Our Sunday News recently asked me to be a voice to balance the weekly columns of the assistant editor. He generates the most reader response for the paper but writes from more of a left-side, liberal perspective (labels I am a little uncomfortable with).
I’ve written a monthly faith-focused column for many years and recently learned that I generate the second most letters to the editor.
After an increasing number of readers expressed a desire for a more conservative voice to balance the offerings of the assistant editor, the paper contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write twice a month and address political subjects. But they told me that I should feel free to include the faith perspective wherever I wished. Politics and religion?
After accepting the invitation, they moved my columns to the front of the perspective section under the title, “The Right Side” (a title I am not completely comfortable with). Yet my new assignment is not as easy as it might sound.
The first quite obvious challenge is the fact that religion and politics are two of the most publicly controversial subjects one could address. Secondly, I am a local pastor and I don’t want people to think that they must hold my political positions to be part of our Church.
Thirdly, although the First Amendment was primarily about protecting religion from government control (i. e. to keep government out of religion), I don’t see it as my responsibility to conform government to my faith.
Over the years, I’ve consistently tried to addressed political issues without using Bible verses as my basis. This is not to say that my faith does not (or should not) inform my worldview and my moral opinions. But I don’t always need explicit references to faith when defending my views.
On a more positive side, my new role could help dispel the widespread myth about the first amendment being written to separate Church and State.
Although the amendment forbids congress from imposing a national religion, it does not require a kind of separation aimed at removing God from all of public life and discourse. Those who demand removal of God and religious reference from public life actually violate the part of the amendment protecting freedom of speech and the press. The founders were interested in protecting freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
If you don’t think that the public has been badly misled on the purpose of the First Amendment, try stating a moral opinion in a public setting. You’ll likely hear someone ask, “What about separation of Church and State?” “Isn’t that what the First Amendment is all about?”
The other deeply misleading factor is the notion that one can have politics without moral opinion. You simply cannot engage in lawmaking without moral considerations. In his farewell speech, our first president said, “Of all the dispostitions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…”
Abraham Lincoln said, “In this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”
If this is true, is it surprising to find those who are hostile against God and religion trying to force both out of public conversation and policy making. Strangely, these same people are unwilling to admit that they are voicing their moral and religious opinions when rejecting others.
Any time (in political discussion) we say one action is right and another wrong, or demand a certain value as a human right, we are using our moral code to influence policy and lawmaking. Let’s stop pretending that it’s only “those Christians” who bring their beliefs with them to the political process. And please correct those who fall for a politicized abuse of the First Amendment .
Hadley Arkes rightly observed that, “There is no way of purging from human beings an understanding of right and wrong, of purging from common life a discourse about right and wrong. Once we think we are in the presence of real wrongs, we think (for example) that it’s wrong for people to torture their infants, our next response is not, ‘Ah, therefore, let’s give them tax incentives to induce them to stop.’ No, we respond with a law that forbids them.”
“Once you understand that this is the nature of the enterprise of ruling and governing, it becomes a matter of whether you will address the questions of right and wrong or whether you simply try to divert the questions and talk about something else.”
It’s relatively easy to find moral and religious opinion behind most of what is written about policy and law. The moment someone says, “I think it’s wrong….,” he has introduced a moral opinion. When a policy or law forms either based on or in support of that opinion, morality and politics have joined and the people are bound by the outcome. To argue that his opinion does not come from religion is to beg the primary question, “Says whom?”
Let’s not fool ourselves! If a man demands public conformity to his views, he makes himself Lord and uses religious coercion in the political process. The issue is not so much about religion as about seeking public consensus on the good that we the people choose in our policies and laws.
Where does the conversation go from here?