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12/1/2007 - December 2007 Educational Update - Religion and Politics I - "Golden Rule Politics . . ." (A Democrat View)





To:                  SLI Supporters                                 


Date:               December 2007


From:              A. Eric Johnston


Re:                  Religion and Politics I - "Golden Rule Politics . . ." (A Democrat View)


            The impact of values on our system of laws cannot be underestimated.  For most of us, our religion gives us our values.  Two recent programs have called new attention to the role of religion in politics.  One was by an Alabama Democrat club and the other was by The Federalist Society.  Both raise a spectre of change in public discourse.


            In October 2007, the Over the Mountain Democrats sponsored a program at Samford University based on a media production entitled "Golden Rule Politics:  Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics."  The film was produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics ("BCE"), a freestanding nonprofit organization headquartered in Nashville, TN.  See, www.EthicsDaily.com.  The forum was hosted by Robert M. Parham, founder and director of the BCE.  I attended the meeting with the hope that it would give more insight into religion and politics. 


            The BCE website says that it seeks to "reframe the way Christians think . . . to be pro-health, not anti-alcohol . . . pro-family, not anti-abortion and anti-pornography; pro-sex education, not anti-human sexuality . . . ."  It seems to be like The Third Way, a progressive religious, some say liberal, Washington think tank which seeks middle political ground for progressives and evangelicals.  See, "Come Let Us Reason Together." www.Third-way.com.


            The program began with a viewing of the 36 minute film.  It's primary speakers were Congressman Artur Davis, Pastor James Evans, and Professor Susan Pace Hamill, who were also panelists for discussion following the viewing.  The film equates the religious right with Republicans.  It supports issues like taxes, poverty and the environment and minimizes issues like abortion and gay rights, i.e., "wedge issues" used by the religious right to divide people. 


            The panelists accurately observed that God is neither Republican nor Democrat.  When Pastor Evans was asked why the religious right are the way they are, he said it was because they were upset at the end of the civil rights era for being wrong on the issue of race.  They needed something to redeem themselves, so they took on abortion and such issues.  Republicans then jumped on the family issues bandwagon because their presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, had lost.   


            Professor Hamill says political issues are classified as either "low sacrifice" or "high sacrifice."  Low sacrifice means nothing much is required of the individual, but high sacrifice means much is required of the individual.  Issues like abortion and gay rights are low sacrifice issues, because these do not effect most of us, so we give up very little.  On the other hand, helping the poor requires us to pay more taxes and helping the environment requires us to give up profits, all of which effect us directly and are therefore high sacrifice issues.  This paradigm of low and high sacrifice became a mantra of the panelists.  


            When Congressman Davis was asked by a student whether Christians should be concerned about all of the issues, he allowed that abortion and such issues were not challenging and were "politically easy" for politicians, since everyone already had a position.  On the other hand, issues like immigration and healthcare were challenging.  Professor Hamill said there is disagreement on the law concerning abortion and gay rights, but reasonable minds can differ.  In the panel's thinking, their issues are high sacrifice and those of the religious right are low sacrifice.  Congressman Davis' thinking is that compromise and common ground can be reached on social issues, but only if the religious right is willing to admit that it is not always right and would give interest to other issues.[1] 


            I knew the program was not meant to be a balanced debate.  I thought it might be educational for Democrats on how religion can be used by them in politics.  I went with some vague thought that the program would be about how religion influences the political process.  Instead, it was an attack on conservative evangelical Christians and conservative Republicans for the positions they hold.  Rather than describe how moral values are proper and necessary in political debate, the program maligned and criticized the religious right for the values it holds.    


            I have learned that whether conservative or liberal, persons hold fervently to their beliefs and concomitant positions.  Unfortunately, this panel discussion was not very helpful in instructing the Democrats how to take their religious values into politics.  I did not hear any application of the Golden Rule.  Rather, it was an encouragement for them to continue bitterness towards the religious right, a minority who are constantly maligned in public places.


            We must recognize each other's beliefs.  We must argue our positions in good faith and not be characterized by attitudes of speakers who are irrelevant, angry or ineffective.  I appreciate and respect the beliefs of others.  I hope they respect mine.  If this program really wanted to help religiously motivated political discourse, it should have taught a lesson on the Golden Rule.  This program failed to recognize that religion has a role in politics.  Next month we will examine the Federalist Society's view of religion in politics in  "The Role of Religion in Public Debate."

[1] Conservatives (religious right, Republicans or otherwise) do give attention to environmental, tax and poverty issues; read the newspaper Human Events.  See, www.HumanEvents.com or call 1-800-787-7559 for information. 


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