When Religion Dominates Politics

Religion in politics is a touchy topic in the United States, but Americans have a legitimate right to know how a candidate’s religious views may affect public policy on issues like population growth, anti-gay discrimination and Christian supremacy says Rev. Howard Bess.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

When voters step into the voting booth, many feel the pull of both politics and religion, even though most politicians and the news media seem to prefer ignoring the latter. Three important religion-in-politics issues come to my mind immediately.

The first is Christian nationalism. Most Christians accept that America is a secular nation in which religion is to be practiced without government interference. But there are a significant number of Christians who believe the United States was formed to be a Christian nation.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York who has spearheaded challenges to health insurance plans with mandatory contraceptive coverage ,

They believe it is their destiny and the will of God that Christians should rule over non-Christians. The aim of these Christian nationalists is control. They reject the principle of the separation of church and state. In that sense, they are not benign.

To achieve their goal of Christian nationalism, they promote sympathetic candidates and barter with votes. To win elections, many moderate candidates curry their favor. Thus, the reality of this Christian nationalism is a rightful topic in our political debate. It’s fair to ask where politicians stand on this religious/political issue.

The second is the onslaught against the rights of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons by religious organizations. The recent Proposition 8 controversy in California is a case in point.

The two largest donors to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 were Roman Catholics (through the Knights of Columbus) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). Neither broke any law in providing funding for the anti-Prop 8 campaign, but religion was a central factor in their motivation. Both religious bodies opposed the granting of marriage rights to gay people because of church doctrine.

Catholics and Mormons can believe whatever they like, but when they propose that their doctrinal beliefs be made the law of the land, their beliefs become proper subjects of discussion in the political arena.

The third issue has arisen in the very recent struggle over insurance coverage of contraceptives for women. While a number of religious groups have protested a federal requirement that insurance programs paid for by employers include coverage for contraceptives, the loudest voice of protest has come from the Roman Catholic Church.

Roman Catholics have long-held canon regarding human sexuality. According to Catholic teaching, sexual activity has only one purpose, procreation. Sexual intercourse without the intent of procreation is sinful. Sexual activity for simple enjoyment is not acceptable.

Thus, the use of any kind of contraceptive by either a male or a female is forbidden. Further, sex-related sin is a serious matter. It is a primary expression of lust, which is one of the Catholic Church’s seven deadly sins.

In Catholic thinking, contraceptives promote sexual activities that have no positive purpose. So, in the name of religious freedom, the Catholic hierachy argues against any participation in the distribution of contraceptives in any way. They are probably raising a valid constitutional issue (though one that is not as clear-cut as Church defenders insist, since religious institutions in the United States must operate under civil laws).

Yet, if we understand Catholic theology, we understand the Church’s stance: the Vatican instructs Roman Catholics that sexual activity is for procreation only; when that purpose is thwarted, the will of God has been violated.

One notable result of this teaching, whether intentional or not, is the large Catholic family, raising another issue where politics addressing the common good conflict with religious edicts fulfilling a theological purpose.

In the past, large families offered both social and economic benefits, but we live in a changing world where population is exploding. Six billion people on the Earth quickly become seven billion and eight billion, putting stress on the planet’s survivability.

We talk about pollution of air, land and water. We note the impact of burning of fossil fuels. However, we sidestep the number one problem of the world, the exploding human population which is often driven by religious conviction. In other words, the Roman Catholic Church is an important factor in the pollution of the planet through the promotion of population growth.

Roman Catholics are not alone. One of the marks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the large family, which is promoted by church teachings. Thus, Mormons are the fastest growing religion in America, though with little growth beyond birthrate. In the world today, the birthrate in Muslim nations also is unsustainable.

In part because of these religious teachings, population growth in India, Africa and Central and South America is pushing life beyond the resources to sustain the people. Only China has shown any willingness to address the problem of unsustainable population growth.

Can religious practices that actively promote rapid population growth be ignored in the name of religious freedom? Religious beliefs and practices that threaten the earth as a place for human habitation cannot be left out of the political dialogue.

In the United States, there is no religious test for running for public office. The Bill of Rights keeps government out of the religion business, but it does not keep voters from taking into account religious considerations.

When people run for public office, the voting population has a right to know how the candidate’s religion will potentially affect public policy. In that sense, the Bill of Rights does not ban religion from the public square.

When a candidate enters the public square, his/her personal religion is not left behind. Voters have valid reasons to ask religious questions.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected]

9 comments for “When Religion Dominates Politics

  1. elmerfudzie
    April 21, 2012 at 13:05

    Sin is a process, a developing story if you will, especially when when it is active within human behavior. Identifying “sin” is helpful as just one element of a behavior guidance tool. The subject of sex, pleasure and purpose was introduced in this article. The ideal, of course, is not to use our bodies as merely an object of pleasure and not to repeat it in a way where one forgets the ingredients of love, friendship AND responsibility to the person your having relations with. The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to anything the reduces the dignity and respect we must show each other. Sex can be an agent of destruction that does reduce dignity and respect by repeatedly removing those ingredients of love and responsibility. Examples include, rape, abortion, forced prostitution, state enforced family planning and in the worst case, infanticide based on gender. Overpopulation is directly related to the other factor I mentioned, irresponsibility and it’s twin, ignorance. Again, sin is only that deviation from a human condition we all want; dignity, respect, friendship, responsibility and education. Christians who wander off from any of these essential elements or ingredients are not Christians no matter what they call themselves.

  2. fo
    April 16, 2012 at 17:00

    Can you tell us how Indian population growth has anything to do with the Catholic church (which is .01% of hinduism in followers ?)

    And anyway, Indian population growth has slowed and will reverse in the next 20-30 years.

  3. ConstitutionalCommando
    April 16, 2012 at 13:30

    When did LDS who are American citizens lose their right to participate in the democratic process?

    Further the Church did not produce any literaure in support of prop 8. It did not demonize gay people and no misinformation was spread by the Church. The fact is that the Church supported many of the goals of the LGBT community while disagrreeing with the redefintion of marriage.

  4. Dandini
    April 15, 2012 at 09:38

    The good Rev. Bess made an actual error or told a true lie… the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints actually and statistically has almost double the growth rate of new member converts over that of the birth rate… even in the United States…

    So what else does a man of the cloth, who’s life earnings and retirement came from preaching for money, do???

    Obviously he does not do his research…

    as for politics…LDS Church official stance: “…The Church does not endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms…” and “…The church does not attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader.”

    Mormons beliefs about government are set forth as doctrine in Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church… It states, “…We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied…”

    • lokywoky
      April 15, 2012 at 17:27

      @dandini – While the LDS “official stance” may say what you quote in your comment – the facts are that they got heavily involved in the campaign for Prop 8 in California. They asked all their members in California to contribute money, and to go door to door as part of the “mission”. This mobilization of both funds and people was largely the reason that Prop 8 passed – because the ‘troops’ came bearing lots of literature also printed by the Mormon church demonizing gay people and spreading all kinds of misinformation and scare tactics about just what would happen if the existing court decision allowing gay marriage was allowed to stand.

      So as usual – the hypocritical hierarchy of the LDS church says one thing and does another….

  5. Hillary
    April 15, 2012 at 09:08

    Politicians “use” religion and religions in turn “use” politicians.

    The two work together to maintain the sophomoric state of their sheeple.

    Both use a belief in a “Sky Wizard” they call “The Almighty God” in charge of all the universes who has a preordained destiny for this planet and has dictated such in various Gobbledygook ancient messages to a chosen few.

    The example of US President G.W.Bush preaching directly to the French President to invade Iraq because of Gog MayGog Bible prophesy is surely enough.


    Where are the people of reason ?

    Or am I alone in being shocked at what has and is transpiring in our world ?

  6. Morton Kurzweil
    April 14, 2012 at 19:19

    What a better world it would be if every legislator disqualified himself for a conflict of interest between beliefs and duty to equal representation of all constituents. How safe and secure would we be knowing that our Supreme court guarded our liberties against the insistent prejudices of their beliefs. How morally immoral it would be if our executive branch would apply all orders without class, creed, race, or gender.
    But power corrupts, and belief in power corrupts most of all.

  7. Terry Washington
    April 14, 2012 at 18:06

    The reverse is also a matter for concern-when politics dominates religion(pace the Vatican’s support for the Christian Democrats in Italy)

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