The politics of polarization employed by the Religious Right is both ineffective and unbiblical, a Democratic congressman said in a panel discussion of the proper relationship between faith and politics earlier this week.
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., spoke to an audience of about 130 people at a screening of “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics” Monday night in Birmingham, Ala.
The viewing, sponsored by the ministers’ caucus of Over the Mountain Democrats, was followed by a panel discussion featuring Davis and two other prominent Alabamians who appear with him in the film: tax-reform activist Susan Pace Hamill and syndicated columnist and Baptist pastor Jim Evans.
In the film, Davis, a Lutheran, contrasted the shouting between left and right in much of today’s political discourse with the Bible’s presentation of Jesus, who seemed to feel he could make political arguments in his day “without raising his voice.”
“I don’t think anyone who understands the Scripture questions Jesus’ passion around a number of issues,” Davis said. “But he seemed to feel that you could get there by making an argument to people, appealing to people’s better angels.”
During the last 25 years, Davis said, a lot of Republicans in the South spent a lot of time trying to link their political values to religious values.
“On its face, that’s not problematic,” he said in the film. “The problem is when they go beyond that to suggest that people who don’t agree with them somehow lack values, and if you don’t hold particular opinions, then you are suspect or lack values. It’s a problem whenever one political party, one political philosophy, suggests that if you don’t think like me, there’s something wrong with you.”
For a long time, Davis said, Republicans had the field of argument to themselves, proclaiming themselves the party of faith, while Democrats pretty much kept quiet about spiritual matters, but that is changing.
“What you’re beginning to see, particularly in the last five or six years,” he said, “is more progressive politicians in the South begin to say: ‘You know, we don’t have to concede the field of faith. We don’t have to view faith as something the other side is talking about.’ And now you’re beginning to see politicians who have strong value-based systems talk about how their values lead them to more progressive political positions.”
For Davis, the starting point for balancing faith and public policy begins with humility. He illustrates with a Bible verse by the Apostle Paul, who wrote in I Cor. 13:12, as translated in the King James Version, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
“What I translate that into,” Davis said at Monday’s screening, “is even the things I think I’m right about, God knows better than I, and there’s no one with any kind of skill to consistently get right his teaching.”
Davis said it is easy for Christian politicians to talk about “family values” at home where everybody agrees with them, but in the halls of Congress it becomes quickly apparent that not everyone shares the same value system.
“That doesn’t mean I can turn to them and say you are immoral and evil,” he said.
Davis said too many religious people tend to think “if you don’t see the world as I see it, you are marching your way toward hell.”
“I think there is something wrong with that,” he said.
But Davis said he does think there are moral principles the state can advance that are relevant to all people, whether or not they are Christians.
To achieve that, he said, he tries to argue in a way that “doesn’t degrade anybody on either side” and doesn’t “bash or tear down people who don’t agree with me.”
“We’re all part of a great search for the common good,” he said, what he called a “holistic theory of morality.”
Davis said he doesn’t think God intended for Christians to be systematically judgmental of other people. “He didn’t make us smart enough to do that,” he said.
“Golden Rule Politics,” a 36-minute documentary released in September, challenges a political myth constructed over 25 years by the Christian Right that the Republican Party is America’s moral party and the party of God’s favor. It counters with a proposal that neither party is completely moral or thoroughly immoral, and God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
The DVD moves beyond the small number of polarizing issues used to rally the Religious Right, challenging good-will Christians to pursue instead a broad moral agenda including peace, justice, poverty and the environment.
The DVD has an accompanying discussion guide for use in church, civic or home discussion groups.
Monday’s screening by Over the Mountain Democrats, a grassroots political organization that promotes values of fairness, compassion and economic opportunity in the greater Birmingham area, was one of several public viewings scheduled in coming months.
On Thursday BCE Executive Director Robert Parham introduced the film to students and faculty at Athens State University.
Groups interested in sponsoring a screening may contact Parham at Robert@ethicsdaily.com.
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