The Common Good

The Republican YouTube Debate

Sojomail - November 29, 2007


QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"The central question is not: Are we winning or losing? The central question is: Was it worth it? And that was resolved a long time ago."

- Vin Weber (R-Minn.), former congressman and campaign adviser to Mitt Romney. Weber supports the war but believes it may be too late to change public opinion on this question. (Source: The Washington Post)

+ Sign up to receive "Verse and Voice" - our daily quote and Bible verse e-mail

FAITH AND POLITICS

No Religious Tests

by Diana Butler Bass


I couldn't help but be struck a bizarre similarity in two back-to-back events this week: the YouTube/CNN Republican forum and the swearing in of Pakistan's President Musharaf broadcast by NPR. Although worlds apart, both demonstrated what happens when religion and politics mix in a less-than-productive way—the insistence on religious tests for holding office.

In the case of President Musharaf, he took the oath of office to a country with Islam as the state religion by swearing that he is a Muslim, upholding the oneness of God, and pledging allegiance to Allah. If we had formal religious tests for office holders in the U.S., this would be akin to being inaugurated as president by proclaiming one's Christianity, stating belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, and dedicating oneself to Jesus—essentially a doctrinal test for politicians.

Americans know that the second scenario is not likely to occur. Although the new president lays his (or her) hand on the Bible and references God, these ceremonial acts are interpreted according to individual conscience and imply no specific doctrinal content. Indeed, the Constitution the president swears to protect and defend outlawed religious tests for federal officials, and, during the early 1800s, individual states slowly ended local practice of religious requirements for public office. However, this formal Constitutional principle didn't stop the forum questioners from insisting upon some sort of informal religious test for their candidates. Several people asked about the theological beliefs (not even the more generic religious beliefs) of candidates on a wide range of issues and pointedly quizzed them on their views of the Bible.

Several years ago, I taught theology at a Christian college—a task that I disliked because the class almost always devolved into a sort of checklist of right opinion to get into heaven. The Republican forum reminded me of that experience. The candidates were required, down to specifically quoting scriptures, to "check off" the right religious answers in order to secure their party's bid for the nation's highest office. It is almost as if a politician will utter the magic words - "Jesus is my Savior" or "the Bible is true in all that it affirms" - millions of people will cast their vote for that candidate. While I do not doubt the sincerity of (most of) the answers, the whole exercise struck me as politically dubious.

Americans need to understand that the relationship between religion and politics is a malleable one - there are few clear-cut rules regarding their interplay. The U.S. is neither a "Christian Nation" in the way it is popularly interpreted, nor is it ruled by a rigid separation of church and state. Neither cultural war stereotype is entirely true or entirely false. Rather, when it comes to religion and politics, we live in a perpetual state of creative tension. Throughout our history, faith and politics have created an often nuanced interplay of fine and sometimes conflicting lines—an interplay that requires discernment on the part of politicians, courts, and voters.

As a serious Christian, it matters to me that the president of the U.S. is a moral person with a mature conscience, and that he or she brings broadly shared ethical insights (along with other insights) to political issues. It does not, however, matter by what tradition that moral conscience has been formed as long as the office holder supports the Constitution. In the U.S., broadly shared political ethics generally include such things as respect for all human persons, a commitment to national and global justice, and developing national capacities of happiness, freedom, and liberty for all citizens. This is not a religious creed or a Bible verse. These are commonly held values that we have struggled for throughout our history. In our context, these values arose originally from diverse Christian traditions, but today numerous American faith traditions can assent to them. Although the founders never imagined the variety of religions in the contemporary U.S., they nevertheless opened the door for a creative political pluralism in the 21st century. We should not be electing a theologian-in-chief. We need to elect a good president.

As a Christian, I also know that getting the answers right on a doctrinal test are no guarantee of a person's moral disposition or fitness for leadership. Indeed, one's orthodoxy can bear little relationship to one's practice of faith. Experience, vision, compassion, good leadership, and an ability to govern well are the only tests upon which Christians—or other religious folks—should vote.

Of course, voters have the right to ask about candidates' religious views, and politicians have the right to talk about those views. But when such rights verge on becoming a faith test, then we begin to sacrifice the wisdom of our political system in favor of a testimony that more rightly belongs in church. And a big part of that wisdom is that our president does not make theological affirmations that exclude millions of Americans on Inauguration Day.

Diana Butler Bass (www.dianabutlerbass.com) is the author of Christianity for the Rest of Us (Harper One, 2006) and a regular blogger for God's Politics.

+ Comment on this article on the God's Politics Blog

THIS WEEK ON THE GOD'S POLITICS BLOG

+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Audio: Jim Wallis on 'Speaking of Faith' with Krista Tippett

Here's some of Krista Tippet's introduction to her interview with Jim: "I've resisted interviewing Wallis as he's risen to a new kind of fame, in part because he has had so much exposure in major media - from Hardball to Fresh Air. But now I've come to see in Jim Wallis' rise not just a story of an individual activist becoming a leader, but of the world changing around us."


Darfur: Don’t Take No for an Answer (by Elizabeth Palmberg)

The genocidal regime in Khartoum is, unsurprisingly, trying to undermine and block the joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping team that has been authorized to offer desperately needed protection to civilians in Darfur. As a recent article put it, "[U.N. peacekeeping chief] Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council that it may face a hard choice about the 26,000-strong force scheduled to deploy in a month: to send troops that cannot defend themselves and the people of Darfur, or to not send troops at all."


'No Country for Old Men': Thoughtful, Frightening, and Beguiling (by Gareth Higgins)

When a film ends with the recounting of a dream in which a weather-beaten, life-weary man searches for the fire his father is building to warm them, it's impossible not to think of the love we all yearn for and can hopefully muster. It's also a welcome spiritual respite when that film has seduced its audience on a journey into a hell of the relentless violence that follows a man after he steals drug money in the naïve belief that its owners might ignore him, and the slow-moving chase that ensues when a truly psychopathic person pursues the man and the cash. No Country for Old Men, the new picture from the Coen Brothers, based on Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel, is probably the most accomplished film released this year.


A Prayer for Annapolis (by Jim Wallis)

The op-ed page of The Washington Post tells the rest of the story. Columnist Richard Cohen has a poignant column on the reality of human stories with conflicting narratives. He cites a new HBO documentary, To Die in Jerusalem, the story of a March 2002 suicide bombing in which a young Palestinian blew herself up in Jerusalem supermarket, killing a young Israeli woman. The film tells the story of the unsuccessful attempt by the mothers of the two women to talk with each other. Cohen writes that the reality of the Middle East is in the story of these two mothers.


What Evangelicals Need to Know: More Thoughts on the Beliefnet Roundtable (by Brian McLaren)

A major voice in the roundtable was Jeff Sharlet, a confessed non-evangelical whom top evangelical organizations might be wise to hire - and quick - as a consultant. As an outsider, he sees what a lot that us insiders need to see: that it's time to augment our deeply-held concern for private morality with a new vision for addressing systemic injustice. I'm both hopeful and increasingly confident that for the next generation of evangelicals, this augmentation is already happening. For example, for the next generation of evangelicals, care for the planet is already a key moral issue with both personal and social dimensions, because they see in our "creation mandate" a call to steward the earth for a) our creator (not an insignificant concern!), b) our grandchildren's grandchildren (and undervalued family value to be sure), c) our poor and vulnerable neighbors from Bangladesh to Darfur, and d) our fellow creatures with whom we share the land, sea, and air.


Diversity as Christian Practice—Not Just a Church Program (by Diana Butler Bass)

I am sure that good Methodists of the California-Nevada Conference will demur, saying how far they have to go and how imperfectly they practice diversity. But 40 years is a pretty short time to go from a fractured community fearful of race toward the room I experienced at Lake Tahoe. And it demonstrated to me the power of diversity as a Christian practice. If their diversity was merely a "program" of the denomination, it would breed resentment and suspicion. But the level of trust in the room (we even talked about trust) indicated that their diversity went far beyond program—that it is a genuine attempt to enact Christian community in bringing together humankind through Jesus Christ. Their diversity was a practice of faith, an action that Christian people do for the sake of God in the world.


Changes Down Under (by Jim Wallis)

In the news you might have missed over the Thanksgiving weekend, Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd decisively defeated Prime Minister John Howard in an important Australian election. Howard has long been one of the strongest supporters of President Bush's policies. Rudd, on the other hand, has already made it clear that he has different priorities. In his first news conference, he committed to making climate change a priority, promising to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Rudd also announced he will withdraw Australia's troops from Iraq.


Left Behind's Jenkins and Others Shatter Evangelical Stereotypes (by Brian McLaren)

In light of Pat Robertson's and Bob Jones III's recent presidential endorsements – shocking or predictable, depending on your cynicism factor – and in light of the recent New York Times article on the fragmentation of evangelicalism, I'm sure we'll be seeing a growing number of assessments regarding the status and future of the evangelical Christian community in the U.S. Those interested in the subject shouldn't miss the conversation that's been going on over at the Beliefnet roundtable on evangelicals in power. Beliefnet's Patton Dodd got things rolling, and was joined by writers Hannah Rosin and Jeff Sharlet, Left Behind novelist Jerry Jenkins, sociologist Michael Lindsay, and former Bush aide David Kuo.


Who's the Illegal Immigrant, Pilgrim? (by Randy Woodley)

There seems to be much concern lately over the people being referred to as "illegal immigrants." Let's define our terms: "Immigrant" - somebody who has come to a country and settled there. "Illegal" - forbidden by law. Concern about illegal immigrants has a familiar ring to us Native Americans. We have been empathizing with those concerns for over half a millennium.

SOJOURNERS IN THE NEWS

+ Sign up to receive our "Daily Digest" e-mail - the latest headlines on critical issues

Top Stories:

N.Y. Activist Preaches Deliverance From Retail
The Washington Post
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote in this month's Sojourners magazine: "Rev. Billy is a faithful prophetic figure who stands in direct continuity with ancient prophets in Israel and in continuity with the great prophetic figures of U.S. history who have incessantly called our society back to its core human passions of justice and compassion."

Christian Leaders Invite Muslims to Love God, Neighbors Together
Christian Post
Signers include Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church; John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in London; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Christian leaders ask for Muslim forgiveness
Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)

Bad for Huckabee, good for America: By backing 'impure' GOP candidates, evangelicals are showing signs of compromise.
Los Angeles Times

Anyone Want to Talk About Health Care?
Christianity Today online

"Sojourners in the news" articles are the most recent news clippings that mention Sojourners in any way - whether favorably or unfavorably. Though we provide the text on our site for your convenience, we do not necessarily endorse the views of these articles or their source publications.


ADVERTISERS






Make Christmas More Meaningful!

Honor your friends and family by giving a life-changing gift to those in need through Heifer International. Heifer gifts take the stress out of shopping and put the meaning back into giving by helping struggling families lift themselves out of poverty. Give Now.











Progressive, growth-oriented church seeks Associate Pastor for development and implementation of small group ministries and pastoral leadership. For information see the "Associate Pastor Job Search" link on our website at www.fbcmac.org.

Advent devotions online. During Advent, receive weekday devotions via email from Goshen (Ind.) College students, faculty and staff focused around the lectionary and the theme "The world is about to turn!" Subscribe and celebrate Christ's arrival.

Escape this busy, hectic world inside the serene, stress-free environment of Transformation Garden: Read free daily devotionals, submit prayer requests, pray in our circle of prayer. Step into this inspirational garden at www.transformationgarden.com.

Sojourners Job Openings Sojourners seeks qualified applicants for a variety of positions in our growing work to articulate the biblical call for social justice. Please see our immediate opening for a Network Administrator. Click here to learn more.

Subscribe to Sojourners and save! Order now and save $10 off the regular subscription price. Sojourners offers award-winning commentary on faith, politics, and culture - plus Bible study, humor, and more! Click here to subscribe!













GIVE TO SOJOURNERS: Donate now to support this voice for justice and peace.

GET THE MAGAZINE: Subscribe today

CONTACT US: General inquiries: sojourners@sojo.net | Advertising: advertising@sojo.net | About Us

PRIVACY NOTICE: Sojourners won't trade, sell, or give away your e-mail address. Read our privacy policy.