A new organization has been formed to counter the activities of groups such as the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition. Calling themselves the Clergy Leadership Network, this new group plans to promote an agenda that is “expressly religious and expressly partisan.”
The first of part of this is a good idea. People of faith should be involved in the political process in a faithful and informed way. The problem is with the second part, the partisan part. The problem with buying into partisan political agendas is that it will eventually erode the quality of authentic faith.
A good example can be seen in Alabama’s recent Tax Reform initiative. No one disagrees that the state’s income tax structure is grossly unfair towards the poor. However, the Christian Coalition of Alabama opposed changing it because they are opposed to taxes as a matter of principle.
But where does that principle come from? From the Bible? From reasoned faith and theological reflection? No, that principle comes from the mantra of the Republican party–taxes are bad, government support of the poor is bad—real Christians do not support these things.
These views are not biblical; they come from political and economic philosophies and party platforms. However, as these political positions are marketed to people of faith by quasi-religious organizations, the ideas start to function as if they do come from the Bible. They begin to have the force of confessions of faith.
This politicization of the faith is deadly. The more faith groups adopt political visions as the source of their identity, the farther they will drift from their genuine calling and the source of their strength.
This can happen from the left or from the right of the political spectrum. The pottage of both parties is a meal that will not sustain us, and will most certainly distract us.
The remedy for this is not isolationism. People of faith need to be involved in politics—both as voters and candidates. What we must not do, however, is allow ourselves to be tricked into believing that any political or economic system can fulfill God’s will. So long as we remain in this world, we will be forced to cope with imperfect people and imperfect institutions.
But it is precisely here that faith communities can make a significant contribution. The church can function as the “soul of society.” As the soul of society we don’t seek to influence the outcome of an election in favor of one flawed party over another, instead we seek to influence the entire process so that it works properly. We can be the force that insists on an end to negative and pointless character attacks. We can be the force that ensures that real issues are thoroughly discussed, not spun and manipulated.
Perhaps our greatest contribution as the soul of society is to be a voice for those who have no voice. Politicians always have wealthy lobbyists whispering in their ears. But who lobbies for the poor and the downtrodden? Traditionally it has been communities of faith that have championed the cause of people politicians feel they can safely ignore.
If being the soul of society is what the Clergy Leadership Network has in mind, then I say God speed. If, however, they are just another group planning to use the faith for the agenda of some political party, no thanks. Been there, seen that.
James L. Evans is pastor of Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.