There’s been a lot of talk about the proper relationship between one’s personal faith and public policy. One presidential candidate refered to another as having a ‘phony theology’. A noted evangelist sought to determine who was a Christian and who wasn’t.
Such stories raise the question of whether one’s religious faith has any place in the public arena. Some think that one’s spiritual life should remain private. Others believe that God is personal but not private.
As a Christian, I believe my faith provides me with a moral foundation from which to view the world. To say this is full of risk, for my perspective is formed not only by my faith but by the broader cultural background that shaped me.
For me the question is: Am I taking a stand guided by my faith or my bias? Am I manipulating my faith to fit my own preconcieved point of view?
Jim Wallis in his book, ‘God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It’, writes:
“The place to begin to understand the politics of God is with the prophets. The prophets were truth tellers for God, who were concerned with seemingly secular topics – land, labor, capital, wages, debt, taxes, equity, fairness, courts, prisons, immigration, racism, social justice, war.”
These prophets (Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah etc. ) were advocates for the voiceless: Widows, orphans, the hungry, homeless, prisoners….Those refered to as ‘the least, the last, the lost’.
Jesus in his first public sermon, stood up in front of his home town synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the prisoner…..”
Then Jesus made the mistake of getting specific and saying that God’s blessings were for Israel’s enemies as well. They were horrified and tried to throw Jesus off a cliff….They didn’t like his ‘phony theology’.
Which brings us back to the initial question: How do we determine what is of God and what is simply political spin for our own purpose? How do we differentiate what is phony from faithful theology?
The answer is to read the Bible. Especially the prophets in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings and witness of Jesus in the Gospels. With humility we are to listen to what they say, consider the implications for their own times and for our time.
Finally, ask this question: If Isaiah or Jesus were facing the issues of our time ( 49 million of our neighbors without health insurance; national poverty rate at 15%; 21,000 children dying every day world-wide to treatable illness), what would Isaiah and Jesus have us say and do? What type of public policy would we vote for and work towards?
Cherry picking a few social issues, to the exclusion of the complex issues before us, won’t cut it. More than ever we need people rooted in the teachings and witness of Jesus and the prophets. There’s nothing ‘phony’ about that.