Faith and politics: a dangerous combination?

Here’s one of my most recent Gair Rhydd articles:

The Whole World in His hands
Caleb Woodbridge argues that the mixing of politics and faith, when executed correctly, is essential is a real difference is to be made in the world.

Religion and politics – two topics never to discuss in polite company. And while to talk about one of these may be unfortunate, to mix the two together is often seen as not just careless but downright dangerous.

It’s easy to see why many people get so nervous when faith and politics entwine. The Crusades are a terrible reminder of the evil that can be done when the two become confused, and are a terrible monument to the medieval church’s blindness to the teachings of Jesus.

At the end of last year, gair rhydd writer Ed Vanstone argued “It’s time that religious beliefs stopped undermining democracy”. Writing about the euthanasia debate, he called on us to “stand up to the religious and fight for our civil liberties”. For some, bringing religion into political debate is clearly a no-no.

Some of the questions Vanstone raised about the role of Bishops in the House of Lords were fair enough. But if he were to be consistent, then he would have to exclude all belief systems from politics, including his own self-confessed “teeth-gnashing atheism”.

There is no neutral position free of philosophical, ethical and religious assumptions and presuppositions, and many political questions involve questions of morality, human nature, and the purpose of society and humanity. These questions are all in some sense religious, and we ignore them at our peril.

It simply will not do to chop up different knowledge and truth into little bits and try and keep them separate – politics in this box over here, and religion in that box over there. Life is an interconnected whole. More importantly, God is Lord of all the universe, and there is not a square inch of life and reality that he is not sovereign over, including the political sphere.

You may disagree, but if so, then join the debate! Make your own voice heard, rather than seeking to silence views other than your own – that’s how democracy works. Democracy is thrashing out our differences on the anvil of debate, giving every voice a fair hearing.

While it is impossible to truly separate religion and politics, there are good and bad ways of mixing them. Get it wrong, and you’re in danger of such things as state religion and the suppression of religious freedom. But get the combination right, and together they can be a powerful force for good.

One of the heroes of the twentieth-century is Martin Luther King, a Baptist minister who spearheaded the Civil Rights movement in America. Two hundred years ago, the hard work and campaigning of William Wilberforce and the Clapham group of proto-lobbyists helped stir the conscience of this nation against the slave trade and bring about its end in Britain.

Without people like these involving their faith in politics, this world would be a darker place. The faith of the likes of Wilberforce and King was not incidental to their actions, but at the very core of their convictions, actions and dreams. When King told the world that he had a dream, he spoke of a dream of freedom guaranteed by the dream of the coming victory of God, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

Hope is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, giving us the courage to attempt to change the world. Politics today is so often ideologically bankrupt, impoverished of dreams and bereft of hope. The power of nightmares scares us into voting for them to save us from terrorism or immigration or the latest other bogeyman. The idea of making the world a better place today seems hopelessly naïve.

An ancient proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” In these days of cynicism and of empty secular imagination, we need more than ever faith that can transform the world, seeking justice and an end to oppression, and working towards the hope of heaven while here on earth.

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Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments
  • ‘It simply will not do to chop up different knowledge and truth into little bits and try and keep them separate – politics in this box over here, and religion in that box over there. ‘

    Ask the President of Iran.

    Or George W. Bush who believes God told him to invade Iraq.

    Why listen to human advisers or the voters when the Lord of the Universe is telling you what to do?

    Democracy or theocracy? It depends if you believe in God or not.

  • Let us not forget that apartheid was driven by the Bible.

    Acts 17:26 ‘From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.’

    God has determined that the French will live in France, the Italians in Italy, the Jews in the Promised Land, and the Zulus in Zululand.

    This passage of the Bible was never refuted when aprtheid ended.

    Apartheid only ended when this Biblical teaching came to be ignored.

    Slavery, of course, was sustained by the Bible.

    http://tinyurl.com/9tdax

    A scriptural, ecclesiastical, and historical view of slavery, from the days of the patriarch Abraham, to the nineteenth century.: Addressed to the Right Rev. Alonzo Potter …/ By Bishop John Henry Hopkins.

    Interesting to learn that the idea that the Bible did not condemn
    buying people for money was ‘the universal doctrine’ of Christians.

    But what was surprising was the cogent case the author makes from the Bible to support the idea of buying people for money.

    It is not like he has to stretch. The arguments are very natural and obvious.

    That’s the trouble with the Bible.

    Often people read it without first reading the helpful notes provided by modern commentators to tell them what it actually means, rather than what the words say.

  • Alison Woodbridge

    Good article, Caleb. If I could comment on Steven Carr’s reference to Acts 17:26, it says GOD determined the exact places where the nations should live, not that one nation should attempt to do what is his prerogative alone, which only he can do anyway. This verse does not mean that God has determined that “The French will live in France..” etc, because natinal boundaries are constantly changing and are manmade anyway. It means rather that God is is control of all the nations and the changes in where they go and live which have been taking place throughout history.
    The Bible is also clear about God’s care and concern for all the nations and his total lack of partiality e.g. Acts 10:34 “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”
    The apostle Paul says exactly the same “For God does not show favouritism” (Romans 2:11) and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, see context)
    Better leave it there for now. Keep up the good work, Caleb!
    Mum

  • ‘This verse does not mean that God has determined that “The French will live in France..” etc, because natinal boundaries are constantly changing and are manmade anyway. It means rather that God is is control of all the nations and the changes in where they go and live which have been taking place throughout history.’

    National boundaries are manmade,not from God , and God is in control of where nations live?

    I’m not sure I understand that.

    Acts 17:26 ‘From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.’

    Where did God determine that the Zulus should live?

    Of course, this does not contradict the idea that God cares for the Zulus.

    Indeed, it means that He has created a place for them to live.

    Finding a person a home is a sign of care, is it not?

    In any case, apartheid shows the dangers of allowing faith to drive politics.

  • Anonymous

    I was wondering if you have read ‘God’s Politics’ by Jim Wallis. Very good

  • I’ve not read “God’s Politics”, but I’ve read “The Soul of Politics”, an earlier book by Jim Wallis, which covers the same topic of faith and politics, which I thought was very good.

    I get the impression Steven Carr is more concerned with point-scoring and nitpicking than genuine discussion, which I find entertaining but unless I’ve got more time than usual on my hands, I don’t make answering his points a priority. If I get time I might comment on why theism doesn’t necessarily entail theocracy though, since that’s quite an important issue.

  • I was just pointing out how informed by their faith were the politicians who defended apartheid and slavery.

    I also pointed out that George W. Bush apparently believes God spoke to him about invading Iraq.

    If you believe in God, whose teachings should you follow, His or the voters who voted for you?

  • Rob

    I liked this article. I don’t rate Jim Wallis though. I saw him speak at Greenbelt last year and he didn’t seem to say anything new or challenging. Maybe I caught him on a bad day! Oh well.