People say nonsensical things about the relationship of “religion” and “politics,” as a rule. Presumably, they say these things because they think them. “People shouldn’t bring politics into church.” “Politics has no place in religion.” “Religion should stay out of politics.” “Separation of church and state.”
The reasons for this particular nonsense are complex, but they cluster around problems of language, of definition and usage. Our culture trains people to think of “politics” as “what pertains to elections,” and of “religion” as “something some people do in their spare time, if they believe in the supernatural.” It seems to make sense that we could, and perhaps should, hold those two things separate. As long as we think that way about “religion” and “politics,” we can’t perceive the deep ground of connection between “the way people try to live in community with one another” and “the way people try to live out their obligations to the commanding Mystery at the center of Reality, however they understand that.” That deep ground of connection between politics and religion becomes invisible.
Once we realize we are always standing on that ground, our thinking will change. If we are people who believe that what we understand to be true ought to inform our behavior, then our religion – what we understand to be true of the commanding Mystery at the center of Reality, and what we think it means to be faithful to that – will inevitably influence the way we think we ought to live with other people. And how we think we ought to live with other people will inevitably influence our opinions about the decisions made in our town and state and nation – our opinions of whether those decisions move things in the right direction, or not.
Then too, if we believe that we actually bear some responsibility for the decisions made in this “self-governing” nation of ours, despite all the practical ways matters are beyond our control, then we will inevitably think that registering those opinions, and trying to have some input into those decisions – that is, political action – is required of us from time to time. And that action will inevitably be shaped by what we believe to be true about Reality and reality, and desirable for human life together. How could it possibly be otherwise?
How would our understanding of Reality, and our values, NOT influence our choices, and our deeds?
All of which partly explains why we sat around at church after worship yesterday and wrote letters to our Congressmen and our Senators that said, more or less, “we think making the Child Tax Credit permanent would be a good idea, along with reducing the threshold for eligibility for the Community Eligibility Program that affects the school lunch program, and extending Summer EBT.” This was all part of the “offering of letters” organized by Bread for the World. That organization lives at the intersection of politics and religion. It lives for the mission of eliminating hunger in our lifetime.
That mission sounds a little nutty if we think that nothing in the whole world is actually up to us at all. Or that we are off the hook for acting with integrity as long as “there’s nothing we can do.” Our religion might incline us to share one of those ideas, or both of them; it might incline us to reject them, too. Both of those ideas probably make life easier for some people, while making it harder for others. Another famous definition of “politics.”*
* Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics: “Who gets what, when, and how.”