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(Conclusion of “The Primer on Scripture and the Budget for 2009“)
A faithful and true use of religious beliefs to guide policy in our constitutional system of government is very difficult. Even those with the best intentions will often fall far short, and that is why our founders were so careful to build barriers between the two. They did so not because they had lost their faith in God but rather because their faith allowed them to understand that we are all sinners, and therefore we will never be able to align our priorities and wills perfectly with God’s.
Elected officials can stay true to their faith without wearing that faith on their sleeves for all to see, and they would do well to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln, who sought to show “not that God should be on my side, but that I should be on God’s.” Nevertheless, some might feel that the only way to stay true to their faith is not only by having it quietly guide their actions but also by proclaiming it loud and clear for all to hear.
Jesus warned against those who prayed from the street corners to be seen by men, but Jesus did plenty of public praying and seemed to find fault more with the telos of the public religious acts of the pious than the fact that it was public. After all, it is difficult to carry out the Great Commission without ever giving an accounting for the hope that is in us. Furthermore, since every vote an elected official makes is a value decision, it is appropriate for voters to want to know what their candidate’s values are and from where those values come.
God calls people differently, and so progressive Christians should not categorically condemn those who claim their faith must publicly inform all they do. But we should remind those who make such claims that when they take such a stance, they place a much higher burden on themselves. When they take such a stand, they open themselves to having their policy positions held up to the light of the very scriptures which they claim guide their faith. And if they truly are trying to follow Christ in all they do, they should welcome accountability from fellow believers.
Which brings me to my concluding point: If certain elected officials and Christian interest groups seeking to influence elections and government claim that they cannot check their faith at the door when it comes to their so-called “family values” issues, then this same faith must also inform their positions during tax and budget debates along with all the debates on the “compassion issues.” Although “family values” issues are mentioned only peripherally in the Bible, Jesus and the prophets are quite explicit about the clear responsibilities those with power and wealth have to the “least of these”…not to mention that policy decisions in these arenas have an enormous effect on families!
As we hear regularly during their speeches on abortion and gay marriage, faith and moral leadership do not allow for compromise. That may very well be, but in a like manner, throwing a few scraps to the poor and middle class cannot compensate for cuts to public services, allowing the torture of God’s children, degrading creation, and support for massive tax cuts to the wealthiest among us. Any attempt to do so would be utterly inconsistent with the clear message of the Bible.
It is very hard for us as mere humans to rule as God would have us do. But if Republicans and the religious right want to try, we should challenge them to apply those principles not only to bedroom issues but also to the kitchen table issues where Jesus and the prophets dedicated most of their attention.
Please click any of the links below to read each section of the complete Primer: