Religion and politics – the intersection of the two is a hot topic these days. I’ve read that the IRS is looking into whether or not certain churches have violated their tax-exempt status by endorsing particular candidates. A recent issue of The Economist had a couple articles ( 'In the world of good and evil' and 'The God slot') on the influence of religion on United States’ politics and foreign policy.
In the Economist, a French advisor on international relations says that “the combination of religion and nationalism in America is frightening. We feel betrayed by God and by nationalism, which is why we are building the European Union as a barrier to religious warfare.” Though many in the US are of European descent, the US is not Europe. We don't have the same history of religion-states and religiously-inspired wars. Does that European feeling of betrayal have to be institutionalized? I wonder...
Meanwhile, the Episcopal All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA is fighting an IRS investigation that resulted from an anti-war sermon in 2004. And here in my own region, a couple megachurches are getting attention for, in some peoples’ opinion, crossing the line on endorsing the Republican candidate for governor. Religious influence in US government is not at all hard to recognize – from President Bush’s choice of words to the fact that, according to The Economist, 60% of those who voted for him are evangelicals, Mormons and ‘traditional Catholics’ (We could talk a lot about the definition of Traditional Catholic, another time...).
Last election we had Catholic Answers distributing millions of copies of its Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics; meanwhile the US Conference of Catholic Bishops published their Faithful Citizenship, a call to political responsibility. This year we have the Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good distributing Voting for the Common Good: A Practical Guide for Conscientious Catholics. About once a week I get an email from my evangelical and/or ‘hardline Catholic’ friends urging me to do this or that regarding some political issue. It's funny - are we Catholics letting the politicans and their political consultants slice and dice us into serious, traditional, conscientious and hardline types? And then we have the TV preacher club pronouncing their opinions on how religion ought to influence politics, and our votes.
Religion and politics seem to be drawn to each other in the US, even though we try to keep them apart. The fact that they are drawn together is a good thing, in my opinion. When a person’s religious convictions affect their vote, it tells me that they are taking their religion seriously. And I’d rather see someone take their religion seriously, than not take an interest in it at all. It’s good that people integrate their religious morals with their responsibility as a voting citizen in a democracy.
What about those people who choose to cast a different vote than ours, and they even have the nerve to justify it with their religious morals? Well, I say: Welcome to democracy and freedom of religion.
But what about the question? Should religion affect or influence politics? In my opinion, it’s a false question. Do the media influence politics? Does money influence politics? Do unions and political action groups affect politics? Yes, they do – that’s how democracy works. Our culture influences politics. But, none of that is an excuse to be a voting citizen who is ignorant of the issues, or of one’s responsibility to be part of the democratic process. Rather, it means that you won’t always get what you want, or what you think is right, but you’ll always have a voice in the matter.