Saturday, July 21, 2007

God's Politics - How Should Your Faith Influence Your Politics? (Chapter 5)

How should our faith guide us in the political realm. Jim Wallis tackles that tough question in Chapter 5 of God's Politics.
"The Politics of God is often not the same as the politics of the people of God. The real question is not whether religious faith should influence a society and its politics, but how?" (pg. 56)
He goes on to share that for far too many Democrats their faith is private. It is compartmentalized in that it doesn't leave any serious implications for their political life. He asks, "what kind of faith is that? Where would America be if Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kept his faith to himself?" (pg. 57) Our faith is not to be a private faith, it is to be public. It isn't supposed to be compartmentalized, but rather infiltrate every aspect of our life. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment and when He replied:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these," (Mark 12:30-31, NIV).
I do not think that Jesus had a compartmentalized faith in mind, but rather a public faith. A faith that acts, that impacts culture around it. If we truly love Jesus with all of heart, soul, mind and strength, and if we love others as we love ourselves. How could we keep that love to Jesus to ourselves? Why would we not want to share that love with others, even in the political realm? Wallis goes on to say:

"The separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. In fact, America's social fabric depends on such values and vision to shape our politics," (pg. 59).

Judeo-Christian values have been a cornerstone of our society. They are part of our history, culture, and he is right that our social fabric depends on those values. The phrase, "separation of church and state" has been misused anyway. When you look at the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution you will see that the establishment clause is to prevent Congress from establishing a national church. Government is not to favor one denomination or faith over another. When you see that Congress is also not to "prohibit the free exercise thereof" you see that this separation is really to keep Government from infringing on religious liberty. It isn't meant to keep the Church's prophetic voice out of the public square.

I am concerned by Wallis' encouragement of politicians to use "moral and religious language." My feeling is that strategy will backfire if the source of that language doesn't come from an authentic faith (and in my case, faith in Christ). It will seem shallow and manipulative. If a politician is not a religious person or specifically a Christian, it is annoying to me when they try to use "the lingo" to try to pony up to me. It is misleading. I disagree with Wallis' approach with the Democratic Party to try to give them a makeover for the faith community and evangelicals in particular.

Wallis goes on to say it is wrong for Democrats to restrict religion to the private sphere, and that Republicans are wrong to just define it just in terms of individual moral choices and sexual ethics, (pgs. 60-61). I don't disagree with him here. The Bible addresses more than just those topics, but that does not mean those topics should not be addressed.

He shares that political power can corrupt to the point that religious leaders lose influence. I agree. I do believe that the Republican Party has taken evangelicals for granted, as well as, I believe the Democratic Party has taken African-Americans who also tend to be very religious for granted. Using the Civil Rights movement as an example Wallis states that change occurs from grassroots efforts that are morally based and politically independent. They were not going for political power, but they changed the way Americans thought about race. He also said:
"At its best, faith in God has been used to hold the nation to divine accountability.... But at its worst biblical prooftexting to support ideological causes has made both religion and politics look bad," (pg. 65).
He is right, a lot of injustice has been done by biblical prooftexting on the Right and the Left. He seems to think that evangelicals are mostly to blame for this. I was uncomfortable in that Wallis seemed to be using the word fundamentalist and evangelical interchangably as though they are one in the same. He said that he considers himself a 19th century evangelical. I think his knowledge of history is skewed, even after the Scopes Monkey trial, evangelicals did not seek to separate themselves from society. That is what fundamentalists did, but the evangelical movement took a different direction. Those two terms should not be used as though they are the same thing. I was also bothered that he labeled Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson theocrats, I don't think that is particularly helpful in winning people over to his cause.

He asks the question, "what would Jesus do?" He says that gets at the heart of a lot of questions, particularly violence. He also points out that you can not address "religious fundamentalism" with "secular fundamentalism." The solution for bad religion is better religion, not secularism, (p.66). I also appreciate that he points out a type of racism that exists among liberals when they seem supportive of religious language when it comes from the the black community, but then will turn around and be against it when it is heard from white people. Amen to that, I always felt that was hypocritical. I want to close this post with one last quote from this chapter. This is what Wallis feels we should be thinking about.

"We should talk less about the ideological categories of left and right, and more about what kind of people we want to be, what kind of community, what kind of world," (pg. 68).

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