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Why Religion and Politics Don't Mix

An Irrelevant Question

by Everett Wilson
November 10, 2010

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Why Religion and Politics Don't Mix

 When I was still serving as a local pastor,  the editor of our local weekly asked some of the clergy of our community the following questions  then wrote an excellent article summarizing our responses.  Following are his questions and how I responded to them.  

1.  How does [your church]  handle the mix of religion and politics?  Do you think mixing religion with politics is a good thing? Why or why not?

 I answered, "We try to leave it alone, because they do not mix well,  if the religion is Christian. 

"Politics is about power (What else? asked Jacques Barzun sixty years ago), and Christianity is about sacrifice.  The Republican assumption that they have the "evangelicals" in their pocket is cynical and stupid, as is the Democratic assumption that they have the African-American churches in theirs.  It was the mix of religion and politics that gave Christians  the Crusades and the Inquisition, and Islam the Jihad." 

2) Have you ever sermonized on a political issue? What was the issue? What was the response from your congregation?

 I answered,  "Not intentionally.  Forty years ago I  was so careful about it  that one of the church men surmised that I was a member of one party when I actually identified with the other one. 

"I decided thereafter that I would make my preference known in private conversation, but never from the pulpit.  Once I criticized as unethical a political practice of a party without naming the party, and someone disapproved  my doing that much.  So I try to stay clear.  As a citizen I will engage in conversation, but the pulpit is for the declaration of the word of God, which in human history predates American political parties by several thousand years.  In the pulpit, I am not arguing with people; I am telling them.

 "As a citizen, however, I do publish my opinions on my internet column.  My column now appears seldom, however,  and I have not addressed the current campaign.  The Partial Observer is not my personal website, and the opinions expressed by its contributors are varied." 

3) As an independent church, do you have more freedom to approach political issues?

 I answered, "We are not independent.  We are a member of The Evangelical Covenant Church.  There are many thousand members of  The Evangelical Covenant Church within  a few hours' drive.  We just happen to be the only Covenant congregation in [our] County

"The Covenant Church is known for  both its  firm theology  and its freedom.  You can learn more than you want to know at covchurch.org.  We sometimes speak out on social issues, but these do not bind any of our members."   

 4) Do you think mixing religion with politics is a good thing? Why or why not?

I  answered, "It is not a good thing because the goals are in essential conflict.  As Christians, we are subjects of the kingdom of God.  As Americans, we are citizens of the United States.  Since the Kingdom is eternal and no nation is, the mix distorts one or the other." 

  I will add, in November 2010, that there has been no better illustration of human depravity than the campaign just ended. At its close,  two lines came to mind, one historical and one literary.

 From history it was  the response of Joseph Welch to Senator McCarthy in 1954: "Have you no sense of decency, sir?  At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" 

From literature, it was  Boss Mangan's boast of his political strategy in Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House": "Well, I don't know what you call achievements; but I've jolly well put a stop to the games of the other fellows in the other departments. Every man of them thought he was going to save the country all by himself, and do me out of the credit and out of my chance of a title. I took good care that if they wouldn't let me do it they shouldn't do it themselves either. I may not know anything about my own machinery; but I know how to stick a ramrod into the other fellow's. And now they all look the biggest fools going."—Boss Mangan  in Act 3 of Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw.  

 

 

  

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