The Iowa Caucuses produced two winners who are very up front that they are people of faith.
Much has been made of the fact that Mike Huckabee is a Baptist minister and very much driven by his faith. However, Barack Obama is an equally devout Christian, a member of the United Church of Christ. They are both driven by faith and often their faith drives them in different directions. These two individuals are both, in many ways, very much representative of the much spoken about Religious Right and the rarely spoken about Religious Left.
I believe that both men are sincere about their faith journeys and offer the world a perspective that sincere people of faith can differ in where their faith takes them.
Faith does motivate politics. Very often what people take from their faith challenges them to do something in the public arena.
American history is filled with such instances.
The American Revolution, the desire for freedom, was preached in pulpits.
The issue of slavery saw pulpits in the north and the south speak of the same subject from opposite perspectives. Many of said that if it wasn’t for the forceful anti-slavery preaching of the 1850's the Civil War and the end of slavery might not have come about. (It’s ironic to note that the preaching helped bring about a war...a bad thing...that ended with no slavery in the nation...a good thing.)
Racial justice was a hot button issue in churches. Take note that many civil rights leaders were clergy. Protestations on the war in Vietnam also had foundations in many churches.
Interestingly enough in each instance there was sharp disagreement amongst the churches. Churches in our past have not all had the same message and that trend or tradition continues.
I do believe that faith does drive politics but it is not as clear or as easy as it is often made out to be. For Christians, Jesus did not make this subject particularly easy.
One of my favorite writers was a Roman Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen. Nouwen combined deep spirituality with great intelligence and wrote some incredibly beautiful books. In his magnificent, The Wounded Healer, he said this about Jesus:
"Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for nuclear man the way to liberation and freedom."
Let me break this down a bit.
“Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself.”
Jesus was not a status quo kind of guy. He was a revolutionary in the fact that he spoke of the Kingdom of God as opposed to the Kingdom of Israel or the Kingdom of Rome. He wasn’t interested in earthly kingdoms and this was revolutionary. It still is actually.
But part of what made Jesus unique was that he was not an extremist because, as Nouwen said so well, he offered no ideology.
I find myself more and more offended by people who use the words liberal and conservative in regards to Christianity. The words are never used in the Bible and, frankly, give people an out from thinking through things. Over the years I’ve had to be entertained by far too many fools trying to convince me that the words are important. All they manage to do is to look more ignorant and to make the point that people are often too lazy to grapple with issues in a complex manner. (As an aside, I’d love to see the word MORON pop up every time a Presidential candidate uses either word. It might actually force them to use their brains instead of slogans...)
Ideologies are paths to things. Jesus had no ideology. He saw himself as the path. When preachers preach ideologies, they are not preaching Jesus.
Nouwen goes on to say:
He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for nuclear man the way to liberation and freedom."
Jesus walked head-long into the social ills of his day. He associated with the poorest of the poor, the prostitutes, the users of prostitutes, tax collectors, and the sickest of the sick. Those who were sick were classified as ‘cursed by God’ for their sins and so his association with them made him a rather large target for his critics.
In ancient times there was a premise of honor and shame. If you ever watched the movie, Gladiator, it pointed this out a great deal. Jesus sought no honor, had no shame, but was actually shameless. He saw himself as a servant leader, as a person who was shocking to the world he lived in. His execution was the only way the culture he lived in could comprehend.
When political leaders are actually willing to HUMBLY address the issues of the day, and truly see themselves as the servants of the people, then we are encountering a person of great faith. That’s the person I’m interested in seeing. Sadly, I doubt I’ll see such an individual in my lifetime.