Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry declared April 22-24, 2011 “Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.” Unfortunately for Texas, God did not grant rain and since that time Texas has suffered one of the worst droughts in its history. I’m just cynical enough to ask whether our country might be better served by someone who has a better track record when it comes to making God control the weather. Think of the next time a hurricane comes towards the U.S. coastline, don’t we want a president who can pray it away?
This is not the only time Perry has brought God into his political sphere—and by the way we’re not talking here about a general, civil religion, non-sectarian God, but rather Jesus Christ of the evangelical Protestant variety. Throughout his career, Jesus has been a part of his pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-regulation, pro-life agenda. At his August 6 Houston prayer rally, “The Response—a Call to Prayer for a Nation in Crisis,” Perry declared, “As a nation, we must call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles.” I guess American citizens who are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists should call upon Jesus too.
Critics of Perry’s prayer rally took issue with the sectarian and exclusive nature of the event being led by a governor who is charged with serving all the state’s citizens as well as the event’s participants which included the American Family Association. The AFA has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its denigration of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, Native Americans and other minority groups. By the way, did you know that the First Amendment applies only to Christians and therefore Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build mosques? I didn’t either, but according to AFA leaders it does and they can’t.
Of course, Perry is not the only presidential candidate who has Jesus in his or her pocket; Michelle Bachman also has Jesus guiding her politics. She has spoken about her legal education at Oral Roberts University where she learned a particular understanding of the role of government called “Christian Reconstructionism,” now popular among the Religious Right and among religious members of the Tea Party. Among this ideology’s tenets is a belief that God has set the proper role of government, a role which does not include things such as public education and any type of assistance to the poor. Instead, God desires a “Christian” government which is Libertarian in most ways, except when it comes to the enforcement of an evangelical Christian worldview. The government should stay out of your life except if you are a woman determining what happens in your own body, a gay or lesbian person who wants to marry someone of the same gender or a non-Christian who wants your government to represent you as well as evangelical Christians.
Lest anyone think I am partisan in my criticism of politicians using Jesus to promote their own ideologies and build their own power bases, I am equally as offended when Democrats drag Jesus in to their campaigns. (Anybody remember Barack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention? “We worship an "awesome God" in the Blue States . . .”) The Democrats, however, are usually so inept at invoking religion that they undermine themselves and spare people like me from having to criticize them. (Remember when Howard Dean said his favorite New Testament book was Job?) Be assured, however, that Bible verses can be quoted and Jesus’ name invoked to support any part of the Democratic agenda too.
As the presidential campaign season heats up, will you vote for the Republican God or the Democratic God? Or. . . How about we take a step back and learn to view all religious claims made by politicians with a healthy dose of skepticism. As people of faith who know the disastrous history of mixing religion and politics, we should regard any politician’s use of Jesus for the cheap political ploy it is. Instead, we should look for leaders informed by their own particular faith but open to the beliefs of other faiths and even the beliefs of those who claim no faith. We should expect leaders who claim to be Christians to follow the teachings of Jesus that condemned acts of public piety geared towards public approval. As Americans, we should expect our leaders to guard the rights of all our nation’s citizens to practice their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) without interference from the government. We should reject politicians who use religion as a tool to demonize political opponents and who refuse to honor respectful religious dialogue between people of different points of view.
When God becomes a political talking point, all people of faith are worse off.
Grace and Peace,