Religion and politics, oil (gasoline) and water

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Thy God hath commanded thy strength: strengthen,
O God, that which thou hast wrought for us.
– Psalm 68:28
Put another way: “Summon your power, God;
show us your strength, our God, as you have done
before.”
*
King James or new international version, the
message can be taken to any campaign season and
usually is. God has been summoned.
In politics, religion is often worn on the practitioner’s
sleeve, or lapel, like that little American
flag, a kind of proof or validation that he or she is
– is what? Consultants advise that those who wear
religion on the sleeve or flag on lapel are seen as
slightly better, or purer, or more fervent, than those
who don’t.
The tradition of summoning the church against
the civil authority is as old as Christianity, as old
as the church as a source of countervailing power
and protection against all the alien, evil exercises
in the secular. Thus it is, institutionally, the bulwark
against abortion, or same-sex marriage, in
spite of the U.S. Supreme Court. We summon the
church against whatever it is that our politics deem
un-Christian, even un-American; it remained for
decades a bulwark against racial integration, the
secular threat of what the descendants of slaves
might do to middle-class Christianity. It is the bulwark,
ultimately, against whatever one’s politics
demand.
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NOW it has taken another old turn. Early this
month the United States Supreme Court declared
that it will not hear current appeals related to the
constitutionality of state prohibitions of same-sex
marriage. The Kansas Attorney General, Derek
Schmidt, called the Court’s decision “unexpected
and disappointing.” He noted that no court has
decided “squarely” whether Kansas’ constitutional
prohibition, adopted by voters less than a decade
ago, is invalid.
Schmidt said the Court’s decision ensures that
“an already uncertain legal situation for Kansas
and many other states will become even more so.”
In every debate, the Bible has been a footing for
argument.
Religion in state and federal politics can come in
disguise, a “Community Defense Act,” or a “Swat
the Barfly” resolution, or the recent Religious
Freedom Protection Act that Kansas legislators
swooned to embrace. (Imagine using religion to
skirt state law. If your religion justifies discrimination,
don’t hire blacks or sell to Hispanics.)
Some of our newest laws repave the old roads to
intolerance.
At the local level it works in subtle ways, taking
care to soften alarm. In Washington the Supreme
Court put its blessing on private businesses that
deny women employees access to certain types of
health care, namely contraceptive benefits in their
health insurance. Religion was the reason.
Internationally, religion steamrolling politics
resurfaced in Iran in the late 1970s with the
regime of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. Here
was a dramatic reminder of why we wanted God
out of politics in the first place. Tribal rites have
been rooted in genocide in South Sudan and
Rwanda. Religious bigotry demanded the slaughter
of Bosnian Muslims in Slovenia and Croatia
and war over the former Yugoslavia. The Middle
East is a fire pit.
*
WHEN we get a religious zealot in political
power, loyalties and commitments clash and we
get bloody violence. God is perfect, but the state
is imperfect; when someone tries to put politics on
the level of divine perfection, thousands of people
are bound to be clobbered, literally or otherwise.
God’s laws are eternal and unchanging, but man
lives by change and so do his political structures.
If we try to stop change, as Khomeini and others
have tried, or want only one brand of change, as
Slobodan Milosevic demanded, we bring repression
of men and women, and a stagnation of
society.
God gives absolute truth, but in politics there
is no absolute truth – not in democratic politics,
at least, where we have been taught to respect the
faith and opinions of others. Our individual faith
may be absolute but our political faith is relative.
In recent history the only firm move toward
peace came 30 years ago in the war-torn Middle
East, and it was achieved by a Baptist, a Jew, and
a Muslim. The men involved – Jimmy Carter,
Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat – all said
they felt a spiritual surge in their efforts. Seen
another way, the teachings of Christ, Moses and
Muhammad bent to the universal good.
Or better, the differences in religious faith were
weaker than the need for a common ground.
It’s a long stretch from Geneva or the Golan
Heights, to Washington or Topeka. But religion’s
steamrolling of politics can yet begin with a local
intrusion, with little steps, a patronizing sigh of
benevolence, always “for our own good.”
Accord in governing can’t be done with heavenly
edicts. Divine peace can’t be ordered by brandishing
a sword, and public good can’t be ordered
through unyielding statutes. We can’t write into
law the faith by which everyone in the world, or
the state, must live.
***
Mental malfunction:
a mistake, but hardly the fi rst
By now the tsk-tsks have subsided, and Dakota
Loomis will forever regret that he slammed a trio
of towns in southeast Kansas as “cr–holes.” It was
a moment of Internet indiscretion, one that cost
him his job last week as chief PR officer for the
Kansas Democratic Party. At the time of the foul,
Loomis was on his own time and in a cyber venue
far from official politics. Nonetheless he panned
unwisely, and his friends and colleagues were
horrified.
Almost daily, people in politics say or write or
do things they’d like to take back. Gaffes are frequent,
even routine, in cyberworld, where anyone
can publish. The professionals among us must
remember that in Kansas, communities run off the
sensitive meter when it comes to local pride. The
tar is always hot and feathers are never in short
supply. Take care: Disaster is only as far away as
the “send” button.
Amateur critics can be forgiven, lay bloggers
ignored. But for politicians and their aides, who
trade sincerity and cynicism in equal measure, a
misdirected slam or an unintended slander can be
disastrous.
We recall one notable bungle many years ago
not for its creativity but for its sheer gall. The slur
was issued in a room full of reporters.
In early 1986, a fresh press secretary for Sen.
Bob Dole was in a statehouse press room recounting
his first journey through western Kansas, a
trip that inspired anything but his praise. At first,
we thought to forgive the young man for his ignorance.
But then he got nasty, so we took notes.
“What a wasteland,” he sniffed. “We were in
Garden City. Gawd. And then there was the drive
from Garden City to Hays. There is nothing out
there. Absolutely nothing. Oh, there are a few
cows lying flat on the ground. I am convinced
now that if you are reincarnated, that’s where God
sends you if you f–k up,” he laughed.
We wrote a short piece about this, ending:
“This is Sen. Dole’s representative. Nice to hear
from him during the farm recession.”
The Associated Press and United Press
International had made a story about the press
aide’s remarks, and his trying to weasel out of
them by saying he was only joking.
Dole didn’t think it was a joke. The aide kept his
job, barely, but was sent to another post.
*
TODAY the change is in technology, not savvy.
It’s easier to make a mistake, simpler to send it
worldwide, impossible to take back. What part of
this is so hard to understand?
– JOHN MARSHALL

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