As a Baptist in what I consider the true historical sense, I want the state and religion to be separate.
I don’t want the government interfering with what anyone believes or practices in my or anyone else’s faith-based tradition. Further, I don’t want the government endorsing, legislating or otherwise prescribing some political leader’s belief or moral scruples.
Nevertheless, many leaders baptize politics and policies with their brand of religion. Yet, I am puzzled by what some state and federal policymakers prioritize and sometimes expressly or implicitly peddle as Christian or otherwise godly. If this was my only exposure to Christianity or any other religion, I would run the other way and never darken the door of any house of worship.
For example, I think some issues have nothing whatsoever to do with authentic Christianity: biologically policing who goes to what bathroom; construing the Second Amendment so that most anyone can carry a gun almost anywhere; walling our borders to keep people out who are different; and cutting off poor and other disadvantaged people from adequate health care.
Further, anything rooted in or expressed in violence, hatred, or exclusivity is not remotely Christian. Neither is extremism in most any form or expression — to the political right or left.
So, if they must, how might religion and politics possibly intertwine? The same way authentic faith expressions relate to day-to-day life in any context: in qualitative action. About 2,000 years ago in Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he implored his readers to immerse themselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience — and to let peace rule. Further, he suggested they prioritize love above everything else. How about that for a blueprint?
In Jewish tradition — some 800 years before Paul outlined these true faith-related characteristics — God sent the prophet Amos to the northern kingdom of Israel. Amos arrived at a time of national military strength, prosperity and thriving religious institutions, which most interpreted as signs of God’s favor. In contrast, Amos bravely told them God’s concerns are caring for the poor and exercising justice and righteousness. The prophet Micah spoke to the southern kingdom of Judah about the same time. He similarly highlighted a purity of religious expression. Micah announced what God really cares about: doing justice, loving kindness and living with humility.
Amos, Micah and Paul were not liberals from California — as if there is anything wrong with that. Instead, they are part of the fabric of Judeo-Christian faith traditions.
What if our state and national leaders who claim to be Christian — or tied to another faith tradition — stopped talking so much about it, claiming that God is on their side — as if God takes sides — and demonizing others who disagree?
Instead, if religion is going to influence politics and leadership, using some measure of what Amos, Micah, and Paul suggested long ago is a good plan. Truly exercising compassion, kindness, patience and peacefulness toward all constituents and colleagues — including those across the aisles — serves everyone in our state and country quite well.
Actualizing such priorities in a spirit of humility would be special in any session. Even a few meaningful steps in that direction would be nice — whether one grounds it in religion, civility or simply public service.
Shelton is an environmental attorney in Austin and teaches at Baylor Law School.