Religion and Politics: Not Again!

Now why, would I want to bring that up now? Surely, we have had our fill of debate, diatribe, accusation, distortion, and any other word you can think of on the topic of faith and politics. Now, for better or for worse, the economy has shifted our political attention away from religion.

Talk about faith and politics hasn’t gone away. It’s still out there. And it’s still pretty loud and intense in certain circles. But for lots of us, our attention has shifted. We’ve moved on to other topics. If you live in a state with early voting, you may have really moved on. To the important stuff, like the World Series.

But before we all walk briskly, if not run, away from election year politics; it might be helpful to think about religion and politics. More specifically, the separation of church and state. We all seem to have a deep concern about where and how we draw the line between politics and religion, between church and state. How close should they be? How far apart should they stay?  How much should a person’s faith shape how they act, especially if they are an elected official?

We all have our  own answers to those questions. I’m interested today in why we agonize over the questions. Every election for weeks on end, as a nation, we obsess over this. Day after day, year after year. In great detail and with great passion.  Political pundits and preachers pontificate. We write letters to the editor. We read political commentators. We read religious commentators. We sent each other You Tube clips. We forward e mails. We talk on and on. We scrutinize. We analyze. To the point even the most die hard among us has had enough. We may all absolutely disagree over the answers but we all think the questions are important.

And I guess that’s the answer, for us in the United States, the relationship between religion and politics matters. They are both important parts of who we are. Getting it right matters.

Almost intuitively, we realize that trying to get this right requires nearly constant attention. There are lots of ways of getting religion and politics wrong. And sometimes we do. (Fill in your “favorite” mistake here.) But because we just can’t leave this topic alone, because we constantly revisit it; sooner or later we start to correct ourselves.    

It’s messy. It’s unending. It’s frustrating. But I don’t know that there is another way to work this out.  So when I become frustrated and annoyed by politics and religion, I need to remind myself that it’s good to live someplace where both these subjects matter and a vigorously debated.  It certainly seems better than the alternative.

2 thoughts on “Religion and Politics: Not Again!

  1. “I’m interested today in why we agonize over the questions.”

    An interesting choice of words. “Agonize.” For me, a seminary graduate still hoping to work in the church someday (and working as seminary staff in the meantime), I think about (you might say “obsess”) issues of religion and politics all the time because they interest me deeply. Because I think that if God calls us to be salt and light to the world, politics is the venue (or at least one of the venues, depending on your definitions) through which this may be accomplished. (I am not for a moment ignoring relationships with people one interacts with on a daily basis. I just see issues of politics in those interactions, as well)

    But, for me, I only “agonize” over these matters when I’m interacting (or, potentially, “forced” to interact) with family members and close friends from other eras of my life that not only simply do not agree with me, but who often find it difficult to accept that I have such disagreements with them without getting into heated and often painful arguments.

    One of the key “rules” by which I hope I live my life is to try to understand where people, both opponents and non-opponents (and whatever else may be in between) are coming from when they hold such strong opinions. I think that, more often than not, I am fair in my dealings, and hope that if I fail in this endeavor, that I will respond well when this is pointed out. But I fear that so many of these friends and family simply have no capacity (or at least, don’t demonstrate it) to respond in kind.

    And so, I “agonize” over these interactions. It’s not just that I want to do the right thing when I vote (as true as that certainly is), but I want to be able to coexist with those I care about, but who simply do not understand my point of view which may be radically different than theirs.

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