Posted by: smstrouse | July 16, 2011

The Dangerous Intersection of Religion and Politics

It all started when I happened to read that Tea Party presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is a Lutheran.  To be sure, there is some dispute about this because she has apparently distanced herself from the congregation in Stillwater, MN.  Still, when a headline reads ‘Bachmann would be the first Lutheran president,’ the word is out.  OK, it’s a WELS (Wisconsin Synod) church, one of the most conservative of the Lutheran family. As a woman pastor, I would not  be welcome, nor would most of the progressive theology of my congregation.

But for the majority of people who read that headline there is no distinction: Lutheran is Lutheran. So Bachmann and I are lumped into the same category. I’m sure she would be as appalled to find herself there with me as I am with her.

The issue is bigger, however, than my need to distance myself from those ‘other Lutherans.’ It’s more of a question of  so what?  Why has religion become such a big part of the political scene?  Now don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s important to know how a candidate’s faith, religious belief or humanist philosophy informs their political positions. I’d be interested whether they were a Muslim, a Mormon or a Methodist.

The problem comes when we wander into the dangerous intersection where religion and politics collide. Such a collision is the disaster called the Day of Prayer and Fasting for our Nation, proclaimed by Texas governor Rick Perry for August 6th. The purpose of this day is “to seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation.”  Reliant Stadium in Houston will be the site of a Christian prayer meeting hosted by the American Family Association.

There is so much wrong with this event.

First of all, it is being hosted by the American Family Association, whose stated goals are “promoting the centrality of God in American life” and “promoting the Christian ethic of decency.”  Indecent influences in American culture, according to the AFA, include: television, the separation of church and state, pornography, ‘the homosexual agenda,’ premarital sex, legal abortion, the National Endowment for the Arts, gambling, unfiltered internet access in libraries, and the removal of school-sponsored religious worship from public schools.

And it indeed does trample the line between church and state. Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy has called on Perry to refrain from using his public office for sectarian purposes. Gaddy has also written a letter to all the current presidential candidates expressing concern that “at times, the entanglement between religion and politics has seemed to threaten both the integrity of religion and the vitality of politics.”

Not to mention that the Day of Prayer is for Christians only. And Christians of a particular stripe.  It looks to be a good old evangelical Christian revival meeting. Which is fine,  but let’s call it what it is, and not a political event. There are no Muslims, Jews, or adherents of any other religious traditions involved. So one has to conclude that only the prayers of the ‘religiously correct’ are welcome.

When will we accept the fact that ‘the American people’ includes good people of all faiths and no faith? And that we can have real debate based on politics and content of character, not religious affiliation?

I may not be a fan of Michele Bachmann. But that’s about politics, not the fact that she’s a Lutheran. I only ask that others tread carefully into the intersection of religion and politics as well

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