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Reflecting on faith and politics

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By Deb Conklin

On Saturday I attended FAVS Coffee Talk. The subject was politics and religion. It was an interesting conversation, and yet I found myself frustrated that we touched the surface of many issues, but it was not the right opportunity to go deeper. So I am offering some reflections on one part of that conversation, as an invitation to others to take the conversation deeper here.

As some of the panelists pointed out, we cannot (and should not) try to keep values out of politics. Politics will inevitably reflect values. How we vote, the laws legislators enact, the policies of any executive’s administration are, and always will be, based on the  values of the participants. For many of us, those values come from our religion. For some our values come from other sources such as philosophical discourse. In the political arena, all of those values contribute to the conversation. But that does not mean we enact our personal values, religious or other, into law.

The United States is explicitly pluralist under our founding document — the Constitution. Because of that, it is never appropriate to incorporate a value into our laws JUST because it is a value or law in the Koran, Torah, Bible, or other religious text. Our laws must be based on shared values. And the process of deciding which laws we have must involve a conversation between people who reflect the different religious views and different values which are part of the community.

Individually we can live by our own standards, as long as those standards do not violate our community norms and laws. But when we pass laws, we are choosing values that will be imposed on everyone. Hence, the laws need to reflect a consensus on shared values, not the unique values of any group or person.

One example of how this would work is the issue of abortion and how I approach the issue. I do not ‘believe in’ abortion. From the time I was old enough to understand sexuality, I was clear that I would never have an abortion. (With one possible exception. If my life were in jeopardy and there would be no possible way to give birth to a viable baby, I could have an abortion. An ectopic pregnancy would be an obvious example of this situation.) Yet I am also adamantly pro-choice. I vehemently support the right of each woman to make difficult decisions about pregnancy and abortion in consultation with, and supported by, those she needs. And I do not consider it my place to judge a woman for how she makes those choices.

The reason I am able to strongly hold these apparently conflicting positions is that I make a distinction between my personal values and standards, and those values that I believe should be enforced by the community in the form of government. We do not have any sort of consensus in the United States on “when life begins.” More importantly, we have no consensus around when an egg and a sperm (living cells, there for arguably “life” has begun”) become something human that is entitle to be protected by law. Because we have a pretty widespread consensus that by the third trimester a fetus is a ‘life’, we have widespread laws controlling / limiting abortions after the beginning of the third trimester. Before that point, those who believe that a fetus is human from conception, and hence, abortion is wrong, should not have one. Those who think abortion consists of eliminating a mass of rapidly duplicating cells from their body should not be penalized for doing so.

Everyone should give serious thought to which of MY values are shared widely enough to be imposed on everyone. And which should control only my own behavior. Because our culture has been so heavily influenced by the Abrahamic traditions, those of us who are Christian, Muslim, or Jew, should be particularly careful to clarify which values enjoy a community consensus, and which are unique to our own sub-culture.

Deb Conklin
Deb Conklin
Rev. Deb Conklin’s wheels are always turning. How can the church make the world a better place? How can it make Spokane better? Her passions are many, including social justice in the mainline tradition, emergence and the post-modern and missional church.

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Eric Blauer
9 years ago

Death to you if you don’t convert should be off the table for sure.

Tom Schmidt
Tom Schmidt
9 years ago

Well thought out, Deb. I thought the discussions were long on theory and shallow, barely damp, on content. You bring some content. In other words, I thought the talk was vacuous. A couple of the audience did mention core issues, and three of the panelists did lay the grounds for their consideration, but no one really talked about the issues. And we face them. I attribute this to the poverty of our culture as for spirituality. I follow the creation stories in Genesis that we have a covenant to care for the garden, which is interpreted as serving justice. I don’t see much covenant to get saved, or to get converts. The way we live, exploiting the creation and its inhabitants, including our neighbor, is obvious and terrible. no one mentioned it. Thus, my point about how the question of religion and politics involves not should they be mixed, but how, being aware of the serious problems of power differential.
Perhaps the reason for the lack of content is that we really, down deep, want to face the problems. We are the ones who benefit. Didn’t we look at our “white” and “Eurocentric” privilege recently. Did we learn anything? We have the power. are we willing to have that turned upside down, as Jesus tended to suggest we do? Not since the state took over the spirit.

Eric Blauer
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom Schmidt

Oh Tom, always the encourager.

spokanefavs
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom Schmidt

Sorry you felt that way Tom. Most of the audience seemed to disagree with you, based on the face-to-face comments we received.

Tom Schmidt
Tom Schmidt
9 years ago
Reply to  spokanefavs

You asked. And I talked to a couple who agreed with me. As, it seems, does Deb. And how do you know it is most?

Tom Schmidt
Tom Schmidt
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom Schmidt

Sorry, my computer garbled two corrections I made on reread. The last three sentences of the first paragraph should read “I don’t see much covenant getting served in the discussion. The way we live, exploiting … . No one mentioned it. Thus, my point about what the question involves is not, “Should they be mixed?”, but “How should they be mixed?”, being aware of the serious problems of power differential. And the sentence suggesting the lack of content left out a negative and should read “that we really …don’t want to face the problems” since with our privilege benefits us.
Sorry, I need to prof read after I revise. Live and learn.
We are discussing serious, life and death problems. Read articles in this weeks Inlander!!!! Notice who is speaking for whom, and what does that say about the effect of the power differential. But thank the god of argument, we have authorities.

Tom Schmidt
Tom Schmidt
9 years ago

OK, Eric and the anonymous person who puts my post down for not being part of the majority opinion. You all win. Now, I’d like to see some thought. After all, someone asked for it, and I respect them enough to not glad hand them. I think my suggestion that we need to have content that addresses current problems, not just metatheory in the Sat. Coffee discussions. We do, at times, need to consider the abstract background of a problem, but when real lives are at stake, we fail if we don’t concurrently and transparently consider the problem en res. I’m concerned that , in T.S. Elliot’s words, it becomes “rat’s feet over broken glass.” As Christians and people of faith we are facing a Waste Land, and have a responsibility to work for Justice, and where better than the alternative worship/learning sessions of SFAV? I think your two comments, well meaning and, Eric, good sarcasm, do not rise above a win/lose posture to the level of thought and discussion. I made some points with examples. Could you respond? Even disagreement with explanation is positive, for the betterment of SFAV. Or….
OK, You win. Now could you engage my well meaning critique?

Eric Blauer
9 years ago
Reply to  Tom Schmidt

The Anonymous comments comes from the SPOKANEFAVS editors, the people running this thang. Tom, lots of amazing voices and deep conversations are had in Coffee Talks and online here. Sorry you can’t seem to find much value in these conversations. I get a lot from those I disagree with but it ends when you present yourself as the most important voice. It’s just tiring, demeaning and makes me want to engage someone who will handle the people and positions with grace, even if they disagree.

Tom Schmidt
Tom Schmidt
9 years ago
Reply to  Eric Blauer

Eric, I just came in from cleaning up the back yard ((I have 2 big dogs) to pay bills, and lo and behold, there was your comment. Thank you. I mean that; its synchronic nearness to the other two tasks I do not take as proof that there are no accidents. I really thank you, and will respond in depth, privately if you prefer. However, it could be a good catalyst for consideration of the problems of deep and truth seeking discussing in our group. I do want to know what ideas or phrases to which you take exception. I re-reread my post and see I used the metaphor of glad handing, and realize it could go two ways, consciously or unconsciously used. I was thinking of the latter, but it’s still an ambiguous use and I should have qualified it. It still refers to a bad, inauthentic social ritual (What ones often aren’t?). I could learn, and understand your language and motives better.
I’m very hesitant to apply cocktail nice criteria to FAVS and prefer to see it as a non-competitive wrestling match where all win and learn new holds and no one bests another. That is hard in our competitive culture, but I want to continue to be as authentic as I can and present my best ideas and arguments without any condescension. I sometimes am successful in that, sometimes. My post was asking for that, perhaps impossible when the example of “Expert” is the white, super-American male talking heads, not any third world person. And those talking heads are always trying to side-track our thoughts to “we win, they lose”. They have to sell their product and mustn’t endanger the profits of the rich and famous. OH Well. So it goes.
Be that as it may, Thank you.

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