Does One Party Speak for God?
5/2/2005

Who speaks for God in the highly charged American battleground over religion and politics?

Apparently,
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, thinks he does. And Tony Perkins,
of the Family Research Council, thinks that he does too. So too do
Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson and Southern Baptist leader Albert
Mohler. They planned the "Justice Sunday" telecast from a mega-church
in Kentucky last weekend, with the message that those who don't support
the president's judicial nominees are hostile to "people of faith."

Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist also thinks he speaks for God. Frist joined
leaders of the Religious Right by video to get political support for
his effort to end the long-standing Senate practice known as the
filibuster -- originally designed to delay a vote on the most
controversial issues in order to protect strong minorities from being
overrun by thin majorities. The GOP leader and the others claim the
Democrats' use of the filibuster to delay the vote on a small number of
very conservative judges is "a filibuster against people of faith."

Despite
the fact that nobody has yet found references to the filibuster in the
Bible, the Republicans and their religious allies are saying God is on
their side. Despite the fact that the judges in question are being
opposed for their views on a variety of subjects -- civil rights,
worker rights, environmental protections, tax policy, political
representation, voting procedures -- conservative leaders have again
singled out abortion and gay marriage as their litmus tests. Despite
the fact that many Democrats who oppose some of President Bush's
nominees (on many grounds) are themselves people of faith (some even
Evangelical Christians), the Republicans and their religious supporters
are questioning the faith and religious integrity of their opponents.
As Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, a deeply committed
Evangelical Christian, said recently on a talk show, "They're attacking
my faith, and my faith is my essence." Another Democratic senator told
me recently he and his wife finally left their evangelical mega-church
because of the widespread assumption in the congregation that
Christians simply could not be Democrats.

Sadly this is not new,
but it is a dramatic escalation of serious overstepping by the
Republicans and their Religious Right brethren when it comes to the
relationship between faith and politics. During the last election
campaign, both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson virtually said that
Christians could only vote for George W. Bush. Many other Christians
and people of faith responded by reminding America that "God is not a
Republican, or a Democrat." Then the Republican National Committee put
out lists of "duties" to local churches which included turning over
their congregational membership lists to Republican state campaign
offices. And the RNC sent postcards to voters in Arkansas and West
Virginia with images of a Bible being banned and a man putting a
wedding ring on another man -- warning that was what "liberal"
politicians planned to do.

Now the Religious Right says that
supporting the president's judicial nominations and policies is a
strict test of orthodoxy. That is an escalation of the
religious/political war. And the two together are starting to sound
like the assertions of a Republican theocracy.

Behind these
activities lies a fundamental assumption by top GOP operatives and
their conservative religious allies that they OWN religion in America.
They demand that religious people vote only one way -- their way. They
claim "values voters" in American belong to them and they disrespect
the faith of those who disagree with their agenda. There are better
words for this than politically divisive or morally irresponsible.
These are not merely political offenses, they are religious ones. For
such offenses, theological terms are better -- like idolatry and
blasphemy.

Where is Abraham Lincoln when we need him, warning us
not to claim to have God on our side, but to worry and pray earnestly
that we be on God's side? We are faced with bad choices -- one party
believes they have God in their pocket and the other one shrinks in
fear from even using the "G word." Both of those realities need to be
changed.

But religion must be disciplined by democracy. That
means bringing our religious convictions about all moral issues to the
public square -- the uplifting of the poor, the protection of the
environment, the ethics of war, or the tragic number of abortions in
America without attacking the sincerity of other's people's faith or
demanding we should win because we are religious. Rather, we must make
moral arguments and mobilize effective movements for social change that
can powerfully persuade our fellow citizens, religious or not, about
what is best for the common good.

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Jim Wallis is the author of "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It".