"What is the rightful role of faith in politics?" The new Baptist Center for Ethics' DVD, "Golden Rule Politics," offers a threefold answer. These answers equip people of faith with a better framework for engagement in politics, one that moves beyond false choices that create division and bypass justice.
"The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world," said theologian Reinhold Niebuhr
First, the rightful role of faith in politics is to confront fear.
"God hath not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," wrote Paul (2 Tim. 1:7).
Confronting the politics of fear necessitates courage, a dash of wisdom and gritty resolution. We must have the audacity to affirm our moral vision of the social order is more biblical and theologically valid than that of either of two competing groups. The secularists, on one hand, want to push religion out of the public square. The Christian Right, on the other, wants their theocratic reign over the public square.
We must also be wise about when to speak and determined to speak persistently. And now is the hour to speak often, thoughtfully and bravely about the corrosive political myth of the Christian Right that claims the GOP is "God's Only Party," that Republicans have God's favor and that voting for Democrats is voting against God.
That myth is battered by the sexual and moral scandals of the party's leadership, as well as the failed Iraqi war--a war blessed as righteous by the Christian Right. At no point in recent history has the Christian Right been more wrong, more often, on more fronts, than now.
A more Christian way is needed to think about politics to replace a failed story line. Centrist-to-progressive Christians must articulate a biblically based moral vision. If we do not, then those who once believed but now doubt the Christian Right's myth will be tempted to stick with it.
We must fill the vacuum with the compelling truth that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. God transcends political parties (human finitude.) God calls us to seek the Golden Rule, the common good for the global community.
Second, the rightful role of faith in politics is to uphold civility.
Much of the debate within Christianity about politics centers on issues. The Christian Right has prioritized a set of issues that some have called "non-negotiable." Since the Christian Right claims to know exclusively and definitively the will of God, they have said their issues are determinative for how Christians ought to vote--issues like gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research and Terri Schiavo.
Accompanying these issues is an extreme rhetoric that asserts there can be no debate. Any dissent, any alternative analysis, any suggestion of another priority list meets with a swift accusation from the Christian Right that opponents are anti-Christian or un-Christian. That charge is always angry and self-righteous. Of course, belligerency shuts off debate.
What is missing in this view, "Golden Rule Politics" suggests, is civility. One interviewee says Christian involvement in politics begins with humility--humility grounded in the biblical truth that we all see through a glass darkly.
Another DVD interviewee says the church should affect the content and the tone of the debate, the quality of the political argument.
The rightful role of faith in politics is to engage in the process prayerfully, reflectively and respectfully.
Third, the rightful role of faith in politics is to do justice.
Regrettably within American Christianity, justice does not draw its prevailing definition from the biblical witness, but rather from our legal and criminal systems. When the Christian Right speaks of justice, it is in terms of "Justice Sunday" events that focus on electoral politics, with the intent of getting judges who will advance their agenda. Justice carries a punitive and legal definition.
The Bible defines justice as delivering protection and goodness to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in the land. Justice is about establishing right relations for those on the margins of society.
"The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world," said America's greatest moral theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.
Indeed, the rightful role of faith in politics, based on a biblical moral imperative, is the pursuit of social justice. "Golden Rule Politics" points toward a broad moral agenda concerned about the environment, health care, the poor and war.
If you agree with the way we frame the rightful role of faith in politics, we urge you to order multiple copies of "Golden Rule Politics" with an accompanying online discussion guide.
Invite your friends to watch it and then give them the DVD. Ask your friends to invite their friends to watch it and then pass the DVD along to their friends.
Buy the DVD. Pass it forward. Reclaim the rightful role of faith in politics.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
"Golden Rule Politics" is available for ordering online here.
An introductory price of $20 includes a license for public viewings. Each DVD comes with a pass code for downloading a free discussion guide.
What Is the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics?
Reports Conflict About Fred Thompson's Church Membership, Attendance
Baptist Press Validates Need for BCE's Forthcoming DVD
Overcoming the Politics of Fear with Faith