barack Obama has appealed to) and to the principle of "love your neighbor as yourself," as a way of getting at this issue of taxation and spending.

The GOP mantra is that each one should be responsible for himself or herself. Put the money in the pockets of families and let them decide. It is the principle of rugged individualism. With that in mind the GOP has argued for limited government and limited taxation.

The Democrats have historically, at least since FDR, argued for a more communal understanding. In this view, we are in this together, and government is an important contributor to the welfare of the people. That is, to speak biblically, we are called to be our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper. We have a responsibility to make sure that everyone in this country has affordable health care and doesn't have to go broke getting it. John McCain talks about a $5,000 tax credit that will allow us to get health coverage. If you can find decent coverage for less than $10,000 let me know where to find it? And if you do find it, you have to be in good physical condition and probably under 50.

So, where does faith come in? How does it help us deal with the issue of fear? How does it move us from being concerned about self-preservation to concern about the community?

Ultimately this is a question about how does religion be part of the solution rather than part of the problem!


Anonymous said…
For the Christian Right it appears that primary role of religion in politics is to bolster their claim to an orthodox political and legislative agenda and, having established THE orthodox agenda, religion is then used to as a sword to demonize those who oppose their agenda.

When one's agenda (political or otherwise) is religiously derived, and when one accepts that there is only one truth and they have the monopoly on that truth, then it necessarily follows that the opposition is sinful if not evil.

Caution is needed here, on both sides of the religio-political divide. When overtly claiming a faith-based foundation for one's political agenda, from the right or left, there is great risk that one is claiming a monopoly on the truth. For example, when I say that my political agenda is based on my faith and that the core truth of my faith is the demand for compassion in all of my relationships and it is an obligation of society to mete out social, legal and economic justice to the marginalized, am I any less guilty of monopolizing the truth, and villifying those who have the nerve to oppose such a biblically sound political agenda?

Arguing politics from an overtly faith-based position is risky business, and you had better be "correct" in your positions; to claim that there is a single exclusive biblically compelled political position on any issue or candidate, is nothing less than taking the name of the Lord.

Some months ago I wrote a couple of posts on Christian Politics. I must admit that I have been deeply includenced by John Howard Yoder on this subject, and the substance of my own take is built around a pyramid with the two Great Commandments and Jesus' New Commandment at the top, followed by The Sermon on the Mount, Ten Commandments and a summary of the ethical prophets with an emphasis on Amos. It boils down to a political ethic of integrity and fairness, and surprise, surprise, there is nothing in it about homosexuality, nationalistic patriotism or abortion.
There is always a danger in mixing faith and politics. When we do this, we must do it humbly, recognizing that we could be wrong. All we can say, and hopefully it came across yesterday, is that from my perspective, formed by faith, this is right. It is not, claiming God for my side. It is saying. As I understand the things of God, this is what I feel compelled to do. Others will decide differently.

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