Should Our Religion Affect Our Political Choices?
An essay by the Rev. J. Frederick Barber
As we near the November election, there seems to be more and more discussion about the place of religion in the coming election. We have a lot of politicians who are talking about their faith, about their churchgoing, and about how prayer gives them strength and guidance. We also hear remarks about the ‘religious right’ and its part in affecting the coming election. Our own Episcopal Church (hardly a part of the "religious right") has never been hesitant to speak out on any number of subjects … many with political overtones.
On the other hand, we hear commentators saying that this mixing of religion and politics is dangerous; the separation of Church and State must be preserved. We hear the political left saying that the religious right will take away some of our freedoms in the name of serving their God.
So what is a poor Episcopalian to do? Is our religion to have any influence on our politics; or should we keep our religion and our politics in separate, watertight compartments? May I suggest that the place you begin in this argument might dictate the place you will end.
I begin with my religion because it is more important than my secular citizenship. As a Christian I understand that my Christian beliefs are not one box in my mind and heart labeled "religion" along with other boxes labeled "citizenship, family, job", etc. No, my religion is a light that illumines all parts of my life … gives the other parts of my life guidance and meaning … it is the glue that holds the parts of my life together. My belief in God and in his son Jesus Christ affects the way I do my job, interact with my family and act as a citizen of this country.
When I vote, I have to honestly ask myself which candidate will take this country in the direction that I believe God wants it to go. Which candidate will help bring about a just society? Which candidate will work for peace in our country and throughout the world? Which candidate will stand as an advocate for the poor, and offer ways for those poor people to come up into the economic middle class? Which candidate will work to preserve and perfect our system of laws and justice, because justice has always been an important theme in the biblical witness.
Now I do not think that these questions are answered by choosing the candidate who attends church most regularly or has the best prayer life. There are some people who attend church and pray who just do a terrible job at directing the land toward God’s way. Sometimes God uses people who have little contact with the Church to do his will. And we all know that some politicians are not above faking piety in order to gather a few votes.
Should our religious beliefs guide our political decisions? Yes. We ought to pray about the sort of country that God wants us to be … then select the persons who can best bring us there. Some of them will be religious, and some of them may not. And if that worries you, think about this.
Abraham Lincoln was the person most responsible for bringing about the end of slavery in this country. I think most of us would agree that that was what God wanted to happen. In his second inaugural address, he talks about the place of God in the Civil War and in the freeing of the slaves. When you read it, you understand that he is not fishing for votes, but he is struggling to understand how God works in history. Lincoln is the only president that was not formally a member of the church, and probably not baptized, but God used him.
In the months before the fall election, some of us may honestly conclude that voting Republican is the right and Godly choice, and others of may reach the same conclusion about voting Democratic. The final choice may not be as important as the process we use. What party and what leaders can best take this country to the place where God wants it to be? What leaders can help make this country a beacon of freedom and justice to the world? What leader can preserve our liberties? Those are the questions … struggle with them … and remember the person in the pew next to you may come to a different conclusion.
May God give guidance to this nation, and may all of us look for his guidance in our hearts and with our prayers.
|Fr. Barber is the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth. In addition he serves as a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. As Senior Staff Chaplain to the 10th Air Force, he oversees chapel programs in several states, including Texas.|