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Hot-button issues can blur lines between politics, 'love thy neighbor'

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 20, 2008
— How would Jesus vote?

As a slogan, it’s not as catchy as, “What Would Jesus Do,” but in the highly politicized months leading up to the national election, both parties will be touting their responses to Christian issues.


Abortion, marriage, social justice, peace, care for the poor—all are moral issues that have galvanized Christians, and many believe that being active in politics is part of their duty to God.


But politics and politicians have the ability to divide, disappoint and distract believers from their faith lives.


Start arguing about how Jesus would vote, and you might find yourself sniping at your fellow churchgoers, forming factions and forgetting the whole “love your neighbor” thing.


So where’s the line between faith and politics?


How involved should Christians be?


Talking about the issues

“I think that it is important for us as Christians and as citizens to be active in politics,” said Peter Bakken, public policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Council of Churches. “We have the gift and the privilege of living in a democracy.


“From a Christian perspective, government and politics has to do with the ordering of society, the welfare of the most vulnerable and the care of creation.”


Federal tax laws prohibit churches from supporting particular candidates or political parties, but pastors can talk about the issues from a biblical perspective.


For the Rev. Michael Jackson of the New Life Assembly of God in Janesville, it’s about biblical truth, not politics.


“I know I have die-hard Democrats and die-hard Republicans in my congregation, and I love them all,” Jackson said.


He will, however, speak from the pulpit about issues such as abortion and marriage being between a man and a woman, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to tell anybody how to vote.


The Rev. Wes Bixby of First Congregational Church in Janesville pointed out that politics and faith long have been connected in American life. The Congregational Church traces its roots to early New England, where the white clapboard church also served as a town hall.


“From my perspective as a pastor, I want to help my congregation think about these issues,” Bixby said. “I want to help church members talk to each other when they don’t see eye to eye.”


Faith basics

The Rev. Jim Wallis, an Evangelical Christian and writer, repeatedly has said God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Most Christians would agree with this out loud, but they secretly believe that God is on their side.


“We do have a tendency to project our own values, attitudes and political identification on God,” Bakken said.


Locally, it’s hard to share the sign of peace with your pew mate when you’re contemptuous of their morality.


What then?


Go back to the faith basics.


“I think the danger of politics is not so much the degree of involvement, it’s the attitude we bring to it,” Bakken said.


That attitude should reflect “love one another,” the primary message of the New Testament, ministers said.


“It becomes extremely important to do within congregations—to be open to new ideas, to be open to the Scriptures and to be respectful of people you disagree with,” Bakken said.


Prayer, reading the scriptures and acknowledging that you might not have all the answers—all are part of being a member of the politically diverse faith community.


“We never know where the voice of God is coming from, so we ought to listen to each person,” Bixby said. “Sometimes our politics divide us, but that doesn’t mean that we break community.”


Jackson believes that the laity—the people in the pews—have the intelligence to navigate political battlefields.


“No doubt there are landmines,” Jackson said. “But I am strongly confident of the ability of the laity of New Life Assembly of God—and of other churches—to deal with them.


“I strongly encourage them to do what they can to make the world a better place.”



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