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Every denomination needs one of these...

The Role of Religion in Politics: Day 1

Monday, February 11, 2008

A presidential election year once again brings into focus the problem of how Christians should relate their religious commitments to their political opinions and decisions. This is a problem of conscience for every individual Christian. It is also a practical problem for Christian congregations and communities. It arises as a problem for the church because the church is a community of faith which is not organized on the basis of common political convictions and sometimes very contradictory ones. The more passionately they are held, the more they rise to the religious level and the more they tend to affront fellow Christians who hold different convictions. Sometimes the problem emerges, particularly with reference to different convictions between pastors and congregations. For, generally speaking, the congregations of American Protestantism are more conservative politically than their clerical leaders.

-Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Crisis, July 21, 1952, in Love and Justice

When I asked PastorDan if he would be interested in an online debate (or 'blogologue') on a topic relevent to the United Church of Christ, the role of religion in politics seeemed to me to be an easy topic for both of us. So much of what each of our blogs cover involves politics. And I believe Niebuhr is a good starting point for this discussion. Niebuhr's quote is as relevent today as it was in 1952... but he doesn't stop there. From the same chapter in Love and Justice:

Politics always aims at some kind of a harmony or balance of interest, and such a harmony cannot be regarded as directly related to the final harmony of love of the Kingdom of God. All men are naturally inclined to obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity. This is why religion is more frequently a source of confusion than of light in the political realm. The tendency to equate our political with our Christian convictions causes politics to generate idolatry.
Niebuhr doesn't argue against the mix of religion and politics (in fact, he was quite political) but he does dismiss the extremes - on one extreme equating political conviction with religious conviction ("All political positions are morally ambiguous because, in the realm of politics and economics, self-interest and power must be harnessed and beguiled rather than eliminated") and the other extreme that claims that there is no relevance between politics and religion.

Today, Protestant and Evangelical churches in the U.S. sit in the extreme where political convictions are equated to religious convictions. Whether the issue is abortion, the war or global warming, the issues are defined in idealistic religious terms where there is no room for pragmatism and ultimately resolution. Again from Niebuhr: "This is why Christian convictions that deal only with ultimate principle and exclude strategic issues tend to become wholly irrelevant."

And this is the challenge for our denominational leaders (and clergy) who are so invested in their idealism that they do not realize just how irrelevant they have become. There is a role for religion in politics, it just isn't in the extreme of idealism.

Update: PastorDan responds....
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, February 11, 2008


Everyone is a "Theocrat" even Barry Lynn. The question is which "theos" is the driving force behind one's view of the world.

It's not that progressives in the UCC do not have a theocratic vision, it's that they do not have a theocratic vision attributable to any god recognized by any traditional monotheistic faith.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 12:40 PM  

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