Wednesday, May 10, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part VIII)

Yesterday I left off with the questions of how I justify using religiously-motivated reasons to engage politically, and what politically activities are acceptable.

The first question is often asked in one of two ways: "Who are you to try and push your morality on me?" or "Why can't you just leave your church thoughts in the parking lot and vote on purely secular grounds?" Actually, in the abortion and euthanasia discussion (and in most political discussions) I also have secular reasons for my political views. But I find the questions themselves to be broader in nature, and therefore want to address them.

The first form, regarding "pushing your morality on others" type queries, is a question born of, IMO, a lack of self-awareness. The fact of the matter is, EVERYONE who acts politically is trying to "push his/her morality" on those who disagree. Pro-choicers push their moral view of abortion on the unborn children who are aborted, on fathers who may want to keep the child, and on families that may want to adopt a child. Not to mention pro-lifers who are thereby forced to live in a society that espouses moral values with which they disagree. People pushing for tax/spend policies that emphasize education over military expenditures try to force their views on people pushing for fiscal policies that emphasize national security over other issues. Every time you vote, or advocate, on behalf of a cause you are trying to get your views sanctioned and/or enforced by society: ergo, you are trying to force your views on those who disagree with them. To say Christians can't have this right the same as anyone else is a form of bigotry.

The second question, the "why can't you leave your faith out of it" type, is born more of ignorance of human nature. Faith is a part of one's worldview. You act according to your worldview, and all your political views are formed from your worldview. You can't separate what you believe from who you are. To pretend otherwise is intellectually ignorant or dishonest. Everyone's faith (or lack thereof) informs their views on moral, social and political matters. It may not be overt or conscious, and in many cases faith isn't the only factor in forming those views. But it plays a part. Asking someone to disregard that crucial aspect in defining their political views is to ask them to be someone they're not.

Besides, the free exercise clause of the First Amendment kinda guarantees the right of folks to exercise their religion as they please, including using it to inform their political activities.

Which brings up a point I find frustrating at times: there are some people out there who actually believe the tenet of church/state separation applies to everyone, and that religion should be kept inside a house or church. Once you leave the house and are "in public" you have to shut down the God-thoughts. Such foolishness needs to be stopped. The Constitution says NOTHING about limiting the free expression of religion in the public sphere by individuals. The only place such expressions may be limited is when the expression is offered by a government agent on behalf of a government institution. Ergo, teachers in government-run schools can't lead the class in prayer, but teachers in private schools can. The mayor can't, in her capacity as mayor, call a press conference to preach to the state, but a pastor can use the capital grounds to hold a revival rally (assuming he keeps to the regulations and is given no more/less rights than other private persons.) (As an aside, I think it generally more beneficial to keep the state out of the church's business than vice versa; and it seems somewhat odd to me that the state can tell the church what not to preach - like political advocacy - legally. Not that I think church services should be political in nature, but that's on scriptural grounds, not legal ones. Seems odd that the church has to be completely removed from the state, but the state still gets to dictate limits to what a church can do. 'S all I'm saying. Back to the topic at hand...)

This segues into the second question I was going to discuss. What types of political activity is appropriate, from a Biblical perspective. As I noted earlier in the series, activity needs to be legal in order to submit to authorities. That makes it much easier in this country than in some others, where speeking the wrong thing can get you arrested or killed. The only time we are allowed, scripturally, to violate the law is when to obey the law would directly violate God's law. So, this leaves us with prayer, protesting, running for office, voting for candidates that share our views, writing advocacy pieces (in blogs, papers, books, etc.), supporting advocacy groups or politicians financially and/or trying to persuade your elected officials through personal contact of some sort.

What is not allowed are things like killing doctors who perform abortion. That is abhorent. Making threats against the health or safety of those who don't share your views, bribery, and trespassing is also verboten. Figuring out what is right and wrong isn't difficult; if it violates law, don't do it unless you can build a very, very solid case that to refrain from doing it would violate God's commandments. And then, take whatever consequences are coming from the government. Notice, the Apostles used the legal system to their advantage where possible (e.g. Paul appealing to Caesar) but they only disobeyed Rome when to obey meant disobedience to God. And they also accepted the imprisonments and executions to which they were sentenced.

Taxes were oppressive in that time (living in Minnesota, they only seem oppressive now) but Jesus said to pay them. Withholding taxes from corrupt government didn't meet the threshold for acceptable political involvement. It isn't worth time wasted in jail, or paying money in fines better used doing good for people, to break the law without a very, very good reason. It helps to know the Bible too - that way you can discern what constitutes a very, very good reason.

And as I mentioned here we need to keep our activities and speech respectful, truthful and loving. Even if we have the best of motives, hateful speech, disrespectful actions or deceitful practices are all inappropriate. They also hurt the causes we support more than help them. Keep it passionate, sure, but keep it civil and honest.

The next post in the series will move on to another issue. 'Til then,

God bless!

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