Wednesday, February 23, 2005

BuzzFlash Interviews Jim Wallis

Some good stuff from Brother Jim concerning the place of religion in politics.
But in the public square, religion has to be disciplined by democracy. That means you don’t enter the public square and say I’m religious so I ought to win. Or God has spoken to me directly and I have the fix for Social Security. You say my faith motivates me. It shapes my convictions or it compels me to act on behalf of the poor or peace or whatever.

But then you say, here is my best offering on this question, and I have to persuade my fellow citizens. I have to persuade them that what I think is best for the common good – not that it’s the best religious vision, but it’s best for all of us.

Martin Luther King had a wonderful vision of the beloved community, where everybody had a place at the table, and especially those who were left out and left behind had a front-row seat, you know? But then he said, now we need a civil rights law. And by 1964, he persuaded his fellow citizens and the Congress that this was good for the country. In 1965, we got the Voting Rights Act. So he had to persuade – he and all the civil rights religious leaders, they didn’t say, you know, this should happen because I’m a Baptist or because I’m a Jew. They said this is best for the country. So religion has to operate under the democratic discipline and argue what’s best for the common good.
These are the two ways of bringing God into public life. This is our American history. One is God on our side, and that leads to the worst things in politics. It leads to overconfidence and hubris – triumphalism – and often to bad foreign policy, often to wars, and in this case, now preemptive, unilateral war.

The other way about worrying – praying earnestly if we’re on God’s side – brings into politics the things that we're missing today, like humility and penitence and reflection, and even accountability.

Lincoln got it right. We don’t claim God’s blessing on our politics and policies. We don’t claim that God is on our side. We worry, we pray, we just always examine ourselves to see if we are on God’s side. And if Lincoln got it right, I think Martin Luther King did it best. With that Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other hand, he really didn’t pronounce, he persuaded. He didn’t shut people out; he invited everybody in to a moral discourse on politics. And he said we can do better. We can do better than this by our democratic values, by our religious values.

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