I have heard it said that it is not a good thing to mix religion with politics. The only problem with that is its impossibility. We may mean different things when we say it but, upon reflection, we know the two are inextricably locked together. What I attempt to do personally is not allow party politics to drive the bus. This will, at some point, confuse most people about where I stand on some things.
For example, if I say that I am pro-this or anti-that, party political types will lump in a bunch of other unrelated planks and assume I stand on the same platform. This occasionally leads to someone saying, “I thought you were on our side.” It can be a prickly life. There will certainly be people who strongly disagree, but it is impossible to keep religion and politics separated. Our constitution forbids government from state-supporting religion, which is not the same thing.
For the last three months we have been in a crisis. The crisis has been made worse by confusing (and occasionally contradictory) information being given. It has been made worse because the United States is a huge land mass and vastly different in population density and temperament from place to place.
And into this tension and anxiety we throw in another high-profile death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer. As with the COVID19 crisis, one’s personal thoughts and feelings are somewhat irrelevant. The nation has convulsed again toward an all-out seizure.
We are in a bad spot right now with self-interested leadership on every side. Too many of our religious leaders have aligned with party-politics for photo ops benefitting their ministry or campaign. A complicit media fans the flames for the sake of ratings. Social media posts “gotcha” memes that cement confirmation bias firmly into our souls. There seems almost nowhere we can turn to for help. What we will find is more of the same.
It will take us a while to dig out of this mess. Even when these crises have passed, we will simply lurch to the next one unless we educate ourselves. We are reaping the fruit of ignoring the liberal arts in education. It has not been eliminated, but it has greatly diminished.
How do we make bad situations worse? We fail to teach critical thinking skills. We ignore religious education. Yes, that would include world religions other than Christianity and Judaism. We fail to have honest, ethical discussions in our history classes — that is classes, plural. We graduate children who do not know anything about how our government is supposed to work. We fail to teach social skills and the value of respectful dialogue. This is not our teachers’ fault. It is ours for allowing students to fail without consequence. Teachers do not make the rules.
Thomas Jefferson was a believer in “the people” so long as they were educated and informed. He said, “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Even with all of this, I am not pessimistic. I remain ever hopeful that people with reasoned voices and arguments will eventually win the day. However, I am not at all certain what the journey from here to there will look like.
These are good days to hear again the prophet Hosea. This is directed at the leaders and it remarkably contemporary.
There is no faithfulness or kindness,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing
adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field,
and the birds of the air;
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
They feed on the sin of my people;
they are greedy for their iniquity.
For lack of knowledge my people perish.
And as an encouragement, this from Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved,
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at email@example.com.