PERSPECTIVE: Avoid blending politics, religion

By Katherine Burgess
Managing Editor

As the election approaches, I have heard more and more alarming political rhetoric from Christians both on and off Union’s campus.

Too many people bind together religion and politics. Far too many people act as if to be Christian is to be Republican, bathing politics in religion and religion in politics.

Even when people do not say all Christians must be Republican, they often imply that at least good Christians adhere to conservative ideologies.

This equating of political conservatism with Christianity is rampant in the South and even more so in a largely conservative community such as Union.

This semester, a chapel speaker at Union placed conservatism next to one’s love of the Bible and passion for God. While he did not say whether he meant political or theological conservatism, the students I spoke to understood him to have meant politics.

Also this semester, the Cardinal & Cream’s editor-in-chief approached a Democrat professor about writing a pro-Democrat perspective for the newspaper, which we would have run alongside a pro-Republican perspective.

The professor declined, saying, “The bias against all things Democratic at Union – at least among the student body – is so strong I think it might even compromise my teaching effectiveness if I were to write a pro-Obama piece for the C&C.”

When students hear a speaker state from the chapel stage, intentionally or unintentionally, that being conservative is akin to loving the Bible and when a professor fears that students might lose their respect for him if he were to write a pro-Obama editorial, there is a problem.

And the ramifications of so closely entwining religion with a political party are disquieting, especially considering God has not taken the side of a political party.

There have been many wonderful Christians in both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Likewise, there have been terrible individuals in both.

At the Sept. 21 Union Forum, Ross Douthat, New York Times op-ed columnist, addressed the binding together of religion and politics.

“Christianity as a faith is not supposed to be identical with ideology,” Douthat said. “It’s not supposed to be identical with partisan causes. It’s supposed to transcend and challenge partisan loyalties.”

Furthermore, Christians risk harming their ministry when they attach their faith to a political party or figure. Billy Graham, for example, supported President Richard Nixon.

In a phone call on Feb. 21, 1973, Graham went so far as to say to the president, “I believe the Lord is with you. I really do.”

But with the Watergate scandal came the realization that the Lord was certainly not with Nixon in all of his endeavors.

The scandal drastically damaged Nixon’s reputation, damaging Graham’s ministry with it.

Christians must not put so much faith in a politician. All politicians and political parties are fallible and thus it is naïve, dangerous and simply erroneous to suggest that God has chosen one politician or one political party to implement his divine desires in the world.

I am not implying that Christians should not be involved in politics or that they should not join a political party. Christians should be involved in the government and seek a party with which they agree. A Christian’s beliefs ought to permeate all that he or she does, so a Christian’s political activities must be informed by Christian beliefs.

But Christians must never elevate a political ideology to the level of religion. Doing so essentially makes an idol out of an ideology.

I also am not implying that all Union students and faculty who are involved with their political parties elevate ideologies to this level. Many of the students I know who are very involved with politics also are accepting of those from other parties.

But this is a problem at Union – one that must be dealt with.

When people take a political party and bind it to their faith, they divide the Church. They act as if those who are not members of their political party are either not followers of Christ or are, at least, lesser followers of Christ.

They risk harm to Christian ministry, blind themselves to the truth that all parties and all people have failings, and perpetuate the falsehood that God has sided with a particular political party.

As the election approaches, now is as good a time as ever for Christians to seriously examine just how closely we tie our political beliefs to our faith.

About Katherine Burgess 70 Articles
Katherine Burgess, a class of 2015 journalism alumna, is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Cardinal & Cream. Her journalism has taken her from a United Nations Tribunal to the largest maximum security prison in the United States to Capitol Hill. She is now the Education Reporter for the Jackson Sun. Follow her on Twitter @kathsburgess