What’s in the Water – Religiously?

I realize there are always bizarre things happening in the area of religion and politics. In fact, one could make a good case that, relative to the often very dark distant past, things are relatively calm now. Having admitted that, however, I still can’t help but note that there are unusual and unfortunate religious developments in this political cycle.

To start, what in the world is the Pope doing coming to North America and, on the basis of differences on immigration policies, making the claim that a candidate for President of the United States is “not a Christian?” One would think that the utter and awful decline of religion in Europe would be enough to busy the Pope full time.

I have previously written about Donald Trump. Putting aside the obvious appeal he has for many in our country, one would hope, whatever his policies might be, that Trump could find a better way to advocate for them, without the vitriol and hateful attitude toward those who get in his way. As suggested above, the Pope and indeed all of us ought to give others respect and some latitude on their policies before demonizing them as irreligious. But, as well, Trump ought to be equally and more generally respectful of his opponents. For the attitude he shows them and others will be predictive of the attitude others show him, should he be elected president. Last time I checked, the job is not all-powerful and does require cooperation and mutual support from a wide variety of people and interests to get things done.

The final issue I want to address in this blog is the matter of Ted Cruz and religion. I have spent considerable time over many years studying American history and our presidents. In that history, as a person of faith, I have also studied our religious past in some detail. In essence, we are, for the most part, a religious people who believe religion is fundamental to our destiny. Further, many have worried, more at certain times, that our having lost our way morally is dangerous and that good leadership is necessary to keep us strong and on the straight path.

Actually, I share these views, as have many of our presidents and their supporters. But as I review the lives of even our most religious presidents, I see very little, if any, of the “God has chosen me” phenomenon that encircles the Cruz campaign.

Among the many quotes we regularly see, here’s one from Cruz’s big supporter, Glenn Beck: “The choice – God’s choice – could not be plainer…(Cruz) is the guy that God has raised up from birth…”

Beck is not alone. We have seen similar quotes from supporters, friends and family of Ted Cruz.

In all of my study of our history and all of my study of religion, I have never seen anything like this before from a president or his camp, nor have I seen any evidence that God favors one political candidate in an election over God-fearing opponents.

Today there is something unusual in the water – religiously. I hope that all people, especially those of faith, will convey to both religious leaders as well as political candidates that these ways of being are not favored and are not appreciated.

 

Ethics and the Presidential Race

I’ve been teaching two courses recently on ethical lessons from sacred text. It occurred to me that it might be interesting in a short blog to apply some of the most salient principles from this teaching to recent events in the presidential campaign.

As a recovering politician, I’m well aware of the fact that no one in life, much less politics, is perfect. If we use too high a degree of scrutiny, there would be no one left to run or serve. But, surely, ethics should matter, at least a little. The candidates have had enough time to talk and act in their public lives and in this campaign for us to have a pretty good sense of their ethical inclinations. With a thoroughly bipartisan screen and without naming names explicitly, I want to make a few observations.

One last caveat: I know many citizens prefer whom they prefer and tend to brush aside these ethical concerns for many reasons. “Everyone does it.” “My guy was just getting back at the other guy.” “His political consultant did that, not he.” “Politics is just a dirty business.”

My hope is that we detach ourselves enough from clinging to “our side” to recognize ethical flaws, be concerned about them, and expect more from the candidate we choose to support. For though we are tempted to think ethical lapses can be excused, they typically reflect a way of being that ultimately exacts a price on the leader and the country. Though it goes beyond the scope of this small essay to prove the point, I bet the reader can conjure up enough examples in his/her mind to see my point.

Let me begin with a basic concern that certain candidates have conducted themselves in politics long enough to show that they don’t or can’t work well with others or already have half the country opposed in the most serious ways to them and their policies. I realize there will always be “us and them” in politics. We do have two competing parties after all. Plus many citizens want the system shaken up, and it takes a “change agent” to do so. But when no colleagues of any group can work with a person, or a person has such baggage the other side is sworn to full-throated opposition from the beginning, we’ve got problems. The Biblical idea is: “how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” If coming anywhere close to that goal is unlikely with a candidate, I suggest one might look elsewhere, irrespective of ideology, especially given the severe and debilitating divisions in our country today.

The second behaviors that trouble me greatly are those of candidates who are gratuitously nasty and mean to each other and other people who get in the way. However commendable a person might be in other respects and however tough a business this, meanness as a way of being is a bad sign of character and certainly is not a way of being that will make America great again. Discipline, yes. Toughness, fine. But the Biblical aim is loving-kindness. Persistent meanness and nastiness as a way of life isn’t something we should want in a leader.

Finally, I want to address a bad habit of otherwise good men who are failing to attract support for their campaigns. Whether they come to this on their own or are convinced by advisors to do it, it is awful and pitiful when they regularly and consistently turn to bashing other candidates to bring them down instead of lifting their own selves up. This is especially pathetic when they had previously admired or even promoted the people they’re now bashing, or simply never had previously seen or discussed the flaw they so badly want now to expose. This behavior, too, is unworthy of a leader and will bring shame in time to those who fall from noble ways of living to engage in it when it seems necessary for success.

This is the first in a serious of ethical reflections on politics and the campaign that I intend to write. I understand folks may continue to place ideology or self-interest at the top of their concerns. That’s ok. My aim, simply, is for us to bring personal ethics up the list of expectations at least a little.