Monday, October 29, 2012

The Holy Mess of God and Politics: Bring It On!

(Writer’s note: This Sunday November 4th, Boston College Professor Alan Wolfe, one of America’s foremost experts on the interaction of American faith and American politics, will speak at the eighth annual Cornerstone Forum in Sherborn on the topic “God and Politics: Divine or Divisive?”.  It takes place at 4 p.m. at the Sherborn Community Center and is free and open to the public.  With less than a week to go before our national elections, Wolfe’s topic got me to thinking about religion’s role in the democratic process.)

“Do you ever talk about politics from the pulpit?”  Now there’s a loaded question.

My Mom recently asked me this as we talked about the election next Tuesday. Clergy from her church had come out against Massachusetts ballot question 2 (“Prescribing medication to end life”) and were encouraging members of her church to vote “no”.  As her church’s leader, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, wrote in his blog, “I believe all people of good will should join me in opposing this deplorable ballot question.”

Should clergy and churches take public stands on political issues that they believe are of great moral, ethical or spiritual importance to our nation?  To push this question even further, should clergy and churches endorse or oppose specific candidates for office? And what of the folks in the pews? Should they bring their God and religion into the voting booth?

As a person of faith, a clergy person and a citizen I believe one precious concept and ideal trumps all others when it comes to God in the voting booth: human freedom. This is the sacred notion that as free thinking and informed citizens, it is finally up to each one of us, in the privacy of the voting booth and in the privacy of our relationship with God (if we claim such a belief) to decide for ourselves how to vote.

The Constitution protects both freedom of religion and religious practice, and freedom from any government endorsed religion, freedom from religion in a way. The government cannot tell me how to worship my God or whether or not to even believe in God. Religions and religious folks are then free, if they so choose, to take all the public stands and make all the public endorsements they want.  Now that’s real freedom!

Pro-life or pro-choice.  Anti death penalty or pro death penalty.  Health care for all as a moral imperative or health care for the few as a private affair.  Even though the IRS frowns upon communities of faith endorsing specific candidates for office and threatens to pull the tax exempt status of such institutions, I’d say let them be as free as they wish. Endorse away if they want to!  Let the fractious and sometimes chaotic cacophony that ensues from the interaction of American politics and America’s religion continue unfettered and free. 

That’s the miracle of democracy: freedom. We do not fear ideas based upon whether or not we believe they come from God or come from man. We do not fear the free exchange of ideas either: from a church or a clergy person or club or a corporation or a person or any one or anything.  In a way we as Americans say, “Bring it on!” and then we make up our own minds.  We freely choose for ourselves.  We politic. We debate. We argue.  We wade into a free press and research.  And then we vote. If we want to bring our God along with us on election day we can.  If we want to leave God at home or reject any notion of such a Deity, we can do that too, all because we are free. 

God and American politics: yes it can be holy mess. But I’d have it no other way.  See you at the polls.

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