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The Idolatry of Political Ideology vs. the Budgetary Wisdom of Faith

07/28/2011 11:19 am ET | Updated Sep 27, 2011

As our nation deadlocks in ideological conflict over our national budget, pledges to political principles have taken on the aura of confessions of faith. But Democrats and Republicans could find a way beyond the present impasse if they would just take seriously two principles.

First, when public officials are sworn into office, they take an oath of office with one hand on the Bible, signifying to some at least a commitment to be accountable to God in performing one's sworn duties. Consistent with this custom is the expectation that in times of serious difficulty, our leaders should draw upon the wisdom of the higher authority to which we all are ultimately accountable.

But when party platforms, pledges or articulated principles replace the counsel of the divine, we drift into idolatry. We ignore the First Commandment: "Thou shall have no other god before me." Neither Democratic nor Republican ideals is God, nor is race, class, religion or nationality. When we attach the status of absoluteness to anything other than the highest authority of our lives, our behavior indicts us as idol worshipers. We tender our faith null and void if we make an idol god out of our party line. If our faith is not allowed to critique political perspectives and strategies, it has lost its veracity, vision and vitality.

Second, leaders should remember that our currency bears the motto, 'In God We Trust." Because we separate church and state in this country, this motto should not suggest that the Bible or any other sacred text should serve as a rule book by which to conduct our economic affairs. But "In God We Trust" is completely hollow and hypocritical if our leaders do not allow their thinking to be informed and significantly impacted by what their faith traditions have to say about the production, distribution and consumption of material resources. If this motto has any meaning at all, our basic faith principles must set the tone, general direction, and broad principles or policies that can help us become "one nation, under God." If "In God We Trust" is a true expression of our national aspiration, it is trust in God that will give us the courage to risk justice, peace and compassion as we undertake the difficult task of making a budget that reflects the avowed spiritual and moral commitments of the American people.

It is important to recall that the motto "In God We Trust" was first put on a coin at a time of impasse -- during the Civil War -- and that the decision to add it to all of our currency came at another time of impasse -- in 1955, at the height of the Cold War. These facts suggest that at times of impasse, we need to look to the moral and spiritual values that are embodied in our actions. We would do well, therefore, at this time of budgetary impasse to remember that a budget is a moral and spiritual document. Because of budgetary decisions, some will eat and some will starve; some will have health care, and others will be without. Some will have housing, education, and jobs, while others will suffer from the lack thereof. This suggests that leaders who make budgets must take time to think of whom this budget will bless and whom it will curse and that the indulgence of a budget designed for one's own purpose could actually imperil the welfare and well-being of all people.

In little over a month from now, we will commemorate the awful events of 9/11. Following the death and destruction of that day, our whole nation began to pray in the words of the song, "God Bless America." As we search for a way out of the current budgetary impasse, we should be reminded that genuine prayer for deliverance from economic distress should be based on our willingness to be a blessing to the most needy of our fellow Americans. Members of both political parties should seek to resolve our budgetary and debt problems by finding ways that position us to pray for God to bless America because we are willing to make the sacrifices and compromises that will be for the common good of all Americans, not just for the rich but for the poor and middle class as well. Let us pray that our leaders will keep in mind that an economic system that truly trusts in God will show signs of commitment to the Golden Rule in all of our affairs -- doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

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