Politicizing God

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Whatever their conception of God, politicians seem ever intent on convincing others that he is on their side. For if God is with them, their principles, policies, and practices must be right, and their competitors’ must be wrong.

In the ongoing immigration debate, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the practice of separating immigrant families at the border by invoking St. Paul’s instruction to submit to the governing authorities (and their laws). To which, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “Jesus said ‘Suffer the little children unto me.’ He did not say ‘let the children suffer.’”

Back at the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions, both groups made a point to “put” God in their platforms. Given that the vast majority of people still believe in God, it’s a sure strategy. Notably, the Dems took God out before putting him back in amid howls of protest for his modest re-insertion.

The conventions also called on Cardinal Timothy Dolan to deliver their closing benedictions. Predictably, the Cardinal’s prayer, which included pro-life and natural marriage messages, received resounding “Amens” at the RNC and a tepid response at the DNC.

Other speakers closed their remarks with divine codas such as, “Providence is with us,” “God bless you,” or “God bless our nation” as if there were nothing about their Party, their platform, or “their” nation for which God should not bestow favor.

But let’s be clear: “God” is either a Person who informs priorities, policies, and practices, or a three-letter filler in our airways. Considering the warning in the Decalogue against using the Lord’s name in vain, enthusiasts of both parties would be wise to be more thoughtful about their God-talk.

I’ve personally known people who have emphatically stated that a person can’t be a Democrat and a Christian. Such sentiments ignore the fact that there are Dems (albeit few, and getting fewer) who are fiscally liberal but socially conservative, like the Democrats for Life.

At the same time, there are Republicans who are fiscally conservative but socially liberal—Rudy Giuliani comes to mind, a career politician who is both pro-choice and pro-gay “marriage”—making it clear that political affiliation alone, is no litmus for who is “in” and who is “out” of God’s favor.

Duty to the Poor
A few years back, liberal bloggers, imagining themselves tapped into the political leanings of the Godhead, circulated a depiction of Jesus with a child on his lap framed with the message,

It’s ironic because the biggest enemy of the Republicans isn’t Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, it’s THIS MAN… He said heal the sick, feed the hungry, care for the weakest among us, and always pray in private.

Putting it more candidly, “Jesus is against them and for us because we care for the poor and they don’t.”

In their moral calculus, the needs of the needy override every other issue. And this makes for the real irony of the post, given their Party’s unqualified support for abortion, namely the child sitting on Jesus’s lap—an irony also lost on Hillary Clinton in her tweet on immigration.

But the truth is, the GOP doesn’t care any less about the poor than does the Democratic Party. In fact, it could be argued that Republicans have a higher regard for the disadvantaged. The difference in the parties is their disagreement over to whom the primary duty to the poor belongs and how that duty is to be exercised.

Democrats believe that the state should be the primary provider of compassionate services. To be fair, state-run programs have benefited many individuals who either can’t work or who need temporary assistance. But they have also created a permanent underclass with the aid of bureaucrats, misery merchants, and career politicians who secure influence and power by keeping the downtrodden in their back pocket.

For their part, Republicans do not deny a role for government, especially in the case of severe (i.e., caused by natural disaster) or widespread (e.g., The Great Depression) need. But they believe that care for the needy is generally best handled at the local level by individuals and “mediating” institutions like churches, faith-based charities, civic groups, and other volunteer associations.

They reject programs that encourage a culture of idleness and dependence, in favor of those that help the able-bodied poor become employable and self-reliant so that they can have the dignity of earning a living and providing for their families.

In the Moral Balance
It bears mentioning that when Jesus taught about care for the least and last, he wasn’t speaking to citizens about the state’s public duty; he was speaking to individuals about their personal duty.

Once personal duty is usurped by the collective and enforced (rather than voluntary) through the power of taxation, it is easy for the individual to deem his burden fulfilled, then feel justified brushing off personal appeals in Scrooge-like fashion: “Aren’t the food stamp and child support programs operational? Medicaid is in full vigor, I trust.”

And yet we can all point to individual Democrats who out-give their Republican counterparts, as well as individual Republicans who make Scrooge look like a profligate do-gooder.

This underscores the recklessness of claiming God’s favor on folks of a particular brand. For God does not judge us by whether we are liberal or conservative, or whether our team colors are red or blue, but whether our team captain is him, and how faithful we are to his playbook. It is there, in his Word, that if we focus on policies rather than politics, we can know something about God’s point of view.

As revealed in Scripture, man is a special creation with the moral standing of free will. Thus, policies which most directly uphold the sanctity of human life and religious freedom are preeminent over all others. This doesn’t mean that national debt, environmental protection, and balanced budgets don’t have moral value; they do. Rather, it means that:

  • Saving one million children a year from the holocaust of abortion has a higher moral value than the reproductive “rights” of women.
  • Protecting free religious thought and exercise is more important than providing free contraceptives.
  • Liberating the poor from dependency and joblessness is morally superior to perpetuating the entitlement culture of the welfare state.
  • Protecting the rights of the aged, infirm, and unborn as “persons” is morally superior to advocating animal rights.
  • Fighting human-trafficking and religious persecution has a higher moral value than fighting global warming.
  • Protecting traditional marriage, which has been demonstrated to be the best structure for nurturing and caring for children, is more important than accommodating adult desires for free sexual expression.

Partisans in both camps suggest that theirs is the Party of God, or that you can’t be Christian unless you support immigration reforms, traditional marriage, affordable housing, reproductive justice, environmental controls, or balanced budgets. But, while each of these issues has a moral component, they do not have equal moral weight.

Instead, the moral significance of any social policy is determined by how profoundly it upholds our natural rights—that is, universal liberties that are not granted by the state but derived from God. These include, foremost, the right to life, and the rights of freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and religious expression.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is “Science and Charity” painted by Pablo Picasso in 1897.


Regis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. He is the author of Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.

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