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On Mixing Religion and Politics

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There is a full page religious/political ad in The Kansas City Star today, which I’m sure is in many other newspapers as well. It is a message from Billy Graham urging people to vote biblical values on Tuesday.

In the ad, Graham says:

I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

According to a news item in the same issue of The Kansas City Star, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been running a similar ad in which he warns Christians that their votes, “Will affect the future and be recorded in eternity” and that they must cast a ballot that will “Stand the test of fire.”

Graham and Huckabee are only the most prominent evangelists for the Republican cause. Political sermons instructing the flocks to vote according to a right wing interpretation of the will of God have become increasingly common.

I personally believe that when it comes to living by biblical values, particularly as espoused by Jesus, Democratic candidates have a clear edge over Republicans. Republicans may do a better job of protecting the unborn, but Democrats do a much better job (perhaps too good a job) of taking care of the less fortunate among us who are already among the living.

I am much more comfortable with the positive message of Jesus in the New Testament than with the angry God of the Old Testament. I am among the growing number of people who identify themselves as being “spiritual, but not religious.” I believe in God. I subscribe to the biblical description that God is Love and God is Light. I believe in, and try to live by, The Golden Rule. Beyond that, I don’t claim any special knowledge of God, or God’s will.

I do suspect that if hypocrisy and bearing false witness can cause a politician to fail “the test of fire,” there will be no shortage of politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, going to the hot place.

I know that I am not alone in believing that mixing religion and politics is dangerous. Particularly when Republicans appeal to biblical values to win votes and then use the power of government to serve moneyed interests instead of promoting the common good.

For those who have not read the excellent books What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank and Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back On the Middle Class by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, let me sum them up briefly.

Republicans use the wedge issues of gay rights and abortion to get a lot of votes from people who believe that having the government stop women from getting abortions and keep same sex couples from making a lifelong commitment to one another are the most important issues of the day. These voters are often the same ones who claim that they want a smaller, less intrusive government.

The Republicans (with some help from Democrats who are also beholden to the moneyed interests) then use the power of government to promote the interests of Wall Street, big banks, and multinational corporations at the expense of all of the rest of us, including the values voters who helped them win elections.

The fiscal cliff may be looming, but it is only the tip of the iceberg of the disaster awaiting us if Republicans gain full control of the federal government (the White House and both houses of Congress). A return to the policies that led to the current ongoing recession would be a monumental disaster for everyone except the super-wealthy. To clarify my use of the term recession, I consider continued mass unemployment to qualify as a recession, even if Wall Street has been doing fine for a while now.

I understand why many voters are opposed to the Democratic Party. I myself, view them as the lesser of two evils at this point. But when confronting two evils, I believe strongly in choosing the lesser of them.

It is in that cynical and bitter context that I encourage values voters to think long and hard before voting for any Republicans on Tuesday. Let’s give the Republicans the fringe party status they so richly deserve and then work together to make the Democratic officeholders hew to their sworn Constitutional oath to “promote the general Welfare.”

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About Winston Apple

Winston Apple is the author of "Edutopia: A Manifesto for the Reform of Public Education." He is a former teacher. He has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (1990). He is also a singer-songwriter and recording artist.
  • Glenn Contrarian

    I was a protestant for many years – I’m not one now – it’s incredible watching those who claim to be SO Christian accuse Obama of being a Muslim – never mind that he publicly drinks beer and eats pork and has attended protestant churches for most of his life – yet they cry for support for a candidate whose beliefs are in many ways anathema to their own beliefs.

    In other words, they are allowing their politics – and their prejudice – to determine their religious beliefs. As I said, incredible. I’m so glad I left them!

  • It’s quite remarkable how what Jesus would have done always turns out to be exactly what the person doing the asking wants to do.

  • amos537amos

    Religion has been heavily mixed into politics at least since the 19th century in America. If you were to search out the evidence I think that you will be sure to find that the most vocal have been heavily right wing for a long period of time.

  • Baronius

    Standing the test of fire doesn’t mean that a politician or voter is going to hell. The test of fire is the purification process for gold (or other metal). In this context, it means almost exactly the opposite of what you’re saying.

    Another thing that strikes me is your ommission of the Democratic use of black churches. It’s considered nothing if Clinton or Obama preaches from a pulpit, but a Republican wouldn’t be forgiven for doing the same. Multi-term governor Huckabee is often derided as a preacher, but Jackson and Sharpton are honored as the consciences of their party.

    And where in the Bible is the call for government to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? If you’re going to praise the Democrats for meeting the standards of the Bible, maybe you should compare the actual voluntary charitable donations made by individuals.

    I believe that a well-ordered society would have some government protection for the poor – but so do Graham and Huckabee. It’s absurd to claim that you follow the precepts of the Bible in supporting a certain level of governmental aid over a different level of governmental aid.

    I could go on finding fault with this article, but there are so many faults, and I have to go vote tomorrow.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    It’s quite remarkable how what Jesus would have done always turns out to be exactly what the person doing the asking wants to do.

    That’s funny…and disturbingly true.

  • Igor

    Politicians have no shame about mixing religion and politics for their own benefit. Looking at Billy Graham, you can see that they’ve formed a rightist bubble around the guy so that he is their captive. He probably doesn’t even realize that he’s been suborned, after all, they are such very nice people with such lovely families aqnd lovely homes.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    And where in the Bible is the call for government to feed the hungry and clothe the naked? If you’re going to praise the Democrats for meeting the standards of the Bible, maybe you should compare the actual voluntary charitable donations made by individuals.

    About twenty minutes before I read your comment, I had found out about this:

    Political views do not predict how much money a person will donate to charity, according to a new study. But conservatives and liberals do support different kinds of causes.

    Conservatives and people in conservative-leaning states are more likely than others to donate to religious organizations, while people in liberal-leaning states are more likely to donate to secular nonprofits, the study found.

    The study was conducted by MIT researchers Michele Margolis and Michael Sances and was based on data from NORC at the University of Chicago.

    Now if you read into that a little bit, conservatives are more likely to donate to religious organizations – in other words, churches. Now I don’t know about you, but whatever the tax code may say, in reality, church offerings are NOT charity. Most of those church offerings go to pay for the expenses of that church – paying the preacher, paying for utilities, construction, et cetera…and little of it actually goes to helping to feed and clothe the poor. Like I said, it’s NOT charity.

    I’ve never felt that church offerings are charity – in fact, a close reading of the Bible shows that they are more of a duty. So if rendering offerings to God is our duty, then why should we call it charity, and why should we be allowed to deduct said ‘charity’ from our taxes? That is why I have never – not even once – claimed my Church offerings on my itemized taxes. I don’t think it’s right that the government should essentially subsidize a religion.

    But back to the subject – if church offerings are a duty unto God, then they are not in reality a charity…which may very well mean that if church offerings aren’t included in the total, conservatives may very well be giving significantly LESS to charitable causes than do liberals.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    And Jesus put it much more succinctly: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render unto God that which is God’s”.

    Looks to me like Jesus said to pay your taxes as you should (regardless of what Mitt Romney may think), and make your offerings unto God as you should. That makes it a duty. Not a charity, but a duty.

  • Dr Dreadful

    “Political views do not predict how much money a person will donate to charity, according to a new study.”

    Thta’s interesting, because I’ve seen other studies that show conservatives to be more generous than liberals with their charitable giving (perhaps because they tend to be better off, perhaps because liberals tend to regard government as a more appropriate funding source for certain things). Wonder who’s right?

    Now if you read into that a little bit, conservatives are more likely to donate to religious organizations – in other words, churches.

    Wrong, Glenn. Whatever the donor’s reason for electing to give money to them, faith-based charitable organizations are not churches. For instance, two of the largest and most active charities here in San Diego are St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army. Both were founded by churches or church members, but they do not place religious conditions on the assistance they provide, and you can be reasonably confident that the majority of your donations to them do not go towards upkeep and administration.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Doc –

    Dammit. You’re right and I’m wrong. I went to the study itself and it said quite plainly that places of worship were not included in the data:

    We obtained data on giving to nonprofit organizations from the Internal Revenue Service’s
    annual Statistics of Income (SOI) sample, an organization-level time series of donations
    from 1982 to 2008. The SOI is based on an annual, nationally representative sample
    of tax-exempt organizations. The sample does not include places of worship, as these
    organizations are not required to file with the IRS. We also restrict the sample to 501(c)(3)
    organizations, as the 501(c)(4) “social welfare” code is commonly used by advocacy groups
    and, more recently, electioneering organizations. Finally, we only look at organizations
    with less than $500,000 in assets, in order to ensure that we are measuring within-state

    That does effectively negate my claim about offerings to churches, but the study still shows that there is little difference between the parties as to who gives more of their income to charity. And I just found this on page 11 of the study:

    In the previous section, we showed that Democrats are no more or less generous than Republicans.
    But are there systematic differences in where partisans choose to donate? Up
    until now, we have followed the existing literature and combined religious and secular donations.
    But there are reasons to distinguish between different types of giving. Conservatives
    and Republicans are more religious than liberals and Democrats (Green 2007), but do they
    donate more to religious organizations? And how does religiosity map onto donations to
    non-religious causes?
    Liberals and conservatives have different tastes across a variety of activities and behaviors
    (Green 2007; Spitzer 1995; Vavreck 2012), so it is reasonable to assume that these distinct
    tastes apply to preferences in donations as well.

    Thus with these data we see that these different tastes may simply be a function of conservatives’
    greater church attendance. While conservatives give much more of their income
    to their local congregation than liberals, they do not donate more to religious organizations
    other than their congregation. The collection plate is a likely explanation for the general trend of conservatives donating to religious causes.

    So if one really wants to push the question as to who gives more to charity, it would be better to compare apples to apples by comparing the contributions of atheists/agnostics among both Democrats and Republicans – there’s a lot of both (though it would be more accurate if we said ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’). But I doubt there will be a study of that coming anytime soon.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Back in Blighty I knew several people who didn’t give to charity on principle, because they felt it was something government ought to be doing.

    It’s anecdotal evidence, I know, but I reckon the studies Baronius is probably thinking of, that show conservatives to be more generous with their charitable donations, in tandem with my own speculation that this might have something to do with liberals’ interpretation of the phrase “general welfare”, have some merit.

  • Baronius

    I was more thinking of principle, that it’s no merit on my part to force one person to give to another.

  • Baronius

    Of course, there is a requirement on my part to try to make my society as just as possible. That’s something the more libertarian-leaning people don’t get. Taxing someone else doesn’t make me a better Christian, but neither does supporting unjustly low taxes. It’s a tough call, and good people can reflect prudently on these issues and reach different policy recommendations.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    Perhaps that’s the key – perhaps it’s all a matter of perception.

    For instance, we give hundreds of millions in aid every year to help the poor in other nations, right? Why do we do that? Is it really a matter of “those people need help and so we’ll force our taxpayers to give that help”? Or is it a matter of national interest, to keep those people on our side?

    To me, the purpose of the social safety net here in America isn’t to give charity to the needy, but to provide the rising tide that lifts all the boats. From the end of WWII to 1980, the level of income inequality of all percentiles stayed level, and the income rose pretty much in unison. But after Reagan slashed taxes (esp. for the rich), the income of the wealthy skyrocketed, whereas the rise of the income of the middle- and lower-income groups slowed significantly.

    Look at the chart about a third of the way down on this page – it’s so incredibly obvious. When it comes to Reagan’s ‘trickle-down’ economics (which we STILL have), it’s obvious that the rich did very well, but (as Charlie Rangel said) the rest of us got the down, but we never did get the trickle.

    Again, Baronius, the social safety net isn’t ‘forcing one person to give to another’ – it’s a matter of national interest, because the better off the people are as a whole, the stronger the nation will be.

  • Winston Apple

    Baronius (#4),

    I didn’t see Reverend Huckabee’s ad, only the news item quoting from it, but he was referring to a “ballot” that was “recorded in eternity,” not a “purification process for gold (or other metal).”

    Let me further state, for the record, that I am in no way an expert on the Bible or “biblical values.” I should probably have used the phrase “spiritual values” in its place when I wasn’t quoting Graham.

    Furthermore, I think it would be wonderful if charitable giving from private sources were sufficient to meet the minimum needs of the poor in the U.S., not to mention other countries around the world. I think that is much to be preferred over the involuntary redistribution of wealth that takes place when tax dollars are used to ease the effects of poverty. I don’t have a problem with a democratically elected government stepping in, however, when private sources are clearly failing to get the job done.

    I also believe there is a lot of abuse of our welfare programs. In my version of Utopia, the government would be the employer of last resort, finding socially useful jobs that pay a living wage for everyone who can not find one on their own. (Workfare instead of welfare is an idea I first heard espoused by President Reagan.) That might make it easier for the truly disabled to be taken care of through private charities.

    I think the spirit of the First Amendment is best served when that separation is a two-way street, however, I recognize that our votes are, and perhaps should be, influenced by our values. That can be a tough balancing act to pull off.

    What make me nervous is people whose “beliefs” rise to the level where they are absolutely certain that they know exactly what Jesus would do in a given situation, exactly what happens after we die, and by exactly what actions we will be judged. Particularly when they exhibit an evangelical fervor to use the power of government to impose their beliefs on others.

    On a more realistic note , as much as I appreciate the comments that have been made in response to this opinion piece, I wish some of you were responding to the content on the second page of the piece instead of the first.

    Because more than anything, I wish that everyone would refuse to vote for any candidate who is part of the corrupt regime in Washington that has “made the rich richer and turned its back on the middle class.” That would mean pretty much every Republican and most of the Democrats would be looking for a new line of work after tomorrow and the likelihood of making a living as a K Street lobbyist would not be a promising option.

  • Cliff Williams

    Not all Christians agree with Billy Graham. For a statement by two professors from Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois.

  • Baronius

    I didn’t see Reverend Huckabee’s ad, only the news item quoting from it, but he was referring to a “ballot” that was “recorded in eternity,” not a “purification process for gold (or other metal).”

    So you wrote an article about a video that you didn’t watch. Pretty lame. If you had watched it, you’d see that the dominant image is a smith working metal. Not getting the Biblical reference, I can sort of understand (actually, I can’t, because you wrote an article about it), but not watching a 2-minute ad before writing the article is swing-for-the-fences shabby.

  • John Lake

    I think most voters would be hard pressed to cast a vote that would potentially sentence them to “fire”. Exceptions might be made in the case of knowingly voting for those who would advance the cause of bloody war, place the old and infirm in harm’s way, or result in states having the right to teach discrimination or religious superiority in public schools. Casting such a vote, or encouraging it from the pulpit would surly bring condemnation from any God that I might recognize.
    As to love of neighbor, I am reminded that Jesus, not having a ladle or bucket, asked the Samaritan woman to allow him to drink from the well. They technically weren’t supposed to get along. Life is like that; people of opposing beliefs tend to become increasingly hostile till they begin strapping dynamite and… Anyway, Jesus and the Samaritan woman became friends, he drank from the well, she introduced him to people, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

  • Winston Apple

    Baronius (#17),

    Really? You thought the article was about the Huckabee ad? Did you notice I referenced two books? I did read (and re-read parts of) both of them. I also referenced a brief quote from the Huckabee ad and identified the source.

    I will plead guilty, however, to not watching attack ads. I avoid them like the plague. I also avoid books that are nothing more than print versions of attack ads.

    The books I referenced are well-written and thought-provoking. I believe the quality of our government would improve if more voters did a little serious reading and fewer voted based primarily info gathered from attack ads or “fair and balanced” sources like Faux News.

    I’m just taking a shabby swing for the fences here, since I have not done, or seen, any research into the matter, but I’m guessing the vast majority of people casting votes in this election haven’t read a serious, non-fiction book, related to the issues we face as a nation, in a good long while (if ever).

    That, in my opinion, is one reason we keep electing corporate flunkies to a dysfunctional, do-nothing Congress. Too many of our elected representatives are nothing more than the winners of a very expensive mud-slinging contest.

  • Baronius

    I’ve written about Frank before. He points to some interesting facts but then plugs them into a paradigm that’s so superficial that it requires shadowy agendas just to explain common human behavior.

  • Igor

    Of course the republicans have held back on their usual attack-dog attitude towards odd religions in order to favor their choice, Romney. They had no such courtesy toward religion 4 years ago.

    But nothing is as close to communism as mormonism, in America. If Romney were a democrat you can bet that republicans would be shredding him and his beliefs.

    Mormonism is the American collectivism, as anyone who’s known mormons would be aware. They take orders from a monolithic authority structure, just like the commies. They join together in a rigid militaristic society against outsiders.

    Mormonism is a good preparation for communism and it’s autocratic rule and careless disregard for citizens.

    Watch out what you ask for, republicans, you just might get it.

  • Clavos

    They join together in a rigid militaristic society against outsiders.

    Mostly because they have been mercilessly persecuted, starting with the assassination of Joseph Smith, and I say that as an atheist who would not be unhappy if all religions were eliminated from the world (the concepts, not their practitioners).

  • Igor

    Stop prattling about your personal beliefs, Clavos. Nobody cares! It does NOT improve your argument to confess that you are a traitor to your beliefs.

  • Clavos

    Stop prattling about your personal beliefs, Clavos. Nobody cares!

    If nobody cares, there’s no reason for me to stop, so I guess I won’t Igor. Get over it. Better yet, ignore me.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    What’s tragically funny is that the oh-so-Christian protestants that are so influential within the Republican party – and had for so many years condemned Mormonism as a heretical cult – suddenly turned on a fellow protestant – Obama – and those who didn’t call him ‘Muslim’ found other excuses to choose the Mormon over him. One protestant church in Texas came right out and said it on their sign – “Choose the Mormon, not the Muslim”.

    So means that many – and perhaps most – protestants in the Republican party (including their leading lights like Huckabee and Pat Buchanan) decided that partisan politics were more important than religious beliefs.

    Now those Republicans who are atheist or agnostic – or Mormon – are understandably happy about this and have no problem with it ethically or otherwise…but for most people who are strongly religious, to see much of an entire party choose political partisanship over what they would normally believe concerned the salvation of our very souls…the sheer hypocrisy is beyond description. There are no words to describe the level of hypocrisy.

    Bear in mind that I say this as someone who rejects protestantism, Catholicism, and Mormonism, who believes that very few in either party is in the true Church. But having been a protestant for so long, it’s obvious to me what their choice should have been, if Republican protestants were half as serious about ‘Christianity’ as they claim to be.

  • Zingzing

    Clavos Lemon and Igor Matthau.

  • Igor

    The christian church has been reduced to an arm of the republican party.

  • Clavos

    politics were more important than religious beliefs.

    Everything is more important than religious fairy tales.

    zing, it’s Lemmon…please.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    zing –

    Clavos Lemon and Igor Matthau.

    LOL! Brilliant!

    Igor –

    The christian church has been reduced to an arm of the republican party.

    Actually, for the time being the GOP has been largely reduced to being an arm for the ‘Christian’ church.

  • Igor

    Maybe so.

  • Winston Apple

    Glenn and Igor, regarding your (Glenn’s) comment (#29) in response to Igor’s comment:

    (Spoken with a British accent): Let’s just (h)ope we can stay out of arms way.