The Marriage Of Religion And Politics

Breaking Up Is The Right Thing To Do

In the wake of the midterm elections, here’s one American who’s ready for a divorce. Not for myself, but for the modern-day alliance between politics and religion. As with a couple who never belonged together in the first place, it’s past time these two separated.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact date of their union, although certainly we can say that their passion has reached an all-   time high in recent years. But like lovers who come to a point at which they’re no longer good for each other, if indeed they ever were, this couple is overdue for a breakup.

So let the divorce proceedings begin. Let the grounds be incompatibility. And let me weigh in on the side of religion. It does not belong in a lovey-dovey relationship with politicians.

You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that believers in general and Christians in particular have a duty and a right to be involved in politics. I will concede that such a right exists.

But duty? Please. Have we not learned anything from 2,000 years of Christianity?

It’s one thing for people of faith to become involved in politics and to work for the betterment of society. It’s natural and desirable for people to promote a moral foundation for their nation’s conduct. But whenever church and state are too closely aligned, neither is well-served. Nor are the people they represent.

Such is the case, of late, with the Republican Party and the so-called “religious right.”     They got along best when they were in a friendly relationship. Each could keep its independence while sharing common goals with the other. Though different, their priorities – staying in office and serving God, respectively – often dovetailed.

What better way for believers to serve God than to promote a moral society? And what better way for politicians to get and stay elected than to help those believers – who are usually voters – promote a moral society?

Alas, over time, votes and voters began to matter too much to the politicians, and the chance to personally influence public policy while rubbing elbows with famous politicians began to matter too much to the religious right. Thus did a friendly relationship become intimate and inappropriate.

Now party leaders view conservative Christians as “values voters,” with an obvious emphasis on “voters.” They cultivate high-profile church leaders like James Dobson and the recently disgraced Ted Haggard because they know that happy Christians are voting Christians.

Shame on the party leaders.

Shame, too, on religious leaders who fail to realize that they’re being taken advantage of. They’ve allowed themselves to be used as vote-getters when their mission is to be shepherds.

The beloved evangelical leader Billy Graham, now elderly and infirm, advises religious leaders to learn from his mistakes. He admits that over the years he unwisely permitted himself to be used by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.

Now a new generation of religious leaders has been used, as confirmed by David Kuo, once the No. 2 man in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In his book, Tempting Faith, Kuo quotes White House staffers as referring to some Religious Right leaders as “nuts,” “goofy” and “boorish.”

So much for respect.

Then again, religious leaders should not worry about earning the respect of politicians. They should worry about serving their flocks and their Master.

Neither has anything to do with politics.

Frances Coleman writes for The Press-Register of Mobile, Ala. This essay was carried by Religion News Service. Copyright 2006