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“Religitics”: Religion and Politics

Should God play a part in politics?

God has been active in politics recently.

According to a Pew Forum study in 2008, some 66% of the American public was uncomfortable with churches that endorse political candidates. The study revealed that the majority of churchgoers support the role churches play in public life, however, they reject the role churches are increasingly playing in political life.

Churches are endorsing candidates

Some churches are preaching which candidates their members should vote for, some are publicly endorsing candidates, and some are even giving political contributions to campaign funds. Under our constitution, this is their right, as long as they give up their tax-free status.

Is your wallet trembling? They may be asking you for funds next week. More subtly, plenty of places of worship are highlighting the merits of certain candidates without going all the way to raise funds for them or risk losing their status as a charitable organization.

This “religitics” is happening with such frequency that it may seem alarming to some older people who remember the days when there was some effort to separate politics from the pulpit.

For some younger voters who have grown up with this trend, maybe everything seems perfectly normal, but it is not. In past generations, privacy in matters of voting was respected. Support of sitting presidents was universal.

Religion is becoming synonymous with politics

Religitics are the days when religion is becoming synonymous with politics, when to sign up for one means one signs up for the other. The lines were already blurry for a long time between economic conservatives, gun-rights activists, and Christian lobbies of the Republican Party—so much so that an individual was often found in odd company if his or her primary beliefs on fiscal policy were conservative, leading the person to select a candidate of similar financial beliefs. Imagine the shock of the person waking up a few months later in a house full of outspoken Christians and gun enthusiasts as his or her new best friends. Odd company.

Likewise, if a person wanted to vote for a Democratic candidate in support of more social programs, he or she might be surprised at the liberal-minded, spending-focused, gay-rights-promoting company now sharing the same corner.

To complicate matters again, religions that take political stands and actions compel members to do the same, not only diffusing religious messages but adding to the odd, dysfunctional group dynamics already delicately in place.

We now have fundamentalist Christians grouped with gun-touting yahoos and free-speech watchdogs grouped with abortion- and gay-rights adversaries (, along with financial conservatives.) On the other side, we have more liberal-minded, social-welfare and scientific-research supporters grouped with overspending and, at times, financially irresponsible leaders.

How can so many Americans fit into either of these odd buckets? It is comical to think about either of these groups together in one room. What do they talk about?

Because of religious polarization, the Independent party is growing

No wonder the group of Independent voters is growing so strong. Where else does a person go when, upon learning the issues, they just want to vote for what is important to them?

Just where does a lesbian, pro gun rights, anti-amnesty,  pro-lifer go these days?

Some 30% of our voters declare themselves Independent voters, and go to the polls to vote for whichever candidate cares about issues important to them.

The Independent Party is growing at the same time that religion and politics are merging. Maybe this is not a coincidence. More people are finding less common ground with either big party. From 1952, when Independents were first surveyed in the US, the group has grown from 22% to over 30% of voters.

That’s a lot of Americans. That is one powerful group, without a unified stance.

With fallout from all Christian and Jewish denominations at record levels, there is a chance that they will soon be added to the large group of unaffiliated religious people, some 68% as reported by a 2010 Pew Forum study. Perhaps as religious people unaffiliate themselves with their churches and synagogues, they will grow more independent in their voting patterns as well. Perhaps if they can think independently enough to decide to disassociate themselves with the religious teachings of their faith institutions, they will also manage to think through ballot issues on their own.

Maybe we will begin to see more Independent candidates as well. George Washington, John Tyler, and Andrew Johnson were our Independent Party US presidents to date. We haven’t had many, but we’ve had a few.

Jesus supported the separation of Church and State

Jesus the Jew, in speaking to Jews who were wondering if they really had to pay Roman taxes, is reported in three of the four Christian Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) as saying, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give unto God that which is God’s.”

For millennia this has been touted as loud–and-clear Christian support of separation between church and state. So what happened? Why are the Christians blurring the lines?

The US Constitution originally said nothing about the separation of church and state. However, the First Amendment draws on something Thomas Jefferson stated earlier, in 1802, writing to the Danbury Baptist Association. He wrote:

. . . I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Later, the First Amendment would adopt Jefferson’s words almost verbatim, to state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Clearly churches and synagogues can choose to be places of religitics, but will it backfire?

It will be interesting to watch which way the faithful but independent vote in 2012, because one thing Independents like less than joining forces with either other major group is to hear sermons about politics in church or synagogue. They bother to take some time to learn about issues, study the candidates, and vote according to their own patriotic consciences.

Political pressure from the pulpits could result in one sure outcome, more Independent voters in the US.

 

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