This is one of my favorite topics. I’ve been thinking about it and reading about it for some time now. I don’t have it figured out to my satisfaction, but I came to a new thought this morning, so I figured I should share.
I was pondering the nature of religion and the nature of politics, and I realized they have something inverse in common. The reason religion and politics should not mix is partly due to their relationship to compromise.
Religion in general and Protestant Christianity in particular should not compromise. The philosophical game of religion is played on the field of truth claims.Â Negotiating or compromising on truth claims is like kicking field goals for your opponent.Â It’s not a good idea.Â This is the (very good) reason that people have died for their religious convictions throughout the centuries.
Politics, on the other hand, lives with an entirely different relationship to compromise.Â For a politcian, compromise IS the game.Â Legislature and governance is all about negotiating between competing interests.Â If different interests didn’t exist, governments wouldn’t need to exist, either.Â That’s why politics is so easy to criticize, fun to talk about (e.g. ‘Those idiots in [Washington, Sacramento, Madison, Dakar, etc.] wouldn’t know the right thing to do if it bit them on the hand!”), and so demanding of wisdom.Â Compromise IS the task of government, and it’s not an easy one.
So every time a pastor asks his congregation to vote a particular way, he is speaking from one realm into another: he is speaking from a position that’s used to wielding divine authority to make absolute truth claims into a realm where issues always have different sides and a single voice bearing the best idea is not guaranteed to make headway.Â In politics, strength of conviction falls subservient to the power of coalition.Â That’s not a fault of politics; it’s just the nature of politics.Â But this pastor is likely to create an unproductive voting bloc.Â He’s likely to create or encourage a group of people to take a position they can’t back down from.Â In the end, it makes for bad politics and bad blood.
And every time a governmental leader speaks toward the realm of religion, it’s natural (but altogether inappropritate) that he should ask for compromise and ecumenism.Â He, who is used to compromise as a way of doing business, naturally expects this from the realm of religion.Â And he’s dead wrong.Â Religion thrives on truth claims, and asking religious people to deny what they know as truth for some greater good is like asking religion to drink poison.
There are many outworkings of this continued tension between church and state, and they’re likely to be messy.Â I can’t claim any kind of special ability to negotiate such perilous waters just because I understand the larger principle.Â But I can offer one guiding question for discussion: what can we do to build up a HEALTHY wall of separation ‘twixt the two very important areas?