Friday, December 4, 2009

God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by Jim Wallis (Politicians' Use of Religious Issues)

Wallis is critical of Democrats’ hesitancy to speak in religious terms. He rejects Howard Dean’s admonition to stay away from the issues of “guns, God, and gays” and to focus instead on jobs, health care and foreign policy. By contrast, Wallis approved of John Kerry’s references to Scripture and his own faith during the 2004 presidential election. Wallis suggests that those references were simply too few and too late in the campaign to have been politically successful.

Wallis notes that in declining generally to discuss overtly religious topics, Democrats have essentially been playing to Republican hands and letting the GOP define the terms of the debate. He states, “The ‘religious issues’ in an election get reduced to the Ten Commandments in public courthouses, gay-marriage amendments, prayer in schools, and, of course, abortion.” Wallis is adamant that there are a much wider array of political issues with religious significance including combating terrorism, remedying poverty, preserving the environment, and eradicating racism from our society.

I myself am very sensitive to his concern that the “religious issues” have been erroneous circumscribed to abortion and gay rights. However, many progressive Christians like myself have been repulsed in recent years by the exploitation of faith to achieve fleeting political power. I would not want the Democrats (or any other political party) to follow the tragic and misguided approach of the Republicans in that vein. I think there is a fine--though perhaps somewhat elusive--line between honestly referring to one’s faith as a guide to one’s political decisions, and exploiting the faith of voters to gain their political support. The former is transparent and natural. The latter is horrifying and completely lacking in integrity. I don’t understand God to be vengeful, but I certainly believe he is omnipotent. Consequently, I would not want to test my understanding that he not vengeful by consciously exploiting his Word for earthly gain!

Nonetheless, Wallis raises an important point that Christ followers should broaden our sense of “religious issues” in the political sphere. Both abortion and homosexuality are mentioned in Scripture in only fleeting ways (if at all). By comparison, poverty and justice are pervasive themes. However, I’m not convinced it is the responsibility of politicians to remind us of that. It seems to me that is more the responsibility of each Christ follow as he/she studies God’s Word, and also the responsibility of our church leaders to guide us in our understanding of the teachings of Scripture.

Matthew 8:3-4 (The Message)

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done."

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