Spirituality & Politics

“And if a house is divided against itself,
that house cannot stand.”

– Jesus of Nazareth, per Mark 3:25

“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth?
I tell you, not at all, but rather division.”
– Jesus again, per Luke 12:51

There are two overarching questions posed by this blog post. The first question is spiritual: On which side of the house does Jesus stand? Or does he speak out of both sides of his mouth – the flavor of the day?

The second question is political: What applicability is there to the recent (perhaps recurring) partial budget shutdown of the U.S. government?

Survey the Field

To help address these questions, a survey has been fielded — of friends, more distant acquaintances, and yet those more distant (via Twitter). Six questions were posed.

The sample size is not adequate to represent statistically reliable results. Yet, the views of diverse interests – spiritually and politically — were obtained. On average, the surveys took just under six minutes to complete.

Here are the six questions – together with representative responses.

Q1 – In the midst of political standoffs (like the partial Government shutdown), do you think your spiritual faith has any advice to offer to those active in the public arena?

Nearly 80% answered yes, spiritual faith yields advice for those active in the public arena, less than 20% said no.

Q2 – If you answered “yes” to Q1, what is your advice.

Those who responded provided the following suggestions:

  • Understanding that “God is trustworthy to take care of our daily needs”
  • Suggestion to “put politics aside and join forces for the best interests of our country as a whole”
  • “Work in the best interests of all citizens in the world”
  • Recognition that “this is a spiritual battle–good vs. evil”
  • “To grow up and learn to get along!”
  • “Do whatever it takes in time available to get to yes!”
  • “Do to others as you would have done to yourself”
  • “To pray”

Q3 – If you answered “no” to Q1, what is missing that might be relevant or otherwise useful to the political dialogue?

Fewer responses were provided, but including one that was quite detailed:

  • “Weighing what is best for citizens over political standoffs”
  • “Quit posturing and do what Davy Crockett would: ‘Make sure you’re right, then go ahead’ “
  • “I find that when religion is incorporated into political dialogue that the belief of the infallibility of the Bible is transferred onto both the Constitution and one’s own political beliefs. I believe this tends to make people incalcitrant in their views. Probably the biggest things missing are: a view that God is not a Republican or Democrat, respect for the other side (realizing they have something important to add), and humility to understand that there’s a 99.9% chance our own views are mistaken.”

What is interesting is that, while these respondents do not purport to rely on their faith (or lack thereof) for help in the political arena, their values (of weighing what’s best, making sure of what’s right, and humility) are similar to the values of those who would offer a more faith-based response.

Q4 – Politically, how far to the left or right do you lean — or somewhere in the middle (like independent)?

A sliding scale of 1-100 was used with 0 representing far left, 100 far right, 50 in the middle or independent.

On average, the multi-respondent average was just under 50 – about in the middle. Close to 40% rated themselves toward the left (with scores ranging from 0-40), a similar proportion in the middle (from 40 to nearly 70), and between 20-25% toward the right (rating themselves 70-100).

Q5 – Spiritually, would you describe yourself as a fundamental or evangelical Christian, mainline or progressive Christian, non-religious, or other?

Of those responding, over 40%  described themselves as fundamental or evangelical Christian, less than 10% as mainline or progressive Christian, over 20% as non-religions, and nearly 30% as other. 

Of those responding as other, beliefs ranged from what was described as “orthodoxal Christian” to “heterodox Christian” to “heretical” to “born-again Bible-believing nutcase.”

In comparing religious faith with political leanings, not surprisingly the fundamental/evangelical Christians rated themselves as the most right-leaning (but averaging a relatively moderate 53 points on the 0-100 scale). The other grouping scored roughly in the same moderate to right category as the fundamental/evangelical Christians. The mainline/progressive Christians and non-religious are more to the left (averaging about 35) on the 0-100 (left to right) scale.

Q6 – Whether or not related to your political or spiritual preferences, how do you think political conflicts are best resolved?

This question received the greatest degree of comment. Surprisingly, there is considerable convergence of opinion – despite seemingly divergent overall religious and political viewpoints.

Here are verbatim comments, organized from the most conservative politically and spiritually to the most non-religious and liberal:

  • “They need to all come to the table & agree on what is best for our country & not our political party.”
  • “… compromise. In every society we will always live next to those with whom we disagree. We should work for a culture that values righteousness and justice. Christians must also understand that is the nature of humanity not to want things of God. It is therefore our primary duty to evangelize to a fallen world before we try to change it for our own interests. As Christians, we need to be careful what political matters we put our weight behind.”
  • “…talking,  compromise, honesty, in a civil peaceful environment.”
  • “Political conflicts are best resolved by focusing on solutions, not who is right or wrong, or who did what shitty thing in the past.”
  • “…give and take”
  • “… commitment to resolution and keeping the conversation going.”
  • “As the prophet Isaiah says, come let us reason together.”
  • “… through negotiation.”
  • “… by always balancing justice with mercy.”
  • ” … by each side listening to each other, hearing points of view and learning how to agree on what is best for all.”
  • “I have no idea, except the ethical and moral fiber of the USA has eroded.”
  • “… balancing the gains of one issue versus negatively impacting the finances and commerce of many. Employing judgment with responsibility.”
  • “… through diplomatic conversations where judgment is put aside and empathy can play a large role.”
  • “… listening, considering the others’ viewpoints as valid, finding a compromise.”

If these thoughts truly represent a reasonable cross-section of opinion, there may be yet hope for our bold but imperfect American democratic experiment. With talking, listening and compromise as American as apple pie. And if, at the end of the day, we let our pragmatic instincts prevail over the more momentary lapses of political, religious or other ideological fervors.


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Expect Conflict & Make Peace

Starting in Ferguson and most recently extending to Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and back to Baton Rouge, America is in the grips of the seemingly surprising re-emergence of conflict between its African-American communities and the police responsible for protecting these samecommunities. Looking from the vantage point of the Brexit-divided British isles, the Economist magazine on July 16 seems perplexed, stating:

America has problems, but this picture is a caricature of a country that,
on most measures, is more prosperous,
more peaceful and less racist than ever before.

So, what gives? Why is a seemingly post-racial country that has unprecedentedly elected its first African-American president and that experiences greater prosperity than most parts of the world facing renewed racial conflict?

There are plenty of pundits seeking answers from a secular (but confined) perspective. For a few brief moments, consider the alternative divine perspective of the author of both conflict and peace.

Jesus’ Take

During his brief earthly ministry, Jesus comes across as being on both sides of the question. On the one hand, in speaking what are known as the beatitudes to a large audience overlooking the Sea of Galilee, proclaiming:

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Sounds like the typical liberal, coddling, approach to human conflict resolution. But that’s not the full story. For on yet another occasion, Jesus forcefully articulates an opposing viewpoint as he rhetorically asks:

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.

This Jesus not only expects conflict; he  actively seeks to create division and disunity. Sounds like the Donald.

So, what is the answer? How are we to resolve Jesus’ expectations of conflict coupled with the countervailing exhortation to making peace?

Shortly after making his this seemingly incendiary statement about conflict, Jesus does provide a way out. It’s not a direct answer but a formula. And a formula that is illustrated in legal terms as Jesus throws the resolution right back to those in the middle of seemingly intractable division –  by asking:

Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?
As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate,
try hard to be reconciled on the way,
or your adversary may drag you off to the judge,
and the judge turn you over to the officer,
and the officer throw you into prison.

I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Jesus answer is one not of paternalistic enabling but of tough love. He expects, even creates, conflict. He then demands that we each take responsibility to work out our differences. Before getting to the courtroom, or rioting and looting, or mercilessly beating and casting aside the perceived enemy.

Jesus tells us what to do, not how. The how is left up to rational, emotional, even in-the-moment, antagonists.

And if we don’t work it out? Well, the consequences of delayed action can be even more dire than the initial conflict itself.

What do the Donald & Hillary Say?

The re-emergence of racial and class conflict represents a somewhat surprising but nonetheless pivotal litmus test for the two presumed nominees in the 2016 run-off for the U.S. presidency. The liberal candidate takes the path of the peacemaker, the enabler – to the point of glossing over the violence and destruction and illegal and anti-social behavior. The newcomer to law-and-order conservatism overplays justice and retribution at the expense of mercy. Left to their own devices, the approach of either candidate runs the risk of deepening rather than rectifying the great tear in America’s social fabric.

For the voter, expectations should rise above business as usual. Vote the candidate that  demonstrates reconciliation on the way to but before further conflagration.

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