The Role of Faith in American Politics

I must start this post with a confession. I am not a fan of politics. One might even say I despise it. But I have come more and more to engage in them the last couple years of my life. The cause of this new interest may be on account of a book called The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. If you have never heard of this book, you have now. If you have never read this book, you MUST. One may not agree with Shane’s take on everything, but everyone will be forced to hold a mirror up to your own beliefs and make you think. I must also note that one of the reasons that I find politics detrimental to the life of Christians, is that we put our hope in something other than Christ crucified. And when we do this, we will most certainly be let down. John McCain will not usher in the kingdom of heaven anymore than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. And yet every four years, we think it will be different this time around. That ‘our’ candidate is not like the ones in the past. But we are all tainted; nobody escapes original sin.

I came across an article in Christianity Today entitled, “Faith Is Not a Freak Show.” The article first probed the role of one’s religion in his/her campaign for president, beginning with George Bush getting elected in 2004. Among Democratic strategist circles, there was a feeling of missing the boat. They had thought throwing one’s religion overboard would attract more votes than displaying it on the mast. So, as we have entered into the season of another presidential election (or did we do that back in 2004?), religion has played a role. We have all heard of Romney’s ties to Mormonism, Jeremiah Wright has become a household name, and who could forget that Mike Huckabee was a Southern Baptist minister? And yet, religion has seemed to have a negative effect on the candidates if anything. Many evangelical Christians were skeptical of Romney’s religion. Huckabee’s relationship with Southern Baptists may have won many evangelical Christians votes, but also created a barrier from a number of groups. If anything, candidates have tried to distance themselves from endorsements whether it be Obama from Wright or John McCain from John Hagee. There was a brilliant quote in this section that summed it up: “While generic religiosity brings life, particular religious connections risk political death.”

The article went on to discuss the idea of civil religion, which originated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Civil religion involves a set of shared values that harness religiosity towards a common good, somehow bringing together people with fervent faith and people with no faith. Although civil religion is typically neutral on whose religion to find a value system, America’s civil religion can be linked to Christianity. The article goes on to talk about the creed of American civil religion is just three words: God, America, and Freedom. The quote following this creed in the article, in my opinion, tends to reflect the thoughts of a majority of Americans (correct me if I’m wrong). “It doesn’t really matter whom Americans call God, so long as that God is for freedom and for America.”

This quote undoubtedly led me to begin a course of questioning. Is American freedom that freedom that we are called to in the Bible? Are America’s dreams God’s dreams? Can one pledge allegiance to the United States of America and still pledge allegiance to the kingdom of God? Can we live the American Dream and be a Christian or are they in conflict with one another? Is patriotism idolatry?

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One Response to The Role of Faith in American Politics

  1. mk says:

    I think the quote is right about most Americans, but not conservative evangelicals who feel that God has to be (only) the biblical God as understood by American evangelicals. That’s why Cal Thomas and others are concerned about Obama’s Christian faith which falls in the “inclusivist” camp. However, I have read and observed that to Cal, Fox News, et. al., inclusive Christianity is not true/real Christianity, so while Obama, e.g., has faith in and believes in Christ who died for his sins as revealed in scripture and was baptized into that faith, it was in a UCC church, and the UCC, according to conservative Am. evangelicals, is not actually Christian but a false faith. If you go back to the founding fathers however, the quote is totally accurate as everyone from evangelicals to deists (like Jefferson who did not believe Jesus was anything other than a human being as you know) could rally around the nebulous term “God.” and infuse it with their own meaning. And that was and is the curse or genius (depending on your perspective) of our civil religion. And idolatry is the worship of anything other than God, so, the question is, do we worship our nation? (Maybe I should use that as an essay on the final?!)

    . . and how ironic is it that everyone believes in freedom, but to many “liberal”– whose root is “liber” or “free”– has somehow become a dirty word?!

    . . . ok, enough “professing.” I hope that most of the other students who are signed up for Religion in America are wrestling with this stuff right now like you are. We’ll spend some time on these questions–and more!–in our section on Am evangelicalism, and we’ll cover civil religion as well. It’s fascinating. . . Can’t say we’ll answer all your questions, but we’ll sure entertain them.

    Wow this post got long. Just trying to keep the “liberal’ (freedom!) in the liberal arts 🙂 .

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