Do politics and religion mix? For many, the answer is a quick and emphatic “no.” Now obviously this is the universally held opinion of those who are not part of the religious community. Naturally, those who reject religion altogether are also opposed to any religious influence in all political or legislative decision-making.
What’s more surprising to me is that I find this attitude, that politics and religion should have nothing to do with each other, to be widespread within communities of faith, Jewish and Christian alike. I hear it over and over everywhere I go. Pastors will tell me that they would rather not discuss politics from the pulpit, regardless of the issue. Fellow Orthodox Jews often share similar sentiments.
Recently, I was interviewed about my Jewish-Christian relations work on a popular podcast aimed at an Orthodox Jewish audience. The interview dealt with classical Jewish scholarship about Christianity and how I reconcile traditional barriers to the relationship between Christians and Jews. Toward the end of the interview, I suggested that anyone interested in learning more about my work should feel free to search my name on Youtube as there are many videos of my talks in churches around America that are posted there by the churches themselves.
A number of listeners did just that. Specifically, a video of a Bible teaching in a church was shared on the Facebook discussion group dedicated to the podcast where I was interviewed. Towards the end of the video, after I had concluded the Bible teaching, I changed topics and encouraged those present in the church to get involved in politics. The reaction of my fellow Jews was unequivocal. My call to Christians to get involved in politics was appalling. I was attacked by numerous listeners for “equating Biblical values with the Republican party.” My message was referred to as “disgusting.” But most of all, I was harshly criticized for “ruining” a positive Bible teaching with politics.
But here’s the problem. Religion and politics do mix. They must mix. More to the point, they are mixed whether we like it or not. How could they not be? Granted, if the political issues of the day are the relative benefits to the economy of this or that tax cut or regulation, I concede that it may be much more difficult to determine which position is most aligned with Biblical faith values. But when the issues at hand are gender ideology being taught to preschoolers, the harassment and arrest of Christian activists praying outside abortion clinics, Western cooperation with regimes such as the Chinese Communist Party who persecute people of faith, and the erosion of individual freedoms, how can any person of faith keep silent?
Is it perfectly fine for atheist progressives to mix politics and their own atheistic, neo-pagan belief system but those whose convictions stem from Biblical faith are supposed to keep their beliefs separate from the positions they advocate for in the political arena?
Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the Breitbart news website, famously said, correctly, that politics is downstream from culture. In other words, what is conveyed in the culture through entertainment, media, and institutions of education eventually turns up in actual public policy. The political discourse is a product of the culture. Well, I’d like to suggest taking Breitbart’s observation a step further. If it’s true that politics is downstream from culture, it is equally true that culture is downstream from faith.
Let me put this another way. If people of faith are not going to get guidance and encouragement regarding the politics of the day in church or the synagogue, where are we suggesting they should get it? Is it really healthy for rabbis and pastors to be silent on these issues? If they are not leading with clarity and conviction about issues of such magnitude, where do they want the members of their communities to go for guidance?
Those pious people of faith who argue that religion and politics ought never to mix usually argue that one’s religious life and convictions are best kept as a private matter. This attitude is often dressed up in the clothing of the constitutional doctrine of what is known as the separation of church and state. But that doctrine only posits that the government must not restrict or require any exercise of faith. It was never the intent of the framers of the US constitution who conceived of this separation that it would demand that people of Biblical of faith should not allow their religious convictions to inform their political opinions and activity.
I meet many people of strong faith who have an aversion to politics. They focus their faith on private piety, their personal relationship with God, personal prayer, and their own inner spiritual life. But when we open the Bible and read, we don’t see a book that focuses on the private faith of the individual. Just the opposite. The Bible is a story about the world. We read about nations in conflict with nations. We read of God’s covenant with a nation that is meant to wage all-out war on paganism. The great Biblical personalities that we rightly revere and model; Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the other prophets were all very much involved in politics.
Moreover, the eschatological vision of the Bible, and this is true for both Jewish and Christian views of the eschaton, is decidedly political in nature. What the people of the world will believe about God, which values will govern society, and a host of other fundamental questions that impact our families, communities, and the well-being of all humanity can only remain apolitical so long as we don’t actually have any real intention of taking any action to work towards the goals set out in our sacred texts.
If we are to take the Bible seriously, if we really mean it when we say that we yearn for a time when “knowledge of God covers the earth like water covers the sea,” then we must work towards that goal. So yes, faith and politics do mix. They must.
Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com. He serves as Executive Director for Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation. He is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast.