Religion, Politics & A House Divided
A house divided against itself cannot stand - Abraham Lincoln 1858
Abortion, equality, fairness, discrimination, immigration, reverse discrimination, evolution, taxes, history, God – there's barely anything that can be argued about that hasn't become part of the political dialogue. Even factual information can have a Tea Party, Republican or Democratic interpretation that is dramatically different. And these disagreements are rarely friendly but characterized by much certainty on each side with frequent disdain for those with opposing views. Many have remarked that at no other time have they seen such ugly divisions in the country – it is no wonder that so many recall Lincoln's observation about a house divided.
Religion increasingly important in politics
The ossification of public opinion and beliefs in the past decade is a topic that deserves close examination, however it may not be a coincidence that some of those who had previously been described as a silent majority found their voice and became a vocal and important minority often associated with strong religious beliefs.
The Evangelicals and Christian Right played an important role in Bush's elections in 2000 and 2004; and, in all likelihood, Bush owed his 2000 election to this Christian support. Religion or specifically held religious viewpoints have played an increasingly important part in our politics in this century.
The Tea Party
The Tea Party drew and still draws its support from these same core white groups with strong Christian beliefs. The results of a Pew Research Center study of February 2011 supports this widely held view.
Religion and social issues
And, this group, perhaps not surprisingly, has regarded social issues as being particularly important in influencing the way they vote; the same research makes this clear when it cites influences on views of abortion and homosexuality.
Although there were many Tea Party members who were not familiar with the conservative Christian movement, the large majority of them shared the same strong views on social issues.
Democrats just as fervent in their beliefs
On the other hand or on the other side are a core group of Democrats who are just as fervent in their beliefs despite their lack of religious motivation or, often, because they interpret Christianity differently. They view Republicans and Tea Party backers in as aggressive a manner as they are viewed. And the split is emphasized by elements of race and racism; many Democrats viewing a number of Republicans and members of the Tea Party as being motivated by racism and their unhappiness at having a Democratic black president. Also some Democrats seem to share many of the views we associate with liberation theology's beliefs - particularly ideas of social justice.
The Great and Bitter Divide
And each side is as certain in their certainty as the other. If there was a clear geographic divide such as a river or even a clear line of latitude between the two groups, it would not be surprising to hear mumblings of secession.
Whatever our perspective or political allegiance, we would be regarded as naïve if we pretended that strong religious beliefs have not played an important and even crucial role in all of the important elections of the past decade. And perhaps none of the above would be particularly remarkable if it wasn't for the great divide between the two solitudes.
It is a remarkable split because the debates engender so much bitterness. Ironically, the Constitution was meant to anticipate such disagreements with the notion of the division between church and state. Religion and politics are a poor mixture and even once profoundly Catholic countries take pains to separate the two powers, for instance. And the tendency for almost all democracies has been to become increasingly secular. France, historically a Catholic country, in 2004 passed legislation prohibiting all overtly religious dress and signs -- including Muslim head-scarves, Sikh turbans, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
What does Jesus Christ say about the poor and poverty?
And Christians who seek advice from Jesus regarding their political involvement are not going to receive many overt suggestions. The least ambiguous is to: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” However, Jesus' sentiments and beliefs are made often made clear; his sympathies clearly lay with the poor and oppressed rather than the rich and powerful. And nowhere is this made clearer than in his Sermon on The Mount.
Perhaps Christ's teachings can be found most intact in liberation theology which seems the closest attempt to make Christian principles a political theology. It is based on interpreting Jesus' teachings as a call to fight for liberation of the poor from unjust social, economic and political conditions. Philip Berryman described the movement as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor's suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.”
Does God approve of the Law of Attraction and wealth?
Historically many Christians did see the contradiction between the wealth of the Church and individual wealth versus Jesus' teaching but accepted it. After the Bible was translated and more became educated, the contradiction between the holding of great wealth and Christ's teachings became even more apparent – and individuals and the Church have had to continue to develop arguments to defend themselves against the charge of hypocrisy.
One article is actually entitled The Bible Law of Attraction and Wealth. It claims that: “God desires all of us to become abundant in all things. There's no question, God prefers all of us to live an abundant life and also have wealth in all things.” The article is not atypical in its claims, although it will strike many as being very dogmatic and somewhat presumptuous in interpreting God's message in this way. Also, it is in direct contrast to the Church's teaching of a century ago when the poor were being told to put up with their lot since their reward would come later in heaven!
Liberation theology's interpretation of Jesus Christ's teachings is in stark contrast to the political interpretation of his teachings found in the US where the Tea Party seems particularly fixated on taxing corporations and the rich as little as possible. Laws of attraction and other schemes abound and justification for Christians accepting them are typified in such arguments as “All you have to do is ask God for the things you want, which would enable you be where or who you want to be in life. Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask and you will receive…”
There seem to be at least three distinct ways of interpreting Christ's teaching in the area of politics:
The church has no business meddling in politics
Christians should intercede and fight on behalf of the poor and underprivileged
Christians believe in the status quo where wealth and power seem to be distributed in a reasonably fair way
Certainly there are numerous other positions along the spectrum; however there does seem to be some distinct viewpoints. And certainly some extremely wealthy Christians in the first and last groups may not believe in regressive taxation but donate more to charity than they ever would have to in taxes -- so no generalization can apply to all individuals in any of these groups.
Whether it is correct or not, there are generalizations that are made about both the Christian right and the Tea Party. And perhaps one of the most persistent is that there is a strong belief in the status quo of yesteryear more than today as well as a strong belief that taxing the wealthy is wrong for a number of reasons including the notion that it is a form of wealth redistribution.
Whether polls seek the public's views on politics and many other issues, usually the polling agency will establish whether the race of the respondents have a baring on their answers. The Pew research makes it clear that race does play some part in the way we vote, and this is no less true of Christians than any others. Some Democrats have made much of how Republicans have used coded racist messages to attract those who are drawn to such messages. The topic deserves much discussion when raised in a Christian context but only receives a passing mention here rather than to further complicate the debate of religion's place in US politics.
Wealth and Christianity
There are many Biblical quotes that sound alarms and warnings about wealth and positions on social views; however, perhaps one of the most sobering thoughts for anyone who believes that the niceties of human society will be maintained in any after-life should come from some of Christ's last words that were spoken to a lowly thief who seemed to repent his sins and rebuke the other thief who was being crucified: "I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
We use religion to support rather than challenge our views and behaviors
It seems that many take from the Bible those things that are convenient and support their views rather than those things that make them uncomfortable and challenge their comfortable lives. Stories of Christ usually put him in the position of someone who challenged the status quo and beliefs that were comfortable; perhaps these stories suggest the political positions he would take in today's world.
The Church and its members have always had difficulty justifying the holding of great wealth and it is noteworthy that many proud religious supporters of the right have no trouble dealing with the troublesome question of wealth. There has been a seismic shift in American culture. What has changed that now makes it so much easier for Christians to feel that amassing and holding on to wealth is a political stance or personal decision that does not contradict many of Christ's teachings?