Religion & Politics

During last night's debate both candidates were asked about how their faith influences the choices in politics. That is always a tricky question to ask. Can you separate church and politics?

During last night's vice-presidential debate both candidates were asked about how their faith influences the choices in life - and in politics. That is always a tricky question to ask. If you recall John Kennedy never hid his Catholic faith though we know he had problems following at least part of its teachings. Ronald Reagan like to reference God but his appearance at a church service was a rare occurrence indeed.

However, as soon as the question was asked last night, some of my friends (left & right) began fuming about the separation of church and state, quoting Thomas Jefferson. "Religion and politics should not mix" wrote one "Separation of church and state, remember?"

Well, it was not always so in New England. From 1634 till 1884 almost every year ministers were invited to preach "Election Sermons" in front of the magistrates, governors, and all those seeking election into office in Boston (Vermont and New Hampshire had simmilar traditions but they were discontinued in 1813). It was a great honor to be asked to preach, and quite a few preachers succumbed to partisan politics. In fact the first election sermon preached by Rev. John Cotton urged those gathered to reelect governor Winthrop. The sermon hopelessly backfired, and the Puritan electorate voted in his opponent. Other preachers took time, and considerable time, to touch on the subject of the vices plaguing society: drunkenness, swearing, Quakers, Catholics and so on. Remember: until 1831 Massachusetts had a state religion: Congregationalism - until 1776 only Congregational ministers were invited to preach. One minister listed vices and their effects for 90 pages, only to end on a more happy note, that in his view we have still not hit the bottom. But it was not just gloom: already in the 1660s some preachers called on for a system of free public schools, others condemned slavery and promoted women's rights. The last sermon was preached in 1884 by the Universalist minister Alonzo Aimes Miner, the president of Tufts University. The practice was abolished that same year.

But the question remains: can you separate church and politics? Does your minister's or priests political choices influence yours in any way? Let me know.

BTW I the old tradition, I will be preaching an election sermon on Sunday November 11.

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kimm3r October 12, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Many people take that Jefferson quote completely out of context. It's frustrating.
Kazimierz Bem October 12, 2012 at 05:16 PM
Exactly. He spoke of protecting the CHURCH from the State - not the other way around. And until 1833 it was not considered incompatible for a STATE government to have a state-established religion - indeed MA, VT, NH and CT had Congregationalism. It was the federal government that was banned from establishing one.
kimm3r October 12, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Right! And so many people just don't understand what he really meant and use that quote to justify keeping religion completely out of political discourse and opinion. For instance, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the 'In God we Trust' on our currency. So frustrating.
Kazimierz Bem October 12, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Its interesting the in the New England Puritan tradition president John Adams proclaimed days of fast and prayer, which were sorely disliked by Jefferson - who also disliked Adams, which was not a consequence. There are even SC pronouncements where they say: "This is a Christian Nation." I am actually very fond of separating one and the other - I see no problems with the PoA or "In God we Trust" even if they were inserted much later (Eisenhower I think). But I take offense with ministers and denominations endorsing candidates: liberal or conservative. It has to work both ways.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 12:32 AM
There is a big difference between FAITH and RELIGION.. one is belief in a God, where the other is belief in humans. In addition, the founding fathers did intend to keep the two apart, to protect the populace from a NON ELECTED religious oligarchy. Faith is important.. but rewriting history to favor a viewpoint sounds awfully like RELIGION.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 12:40 AM
In addition, are you so secular so as to believe that your faith is more important than someone else's? Remember, this is Faith. I simply ask you if you would object if our money started bearing the inscription "In Allah we Trust" or if "One nation, under Buddha" is okay with you. I understand that you have one set of beliefs, but to be so dogmatic in thinking that only yours is valid and should therefore be pressed upon the heathen is concerning, to say the least. One would hope that Tolerance of other's beliefs might enter into this...
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 03:27 AM
I said I have no problem with it - not that I would do it. And having lived in the ME I was used to islamic texts almost everywhere. So, I would survive. The current notes are a remnant from a different age and context. As to the difference between Faith and Religion. You might want to check your Latin - religion comes from Latin 'ligare' which means to connect, to bind. Religion is that which binds our faith to others faith and to God.
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 03:33 AM
To be fair, Cicero described "religio" as the proper performance of rituals in honor of Gods. Your definition of religion as belief in humans fits much more a definition of atheism.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Connecting and binding to one's faith is a human action. Again, religion is a construct of humans, a pattern of behavior that we as humans suppose will please or appease a diety.. actions prescribed by humans. Such behaviors as found in Churches and Religions are one possible, but hardly the only possible way of connecting with said diety, and that is the "word of god" in any religion. You cause me great concern in that you clearly do not differentiate the ritual from the belief. Religion is nothing more than a ritual, by your own words. Going to church is NOT the same as having a connection to a God, whatever that God may be. Faith is almost always a good thing. Religion is almost never a good thing.
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 04:02 AM
I find it amazing that you lecture me on my faith, its appropriateness etc. and yet claim it is religion that is oppressive and makes human and fallible pronouncments. But I am not convinced that connecting is a human action -Christians believe that in the Sacraments it is God who does the binding. I don't doubt that you can have a personal connection with God without going to church - it is just not a CHRISTIAN understanding of God. You cannot be a Christian outside the church community. To be a Christian means to part of a community.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Could anything possibly be more clear as to WHY religion must be kept out of politics, based upon the conversation above? To base decisions on how to govern all of society, with it's myriad beliefs, from a secular (and HUMAN DEFINED) pulpit? What if that pulpit isn't the one you subscribe to, and the dogma (not faith) isn't the one you like? Are you okay with Sharia law? Why not? Please understand that yours isn't the only answer, and because of that, governing the populace based upon a particular set of DOGMA created by humans to honor one particular diety isn't right.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Christians believe that "When two or more are gathered together in my name, I am there" (or something very close to that). It says nothing about all the pomp and circumstance of Religion and Church. And again, why is it that you insist that governing based upon your own secular beliefs is correct? Again, would you in fact support Sharia if it were placed as the law of the land? I am not lecturing anyone, I am asking if you understand the difference between a secular religion and public governance.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 04:19 AM
And, to quote you: "You cannot be a Christian outside the church community. To be a Christian means to part of a community." -- Seriously? No, a Christian means to believe in Christ and his teachings. You say that if someone does not go to a HUMAN church, they have no Christian connection with God? I think you need to do some serious soul searching.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 04:27 AM
What if my belief in the All Powerful Flying Spaghetti Monster says that polygamy, murder, and public nudity are all great stuff? Aren't those beliefs as valid? What you are completely failing to understand is that NOBOBY'S flying spaghetti monster has precedence. Therefore, the ONLY reasonable course is to not let ANYONE'S flying spaghetti monster, even yours, call the shots.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 04:44 AM
By the way, don't misunderstand.. I am only trying to answer the question that your raise with your blogpost. There are real reasons, the very reasons given above and many more, why religion MUST NOT be comingled with governing a populace, unless the entire populace shares the same religion. I do understand the intent is to do good, but understand and realize that human history is fraught with people who have used religion to govern.. and it ALWAYS ends with oppression and violence. Humans are not to be trusted, even if their Gods can be.
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Yes, seriously. To believe in Christ and his teachings is to be called into a community of belivers aka Christs body in this world - aka Ecclsia or church. You can be a great person and not be a church member; you can be very spiritual and not be a church member - but you cannot be a Christian without the community of church. To quote a great patristic saying: "To whom the Church is not the Mother, God is not the Father"
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 04:48 AM
To elaborate on the last point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfg0uhBRAj4&feature=player_embedded
Kazimierz Bem October 20, 2012 at 05:03 AM
And to go back to my original question: I think you missed the point of a rhetorical question.
Paul Bishop October 20, 2012 at 06:56 AM
I think faith is very important, my own is quite complicated and not particularly relevant... Which is exactly the point. It doesn't have a place in public policy, any more than anyone else's.


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