Faith and politics


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Faith, at its best, has always served to move society forward.

In a broken and fallen world, faith and religion can serve as a moral compass that speaks out against injustice and inequity. The civil-rights movement is but one of many examples.

There were prayers and hymns sung before, during, and after the marches and the sit-ins. The rhetoric in many of the speeches that are lionized today were infused with Biblical scriptures and principles. It would be hard to imagine King’s “I Have a Dream” speech without references to “all of God’s children.”

Faith wasn’t an activity to engage in only on Sundays, but it compelled and inspired so many to change the world. So it’s fitting that the one-year anniversary in Iowa of legalized same-sex marriage and religious holidays such as Easter and Passover are occurring within the same week.

Sadly, many of the arguments that same-sex marriage opponents advance are made on religious grounds. We hear opposition most often from Christians, although other religions oppose same-sex marriage as well.

Fundamentally, Christians who oppose same-sex marriage believe that it defies the natural ordering of God. They’ll point to specific references in the Bible to validate their claims. It is their belief that the Bible is the literal word of God — indisputably and irrefutably true.

But there has always been a different ethic in Christianity that is shared by several faiths. It’s an ethic that is concerned with grace, inclusion, and justice (sorry, Glenn Beck). It is an ethic that does not rely on a literal translation of the Bible to inform contemporary values. Rather, it seeks to understand a changing world through the narrative of Jesus’ ministry to the downtrodden and marginalized.

It is the ethic that motivates people of all faith backgrounds to support marriage equality. And my suspicion is that in one way or another, this religious ethic is shared by young people who consider themselves people of faith.

I’ve been writing from a Judeo-Christian perspective because it’s most often conservative Christians who are loudest in the political sphere. But believer and nonbeliever alike can probably share my frustration with the Pat Buchanans of the world or, more locally, organizations such as the Iowa Family Policy Organization.

Individuals and organizations like these oppose marriage equality because they believe their God tells them so. For far too long, their voices have been the loudest and their efforts have been the most effective.

At times, it has gotten so bad that even liberal or progressive political candidates have felt the need to acquiesce to religious conservatives on such issues as marriage equality. But the framing of religion — or more specifically, Christianity as inherently conservative — is increasingly passé.

There is still a need for religion that is concerned with the common good. Faith can still speak to the great issues of our day. It can still morally convict and compel us to fight racism and sexism.

In one way or another, most people have some sort of religious background or rely on their religious beliefs to inform their worldview. Those who do shouldn’t be afraid to use those values when exerting their human agency.

Nor should we allow a few voices to dominate the discourse.

We have a long history of using faith to animate the better nature of our humanity — abolition of slavery, civil rights, apartheid, marriage equality, etc. And we shouldn’t forget it now.

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