Monday, October 24, 2011

God and Politics: A Messy Mix

“They that know God will be humble.”         
--John Flavel

Is God a Republican or a Democrat or maybe a liberal or a conservative or maybe even both or how about neither? Hard to tell these days.  Because once again the Presidential election machine is cranking up and this cycle, perhaps more so than ever before in recent memory, God is getting co-opted, dragged and recruited into the messy world of politics. Makes me feel kind of bad for the Holy One, forever being claimed by this candidate or that cause, all to give righteous weight to a partisan crusade.

And so during a candidate’s forum in Iowa this month Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress, a supporter of candidate Rick Perry, had this to say: "In my estimation, Mormonism is a cult. And it would give credence to a cult to have a Mormon candidate…"   Bummer for Mitt Romney and 14 million Mormons.

In late August, candidate Michelle Bachman weighed in with this interesting theological declaration: “I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. [God] said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here? Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending.”  Wow: I never knew God uses natural disasters to warn America to reduce the deficit and shrink government. 

Candidate Herman Cain on his ‘call’ to run for President: "God's been in this from the beginning." Cain says God’s personally called him to run and that this one on one message took a lot of "conversations with God".  Hmmm.  Does this mean God isn’t talking to the other candidates or President Obama?

I’d love to skewer a left wing politician on some type of similar sloppy God talk but most progressives and liberals have left behind any discussion of God or faith. In the 2008 election, Obama got so burnt by his local church pastor that he’s been rarely seen going anywhere near a house of worship in his presidency. But like all good doobie pols, he still concludes practically every single speech with this eight word mantra: “And God bless the United States of America!”  Just once can’t he use a different coda? Maybe one that doesn’t arrogantly suppose God’s cliché good housekeeping seal of approval upon whatever policy he’s proposing?      

God and politics: for me, as a person of faith, one who does this faith thing for a living, this mix, this coupling of the Creator and crass politics is an awful mess.  It’s not that I oppose candidates or politician having a deep faith, whatever their tradition.  Kudos to the men and women who take their faith walk seriously and then try to incorporate the values therein into how they govern.  America needs leaders who stand upon a personal foundation of God-given morals, ethics and ideals.  Philosophical notions like compassion for the least of these our neighbors. Peace. Justice.  Honesty. Service to others.  Humility.  Respect for God’s Creation. Who can argue against that? 

But do they have to be so self-righteous about it? So smarmily sure? So “My God’s better than your God” or “My God specifically told me to do this!”?  Do they have to imply, sometimes not so subtly, that only a person who believes in God (never an atheist) or a certain God (never a Mormon) can be President? Guaranteed if Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee that the Mormon bashers and questioners will all come out of the hills. 

Do they have to wear their faith like a shiny medal of honor and twist what is at its best a private and personal relationship with the Divine, and instead use this relationship as just another way to sell themselves to the electorate as a commodity? “Vote for me ‘cuz I love God and God loves me!”

In my tradition Jesus tells a great story about two folks, a priest and a tax collector, who go up to the Temple to pray one day.  At the front of that house of worship, one self-righteous soul stands tall, arms outstretched, face proudly uplifted to the heavens and offers this prayer to the Almighty: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” And there, way, way in the back of the sanctuary, eyes averted, head bowed, is the object of the priest’s self-righteous scorn.  The tax collector’s simple prayer? “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

One believer all haughty, puffed up, so convinced of his righteousness before God.  The other soul humble, acknowledging his flawed humanity, and putting himself right before an all merciful and loving God. 

I know who I’d vote for if each were to each run for public office.  How about you?    



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