The dangers of mixing religion and politics

In the early days of the Moral Monday movement, a good friend of mine expressed both confusion and concern about the religious overtones present. She (my friend, an avowed Atheist) found this approach disconcerting, because she had witnessed countless instances where religious intervention in affairs of the state had negative implications for one group or another. I tried to explain to her that many had misinterpreted the Bible, very often to back up their own misguided prejudices, and a religious "counterpoint" may be the only way to combat that effect. And also, Conservatives had for years dominated the religious conversation, and had successfully captured the votes of many religious folks who might have made other choices in the absence of such domination. In retrospect, I don't have as much confidence in my argument as I once did. Keeping religion out of the debate may be more important than winning it. In order to make my point, I'm going to criticize an ally in the fight against HB2, something I would normally prefer not to do:

I’ll admit that Jesus was notoriously disinterested in sexuality, though he was tough on heterosexual adultery. Jesus was adamant that his followers take responsibility for those who were vulnerable. Jesus commanded us to love others, welcome strangers, forgive enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I feel certain that Jesus would not have approved of vilifying someone for misusing a restroom.

I’ll also admit that Jesus took little notice of politics. Judea was occupied by the largest army in the Near East, at least before our occupation of Iraq. But it didn’t take politicians long to recognize Jesus as a threat. In a vain attempt to shut Jesus up, it was a politician who ordered that he be tortured to death.

Pilate was no angel by any stretch of the imagination, but he also wasn't the demon behind the crucifixion of Christ. That responsibility lies (almost) solely on the backs of Herod Antipas and the elders of the orthodoxy. Who used their influence to sway a government official into doing their bidding. Quite possibly the best (worst) example of the need to separate church and state.

In one sense, you have a valid objection that I, as a clergyperson, have “gotten political” in my criticism of our state’s politicians. Christians are “political” in that beliefs, including religious beliefs, have political consequences. We believe that Jesus Christ reigns, not Caesar; that God, not nations, rules the world. God’s peculiar answer to what’s wrong with the world, God’s showcase for creative social alternatives, is the church.

Aside from the fact that Jesus himself did not believe much of that, as evidenced by his "Render unto Caesar..." commentary on taxation, this approach opens up myriad interpretations of how to solve the world's problems. Even what is a problem and what is not, which we see all too clearly with the creation of HB2. While this particular clergyman in this particular church may have landed on what many of us would describe as the "good" side of this religious debate, we're still working from the faulty assumption that religion is an acceptable gauge to decide civil/human rights in the secular sphere.

It isn't, and it should never be.



I realize many may find this offensive,

or disturbing, or ungrateful, or (fill in the blank). If you don't agree with my opinion(s) on this issue, please feel free to say so. In the back of my mind when I was writing this, a little voice kept saying, "Dude, don't talk about religion! Politics is bad enough..." :)

Nothing so grand

The only thing I have in common with (most) philosophers is a mild narcissistic personality disorder.


David Foster Wallace was a writer of fiction, but never mind. You've already wrapped your dismissive smear of (most) philosophers in self-deprecation. That's more than enough.

Genuinely wanted to know

Genuinely wanted to know what other influences were driving your opinions, BTW.


Sorry, man. I was a little cranky pants earlier, which is why I deleted my comment.

The truth is, even though I no longer attend church, I've been exposed to religiosity from several different angles lately, and I probably let some of the repressed frustration leak into the above diary. My younger son is in rehab, of the strict Christian variety, and every time I visit I have to play along (for him, not for them). Likewise with my mom, who's health is in decline. Visits from her pastor and other church members, 2-3 times a week. And to top it off, every Aldermen's meeting we have begins with a prayer, and very often an exhortation from some local clergy or thumper about making sure God is guiding the town's leaders. I don't *have* to attend, but as Planning Board Chair I need to stay informed.

It's wearing me out.

I support Will Willimon and his OpEd

A former UMC bishop, Duke theologian Willimon is a gifted preacher and writer. I was astonished at the large turnout of those displaying their faith and their opposition to HB2 at Moral Monday.

While you are entitled to your own biblical interpretation(s), so are others (including those like me) who take a more traditional view of Jesus and his words.

We need to have a more civil discussion on this law and its many deficiencies and the political and moral implications of its enactment. Faith and biblical knowledge can inform this debate

Martha Brock

That was kind of my point

Although I clearly failed in getting that point across.

People can interpret the Bible in many ways, but our civil rights should not be subject to various interpretations, whether those interpretations are religious or secular in nature. I'm afraid the more we seek answers or arguments from within scripture, the farther we will deviate from the basics of human and civil rights.

Some good thoughts

and a lot of what you say I'd probably agree with ... but it would be helpful if we all spoke the same language about "religion," or as my old Jesuit teachers used to say, if we defined our terms. For some of us, that whole realm is less about doctrine or belief or assent to a creed and more about an ethic, a way of living justly and compassionately in the world. In that sense maybe "religion" (if you want to call it that) does indeed have something to say about politics. (Oh, and Pilate probably was the demon behind the crucifixion ... gospel comments to the contrary, Jesus wasn't killed because of his religious ideas, but because he was too damned popular and was seen as fomenting public unrest, something which the Roman rulers were very quick to snuff out. Jesus wasn't the first, nor was he the last to suffer that fate at Roman hands.)

Defining terms

In most cases, the one who defines the terms is the guy (or gal) standing up in front of the church on Sunday mornings. And who that person is is very often chosen by a committee of individuals, many of whom are the most judgmental (not to mention gossipers). Of course not all churches are like this, but many are, and the prospective pastors shape their message to impress those who feel like half the congregation is going to hell in a handbasket and need to be "disciplined."

But I do get your point. A lot of the things we need in government (compassion, empathy) can be found in the spirituality attained in religion. It's the other things that bother me, and the fact that once that door is opened, we can't control what comes in.

Christians and the Religious Right

The problem with this op-ed is that it doesn't get to the real crux of the issue: evangelical political organizations have taken over as the "face" of Christianity in America.

Through funding from political players like Art Pope and skirting and outright flaunting of laws about political activism, groups like the NC Values Coalition have become synonymous with the "Christian" point of view.

We all know that there's a healthy mix of viewpoints within churches about HB2 or many other Republican-backed policies. However, without political organizations to keep hammering their message in the media, moderate and liberal Christians lack a voice in the debate. If news media want a spokesperson on HB2, they're not going to call up this individual minister that wrote the op-ed - they're going to call up one of the professionals from the Religious Right that's on speed-dial.

The Religious Right's corruption of the political system for their own gain is abhorrent. In the end, I think it's damaging to mainstream Christian churches because it makes anyone with faith look strident, out of touch, and come off like a ranting loon. Mainstream Christian churches are loosing young people because of the influence and power-mongering by Religious Right figures like Franklin Graham.

Unless moderate and liberal church leaders come out in a more organized way, individual op-eds like this one just look like minority views within the larger Christian faith.

See my comment above

All it takes is a few influential people in a church's congregation to keep moderate voices from speaking out. Even if a pastor or leader wanted to take a stand, there could be serious consequences. Like having your family booted out of your house. A whole lot of churches still have parsonages, if you can believe it. Part of the benefit package.

My way or the highway.

Mainstream churches and synagogues

Were represented at the Moral Monday event Monday, May 16. I was especially pleased to see a couple of churches' banners flying--literally. When a loud right wing-nut preacher posted himself at the entrance to the legislative bldg., a group from Pullen Baptist in Raleigh positioned their group with its banner in response.

Many religious leaders of different races and creeds spoke publicly and marched in their robes and/or stoles wearing the symbols of their faith.

I do agree more well known faith and religious leaders in NC still are reluctant to speak out on contoversial issues, but it is up to their congregations to speak out and to offer support to their ministers who will take risks associated with civic involvement.

Martha Brock

Individual efforts

Unfortunately, there's not one or a handful of political or lobbying groups that speaks for these individual ministers or churches. It makes them look smaller (and weaker) than they really are.

It's like having an organized Republican party with no opposing party to say "Hey - wait a minute ..."

NC Council of Churches?

Not sure of that, but former editorial page editor of the N&O, Steve Ford, often writes columns for NCCC.

Not all denominations or their congregations join the Council. Many mainline Protestant churches are members.

According to its website the group has called for repeal of HB2.

Martha Brock

Suspending Reason

Despite the fact that several of our Founding Fathers were exceedingly clear about this issue, the Christian Evangelicals (the modern day equivalent of the Puritans in 1692), continue to ceaselessly push for a theocratic America. Of all the books that currently exist in the world, the Bible is perhaps the least moral among them. This is a book that admonishes followers to kill those who do not accept the God of Abraham. It admonishes followers to stone to death homosexuals and non-virgin brides-to-be. It describes a universe whose creator murders thousands upon thousands of innocent men, women, and children either on a mere whim or because of some perceived slight against him. To those who, at this point, will say, "All that changed when God sent Jesus", that is simply not true. "The [Old Testament] Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) Jesus called the Scripture, “the commandment of God.” He referred to the Old Testament as the word of God and God’s final authority: “Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God?” Jesus said. (Matthew 22:31). The main problem with the intertwining of religion and politics, however, has to do with our ability to reason logically and adequately.

My intention is not to offend anyone with what I'm about to write (or with what I wrote in the preceding paragraph). Instead, I believe we must attend to Benjamin Franklin's wisdom when he said, "The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of reason". It is in this way that religion poisons the mind. If I truly believe in a talking snake, a man living in a whale, a flood that covered the entire earth upon which a family and every animal now known floated in an ark, that the dead came back to life, and so on... I MUST, by absolute necessity, suspend rational thought... I MUST, by necessity, suspend my ability to reason. But it is not only for the more fantastic stories contained in the Bible that I must suspend reason. Only if we suspend reason can we believe that we are, as Fulke Greville noted, "...created sick and commanded to be sound", that we must love someone who would send us to Hell. We must suspend reason to believe, as Christopher Hitchens famously said, "Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects, in a cruel experiment [...] And over us, to supervise this, is installed a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea. Greedy, exigent—exigent, I would say more than exigent—greedy for uncritical praise from dawn until dusk and swift to punish the original sins with which it so tenderly gifted us in the very first place".

So, to believe in these ways is to fail to reason adequately. Politicians who secretly wish for the end of days and the return of Jesus, cannot be focused on human well-being. Politicians who consistently suspend reason in favor of their Faith, are at the mercy of those who tell them how their Faith should be expressed... or perhaps more importantly, those who tell them which groups of people they should parse out as heretics, unworthy of THEIR afterlife. Politicians who stand and proclaim that their God is better than other Gods are, just like the Muslims they love to condemn, working, living, and attending to their hope for an afterlife... they are not, and cannot be focused on caring for humanity. What has been true for all of recorded history is still true today... it is the very belief in God and an afterlife that allows believers of most all religions to disregard the very real suffering of their fellow human beings in the here and now. Why shouldn't they? If a psychopath who spent most of his life murdering and raping children, need only come to God on death row, then the Christian Right-Wing neglect of the poor, racism, forced inequity, and greed are well within the bounds of what God allows. To their thinking, it seems, God has given them the greatest free pass of all.

Sometimes it amazes me

how many people in this day and age still believe. But the percentage of those who believe *everything* in the Bible actually happened are dwindling. I've seen numbers like 74% who believe in some sort of supreme being, but when you get into specifics those percentages drop precipitously. I guess what I'm saying is, it's not a "believe in everything or believe in nothing" formula, there are countless stages in-between.

It is one thing for an

It is one thing for an elected official to live their faith while in office, and quite another for that official to insist everyone believe as he (or she) does.

Two different people

There are some politicians who use their religious beliefs to guide their policy decisions, and there are other politicians who claim to do that so they can attract certain voters. I'm sure there is some crossover (those who believe and also want the votes), but frankly, it doesn't matter to me. They're both wrong, in my opinion.