Many of us have heard the adage that it’s not polite to talk about religion and politics in public. While the sentiment behind this saying may be well-intentioned, it seems it has led us to a time in our society when we are almost entirely incapable of thoughtfully talking about religion and politics, period.
The very existence of this age-old adage is a good indication that conversations about these topics have often been a source of tension among people. But as we near the last days of this election cycle, the tension of talking about religion and politics has reached the point of nearly pulling us apart.
The fissures that are forming around us are not just showing up between “red states” and “blue states.” They are showing up between neighbors, friends, and family members. It’s likely that in recent months you’ve had close relationships strained as a result of both private and public discussions about politics and religion.
I recognize that writing a faith column that includes the word “politics” this close to the election is a bit of a risk. At the very least, it could be seen as transgressing the politeness of public discourse that many of us were taught to follow.
Additionally, wading into these troubled waters may also cross the boundary of another adage that many of us have heard: religion and politics don’t mix. And while I believe one should be wary of religion and partisan politics becoming comfortable bedfellows, as a Christian, there are moral imperatives derived from my faith that inform my concerns about politics when defined more broadly.
While the word politics often conjures up the colors of blue and red in our minds, at its most basic level, politics is simply how we refer to the way we organize our common life together as a community. This has long been a chief concern for people of faith.
I am aware that at times today it can seem that Christians in our country only have their sights set on matters of the afterlife. But from the earliest days of the Christian faith, there have been followers of Jesus who have recognized their calling to be deeply concerned about matters that impact the lives of their neighbors before death. The purpose of their participation in politics (how communities organize life together) was not personal power, popularity, or retaining a place of privilege for themselves. The principle that has guided many Christians’ public witness through the ages has been seeking the same good for the other that they desire for themselves, with a particular eye towards the overlooked and undervalued.
I believe this continues to be an important frame for people of faith to use when considering how to be involved in the political process today. It is likely we all share the desire for ourselves and our families to have access to medical care when we are sick; well-funded educational opportunities; clean air to breathe, water to drink, and nutritious food to eat.
And as we consider policies that impact all of these matters, is good for us to keep in mind that these desires are not ours alone.
I recently heard an interview with Christian author Danielle Mayfield. She spoke of the apprehension she felt toward sending her children to their neighborhood school that had received an online ranking that categorized it as “bad.” As she and her husband considered alternatives that were available to their family, the unsettling thought crossed their minds, “Whose kids do we think should go to a school that we wouldn’t send ours to?” This led Mayfield to recognize her need to be involved in politics. She began advocating for policies that would ensure resources were available to provide the same education she desired for her children to all the children in her community.
Though voting will be finished in a week, as a person of faith I recognize work continues toward building a community where what I desire for myself is available to my neighbor, particularly those who are most often overlooked and undervalued. And I have hope that this is the type of politics that can bring us together for the common good.
Rev Ben Konecny