According to the old saw, it’s often pretty safe to talk about most subjects in polite conversation, with the exception of politics and religion. That’s good advice, but hardly practicable. Why? Well, there are several reasons.
First, we are dealing with two important aspects of a person’s life. Politics governs everyday affairs, religion governs spiritual affairs. As multifaceted beings, we are dimensionally obligated to deal with matters in each realm. Because we exist, we are influenced by—and may influence—conditions in each of those realms.
Second, for those who practice religion, it is hard to separate faith from politics, since faith informs every aspect of that person’s life, including political positions. It is equally apparent that those who avoid anything dealing with faith may let their anti-religious leanings influence their political views.
Problems come, however, when we confuse the two, when we mistakenly construe rights granted by civil authorities as being matters of faith. The recent photo of young woman clutching an assault rifle in her right hand and Bible in her left, while standing in front of a US flag is a case in point: the blending of nationalism, militarism and faith is a dangerous mix that is a breeding ground for conflict.
Third, there are those among the politically minded for whom politics is their religion. They live and die by party platforms and positions. It is sad to think that anyone could dedicate their all to such fickle masters but it apparently happens. Similarly, there are those people of faith who have such disdain for political matters that they refuse to engage in the democratic process. Unfortunately these people are frequently the first and loudest in their criticism of government leaders and policies.
Fourth, it is commonly observed among religious bodies of all faiths and persuasions that religion itself is often too political. Within local congregations and among churches of a particular denomination, and among denominations political posturing and machinations are common. This should not be. People of faith should adopt the attitude expressed by God, when through the prophet Isaiah, he appealed to the erring children of Israel by saying, “Come, let us reason together.”
If I reflect upon myself and my own actions, interests and beliefs, I suppose I fall squarely into the second group in this non-exhaustive list. I believe that faith must inform us, but that as the founding fathers so adamantly asserted, there must be a separation between church and state.
We may see and take exception to those instances where religion exerts influence in politics. However, there are instances where politics, embodied in the form of governmental legislatures, executives, judges and agencies, impinges on religion. This is equally dangerous, if not more so, since governments have geopolitical boundaries and are temporally restricted. Religions are longer lived than governments, and may extend around the globe. Should a local government affect the policies and practices of a religion, the effects may extend far beyond the jurisdiction of the political body.
I have no qualms about discussing either politics or religion. They are integral parts of who I am. Throughout my life, I have been on a journey of discovery. I began with rather simple-minded acceptance of a position—in my case, conservatism in both politics and faith. However, I neglected to enforce the usual conservative embargo on thought and reason. In both realms, my views have expanded beyond their initial boundaries, not out of sheer exasperation with the confines of the ideology, but more out of seeking greater application and understanding. In both realms, my changing views have been guided by principles that I read about constantly in scripture: justice, righteousness, mercy, faithfulness. I have discovered that I can no more embrace the most conservative restrictions than I can the most liberal license. My political views have paralleled or more accurately, they have been shaped by my spiritual awakening and understanding.
As one who believes that God is ultimately the artist who crafted a very good universe, my political positions reflect that in that I want to see that very good creation restored and celebrated for the beauty and awe that it is and inspires. As one who believes that I am indeed my brother’s keeper, my political positions reflect support for social programs that help people, not because I approve of the abdication of individual responsibility in such matters—that still holds—but because government’s role in the distribution of such aid is the only workable paradigm we have, necessitated by the logistics involved in seeing to the needs and welfare of more than 300 million people. As one who reads and takes to heart the repeated calls throughout the Bible for justice and helping the oppressed, my political views drive me to call attention to factions, policies, and ideologies that not only approve of continued oppression of the poor and hurting, but propose instituting oppressive policies as law.
I grew up influenced by a strict religious conservatism. When I opened my eyes and my mind to seeing issues from different views and to reading more of scripture than had been stressed in my formative years, my conservative convictions gave way to something more. Similarly, I grew up influenced by a political conservatism that suggested on one level or another, that liberal concerns are fundamentally wrong, without explanation of why that was so. When my maturing faith informed my political views, I emerged as someone still conservative on some issues, far more moderate in some respects, and even quite liberal in others. Dogmatism, whether religious or political, is nothing more than slavery of heart, mind and spirit.
I am not offering my own story as a model for others to follow, by any means, but rather to explain the experiences I have had on this journey, experiences that have shaped who I am today. I encourage every person to open their minds in terms of both politics and religion, to examine their dogmas and philosophies in both realms and be willing to embrace change if indeed that change comes from substantiated reflection and reason. Having just registered another birthday only yesterday, it occurs to me that life is too short to let another equally fallible human run it for me, define my motives and actions and views. I choose to live by grace, love and mercy in all aspects of my life.
That reflects the grace, love, and mercy I have received.
And for that grace, love and mercy I continue to be temporally amazed and eternally grateful.