I have held off writing about the relationship between religion and politics in the United States in my blog for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t know whether or not there is a place in a blog about faith for politics, and secondly, it was and still is never my intention to emotionally injure anyone with my blog. Thirdly, I don’t think it is anyone’s business what my political beliefs are. But more and more recently, I have seen the clash between the two – people, friends, family merging two completely un-matchable properties together, like oil and water. It seems to me that even when we try to separate the two, they end up coming right back together. But why? Why do religion and politics flock to each other like two people in the tangles of a torrid affair?
Many people assume that this country was established based on religious tenets, when in reality, they are sorely mistaken. Yeah, people flocked to the “New World” to escape religious and political persecution in a wide assortment of European, and later Asian countries, but it was never their intent to found a nation based on their religious beliefs. I’m not sure that they ever desired to have the church run their state, as that was what they were seeking to escape in the first place. The Pilgrims and Puritans- my family – fled England in order to shirk the bonds of the King and the Church of England; they viewed firsthand the abuses of the church at the hand of the King, dictating how and where they worship, what they believe and what is worse, how they conduct their lives, both public and private. If this were to be true, then why would they want to create an identical situation, only replacing the Church of England with their own? That certainly seems like a chance for history to repeat itself.
A bit later in history, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin alike both were recorded as saying that there is no place within this beginning nation for the merger between religion and politics; further, to do so would be a detriment to its growth and success. So why then are we so eager to add religion into our politics? Or rather, why are we so eager to add politics to our religion? What’s the big deal anyway? Why do we need to combine the two?
I don’t need to go through the last 300 or so years of US History, nor do I need to talk in depth about the state of US politics or Christianity today; but regardless of either situation, religion and politics are included in the same sentence in the public arena more times per day than anyone can count. This is shown explicitly in films such as “Hell House” and “Jesus Camp,” two documentary films portraying Christian culture and the influence of the Religious Right at the beginning of the 21st century. “Jesus Camp” frequently uses voice overs of George W. Bush’s various state of the union speeches, and especially emphasizes his “One Nation Under God” theology, while utilizing a phrase taken directly from the Pledge of Allegiance. (Little do people know, the original Pledge of Allegiance did not include such phrase; “One Nation Under God” was added during the Red Scare of the 1960s as a part of JFK’s efforts to show how civilized, Westernized, and ultimately non-Communist America was.) Repeatedly, the various characters emphasize that for them, God guides their political decisions, and they vote based on ‘what the Bible says.’ In other words, they interpret the Bible literally (which in and of itself isn’t necessarily detrimental to anyone), and use it to decide which party (rather than which candidate) best fits their Biblical values. What do they mean by these Biblical values? Abortion, Gay Marriage, War, just to name a few. But we all know that this is happening, no sense denying that it does, each and every day. I wish that I could say these decisions were made for the betterment of mankind, but of this fact I can’t be 100% sure. What I am discussing has frequently been called “Faith Wars” or “Culture Wars” by the popular media; in other words, the war at hand is between the faithful and the faithless, Christian culture versus non-Christian culture. Unfortunately, it is far more complicated than just that, however. Words are not deep enough to describe the emotion behind each of those categories.
Often I wonder why Christians are so divided over politics. Lets be honest, how many churches are actually divided completely by religious tenets? Because in reality, that answer should be close to if not wholly none. Churches don’t split completely because of religious disagreements – they don’t split because one believes in Jesus more than another; that is just silly. Rather, they split because church and national politics influence their faith and belief systems. Church governments, like my own, take stances based either intentionally or unintentionally on political stances; this forces churches to separate from others based on which category they belong best in – liberal or conservative – with not much wiggle room in between. Much of the fear that exists between church communities comes from the subject of morality; it is their understanding that people of other religions don’t have the same morals as Christians do, and therefore cannot be trusted with leading a government or representing the people.
Perhaps this is why we have never had a Jewish, Muslim or agnostic president. Perhaps this is why the leaders of the United States are Christians. I mean, according to the 2010 census, 84% of Americans identified as churchgoers, regardless of their annual attendance records (Mainline Protestants, Evangelical, Catholic, etc). With this in mind, it is understandable that an election has the potential to be largely determined by our country’s religious inclinations. Because the majority of voters affiliate with a religious belief system, they are therefore more likely to vote based on that system’s tenets. This is, of course, not to say that all act in such a manner. Rather, the statistics and surveys indicate as much.
I don’t vote necessarily based on my religious beliefs – meaning that whoever might have similar or identical religious beliefs as myself; if that were to be true, one would assume that I would vote with candidates such as John McCain or George Bush. Instead, I vote based on which candidate best embodies the direction I would like to see my country head in. I try to closet my religious beliefs in favor of picking a candidate that has the most motivation and best ideas for fixing our country’s problems. I would much rather see a candidate who is private about their religious beliefs, but who is solid in his criteria and stands for something that will best benefit the country he wishes to serve. If he believes in God, wonderful. But I under no circumstances will place value judgements upon a candidate that selects to keep his religious affiliation outside of the political arena.
I would also like to open up another line of thinking. What about those who are not Christian, but are still religious? I cannot imagine what it must be like for others who have tremendous faith but see that the Christians are perhaps “given” preferential treatment in the Senate and House. Or yet, how do my Jewish friends feel when God is mentioned, and in reality, the politicians are really meaning to talk about Jesus? That couldn’t be a larger insult in my opinion.
The United States is supposed to be a nation for all, regardless of creed, race, sexuality, ethnicity, wealth, etc. But why is it that when it comes to religion, it is only a nation for the majority? Better yet, how can we as the 20 something generation make positive change in government to prevent such prejudice from occurring? Who better than us? Think about it. InterVarsity uses Christians to infiltrate college and university sororities and fraternities to “win the lost.” Why can’t we as men and women of all faiths infiltrate the government (for a lack of a better word) to “win the lost,” meaning that we teach those who see just one group of people (aka “the lost”) see how colorful, rich and diverse this country is.
I mean, if we are the future of America, then why are we sitting back and watching the future happen before our eyes? If we do this, we can’t complain about the situation that occurs, as we have taken no ownership of our country, our rights, our freedom to worship (or not) the way we please, and further, to vote the way we please, keeping in mind the First Amendment, which commands us to keep a separation between “the church” and “our state.”