Religion in Political Gatherings Inappropriate, Dangerous
We learn why the nation’s founders treated religion with such care. They said the government could not establish any religion, but also said the government could not prohibit the free exercise of religion. We find that the great wisdom of this approach is being ignored these days.
This wisdom is ignored in right-wing political rallies (including the January 6 attack on the capital) that use Christian language and symbols. Apparently they are not worried about breaking the Second Commandment by taking God’s name in vain. Moral statements, such as “freedom and justice for all,” are certainly appropriate in political discourse, but references to God, Jesus, or the supernatural are not.
The founders came from countries and nations in which they saw and experienced the two sides of religion: to inspire people, but also to harm people. Because of the power of religion to arouse emotions, the founders realized that religion, like fire, was both good and dangerous. What we see and hear today in political rallies that call on God and Jesus Christ is a claim to the power of God and the fervor of religious emotion for right-wing political causes. Of course, people are free to say and do these things, but the use of religious worship in political rallies should be something that people can easily see as a very inappropriate and dangerous practice. Moral assertions, of course, about what is just and fair are certainly appropriate, but do not appeal to the supernatural power of God. This use of God’s name to arouse religious fervor has often been used to oppress others. Notice the Ku Klux Klan and its cross.
When children say “That’s not fair” or “That’s mean and cruel,” they are speaking a moral language, which is also appropriate for the political language of adults, but the religious language used in worship should not be part of political language. Christian nationalists want to incorporate Christian language into national discourse. This caused problems for both Christianity and the nations and created a lot of misunderstandings. We can still think and act on the basis of religious convictions, but our actions must stand on their own without being embellished with religious language. We are in a period of particularly strong political opinions and divisions, and therefore we are particularly vulnerable to the misuse of the name of God.
As far as religions are concerned, they exist in the form of communities, not nations. There cannot be a “Christian nation,” but there can be Christian-influenced nations in which Christians can be upholders of righteous laws. These laws must be recognized as just laws in order to stand on their own. Putting a religious label on them is not what makes them good laws. This is why “Christian nationalism” is not a good political path to follow.
Moreover, using the Christian language to promote a national cause is dangerous. This may well discredit Christianity. I saw that abroad. You may believe that democracy comes from applied biblical truths, as I do, but democracies, ours for example, have not always lived up to our ideals and are in need of continual correction. Holding a Bible in front of a church, as a president did after using tear gas to blast his way through protesters, is no way to witness to the truth of the Bible. The same goes for the cross. We can and should debate the morality of government actions about whether they are right and not cruel, but not whether they are God’s will.
I am glad that most American religious communities recognize that religious language and fervor are not appropriate in political rallies. They recognize that we humans can abuse our words of faith, especially their power over the human heart and mind. Autocrats also recognize the power of religion, so they create “surrogate national religions” with ideologies that demand absolute obedience from the people. These “surrogate religions” create mass gatherings and parades for the “dear leader” (very close to the “Fuhrer”), who has a semi-divine status.
In America, political actions and their advocacy should be seen as good and just without using religious language. “Christian nationalism” has become a tool to suppress opposition as being “against God”. Religions must flourish without becoming a tool for those who hold political power. At the same time, governments must promote moral precepts like “freedom and justice for all” without using religious language.
Reverend Robert L. Montgomery, Ph.D. in the scientific social studies of religion, lives in Black Mountain.