Dividing the politician’s religious views and issues misses the point

There’s been a lot of talk this election about Faith and Politics. Is Barack Obama really a secret Muslim? Does Sarah Palin really believe she was sent by God to the governorship of Alaska? And what about Sen. John McCain? Is he a Baptist or an Episcopalian?

But for some reason the dialogue has been careful to place faith as a separate political issue along with the econom and foreign policy.

This trend seems counterintuitive to me. Why should we care about any part of a politician’s spiritual life other than how it interacts with their political views and decisions? Faith is a personal matter, but lately it’s become so tied up with politics that a candidate’s religious views must be put under scrutiny by the entire nation.

I think that the blame for the politicization of our faith rests squarely on the shoulders of the so-called “religious right,” a relatively small but extremely vocal group of political conservatives who realized they could reach and inspire more voters from the pulpit than from Washington.

By being so vocal and so willing to challenge the faith of our representatives, the Religious Right has established itself as the one and only voice of faith in the world of politics. Republicans, therefore, must be Christians who believe in family values while Democrats, as we all know, are all secular humanist atheists.

It sounds preposterous to put it so bluntly, but this is the common perception. Meanwhile, a substantial group of liberal Christians continues to keep their religion and their politics at a distance, and is therefore perceived as nonexistent on the national stage.

But what does this all have to do with the current election? Sarah Palin is clearly affiliated with the first group, the conservative Christians who vote their faith, and McCain, by choosing her as a running mate, appears to be making a pledge to support that group, or at least to use their votes to get to the White House (despite that he has criticized them in the past, referring to Rev. Jerry Falwell and televangelist Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance”).

But the more interesting question to me is this: Is Barack Obama the a-religious humanist our stereotypes say he should be, or is his professed Christian faith real, placing him in the second, silent group?

Well the old camp song says it best: “We shall know they are Christians by their love.” Instead of delving deep into someone’s church-going history and interviewing their Sunday school teacher, we can look at a person’s political views and actions, and see how they line up with the tenets of Christianity. Not the imaginary verses in the Bible that prohibit abortion, nor the few trumped-up, misinterpreted and overemphasized verses that address homosexuality, but what most Christians look to as the key teachings of Jesus Christ: loving their neighbors as themselves, forgiving others and leaving their judgment in God’s hands, and turning the other cheek when struck.

Loving your neighbor as yourself, for a politician, would consist of a foreign policy that respected the lives of other nations’ citizens as much as the lives of our citizens. That would mean quickly ending a conflict that causes hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian deaths each month.

Leaving judgment to God, for a politician, might take the form of allowing people to live how they choose, with whomever they choose, and not lose any rights or government protection.

Turning the other cheek might mean telling your supporters that another candidate’s family is off-limits. It also might mean refusing to participate in negative campaign tactics, even when your opponent won’t stop unleashing these kinds of attacks on you.

Jesus said when you pray, do it in secret, so that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing. It’s clear he believed that the strongest faith isn’t always the most loudly professed.