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Faith and politics

Created date

February 21st, 2012

Should religion and politics mix? In its broadest sense, politics refers to the life of the polis (city) and the responsibilities of the polites (citizens). Should people of faith be aggressive in seeking a sacred public square that gives privileges to one religion at the expense of others? Or withdraw altogether leaving a naked public square cleansed of all religion? Certainly there is historical precedent for people of faith engaging in civil issues. In the Bible, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, the prophets, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and many others either participated directly in the political process or taught citizens about their relationship to the state. Indeed, faith should motivate political involvement, because God is God of both the sacred and the secular, and to truly love our neighbors is to be concerned with their total well-being: body, soul, and community. The Clapham Sect of 19th century England, lead by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, was highly influential in abolishing slavery, humanizing the prison system, improving working conditions, and making education more accessible to the poor. People of faith helped drive the civil rights movements in the United States, South Africa, and India. The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam ( repairing the world ) motivates many to work for a society characterized by love, peace, social justice, and joy. In America today, 22% of the members of religious groups are involved in political parties or organizations, compared to 10% of non-members.

A civil public square

The anti-establishment clause of the Constitution prohibits a sacred public square, while the free-exercise clause combined with a religious lectorate prevents a naked one. In between lies a civil public square in which people of all faiths are politically active by informing themselves about contemporary issues, participating in open and honest dialogue (which may include firm and respectful disagreement, but should not resort to vicious attacks), and voting in elections. I am hardly a political activist, but I have written to my representatives, written letters to the editor, marched in Washington, and voted in every election that I could. How are you participating in the political process? Please write to me at 703 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville, MD 21228, or email to