Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Hazards of Political Ecumenism

Paul Ryan, in his acceptance speech as the vice-presidential nominee of the Republican Party chose to play the “religion card.” Speaking of his and Mr. Romney’s faith, he said: 

Mitt and I also go to different churches, but in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example, and I've been watching that example.  

He went on to declare:  

Our faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every life, there is goodness, for every person there is hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the lord of life. 

These statements reveal either a very shallow understanding of the two men’s faith communities or an attempt to meld, for political purposes, two faith communities that hold radically different creedal understandings. I suspect the statement is a blend of both; ignorance on the part of Ryan about his Catholic and Romney’s Mormon heritage, and a desire to placate a segment of the Republican Party that would like to be assured that they are not deserting their fundamentalist “creeds” by supporting those whom their forefathers labeled “Anti-Christ” in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, and “cultic” in the case of the Mormon Church.

I want to say very clearly that I do not believe either man’s religious affiliation disqualifies him to be President of the United States. Article VI of the U. S. Constitution declares, “. . . no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” So, until we see fit to amend our Constitution in a way that reserves the right to hold public office to people of certain faiths, it is the right of any natural born citizen, thirty-five years of age or older, who has resided in the U.S. for 14 years to run for the office of President.

Many of the people to whom I entrust my welfare – indeed my life – are people whose faith traditions are different than mine; doctors, nurses, policemen, mechanics, food servers, airline pilots . . . the list could go on and on. I feel no compulsion to assure myself that all those who hold in their hands the power to preserve my life or destroy it are Christians with the same “creedal understanding” that I have. I could wish that all people were followers of Jesus Christ, and worshipers of Yahweh God, but since that is not the case, and since it would create world-wide havoc to attempt to make it the case by any means other than persuasion, I accept the fact that there are millions of people whose faith differs from mine, but who, nonetheless, can look on me with kindness and work for my wellbeing.

Why is it, then, that so many feel they must, as Mr. Ryan attempted to do, show that, in matters of faith we are all pretty much alike? Is he also willing to say that Mr. Obama, though of a different political party, has essentially the same concern for the wellbeing of our nation? Indeed, is he willing (or are those fundamentalists who insist that all presidential candidates for their party be transformed into “born again evangelicals” willing) to declare that his and Mr. Obama’s faiths “come together in the same moral creed?”

Few of our founders would qualify for membership in a modern Christian fundamentalist church. Many of them were openly skeptical of key Christian doctrines held dear by “Bible believing Christians” of our day. Still, they served their nation admirably for the most part. They understood that religious divisions posed a great danger to the tranquility – perhaps even the success – of our nation. And so they insisted that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” They had faith that the American people, given the opportunity to assess the worth of a candidate, would see in him or her, the moral character – or lack of it – required to be a good leader. That moral character might come from a particular religious upbringing or belief system, or it might spring from an agnostic or even an atheistic background. In neither case should the source of one’s beliefs qualify or disqualify them for public office; only the beliefs themselves.

Mr. Ryan is wrong. His and Mr. Romney’s faiths do not “come together in the same moral creed.” Any theologian of either of their churches will tell you that. I would be at a loss to find  any of the creedal statements of the Christian Church that echo Mr. Ryan’s characterization of his and Mr. Romney’s common creed:  

. . . that in every life, there is goodness, for every person there is hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the lord of life. 

Further, as far as I can determine, the Mormon church is, like many evangelical and fundamentalist bodies, a non-creedal church. One Mormon contributor to the Millennial Star , a Mormon website expressed the Mormon position on creedal beliefs as follows: 

So, philosophy is not necessarily bad. Doing theology isn’t necessarily bad. Creating creeds and dogmas IS bad, as it nails the coffin shut on receiving any new light. (My emphasis.) 

So what is my point? Simply this. We live in a religiously diverse culture and nation. If we insist on blending our religious creeds and belief systems – declaring them to be no different in essentials from each other – for purposes as paltry as attracting votes to one candidate or another, we are “casting our pearls before swine,” selling our “pearl of great price” for a mere four (or eight) years of political power. No religion that takes itself seriously would do that. It would be an admission that they have no purpose in the world, that their “faith” is not a faith at all, but merely a convenient gathering point for people of no particular faith.

Let us elect our leaders on the basis of their integrity and ideas regardless of their religious affiliations. And let us continue to follow the dictates of our hearts, unalloyed and uncorrupted by political aspirations, honoring every man’s right to believe as he wishes until the sorting of creeds and doctrines is accomplished by the God whom we profess to serve.

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