Politics and Religion

Connecting Inner and Outer Worlds
Sunday, July 8, 2018

Go down to the palace of the king and declare, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” —Jeremiah 22:1, 3
The primary role of religion and spirituality is to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word religio. The Greek word polis—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together. Why have religion and politics become so antagonistic when they have similar goals?

The Hebrew prophets and Jesus clearly modeled engagement with both faith and the public forum. However, unlike its Jewish forbears, in its first two thousand years Christianity has kept its morality mostly private, personal, and heaven-bound with very few direct implications for our collective economic, social, or political life. Politics and religion remained in two different realms, unless religion was uniting with empires. Christianity looked to Rome and Constantinople for imperial protection; little did we realize the price we would eventually pay for such a compromise with Gospel values.

“Separation of church and state” is important to safeguard freedom of religion and ensure that governments are not dominated by a single religion’s interests. But that does not mean people of faith should not participate in politics. Today many believe that “inner work” is the purview of spirituality and that we should leave the “outer world” to politicians, scientists, businesses, and workers. Most of the negative feedback I receive is “Don’t get political!” Yet how can I read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.

Like it or not, politics (civic engagement) is one of our primary means of addressing poverty and other justice issues. I am not talking about partisan politics here, but simply connecting the inner world with the outer world. As a result of our dualistic thinking, the word “partisan” has come to be synonymous with the word “political.” And so many church-goers do not want to hear the Gospel preached—as it might sound political!

To be a faith leader is to connect the inner and outer worlds. In the United States’ not-so-distant-past, Christians were at the forefront of political and justice movements to abolish slavery, support women’s suffrage, protect civil rights, and establish and maintain Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Today I am encouraged to see many of my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brothers and sisters actively engaged with the political realm, speaking truth to power, and holding our political leaders accountable. Being political is a basic civic, human, and spiritual duty!

The author: Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. His newest book is The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (with Mike Morrell).

Fr. Richard is academic Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. Drawing upon Christianity’s place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings.

oOo

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