Thursday, November 06, 2008

Weekly Inqueery

As a way to generate conversation outside the church walls, I will be presenting a question each week, offering a few thoughts, and inviting all readers to respond with their own perspectives.

With the election on the mind, I ask, “What is the role of religion in politics? Can and should religion and politics remain separate?”

My first reaction is to say that it is impossible to maintain a distinct divide between religion and politics. The notion from the feminist movement that the political is personal and the personal is political suggests to me that religion – something so very personal – is intrinsically tied up with politics.

However, if political decisions are based upon religious convictions, it is possible – indeed likely – that freedom of religious and non-religious expression will be violated. The line between religion and politics is a complicated one to walk, and as an attempt to define that line, we have invented the concept of separation of church and state.

But if religion creeps into politics no matter how hard we try to keep them separate, what should be the role of religion in politics?

Is not the idea behind religion’s presence in politics that religion can be a motivating force in striving toward perfection (even though the political manifestations of this vary)? What about the Wesleyan concept of social holiness? Is this a bad thing?

I am not sure that a distinct divide between religion and politics can (or necessarily should) ever be maintained. For me, recognizing religion’s role in politics should urge people of faith back to debate in the religious arena. If people are making political decisions based upon religious beliefs, we are not going to come to consensus at the political level. We must engage with one another on the religious level, grappling together as people of faith over matters of religious tradition that impact the broader world.

But what do you all think?


Larry B said...

As I get older, I have begun to think that religion ought to avoid politics as much as possible. When I was younger I thought that religion should be as involved in politics as possible. I read different meanings in scripture when I was younger vs. now that I am older.

Most recently, I think that I find that Jesus's lack of interest in having anything to do with changing Romes politics has led me to believe that we shouldn't be so worried about what our government is up to. If given the chance, we should voice our opinions, but the church does not live or die on the basis of our political decisions. The church can survive in an oppresive political environment as well as a supportive one. It doesn't much matter.

Liz said...

Since our society is not homogeneous, I think it's important that state and federal laws be as inclusive and broadly empowering as possible, extending benefits and protection of all residents/citizens, respecting the needs and differences of minority groups within society. Insofar as religion promotes inclusion of and benevolence toward all members of society, the influence of religion on politics can be seen as a good thing.

Where we run into trouble, I believe, is where religion promotes exclusion of minority (or majority) groups, and then moves out into the political arena to impose those exclusions on society as a whole.

I believe that the Holy Spirit works to bring about changes in society through the transformation of individuals, rather than through legislation, and that Christians are responsible to obey God, the leadings of the Holy Spirit, their own consciences regardless of what the law says. (I am confident that the Holy Spirit does not lead us into violence or hatred; not everyone may have that viewpoint.)

So, generally, I'm in favor of religion's avoiding politics, if I must pick one option or the other.

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