Culture Wars As Civil Wars

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Just a couple of weeks ago, this space was used to detail the current culture wars. That’s a term I used to describe the never ending battle between social conservatives and progressives over non-fiscal or economic issues.  Each side takes turns taking hostages of other issues and groups to promote their pet issues, usually with little progress overall.

This being primary season, the culture wars quickly devolved into civil wars, with social conservatives now battling each other in a thunderdome of piety that would have made any original Pharisee proud.  We can usually tell when these battles have gone too far when one religious leader begins to tell us that those who do not fit his political agenda are also insufficiently true believers of his faith.

I grew up in a country Methodist church.  Those of you who caught the recent movie “The Joyful Noise” starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah have seen it, as it was used as the main movie set.  It was a mixed church, in that we had both Republicans and Democrats.  I learned at a young age that we didn’t talk about politics at church.  After all, as a 4th generation member, everyone there was family or treated as such.  I had to love them all.  Even the misguided Democrats.

I’m now a member of an Anglican intown Atlanta church where I’m one of the oldest in attendance. The ministers that started it, then all in their twenties, wanted a church where they would want to attend. Our doctrine is more conservative than my Methodist upbringing, but the Congregation is not.  We have Republicans and Democrats, but we also have Greens.  And Independents. And those who are totally non-political.  I also have to love them all.  It is, after all, what God commands.  Even the non-political ones.

And so it is with that background and upbringing that I will admit I have great difficulty listening to those who profess to have the same religion that I have use that as the basis to judge others in their faith.  It becomes significantly more troubling when this unnecessary division is used to advance a specific candidates at the expense of others.

When a minister claims that Republican Christians are true believers but he can’t tell if a Democratic self-professed Christian is as well, there is a problem.  Unfortunately, there is no original long form birth certificate to authenticate Christianity.  I’m equally disturbed when candidate’s supporters determine their candidate must be the “most” Christian – as if that in and of itself is a contest – because of his demagoguery.  They’re willing to overlook that the same candidate who made over a million in annual salary only gave used clothing to charity when the other lesser Christian gave more to his church than he paid the U.S. Government in taxes.  Some should re-read the verses about rendering unto Caesar and also rendering unto God.

This week has brought us both Ash Wednesday and Presidents Day, bringing into focus politics and religion, albeit on separate days.  Abraham Lincoln, when asked if God was on the side of the union during the Civil War, famously said that the question wasn’t whether God was on our side, but whether we were on his.  Those using Christianity as a weapon during political campaigns could use a bit more of Lincoln’s perspective on the subject.

Jesus, who was perfect, declined the opportunity to have a kingdom here on Earth.  It’s doubtful that 2,000 years later, any of his imperfect servants will have a better grip on how to overcome the obvious pitfalls of mixing what is rendered to Caesar and what is rendered to God.

There are 40 days of Lent to give up personal habits to demonstrate self sacrifice.  Perhaps some of our candidates and their supporters can give up proclaiming who is and who isn’t a true Christian, and spend more time making sure the Christianity they project is one others would recognize, and want to be around.

4o days of sacrifice and reflection.  That would be a good start on contemplating that if you’re going to use God in your campaign, you understand the campaign in which you’re really participating. The “true” Christians are much more concerned about whether their actions bring others closer to God, not whether their candidate attains enough votes to achieve a majority.


  1. Dave Bearse says:

    I appreciate you periodically advocating keeping religion out of politics. For me, as one who rarely attends religious services, it’s an important reminder that most religious people don’t debase their religious beliefs and faith by unduly mixing the two.

    Those unduly mixing politics and religion encourage disagreement underpinned by religion to be thought of and treated in the same manner and with the same respect given to political disagreement. That undermines religion among many members from within, as well as from without.

    Many of those bemoaning a “war on religion” ignore the politicization of religion as an instigating factor. Leaders and martyrs of that war are weakening, not strengthening, religion, and are leading Christian practice toward minority status.

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