Be careful about putting God into politics!

I know divine politics is all the rage right now. I’ve read that a Democratic Party activist advised some politicians about expressing faith in their speeches. I keep hearing that presidential candidate Howard Dean can’t beat presidential candidate George Bush because he isn’t religious enough, which is a euphemism for Dean ain’t really Christian.

Since you probably will not stop this yammering about the need for the commander-in-chief to be the theologian-in-residence at The White House, consider three modest ideas:

1. If you insist on talking about using religion to win votes, remember what Jesus said.

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them,” he said. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.”

Jesus told his followers to avoid false faith. Like the Hebrew prophets, who said that God hated showy worship and desired plain justice, Jesus called for an authentic faith that loved neighbor, regardless one’s race, creed, gender, sexual orientation and economic class.

Talking religion to win votes is morally wrong.

2. If you are convinced that you need to copycat the Republican Party, know that they have a bunch of false messengers, and God hates false messengers.

God is not on their side just because a TV preacher and failed Republican Party presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who sells age-defying shakes, claims he is. God is not helping America to build an empire just because Dick Cheney, who demonstrates no churchmanship, sends out a Christmas card implying such. God did not take down a hedge of protection, allowing 9/11 to happen, because God hates America’s civil-rights laws, even though preacher Jerry Falwell said so. God did not change the name of the Grand Old Party to God’s Only Party, although the Southern Baptist Convention keeps acting like he did.

Don’t copy the Republican Party. Remember two wrongs never make a right.

3. If you believe Ed Kilgore, policy director for Democratic Leadership Council, then at least abandon his weak-tea faith. Skip his recommendation about using phrases like “God’s green earth” and “We honor our fathers and mothers by working for retirement security.” Yuk.

Serve a strong cup of coffee from the Hebrew prophets. When talking about corporate corruption at Enron or WorldCom, quote Amos: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan … who oppress the poor, who crush the needy … The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks.”

When speaking about pre-emptive war, then quote Isaiah: “Woe to those … who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel.”

When criticizing Fox News, quote Jesus: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Real faith belongs in politics. When real faith informs public policy, the poor hear good news about jobs and fair wages, not news about tax-breaks for the wealthiest Americans. When real faith influences foreign policy, leaders walk the second mile toward peace, away from fabricating reasons for war. When real faith shapes domestic policy, earth care becomes first priority, not corporate profits.

When real faith shapes politics, actions count more than words.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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