Conservative Theology

Religion, Politics, and the Democratic Party


Democrats have been making a power play for the religious vote in the last few elections, and it appears that it is finally starting to take hold.  While we have begun to talk about the relationship between conservatism and Christianity, what we also need to do is to take a look at how the Democratic Party is using religion, and whether or not we want to be using religion in the same way.

Now that he is our President-elect from the Democratic Party, I am going to use Obama as a model for the use of religion in politics, based primarily on his speech on the subject that he gave to the Sojourners in 2006.

His main points seem to me to be the following:

  • Most people have a hunger for religion, and don't separate out their religion and their lives
  • Religious language is a strong motivator for change in the world
  • We live in a pluralistic society, which means that there is not one assumed standard of religion to use
  • Therefore, while we can appeal to religion in our messages, we cannot use religion as the foundational principle for a policy, unless it can be established on non-religious grounds
  • However, we can use religious language and argumentation in support of our principles that we have established on non-religious grounds
  • Finally, we should always deal in good faith with those who disagree with us

The problem with this is that it is a practical abandonment of Christianity.  If you look at the logic of what he is saying, then Christianity is not allowed any voice, except when it is the same voice as a secular argument!  Thus, while the religious right has its definite problems, the religious left has fundamentally, in its core reasonings about the relationship between faith and politics, decided that faith may only be in support of the party, it may never lead, contradict, or offer any substance on its own terms.

I can't say I'm surprised.  This is probably coming from theologians as much as anyone else.  Theology is one of those areas where its practitioners seem bent on making Christianity as irrelevant in the actual practice of life as possible, and to instead replace it with other disciplines such as sociology.  Obama's position about faith and politics is a practical outgrowth of the theology that has been spewing out of the academies for the last half-century.

Obama does seem to make a conciliatory note in the direction of religion.  He says:

So to say that men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This would seem to mean, at least on the face of it, that grounding legal traditions in faith-based reaosning is legitimate.  However, Obama refuses to continue to apply that same reasoning in the modern day.  For instance, he argues this about abortion:

I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. [emphasis mine]

So, while Obama indeed believes in putting together faith and politics, the way that he has done so makes it so that faith cannot have a legitimate role in the public square on its own terms, but must instead only play supporting roles to ideas found on the terms of other fields of endeavors.

This seems to be the general direction that the Democratic Party is moving in.  Obama, being the president-elect from the Democratic Party, has now solidified this as the means of interaction of faith and politics for the party.

Therefore, when you hear religious language from the Democratic Party, keep in mind that the party does not have any intention of putting any part of its platform under the authority of God, but only under principles which are accessible to people who don't believe that there is no God.  As someone who believes that the foundations of truth are in God, I don't think that is a sound way to handle the politics and faith issue.