Monday, February 19, 2007

Mixing Religion and Politics

A while ago I split my blog into three bits, so that each of them would be a bit more consistent in its subject matter. I’ve noticed that with the divide, this particular part seems to be a mix of religion and politics. I was wondering if I should separate it still further - but I’m not going to. Religion and politics – it’s a potent combination.

There was a time when the general consensus was that the two should be kept separate. For too long the Church of England in particular was happy to oblige. It worked hard to make itself irrelevant by staying out of mainstream politics – the things that really matter to people – and only commenting on fringe issues (like Sunday trading). Not for nothing was it known as “The Conservative Party at prayer.”

A lot of other churches did the same. This lead to a stupid situation where Christians who on the surface claimed to believe in the bible nonetheless contrived to ignore most of what it has to say about social issues (i.e. anything that could be classed as “politics”). The problem still besets large parts of America – including a lot of the people who were duped into voting for GW Bush.

But things are changing. Politics and religion are coming closer together. I’m not just thinking about 9/11 or the Middle East; of the six candidates for Channel 4’s most inspiring political figure of 2007, three were described as devout Christians, and a fourth was a Muslim woman. (The other two were career politicians).

The Church of England, too, is getting more involved in politics. I was thrilled to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury speak out against the Iraq war; our own Bishop of Warwick was a lead speaker in the big local anti-war rally; and the Bishop of Liverpool has made some wonderful (political) suggestions on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day. Best of all is the new Archbishop of York, who always seems to be on the news, and always has something perceptive and Christ-like to say.

I can understand why secular politicians want to keep religion out of their domain. You can’t argue or compromise with someone who knows they are absolutely right because God Himself has told them so. People who don’t like the mixture point to the tea-towel-wearing terrorists of the Middle East. I don’t like what these people stand for either. But separate religion from politics and you lose the likes of Gandhi, Wilberforce, or Martin Luther King. “Keep religion out of politics” is merely the clamour of the secular trying to enforce their values (or lack thereof) on the political sphere to the exclusion of everyone else’s.

I personally think the increasing linking of faith and politics is a good thing for both sides. At best, mixing religion with politics makes our faith more “real” and our politics more principled. At worst … but the problem there is not the mix; it’s simply the wrong kind of religion.


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