Americans cannot separate faith and politics! You don’t agree? The July 21st cover of Newsweek magazine boldly displayed the title “What He Believes” and showed Barak Obama with eyes closed, head bowed and hands clasped in prayer. I doubt Newsweek would bother to do anything that would not pique interest and sell magazines. How about the Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright uproar? What about the John McCain and John Hagee controversy?
I believe this issue came to a prominent head this past Saturday night (Aug. 16) during the first meeting between Senators Obama and McCain (since they became the presumptive major party candidates) which took place not at a town hall or a university but an evangelical church nonetheless! The candidates met at Saddleback Church, in Orange Country, California which has over 23,000 members and is led by the Rev. Dr. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. Rev. Warren interviewed Barack Obama for an hour, then had him shake hands with John McCain, and then interviewed John McCain for an hour. Warren asked many questions including the personal faith of the candidates (each candidate asserted that he was a “saved” follower of Jesus Christ), past personal moral failings, abortion, the definition of marriage, AIDS orphans, etc.
Allow me to ask a rhetorical question: why does anyone care what the candidates believe? Aren’t faith and politics to be kept separate? The First Amendment of the Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. Wasn’t the purpose of that statement to draw a boundary line that cannot be crossed by the government or the religious establishment? They are supposed to stay out of each other’s hair, right?
I think many of us would agree that the relationship between the two has always been tenuous. Ever since the founding of our country, legally navigating between faith and politics has been like walking a tightrope of sorts. For hundreds of years the State and Federal courts along with Constitutional experts have tried to unpack the profound meaning of the First Amendment. And they have found the application has not always been so clear cut.
In my humble opinion, there are a number of reasons for this. Reason number one: our heritage is that of being a Christian nation. A number of our Founding Fathers including Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Adams were deeply religious men who based our Constitution on Judeo-Christian values (Now I did not say that they were perfect men, for history shows us they lived imperfect lives, but that is not the point!). There is evidence that the First Amendment was in part designed to avoid sectarianism, that is, to keep the US Government from promoting and advancing one particular Christian denomination (i.e. Catholic or Baptist or Congregationalist) over the other. The Founding Father’s goal was never to remove religion from public life. If you want more information on this, I encourage you to read some of the works of historian David Barton.
If you still don’t believe the United States is greatly influenced and shaped by Christianity, consider this: on ABCNEWS/Beliefnet released a poll that indicated eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Given our diversity as a nation, that seems pretty high to me! Now this is important because a person’s worldview/beliefs shape his or her thoughts which shape his or her feelings which shape his or her actions. Simply put, a person’s worldview shapes his or her policy, voting record, etc. What you believe about God and other people has practical implications for your daily life.
Therefore, given the historical and current evidence, faith and politics cannot and should not be separated. However, I do affirm the right of religious freedom in our country. Respect and dignity should be given to all people regardless of their beliefs. But we are kidding ourselves when we try and force an artificial division between two things that naturally overlap and flow together.