Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Campaign ’08 Lessons on Religion and Politics

Melissa Rogers summarizes what the U.S. presidential campaign has taught us so far about religion and politics in the U.S. today.  She lists 6 major lessons, some of them very painfully learned. Click to her site and discuss.

Myself, I hope that one major lesson that pastors learn is refuse to endorse political candidates. I hope the media learns that membership in a church does NOT equal agreement with all a pastor’s views and that attempts to cull through sermons for “gotcha” material on a candidate (unless that candidate has actively sought an endorsement) hurts the church and other members. I hope candidates learn that, although seeking the support of people of faith because one shares many of their moral views and wants to try to forge public policies that reflect those moral concerns (while also respecting church-state separation and our pluralistic society) is perfectly legitimate, one should not actively seek out personal endorsements of particular faith leaders.

Here are some other things Melissa didn’t mention that we have learned if we didn’t already know them:

One can smear a candidate by spreading the false rumor that he is a “secret Muslim.” To the detriment of U.S. citizens of Islamic faith, and to the detriment of our foreign relations with Muslim-majority nations, it has become painfully obvious that the public widely equates “Muslim” with “terrorist,” and that at least one political party (and a campaign in another?) is prepared to exploit that fear and ignorance rather than work to correct it.

The (white) media have zero grasp of liberation theologies, especially Black Liberation Theology, and most have little or no grasp of the dynamics of a black church.

Although members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) share many moral values in common with conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics, the majority of those evangelicals and Catholics who vote Republican still think of Mormonism as a cult and will not vote for a Mormon for president.

Despite the fact that both major Democratic Party candidates showed up at Messiah College in PA for a Faith and Compassion forum hosted by CNN (which was very intelligent and informative, much so than the Democratic “debate” a few days later), and the GOP candidate boycotted it, a plurality of white evangelicals still seem poised to vote for GOP candidate as “more Christian.” (I don’t understand this, but I didn’t understand the evangelical abandonment in 1980 of a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher who tried to let his faith influence public policy on many issues for a divorced Hollywood actor who drank like a fish, almost never attended church, and whose knowledge of Christianity seemed limited to reading Hal Lindsey!)

June 2, 2008 - Posted by | church-state separation, U.S. politics


  1. Good thoughts, Michael. I am glad I have found your blog! Your final parenthetical comment made me think. If you factored out the religious identification of these “evangelicals” who abandoned Carter for Reagan and these who support McCain, would that change anything? Could you explain their political commitments totally on other grounds?

    If so, might that underscore what a small role the message of Jesus plays for most American “evangelical Christians” (or maybe what a small role the message of Jesus plays for the Christianity of such “evangelicals”)? I don’t mean at all to equate the way of Jesus with Carter or Obama, rather merely to imply that the politics of Reagan and McCain are especially in tension with Jesus’ message.

    Comment by Ted Grimsrud | June 2, 2008

  2. Ted, thanks for stopping by! I have long admired your work.

    I certainly agree that neither Carter nor Obama line up perfectly with Jesus (who does?). Neither is a pacifist and both still accept too much of corporate capitalism, for instance. But, you’re right, they are far closer to Jesus’ kingdom views than Reagan, Bush 1 & 2, or McCain–especially in foreign policy and in compassion for the poor.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 3, 2008

  3. Mormons are not Creedal Christians. However, they do believe in the Jesus Christ of the New Testament:

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is often accused by Evangelical pastors of not believing in Christ and, therefore, not being a Christian religion. This article http://mormonsarechristian.blogspot.com/ helps to clarify such misconceptions by examining early Christianity’s comprehension of baptism, the Godhead, the deity of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.

    The Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) adheres more closely to First Century Christianity and the New Testament than any other denomination. For example, Harper’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Trinity says “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.”

    One Baptist blogger stated “99 percent of the members of his Baptist church believe in the Mormon (and Early Christian) view of the Trinity. It is the preachers who insist on the Nicene Creed definition.” It seems to me the reason the pastors denigrate the Church of Jesus Christ (LDS) is to protect their flock (and their livelihood).

    Further reading; http://jesuschrist.lds.org/SonOfGod/eng/

    Comment by Mormons Are Christian | June 3, 2008

  4. Reagan drank like a fish?

    Comment by James Pate | June 3, 2008

  5. James, I didn’t live in the White House, but all through the early ’80s, all I heard about was how much booze Reagan brought back to the white house.

    Mormon, I am only saying that the majority of evangelicals do not consider Mormons to be Christians. I think there are several deviations from New Testament orthodoxy, but I would say that about many others. I don’t think that should have much to do with presidential qualifications, but apparently enough of the country disagreed, even among Republicans, that Romney could not win. And evangelicals said his faith was a major reason.

    Considering that many people believe even worse things about Muslims and then believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, this intolerance could prove a big obstacle for his own presidential hopes.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 3, 2008

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