God Talk as Civic Discourse

Are we remaining quiet and non-participating while the political forces around us are turning this land of the free and home of the brave into a land of the deceived and the home of the brave new cowards?
Are we remaining quiet and non-participating while the political forces around us are turning this land of the free and home of the brave into a land of the deceived and the home of the brave new cowards?

We are again at a time in our society where politics and religion have come to prominence in our national debate. An election is coming in which some of our deepest personal convictions are going to be touched as we endeavor to decide which political philosophy to support for the next four years.

Our presidential candidates now campaign in a landscape that more and more is framed around morality and there are those who openly advocate that this political season is a season of choosing between good and evil.

One party has a bus full of candidates most of which seem stuck on the notion or dependent on the truth that there is a majority of Americans who listen when they portray themselves as candidates of high moral value with emphasis on the family, the sanctity of life, and all the things that Christian believers treasure most.

But, like their party’s most recent president who used the term evil-doers to describe those he would destroy, they tend to portray political rivals as un-patriotic civic-evil-doers  quite freely.

The other major party seeks to remain in charge of the executive branch and to retake one or both houses of Congress. Its strategy and tactics include having to address or respond to the moralizing of the other party in addition to trying to speak more to civic and political ideas not limited to morality issues.

Most recently the good-versus-evil and us-versus-them war saw a major victory or loss (depending on the view with which one agrees) in the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage and civil rights.

In ths good-versus-evil conflict does one party insist that the other is good or evil? Based on the public declarations some of the candidates seem to be asking us to assume that the democratic party is therefore against family values, the sanctity of life and, by extension, supportive of low morale values?

Who really owns or monopolizes morality in this country?

Have we as a people and citizenry apathetically and indifferently allowed others to decide for us what is moral and who we should support?

If so, why have we done that?

Several years ago Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine published an editorial in the New York Times entitled Putting God Back in Politics   In that editorial, he wrote,

“As the Democratic candidates for president attend religious services for the holidays, their celebrations may be tempered by an uncomfortable fact: church-going Americans tend to vote Republican.”

Wallis went on to say that Democratic politicians err by not understanding how much most Americans care about the role of religion in public life and continues,

“By failing to engage Republicans in this debate, the Democrats impoverish us all.”

Have the Democrats yielded or conceded the moral high ground to the Republican Party?

Liberal Democratic concerns about everything from political correctness to an almost transparent reluctance to speak on religious values because of an inordinate and unjustified subordination to the concept of separation of church and state have left their political counterview to Republican Conservatism somewhat hamstrung.

Do liberals really include a sense of public morality in their advocacy of a liberal approach to governance?

Are there liberal Christians who in recent national and local elections have found themselves having to support a conservative candidate whose views are more extreme than their own because they cannot get enough information as to the true moral feelings of the opposition candidate?

Do liberal Christians then find themselves voting for the conservative candidate as the lesser of two extremes, or – perish the thought – the lesser of two evils?

The most successful Republican politicians recently have done so primarily by assuring people of faith – American voters – that they will in fact allow their religious beliefs to affect their political views.

In swearing and declaring such a committment to voters is it fair to imply that religion is the surest basis of governing as apparently Supreme Court Justice Scalia believes? Scalia and others are of the view that Old Testament Law would and will be quite viable as a foundation for a remodeled American legal system. Scalia has written that government as an instrument of capital punishment is something ordained of God.

That’s nonsense.

Do we all not want a high moral ground from which decisions affecting our way of life can be made – moral but not narrowly judgmental?

Liberal politicians and liberal Christians, though certainly not one and the same in this country, have allowed the conservative politicians and Christians to claim ownership of the moral high ground. In doing so we find ourselves subject to flaming political value judgments tossed from catapults in the moral castle built by extremists on that high ground.

Our towns, villages and houses at the base of the moral high ground are suffering under a rain of these flaming bombs that land in our homes, our market places, our courthouses, our gardens and parks – even our places of worship.

It is time for us to charge that moral high ground and take it back. Many ideas and concepts that have already been legislated, advocated and expounded upon by the Christian Right around the country are not biblical, not scriptural and certainly not “what Jesus would do.”

Regardless of the political rhetoric, we do not have to accept as absolutes the advocacies of those who insist that such and such is precisely what Jesus would do or precisely what Jesus wants or wanted.

Wallis continued,

“For too many Democrats, faith is private and has no implications for political life. But what kind of faith is that? Where would America be if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had kept his faith to himself?”

Political parties and candidates can weaken themselves by denying the source of those internal convictions that inform their highest aspirations. Often candidates pursue what they desire by compromising their convictions at the expense of their own integrity and end up attempting to manipulate others by withholding truth.

We saw this in 2012 with the candidacy and discourse of a highly and moral religious presidential candidate who is Mormon but who was stuck with trying to appeal to a base dominated by right wing Christian values.

He had to say what would appeal to his base just to get the nomination regardless of his cultural and religious values that are the basis of his integrity.

Are we remaining quiet and non-participating while the political forces around us are turning this land of the free and home of the brave into a land of the deceived and the home of the brave new cowards?

Again, we must take that moral high ground from those who think they own it and that they can dictate to the rest of us.

Does it not seem that those claiming ownership of the moral high ground have an expectation that we can abuse and disenfranchise each other,
…ignore our poor in the name of profit and greed
…attempt dominion of our planet by mindless exploitation as much as we want –
…simply because in a coming time there will be a supernatural intervention that will clean up the mess we are making.

In that regard, it is not our politicians of any party who are charged with determining the length, breadth and height of any moral high ground.

We know who we are.

In our apathy and indifference … in our “whatever” mind set …
we have seen our enemy …

… and it is us.

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