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DVD Challenges Myth, Explores Role of Religion in Politics

Why does “Christian politics” in America usually mean “conservative politics?” Why do polls show that the most frequent churchgoers vote Republican?

The questions go to the heart of American voting behavior, with fateful impact on war, peace and democracy. Conservatives say moral truth is simply on their side. Until recently, Democrats had difficulty making reply.

It’s not blindingly obvious that the Bible blesses GOP values. Jesus upended the status quo, advised the rich guy to give it all away and redefined neighbor to mean everybody, triggering dreams of beloved community, a perennial Democratic theme.

Yet American religious habits flow to the right, not the left, in large numbers. This has been true since the Cold War and civil rights. Faith gets equated with personal morality, kept safely distant from public atrocities; pulpits are reliably silent on the Iraq war.

Against this tidal trend, a new DVD produced by the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics politely challenges the sturdy myth that God is a Republican kingmaker. “Golden-Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics” says biblical themes of golden-rule courtesy and care for the vulnerable are drowned out by manipulative debate.

One commentator says religion in politics today is reduced to opposition to gay marriage and stem-cell research, “low-sacrifice” controversies that require little from most voters. By contrast, the Bible’s “high-sacrifice” message challenges believers to take up the burden of attacking poverty, greed, children’s suffering.

The video includes testimonies from Southern Protestant politicians and clergy reminding believers it is arrogant to turn God into a cosmic sponsor of any earthly political agenda.

Instead, a healthy injection of faith into politics should do three things: alert us to social injustices, give us courage to confront our fears and remind us to be humble in debate.

Interviews include state senator Roy Herron, Nashville minister William Buchanan and Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis.

The idea is a 36-minute video that makes its points simply and directly will score better with people than angry op-ed pieces and brainy books on church-state separation.

Baptist Center founder Robert Parham plans to show it at college campuses, churches and elsewhere nationally, hoping to shake up a one-sided conversation.

We are still left to explain the modern-day alliance of conservatism and religion. One explanation: Democrats for decades were reluctant to embrace religious language–or they showed elitist disdain for grassroots piety.

There’s another reason: the power of American individualism. It’s dynamic, creative, me- oriented, anti-government. On Sunday morning, it translates sin and salvation into individualistic terms, ignoring collective sin or collective solutions.

Deep-seated personal politics drives religion–drives Bible interpretation–in ways hard to detect, harder to admit.

Columnist Ray Waddle is the former religion editor for The Tennessean, who writes about faith and culture for various publications and Web sites. This column appeared Saturday in The Tennessean and is used here with permission.