Politics as a Religious Vocation

Many people believe that religion and politics don’t mix, better kept apart on the grounds of separation of church and state (their institutional forms). Religion and politics can surely be an explosive mixture. I am a strong believer in separation of church and state. However, I also believe strongly in mixing politics and religion. More specifically, I believe that religious people may, indeed must, be involved in political life. I just don’t think that this involvement should involve institutional alliances. Religious institutions and governmental bodies should not become entangled in any way. But every individual religious person can and should be involved in the political process.

Granted, some religious people think religion is primarily about the life hereafter, so no need to get involved in this life. Moreover, many religious people think that getting involved in politics means the inevitable corruption of religion. Certainly that is a danger, as when religious people sacrifice their principles or compromise their convictions for the sake of political expediency. Politics may likewise be corrupted by religion, as when political leaders hijack God for their own agenda, turning politics into self-righteous moral crusade. Nonetheless, there is something very sickly and distorted about a religion that has nothing to say about our common life.

Now, to be involved in politics is not necessarily to run for office. It is not necessarily to endorse a particular candidate or party. Rather, it is to be involved in civic life, to engage in political discourse, to discuss and debate and sometimes demonstrate with respect to the policies and practices that ought to govern our life together. I regard my identity as a Christian to be more fundamental (not fundamentalist!) than my citizenship, my political party affiliation, my church membership, and all my other affiliations. As such, it informs and guides my whole existence–or at least I hope it does. As such, it prompts me to be involved in the political process, to be both critic and constructive proponent of change, to help make this world a better place for all.

One personal example: I continue to urge religious people, and all citizens, to stand and speak against the torture practices of our government. Alfred McCoy’s carefully researched, thoroughly documented, clearly written new book, A Question of Torture, is must reading for anyone who thinks that “we do not torture,” or is tempted to believe that torture can save us.

Copyright 2006 by Byron C. Bangert