Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Religion and Politics

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Panel Discussion Freedom Institute, April 26, 2007
Cobo Center Detroit, Michigan

Historically speaking, the Christian religion began as a kind of religious and political movement and has always utilized politics both within the infrastructure of religious institutions themselves and within the superstructure of secular society.

Religious faiths, structures and hierarchies often use politics as a means of wielding greater religious authority and hegemony in society and acquiring political power for its own means and ends within that society.

It is the nature of religious institutions to find coalescence and coexistence with the political order. Such cooperation ensures the long-term viability and mutuality of both entities.

The formation, development and perpetuation of religious institutions often parallel the formation, development and perpetuation of political institutions.

Politics often uses religion to establish moral and religious legitimacy among the masses. Religion uses politics to legitimize their use of political power in society.

Christianity historically has been a political religion. Jesus was crucified as a political subversive, and the resurrection of Jesus although theological had profound political ramifications for his followers, the people in general and society at large.

The tension between Jews and Romans was political and had much to do with whether Rome would respect the religious and spiritual sovereignty of the Jewish people as they lived out their faith within the context and shadows of Roman Imperial Authority. On the other hand, for all practical purposes there was some semblance of cooperation between Temple authorities and political authorities. Coexistence was not possible without some form of cooperation between politics and religion.

In another sense, the history of Christianity has been the history of demythologization and depoliticization of the Gospel. Attempts are thus made to sanitize biblical texts and blunt the realpolitik of the Gospels and Epistles. For example, contrary to some religious interpretation, the deification or exaltation of Jesus as Lord does not cancel out his prophetic concern and responsibilities in transforming unjust social structures in society. Many of the Epistles were written at the height of the persecutions, which were highly political movements seeking to abolish “The Way,” as a new spiritual-social movement.

Jewish religious history and Christian religious history have seen the emergence of various forms of theocracy and have sought to establish them as legitimate political systems.

In our current political climate, we have observed attempts by Republicans, Dominionists and right-wing Christians to theocracize America through various processes of politicization.

The problem in this process is how religion has prostituted and compromised its basic moral principles in the name of politics. Christianity, in an effort to insinuate itself into certain political aims and objectives, has undermined its basic moral authority due to the cherry picking, moral relativism permeating some aspects its religious faith. It is a relativism that condemns the murder of abortion while exempting murder in an unjust war. It is a moral relativism that condemns behavior of one political party while condoning the same behavior in its own political party. It is a pick and choose, subjective moral relativism that says, in the words of C. S. Lewis that “my neighbor has done something wrong because he is bad and I did something wrong because I didn’t get enough sleep.

The problem with religion and politics is the way in which politics compromises moral values and undermines religious authority because of the latter’s inability to speak objective religious and moral truth to political power.

Religion should never compromise or negate its ethics in the name of politics or sell out its prophetic birthright to call the people back to God in for political and social gain.

The truth is, “Religion is no longer real religion when seduced by politics. Religion loses spiritual and moral sovereignty and eventually becomes a whore. But politics is still politics even when wooed and seduced by religion. The challenge for religion is to support, enhance or transform politics and the social order without selling its soul to the devil.

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