The place of religion in politics (part 2)

Opinion: Editorials

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By Tom Holmes

Regarding America First, God, as Jesus revealed his nature, is not only neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but also not an American. The hymn "This Is My Song," I think, expresses how Jesus viewed countries other than his homeland of Israel.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine.

This is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

God, it seems, also questions every truth we assume to be self-evident. For example, the word "rights" does not appear anywhere in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. In that narrative, Jesus talks about freedom in terms of doing God's will, not in terms of my rights.

So much for the right to bear arms. The right to bear arms might be supported by the Second Amendment, but in the Kingdom of God, the U.S. Constitution is not sacred scripture. The man who said things like "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" simply cannot be used to support the use of lethal force by anyone except the police and the military. 

In a culture obsessed with winning — at any cost — legislators who mistake loyalty to party for a virtue need to orient their minds away from winning to "doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with their God."

Mark Galli is a conservative who suffered some pretty intense pushback from Evangelicals when he argued in Christianity Today that President Trump should be impeached precisely because he did not play the game of politics according to God's rules. He wrote, "The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president's political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral."

The gospel narrative reframes the crucifixion as an example of the very kind of power needed to tikkun olam, i.e. repair the world, the very thing this broken, polarized world needs.

The role of religion and sin

That brings us to the subject of sin. Orthodox Christian teaching has for two millennia been that the bondage Christ came to save us from was our slavery to sin. President Obama in a 2016 speech given in Hiroshima referred to it as "humanity's core contradiction." 

In an interview last year, historian Jon Meacham talked about how a religious concept like sin informed why the founding fathers created separate but equal branches of government. He said, "They were aiming for the insight that we were all sinful, we were all driven by appetite and ambition, and therefore we had to divide authority, divide power in a way that would prevent any one element from knocking the whole system out of whack." 

Jim Wallis laid out the implications of sin in another way: "It is precisely because religion takes the problem of evil so seriously that it must always be suspicious of too much concentrated power — politically and economically. … It is indeed our theology of evil that makes us strong proponents of both political and economic democracy — not because people are so good but because they often are not."

Columnist Ross Douthat added, "There is no single Christian politics, and no movement can claim to have arrived at the perfect marriage of religious faith and political action. Christianity is too otherworldy for that, and the world too fallen."

"At their most robust and independent," Douthat argued, "our churches and religious leaders have reminded us that America is only almost chosen, and that paradise isn't possible on earth. … Messianic Americanism turns liberal democracy into a religion unto itself, capable of carrying out the kind of redemptive work that orthodoxy reserves for Christ and his Church."

You see, I want every part of the world to look like Mr. Roger's neighborhood, but if I take seriously the reality of sin in the world and in myself, I will remember what history teaches us — i.e. that every attempt to create heaven on earth with political power has done just the opposite. 

I will therefore not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I will question candidates who offer panaceas of any kind and resist any romantic urges to be seduced by campaign ads proposing to eliminate racism, totally reverse climate change, provide jobs for everyone, or bring peace to the world through diplomacy. If it sounds too good to be true in a fallen world

Government policies and programs make a difference, but repentance and changed hearts make an even bigger impact. I will therefore be attracted to candidates who tell me that I will have to do some changing in my personal lifestyle in addition to changing government policies if I want meaningful change to come about.

Harm reduction is a concept I learned recently. A good example is people who identify themselves as pro-choice but are against abortion. What they are about is not eliminating abortions by the means of political power but reducing them through other means like education and religion. They would therefore support funding for Planned Parenthood because by providing birth control to clients, the organization is reducing harm. "Safe, legal and rare" is the best we can do in a fallen world. If Planned Parenthood were eliminated, they reason, harm would actually increase.

Accepting the reality that both the world and I are "fallen" — i.e. we have that inner contradiction President Obama talked about at Hiroshima — I must always question any decision based on the belief that the ends justify the means.

By refusing to let the nomination of Merrick Garland come to the floor of the Senate for a vote, Mitch McConnell got what he wanted, a conservative Supreme Court justice instead of a liberal one. But at what price?

No wonder trust in our institutions is falling. 

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