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Religion and Politics Do Mix

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It has long been said there are two topics that should be avoided in "polite company," that is, at social gatherings, parties, service clubs, during intermissions at the theater and concerts, on dates, with friends and neighbors, and the like. The two subjects are religion and politics.

Tradition has it that religion should be reserved for sermons and politics for political speeches. But why shouldn't you feel comfortable in talking openly about religion and politics with your friends, neighbors, family members, significant others, and fellow citizens? Why? Because both subjects supposedly are so controversial in nature that talking about them can lead to heated arguments, harsh words, hurt feeling, and damaged relationships.

I would like to suggest, to the contrary, that people should be talking about them. No two subjects are more important for one's total well-being than religion and politics. Politics is all about one's well-being when living in this life, and religion is all about one's well-being in the life to come. What could possibly be more important than these two subjects? So why shouldn't we be discussing religion and politics with our friends, neighbors, family members, significant others, and in the wider community? Let's look at both subjects more closely and their relationship with each other.

Religion & Politics, an online news journal about the two subjects, is a project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Its mission statement says, among other things: "that for better and for worse, religion and politics converge, clash, and shape public life. These intersections happen everywhere, from our homes to our courts, from the statehouse to the schoolhouse, in the lab and on the battlefield." How true that is!

Although our politicians contend that there should be separation of church and state, how many times do we see religious convictions and political issues intersect in such a way that religion cannot possibly be separated from the state? I speak, for example, of such basic religious and political issues as: school prayer, sex education in public schools, abortion, legalized marijuana, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, tax abatements for not-for profit organizations, war, torture of prisoners, religious symbols and statues on public property, and opening public meetings with prayer. It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that religious convictions don't influence political decisions! By how much is a bigger question.

Early European history teaches us that religion played a major role in the political development of Europe. In turning to early United States history, "God" and the "Creator" are clearly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but God is not mentioned in the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). Yet if one reads the papers and speeches of the founding fathers of our country and the framers of the Constitution, there is absolutely no question that their belief in God and divine providence played a consequential role in the early history of the United States and the framing of the Constitution.

After a comprehensive tour of the White House, the Capital, the United States Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Union Station, and statues throughout Washington, one cannot help being greatly impressed by the number of times "God" is engraved in marble or stone. And let us not forget our country's motto: "in God we trust"; the fact that our country's motto is included on all coins and paper money; that there are chaplains for both houses of the U. S. Congress; and that "under God" is in the Pledge of Allegiance. Yet, God is not mentioned in our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. The First Amendment of the Constitution makes it clear that no religion shall be established by any branch of the United States Government--hence, separation of church and state. But that same amendment guarantees freedom of religion.

There are there these "intersections" of religion and politics that "converge, clash, and shape public life . . . everywhere," as quoted above from the mission statement of Religion and Politics. What subjects could possibly be more important for us to discuss than religion and politics, especially with a national election in November of this year. That's right, in only eleven months we will elect all 435 seats of the United States House of Representatives; thirty-three seats of the one hundred seats of the United States Senate; thirty-six governors of our fifty states; legislators in most states; and various governing personnel in counties, cities, and towns. This is a very important year for politics, and you need to take the time and make the effort to be a well-informed and committed citizen.

Every year is important for religion, as we need the continued influence of religious convictions for all those making decisions in our various houses of government. Your religious convictions speak as you go to political rallies, visit with office holders, write letters to the editor, and step into the ballot box. Furthermore, we never know when accidents or illness will take us or our loved ones from this life. What you believe about life after death--about heaven, hell, purgatory, or nothing at all--should always be a high priority in your religious life. You owe it to yourself, your family and friends, and to your country to be well-informed about, and committed to, your spiritual convictions.

It is not my intent here to influence what your religious convictions are or how you should vote. My purpose is to call to your attention as citizens how terribly important both the religious and political convictions of our country are and your responsibility in helping to influence both.