Faith and Politics: We Haven’t Advanced Very Far

This year’s election has been one infused with religious rhetoric, from both the Republicans and the Democrats.

Romney made a speech on December 6th about his Mormon faith and attempted to speak about how faith can properly interact with politics. Romney called Jesus Christ “the Son of God and the Savior of mankind" (though Mormonism's understanding of these terms differs significantly from that of Christianity). He then went on to say,
“It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. . . . Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?”

John McCain has spoke at Liberty University to bring back the Religious Right. Rudi Giuliani being both pro-choice and pro-gay marriage has raised eyebrows, especially when some evangelicals support him due to his steadfast stand on military strength against terrorism (even Pat Robertson endorsed him). Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, is open about his faith, saying in a recent advertisement, “Faith doesn’t just influence me; it really defines me. I don’t have to wake up every day wondering, ‘What do I need to believe?’” as the words "CHRISTIAN LEADER" floated across the screen.

The Republicans are fragmented between several camps because of the inconsistencies of the Republican party platform have finally shown up as large cracks. How can the same party be pro-Christian values and pro-rich? How can the same party be pro-war and pro-life? The wide-open race among the Republicans is also a product of “President Bush’s unpopularity and the fact that even members of his own party want to turn the page on the past seven years.” Bush's identity as an evangelical Christian has muddied the waters in that many of his own (that is, evangelicals) feel that he has led them astray. Some are still with him, siding with him on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Others are supportive of the war in Iraq. However, many others are showing concern about poverty. Others believe that a Christian president should seek peace and not jump to preemptive war. Others are very concerned for the environment and global warming, and therefore disagree with Bush. The cracks are beginning to show: and they run between these very Christian concerns.

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards have also told us about their personal Christian faith.

came to faith in a United Church of Christ.

has been a committed Methodist since she was a child.

Edwards has been a life-long Southern Baptist who admits his faith waned until it came “roaring back” after the death of his son in 1996.

All three say they see their Christian faith in terms of social justice. But the democrats are very new at using religious rhetoric in politics, and they appear to be as pandering to religious voters as the Republicans have been.

So, Christians are trying to figure this out. The question we think we need to ask is: “Who is the candidate that best reflects Christian religious convictions?”

The reason the candidates are speaking “religious talk” is to pander to the many Christians who simply believe that if we have a person of faith in office, we will be somehow better off. If the president reflects God’s values, they think, God will then bless the nation and divinely lead us.

But this is simply too shallow for a truly Christian political philosophy. It doesn't take seriously God's "common grace" in political institutions and it does not see the role of religion in government as part of an overall "Principled Pluralism," seeking to find biblical principles of justice that apply without preference for anyone's professed faith over another, in a diverse society. (To understand these terms, see Wikipedia's entry on the Cultural Mandate.) It also does not honor the way that the American Constitution has set up the place for religion in the public discourse of politics.

The question that we Christians need to be asking ourselves is: Can we have a dialogue about how our Christian faith informs the role of government in society in relation to the other institutional and organizational spheres in society?

We need to understand the role religion has in politics, one that does not infer a theocratic paradigm.

As James Skillen recently wrote in The Center for Public Justice’s Root & Branch,
“What is missing from the candidates' professions of Christian (and Mormon) faith is a philosophy of the political community that clarifies the responsibilities of government in relation to the responsibilities that belong to all the other institutions, organizations, and relationships of human society. What we need is a Christian public philosophy that connects directly to office holding, policy formulation, and governing. Americanism and the liberal political tradition do not generate such a philosophy, and that is why we have what we have.”

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RonMcK said...

Your question is a good one. However, I am not sure that a philosophy that "connects directly to office holding, policy formulation, and governing" in the sense that most Amerians use these words can be justified from the scripture. It will take more than a brief nod to Romans 13.

Bob Robinson said...

Amen to that.

In my opinion, the best books on the subject (and I’ve read a lot of them!) are:

God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics by Paul Marshall

Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action by J. Budziszewski

Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars: An Agenda for Engagement edited by David P. Gushee

Some great internet resources:
The Center for Public Justice
Evangelicals for Social Action
Wilberforce Forum

Two new books on the subject are coming out this month that promise to be really good:

Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics by Amy E. Black

The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World? by Ronald J. Sider

Byron Harvey said...

"How can the same party be pro-Christian values and pro-rich"? Well...

A. What does being "pro-rich" mean?

B. What's wrong with it?

My point is that words mean things, Bob, and decrying being "pro-rich" sounds more like a Jim Wallis/John Edwards talking point than a reasoned argument. Define what you mean by the term, and then I'll have a follow-up point to make, I think.

Bob Robinson said...

{What does being "pro-rich" mean? What's wrong with it?}

These questions deserve their own blog post.

Byron Harvey said...

Post away, dude!

Nate W said...

What are your thoughts on Obama's "Call to Renewal Speech" which addressed many issues pertaining to how one's personal religious convictions influence the governing of a pluralistic society sponsored by Jim Wallis and Sojourners about a year ago?