no Christian candidate

In an editorial in today’s Daily, innocuously titled ‘Democratic hopefuls offer conflicting rhetoric,’ Matthew Felty asks, “Why is a religion that stands up for its core beliefs ‘intolerant?'”

Unfortunately, Matthew spends the rest of the article demonstrating the answer.

He writes:

A Christian voter cannot cast his or her vote for a candidate who supports abortion and/or gay marriage.

Both of these issues conflict with Christian doctrine.

This is nothing new.

What is new is how Christians — entire churches, in fact — are turning a blind eye to what were once fundamental truths.

In one fell swoop, Matthew has decreed that the only possible correct interpretation of scripture is his own, and that this also determines how all Christians should engage in politics.

Many Christians would say it is foolish to think a human being can perfectly know the mind of God. But not Matthew. From Presidential candidates to entire churches, he can tell us who is and who is not a Christian.

Of course, he doesn’t provide any evidence for this stunning claim, from the Bible or anywhere else. We are supposed to take him at his word.

I won’t pick on Matthew any further, because frankly, it’s too easy. But his arguments follow a larger, disturbing pattern that is worth discussing: the constriction of religion to a few political issues that just happen to coincide with the platform of the Republican Party.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t let religion influence their political beliefs. If someone truly defines their identity through God, it would be foolish and impossible to try to ignore that in the voting booth. Religious believers have been at the forefront of important social movements throughout American history, working against slavery and poverty, for Prohibition and civil rights.

But when religion is entirely coopted by a political party, both are trivialized.

Look at the complete “pro-life” agenda, as it is held by the Catholic Church. Against abortion, stem cell research, and physician-assisted suicide, to be sure. But also against the war in Iraq and the death penalty, and for greater measures to reduce poverty and ensure universal health care.

I don’t agree with the entire “pro-life” agenda outlined here, though I do respect it. However, no single candidate running for the Presidency from either party follows all of those positions, and if they did, they wouldn’t get elected. It is necessary for politicians to come down on these issues based on the current divisions in the electorate. But make no mistake: that is a political choice, not a religious one.

That is because politics is built on coalitions and compromise. To get anything done, you have to sacrifice principles. Politicians often take a lot of criticism for this, some of it fair, some not so fair. But that is the nature of the beast.

Most religions, however, find power in looking beyond our earthly existence, to an ideal not marred by the necessary compromises of living in a diverse and free society. Unfortunately, some Christians (and plenty who belong to other religions too) have become so eager to choose sides in politics that they’ve given up the larger perspective that religion provides.

I respect those who try to act out their faith as best as they understand it. But I don’t recognize that there is a “Christian” candidate, nor should there ever be.

In this way the separation of church and state is misinterpreted by both the right and the left. Because of religious freedom and the lack of an establishment of religion, believers have the right to implement their faith in public and private life however they see fit. But they don’t get to decide who or what God is for the rest of us.

Photo by Flickr user Ben McLeod used under a Creative Commons license.

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