Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Religion in Politics

At a church forum on Ethics and Human Sexuality, I was asked if I thought religion should stay out of politics. Much as I wish religious zealots and organizations were barred from imposing their man made ideas and truisms on society, the reality is they can't and they shouldn't. The beauty of a democracy like ours is in its ability to absorb a wide range of opinions and interests. Individuals and groups are free to jostle for time and space in the public square to air their grievances or agendas with the hope of influencing others, particularly elected officials and other policymakers (who themselves bring their values and beliefs to the discourse), and ultimately determining laws, policies and institutions that regulate our lives. The strength of our democracy is in the possible consensus that comes out of the process. And if not consensus at least agreement among most. And at the very least, extremes are avoided. Most of the time.

However, a good question is whether politics should stay out of religion or not. Again, it can't be extracted from religion, that is, religious organizations. As with any other human collective, there is struggle for power and control within these groups. Concurrently, each one has to ensure its place and further its interests in wider society. An excellent example is the Anglican Communion and its figure head, Rowan Williams, whom we were discussing during the forum. For those familiar with the ongoing drama within this coalition of national churches, conservative forces from the global South are trying to establish dominance and wrestle control from progressive factions concentrated in North America and Europe. As the third largest Christian communion following the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, the outcome of this not so cosmic battle is of interest to many religious believers.

So Religion, that is, very human mortals and associations that argue from a "higher" authority, can not and should not be locked out of the commons. And politics can not be denied by the religious. Politics permeates society. The challenge, I think, is to have civilized discourse and fair policies and institutions guided by reason with the good of both the individual and society in mind.

Image by Jessica Honikman in Heeb Magazine.

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