Weaponized Religion Harms Both Church and State

The benediction to the first night of the Republicans’ convention two weeks ago was unusual. Pastor Mark Burns of South Carolina announced to the delegates “Our enemy is not other Republicans, but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.” He then prayed that “we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party” and that Republicans “were the conservative party under God”.

Mixing religion and politics is nothing new. Having a pastor proclaim members of an opposing political party are “the enemy” is still a rather overt way to claim God chooses sides in elections. While the words were surprising to many, the sentiment is now pervasive throughout politics.

Political philosophy now seems to be rooted not on the ability to win intellectual arguments over which policy would be best, but on which candidate or party maintains moral superiority.

If you don’t believe that, ask someone who you should be voting for for President and why. You’re likely going to get a long litany of why Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is a horrible human being. The conclusion is that the people that side with the other candidate are equally bad people and that an intelligent person would be against them.

This is what discourse looks like when campaign supporters believe they have staked out a unique moral high ground. All they must do is point out that the opposition is morally deficient, though often a few platitudes are thrown in to assert their candidate is morally superior.

Democrats aren’t shy about this, though they use different playing fields and loaded terms. Within Republican ranks, religion – more and more often Christianity, specifically – is the go to platform for moral superiority.

Hillary Clinton and the “liberal Democratic Party” shouldn’t feel too bad about being the target of the prayer. Many Republicans continue to received similar rebukes when they find themselves on the opposite side of self-anointed candidates.

Last week the supporters of Newnan Senator Mike Crane were having a difficult time accepting his defeat in the primary runoff to replace Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. One such supporter took to twitter to declare “Sad Morning in Georgia. We have a new Congressman marching to Chamber’s drum. Pro TPP Obamatrade, open borders, anti Christian.”

Mike Crane has made his faith part of his campaign since he’s been in politics. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Drew Ferguson, the victor, also talks openly of his faith during his stump speech. There’s nothing in his message that is “anti Christian”.

The problems begin when supporters decide that when they are supporting someone who is open and strong with their faith, that anyone who opposes that candidate is therefore deficient in his.

And yet, in contest after contest, it is now customary for party leaders to pronounce the “true Christian” in a primary as a method of endorsement. Now we have pastors willing to pray before an entire nation pronouncing that our fellow Americans from the opposition party are our enemy.

This does not unite us as a nation. This also does not bring people toward the kingdom of God.

I spent this past weekend in Plains, Georgia. There’s a peanut farmer down there that’s done pretty well for himself. He spent a few years as Governor of Georgia and then in the White House as the leader of the free world. He got a peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt. He knows a few things about bringing people together despite entrenched differences.

He also teaches Sunday School more than 40 weeks per year. He’s a devout Baptist. His commitment to family values is displayed by by his recent seventieth wedding anniversary.

Oh. He’s also a progressive Democrat.

In his Sunday School lesson, he talked about some of Israel’s early issues under secularist Prime Ministers. He – again, a Democrat – talked about the importance of governing with God.

His pastor’s sermon was on unity. He noted that unity was not the absence of conflict, but instead on a functional way to address and resolve customary and inherent conflicts so that communities can operate as one people. He spoke specifically about doing that within the church, about bringing people of faith together rather than letting the world divide us.

The teachings of the church are about bringing people together. They are not tools to be used against others for political power. They certainly are not about making people feel less than whole, whether within the same political party or within the opposition party.

Those that continue weaponize their religion in pursuit of earthly political power risk losing more than elections. They risk losing the kingdom of God – for themselves, and for others.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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