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Jonathan Merritt Headshot

How Big is God? Bigger than an Elephant?

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I don't believe God is politically partisan. I know we like to shore up our egos with visions of God marching with us to the ballot box and guiding our hand to vote one party exclusively, but the older I get the more ludicrous that seems.

Like many evangelical children, growing up I demonized Democrats as venomous reprobates--they were "Godless" as Ann Coulter has so gently described them. If a Democrat ever made it into office, then I naturally thought the inmates would be allowed to roam the streets and communism would choke out democracy in the West. With Democrats in power, I thought, citizens would be required to take the mark of the beast and our society would disintegrate into something reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. The names that scared me most growing up were Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and, of course, Ted Kennedy.

It is ironic that the person who would change my warped perspective would actually BE a Kennedy. Not long ago, I was doing research for an article I was writing, and I had the pleasure of speaking on the telephone with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Kathleen is the eldest daughter of Robert Kennedy and claims to be a woman of deep faith. Her manner is disarmingly generous and amicable.

I read her book, Failing America's Faithful: How Today's Churches are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way, and found it to be convicting and compelling. Though her theology and politics are often different than mine, the book will challenge you to think no matter how you vote or where you worship. And believe it or not, she is often very balanced.

Here are some examples of her insight:

"...the good life did not come just from following the rules and resisting temptations--after all, Jesus did not follow the rules--but from taking our faith out of our houses of worship and putting it into practice."

"...evangelical churches in some ways have the opposite problem: They touch people personally so they are growing by leaps and bounds; they have helped many people turn their lives around; they have created communities where members feel a great deal of connectedness and spirituality, and where they are given help with real life issues...Any yet they, too, are building up walls of fear, protecting these "sacred" communities from the more profane influences of modern-day America."

"The right pretends that virtuous activity occurs only in the sphere of private behavior, not through governmental intervention. In fact they seem to think governmental intervention is appropriate only for overturning previous government decisions that they disagree with--e.g., ban on school prayer...The well-organized and politically-attuned Religious Right pointedly ignores Christ's admonition that we should care for the "least among us" when it withdraws from those arenas where government has had a traditional role, such as civil rights, adjusting tax policy, and supporting social programs that can improve the daily life of the poor. Among the leaders of the left, we find a different malady. They are obsessed with keeping religion out of the public sphere, demanding a perfect purging of faith from public life far beyond what our Founding Fathers meant by "separation of church and state." This obsession with secularism weakens their moral authority...It makes leaders of the left sound intellectual but without passion. The danger of not engaging religious teachings in the drive for social reform might be worse than condemning them."

Kathleen offers a sobering charge to those of us who wave the banner of our faith but refuse to fulfill Christ's call to care for the less fortunate and unprotected. We cannot only support governmental intervention to enforce the two or three issues we feel flow from our faith--abortion issues, marriage, etc.--and refuse to support progressive policies that are just as ingrained in Christianity--justice, poverty, protecting the environment, etc. We cannot blindly support a war on terror and change the channel when the anchor speaks of Darfur. Furthermore, we cannot live as though the party we support has a monopoly on God's blessing. Contrary to the beliefs of some, not every Democrat is "Godless," and not every Republican is "Godly." God is bigger than donkeys and elephants.

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