June 18, 2011

Should Faith Be A Factor in Politics

My friend Chris recently wrote this post on this subject, and I believe he expressed himself very well. I also completely agree with him. My faith forms the very basics of my ethics and morality. I can I ignore such things like my morality when voting for persons who are going to influence not only my life, but every person around me?

My last post was dealing with my view of war and killing, and how it differed between the Church and the government. Many people saw this as a contradiction, and one person noticed a similarity with Martin Luther's theology of Two Kingdoms.

However, I don't think that my view is really that official. The Church is an ideological institution. It's design and purpose is to house, educate, and equip God's people as they represent Him in the world and spread His Kingdom and influence through the love of Christ. The government is a pragmatic institution. It's design is to protect people from threats foreign and abroad, and to develop an social infrastructure (i.e. common currency, roads, etc) to enable society to function. Violence is never a good thing, but it is sometimes very practical and necessary.

As a Christian, when I vote and consider public policy, I am weighing out two things: morality and practicality. I don't expect the government to be able to defend people without being violent (even though appeasement strategies worked so well in the 1930s). I also don't expect there to be a law against every sin in the Book (laws are meaningless if they can't be enforced, and immoral if they can't be enforced morally).

These are things that have to remain in tension, not because it is some grand mystery on how they work, but because how that tension plays out may vary from situation to situation.


Anticipated Serendipity said...

I haven't read Chris's post, though perhaps I should to be able to comment better, however I thought I'd chime in with my two cents.

Faith should and should not be part of politics in my opinion. In terms of how you are describing it, voting your morality, of course it should. Frankly, you really wouldn't be able to separate it. Personal morality effects everything we do and if you tried to consider politics sans your morality, subconciously it would still effect you. However I think there should be limits to this. Voting in favor of unconstitutional legislation merely because it supports your particular ideology, I believe, should not be promoted (you here as in the plural you, not you personally). This isjust one example. I think people should look to 1) does this law make sense as a law (i.e. is it permissible) and THEN 2) is this a law I want to support (and here enters your morality). If it fails prong 1, I feel regardless of your morality it should not be supported because it should not be law.

Another way faith, in my opinion, is inappropriately used in our political system is the judgment we pass on our political officers. This is NOT to even get into the exploits of politicians IN office (That would be a post all by itself) but about politicians SEEKING office. Example, the number of people who dislike Romney purely because he's Mormon. Another example, all of the drama that surrounded JFK because he was Catholic. Personally I just find this ridiculous and frankly harmful to our political process because we're potentially missing out on hundreds if not thousands of competent politicians (I know, novel idea) merely because we have prejudged their personal faith.

The final way, goes a long with your other post about church and war - religious/spiritual leaders should not get involved in political movements from the pulpit. When it comes to ideas - abortion, same sex marriage,war in general, etc - of course they can comment. These are, in part, moral issues and that's partly why people go to their religious leaders in the first place. But when it comes to supporting candidates b/c of their stances on these issues, supporting or opposing SPECIFIC legislation (see the LDS and the Prop 8 scandal) - I believe a line has been crossed. First of all, it violates the 501(c)(3) status of most religious institutions, but more importantly I feel it's manipulative to the congregration. Not that i think religious leaders INTEND to manipulate (or I hope not), but when religious leaders give their opinions about such matters it carries far more weight than a lay person stating their opinion. Many people look at that as if God Himself were telling them how they should vote. It harms our process and ultimately harms the Church.

So yea, that's my two cents :-)

Jc_Freak: said...

Wow. Really long reply Tara. I agree with the idea that you can't support an illegal law just because you find it more moral. You have to work within the system that you have. It is also sometimes debatable what is constitutional and what isn't of course.

For immoral politicians: I absolutely agree. Our government system is designed to remain moral despite immoral people running it. Your point about Romney is also a fair point. Now I'm not sure if I would vote for someone that believed in Scientology, but that has more to do with questioning their sanity.

Finally, about religous leaders endorsing canidates or bills. Not all churches are actually incorporated under 501(c)(3). You are absolutely correct that such leaders cannot (from the pulpit) speak out against or for persons or legislation without losing said status. However, there are many who do not incorporate for precisely that reason, and I am not sure if it is wrong for them to do so. Historically, churches have always been political rallying points, both in America and Europe, so there is plenty of precedent. Additionally, the Church is called to stand for goodness and change within the world, and I don't see it as wrong for the Church do to so... legally (illegally in some countries like China).

For me separation of Church and State is protection for the churches, not separating the two into two distinct realms. I do think that becoming devoted to a particular party is wrong for a church, simply on the grounds that no party can be 100% right, and such devotion is sometimes hard to correct.

Anticipated Serendipity said...

re: long responses, I'm a law student. It's what we do lol!

the 501(c)(3) argument isn't really my main argument, i disagree with churches doing it regardless.

Religious institutions are a sanctuary for people to not only engage spiritually but to be surrounded by likeminded people to get guidance and support in an ever increasingly chaotic world. I don't disagree with this, and in fact support it. That is why I have no problem with political discussiuons being in the church or the spiritual leaders giving advice and opinion about general political/moral issues. Where I have a problem is religious leaders giving advice/opinion about specific legislation and candidates. Such as "You should vote for Pawlenty because he is right with God" or "You need to vote yes on Prop 8 because homosexuality is a sin." (I just made these up, I'm not saying anyone did or is doing this.) If the church stands by homosexuality being a sin, then preach about homosexuality being a sin. Again, that I have no issue with. But specifically telling your congregation how to vote? This can't possibly be something people should support. Yes I'm sure if we made the example extreme enough everyone would agree preachers could do it (enter a Godwin argument about Nazi Germany here), but for the most part this shouldn't happen. Why? Because of precedent. Yes separation of church and state is meant to protect the church, but that DOES go both ways. We have seen what happens when the church becomes to involved in politics (medieval times anyone? Spanish inquisition? That famous French cardinal who had it in for Louis XIV? etc etc etc). It doesn't work out for the church and it never works out for the state. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Religious leaders have gone down this path before and it is filled with corruption. Furthermore, it does open the door for the state to enter the church. Once a dam is broken, water can flow both ways, not just one.

I know a lot of religious people who are independent thinkers and who seek to be taught by their religious leaders and don't take what they say as edicts or demands. However I know a lot of religious people who look at their religious leaders as if they are the voice of God. And if the voice of God says that person should be president, this person is evil, and that legislation needs to be voted down...one doesn't argue with the voice of God.

Finally, I see it just as out of the perview of the preacher. Religious leaders are sought out for moral guidance, not political advice. There truly is a big difference between answering the question "is homosexuality a sin?" and "how should I vote on Prop 8?" One is a moral question, the other is a political one. I would think religious advisors would want their congregations to be able to take the moral and spiritual lessons they learn at church and be able to apply it to their own lives without direct intervention of the church.

Jc_Freak: said...

Originally I was thinking in terms of "can't" and considering such things as the Goodwin argument. I have to say that with the exception of a Hitler, I don't really see it as proper for a pastor to speak on who one should vote for from the pulpit (outside the pulpit, he has a right to speak his opinion regardless, though I would advice him/her to emphasize that it is his/her opinion. And I am just going to say 'him' from now one for convenience).

I'm not sure if I can say the same thing regarding legislation. That is where things get a little tricky. Let's say that a pastor strongly preaches against homosexual marriages. Then let's say that some governor, without the legislatures vote, attempts to allow gay marriages done in other states to be recognized in your state. I would have to say that the pastor, as someone who is responsible for guiding his congregation in shaping the surrounding culture, is in his rights to bring up this instance. Even if he doesn't say, "Go out and fight it", there is no way he can avoid implying it. Does that seem wrong to you?

Jc_Freak: said...

Oh, I only mentioned the length thing because I have this rule. The guideline is keeping it conversational, and you are my sister, so you get special privileges, but the rule is there, and I just wanted to point it out.

Anticipated Serendipity said...

also, re: constitutional issues are hard to figure out, yes and no. There are some issues that are legitimately constitutional issues, and on those where it is constitutionally ambigious, feel free to vote your morals. However there is a LOT of incorrect information being passed around as if it were fact clouding what are fairly concrete constitutional issues. A lot of misunderstandings about amendments, incorrect conclusions about procedures, and one of my favorites, that an unfavorable constitutional amendment was fraudulently passed (it would probably shock you the amount of people I've had argue that one to me). So there are lot of people who are using their morality, i.e. faith, to attempt to change the constitution and manipulate it to better suit their own personal morality (this is on both sides by the way - left and right), and that's not right.

side note - it really irritates me when people assume they are experts on something merely because they believe it and thus attempt to discredit actual experts on the grounds that they disagree. As a theologian I'm guessing you get this a lot and can commiserate. I have a degree is sociology and politics, and am obtaining a degree in law. Yet somehow when it comes to society, politics and law, people feel the need not to disagree, but to boldly argue with me based on nothing more than personal experience and lightly readings on the topic. I mean I've used plumbing all my life but that doesn't mean I'm about to tell a plumber how to do his job. Sry, using your blog as a rant page, but again I figured you could relate :-D

Anticipated Serendipity said...

re: the rule - is it sad that I view these long responses as conversational?

re: Governor example - frankly depends on what he says. I still don't see why the preacher needs to comment directly on what the governor is doing. The moral question isn't on the governor being able to act without legislative imput, b/c he wouldn't be able to do that unless it were legally permissible anyway. The moral question is still one of "is homosexuality ok?" and on that issue, the preacher can comment in a way that completely avoids the governor's actions. Such as saying "homosexuality is a sin" and tying it into the Christian fight to be in the world not of it and not be persuaded by what others may be doing, whether they be in the immediate community, other states, or other countries. The congregation can make their own connections.

And again it is this last part I come down to - shouldn't a pastor want to teach his congregation how to make these determinations on their own? Ideally, we're in church at least 1x a week. but what about the other 6 days that you don't have your pastor with you? You have to make moral decisions all the time and i don't feel you should rely on your religious leader to make specific decisions for you. Frankly, they shouldn't be making decisions for you at all. Even you say it's guidance. Well the guidance in this instance would be that, according to this preacher, homosexuality is a sin, is against God, and is against nature. There's your guidance. Now you, congregation, go out into the world and use this guidance to make your own decisions. Don't merely do what the religious leader told you to do.

Another reason I'm also against this politicizing from the pulpit is it also alienates people thus removing them from the church. Again, take this example. Say Person A agreed that homosexuality was immoral but believed that it should be a legal choice. If the pastor preaches that homosexuality is a sin, etc, Person A still fits in at church. If the pastor says, "What the governor is doing is wrong, and we as Christians should be fighting against this," now if Person A disagrees it challenges whether or not their Christian, or Christian enough. It ostracizes them from the rest of the congregation, especially if they were to be vocal about their dissent. Most likely what would happen (and I know this because I know MANY people who have left churches for this reason), they don't say anything, but catalog it away in their minds. It continues to happen, they come less and less, until they are so separated from the congregation that they don't go at all.

Anticipated Serendipity said...

Also, I agree that religious leaders are allowed to have political opinions and are allowed to voice them. They're still members of society and the process. I also agree, that when they voice them, they should emphasize that this is their opinion. If I implied otherwise, that wasn't meant.

Jc_Freak: said...

I think we are disagreeing to agree here; kind of different sides of the same opinion. I don't like the idea of pastors commanding their congregation on what they should do politically. However, the church is a place of information, and the church is a place where opinions are formed. It is proper for a pastor in my opinion to voice his opinion as opinion. I also think it is proper for a pastor to mention controversial events that people can act on them, but only in terms of informing the congregation what is going on. He should leave it to them on how to act.

To be honest, it is a very very fine line. The basic rule of thumb I think I would give is that political opinions, in terms of what actions should be taken, should be presented as opinions, and not as "thus sayeth the LORD".

Anticipated Serendipity said...

Agreed. Your last four sentences are my opinion exactly.