Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mixing Religion and Politics

"You don’t mix religion and politics." That’s something we’ve probably all heard, and maybe we’ve been among those who’ve said it. I know for myself, I usually understand that to mean, you can’t force your religious views on everyone else by making them a part of your political agenda. And, of course, I’m only concerned about it when the religious views I believe someone is mixing with politics are different from my own.

Whether we like it or not, the political season is upon us. In fact, it’s descending upon us this week in Charlotte in a very vivid way. We’ve been preparing for it in the Queen City much like people living on the coast brace for a hurricane. Some have evacuated, others are battening down the hatches and will be holing up in their homes for the duration, while a few brave souls (a.k.a. crazy people) will be reveling in the gale force winds coming from the center of our city.

The lectionary reading for this week, from the first chapter of James, comes to us at a perfect time as we enter into these historic days for Charlotte, not to mention the final months before a big presidential election. I think I can safely say that, in the spirit of James, as God’s people, it is high time for us to mix religion and politics.

Before you leave your house in the morning, do you look at yourself in the mirror? Do you carefully wipe away all the crust that collected in the corners of your eyes while you were sleeping? Do you check to see that you don’t still have some of your breakfast on your face or between your teeth? Do you make sure that little piece of hair in the back isn’t sticking up like Dennis the Menace? Well, imagine yourself looking in the mirror again. That’s what James asks you to do. Only this time, look beyond your face and your hair and your clothing. Who is that person you see looking back at you? Who are you, really? Imagine if you could see yourself from a God’s-eye view. God, whom James describes as “the Father of lights, from whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” James wants us to look in the mirror and be reminded that we’re the first fruits of all God's creatures. That person looking back at you is someone who belongs to God and is set aside for God’s purpose. That changes what you see, doesn’t it?

When we do that and we’re reminded of who we really are from a God’s-eye view -- when we really do that, it’s going to transform us. In the things we believe, to be sure. But more importantly, in the things we do. The Christian faith is more than a series of truth-claims limited to what we think and what we express with our words. For James, talk is cheap. What counts is the way faith actually plays out in your life. Your deeds need to be consistent with your words. Faith without actions to back it up is absolutely meaningless.

It’s so easy to forget this when we get caught up in the culture around us, isn’t it? These are challenging times for us as God’s people. A few verses from the first chapter of James especially sting. “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” and then the part that says, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

Have you noticed how folks are ready to pounce on every word one of our presidential candidates utters, just waiting for a chink in the armor to appear so they can quickly plunge their knives into the vulnerable spot while they have the chance to do as much damage as possible? Have you noticed how much we seem to relish deriding those who say stupid things? Like the guy who referred to “legitimate rape.” Immediately, all people in his party were guilty by association and condemned. Have you noticed how we’re always looking for the worst possible interpretation of everything the opposing party does? Why is that? Because they have become the enemy. Worse than the enemy, really. We have demonized those who disagree with us. We put them right up there with Satan and we’ve got to fight against them or all that we care about will be lost. It’s scary when we get to that point. And I’m afraid that’s where we are.

Certainly, it's good to feel passionately about your convictions. But when it means targeting anyone who disagrees with you as an enemy who must be fought and destroyed, you’re in trouble. It’s dangerous. Especially for that person you see in the mirror.

Take some time to read the first chapter of James and think about whether your actions might be a manifestation of the one who taught us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness…. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

We’re being challenged in these politically charged days to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk. No, we can’t control how the world around us will proceed in the weeks ahead. But we can control ourselves. Will we allow ourselves to get sucked up into the angry rhetoric all around us? Will we close our ears to anyone who disagrees with us? Will we allow fear and anger to lead us? Or will we be able to look in the mirror, reminding ourselves that we are God’s first fruits among all his creatures and conduct ourselves accordingly? Yes, I’m suggesting that this is the time for us to mix religion and politics in the best possible way.

1 comment:

Skip Slaughenhaupt said...

Thank you Nancy.
Something to think about and remember in the days to come.