Everything is politicized these days — even death!

This obituary note appeared in the Houston Chronicle recently in the wake of William Thomasset’s death: “In lieu of flowers, Bill would be most honored and gratified by your vote for the Bush/Cheney ticket in November!”

Similarly, Joan Abbey’s family posted this in her Miami Herald obituary:

“You can honor Joan’s values by voting against George Bush and contributing to a liberal or Democratic cause.”

Politicians used to vehemently argue opposing points by day and visit as friends over “tea” at quitting time. They respected each other and trusted the intent of both to serve the common good. Nowadays, some talk as though our enemies are Americans across the aisle or across the street as much as those flying planes into buildings and killing Democrats and Republicans alike.

The matter gets more toxic when religion drives our politics, rather than merely informing them.

Mixing religion and politics without sparking a catalytic reaction requires a Ph.D. in chemistry and a Nobel Prize in diplomacy. We ought to try anyway, since the two cannot be separated.

Separation of church and state does not mean separation of God and government or religion and public life. It means the state cannot interfere with religious practices, except when those practices unfairly impinge upon the rights of others. The state must remain neutral toward religion — not hostile toward any or all religions, and not friendly toward one over another.

“Churches” (religious groups of any creed — synagogues, mosques, etc.) cannot organize themselves under tax-exempt status to support or oppose candidates, or to lobby for political parties in an attempt to control them. They may support or oppose positions, but must be careful not to claim divine sanction in public life that would undermine democratic processes.

Democrats have a hard time talking about God at all these days; Republicans have a hard time holding their tongues.

Democrats might echo biblical injunctions not to neglect the poor as religious wisdom properly cited. But caution still: Many Black churches have long violated good sense (if not the law of the land) by using pulpits to endorse candidates.

Republican Christians rightly draw moral convictions from their faith but need similar restraint. No party this side of heaven will perfectly represent the priorities of God. Abortion and homosexuality are not the only issues that ought to inform our politics.

Before claiming that God is on our side, we ought to ask whether we are on God’s side.


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