Thanks for your emails. Here's one I should address:
Please keep in mind that it isn't only right-wing fundamentalists who preach politics from the pulpit. I am a relatively conservative Republican who is active in a liberal Episcopal church. I have a running battle with my priest about his insertion of his own political views (especially on the subject of Iraq) into his sermons, about the church's one-sided providing of a forum to liberal speakers, etc. For example, the Democratic candidate for a local seat in Congress will be speaking at our adult "forum" next Sunday; I am not holding my breath to see whether her opponent, the incumbent Republican, will be extended a similar invitation.
Obviously one's religious beliefs should mold his or her views on life in general, including moral and even political issues. And if one's beliefs lead one to seek a particular political result - whether that result be ending the war in Iraq or opposing abortion or gay marriage - that is his or her right; after all, many of the great moral movements in our history were led in large part by people of faith who were led by their faith. My problem - as I gather it is yours - is when a person tries to bolster his or her political position by proclaiming that it is dictated by God or by suggesting that all good Christians must share that position. This sin isn't committed solely by religious conservatives.
Absolutely. That's why I was careful to say in my essay that Christianism can be practised by the left as well. The conflation of the black church with the Democratic party is just as distasteful, if not currently as dangerous, as the fundamentalist right's take-over of the GOP.
I'm not arguing that faith should have no role in political discourse. Someone's faith will affect her politics. My faith informs my own positions on torture, the death penalty, gay dignity, the Iraq war, and so on. But in the political sphere, mere recourse to religious authority is insufficient, because, by definition, it cannot persuade those of a different faith or no faith at all. And so religious doctrines need to be translated into moral arguments, applicable to any citizen with good will and an open mind. When Tom DeLay, at a Republican gathering, invokes Christ as his ally; or when the Catholic hierarchy comes close to barring votes for Democrats; or when Jesse Jackson uses the pulpit to garner Democratic votes, they have crossed an important line. It's important to defend that line - for the sake of politics, and for the sake of faith.
The first rule for a Christian should be, to my mind, humility in the face of God. That does not square with absolute certainty about God's politics or the willingness to force others to share the same interpretation of Christ's message as you do. America was founded on this insight, hence the Constitution's remarkable decision not to endorse any form of religion as American. We face great peril if we forget it.
(Photo of Pope Benedict XVI by Andrew Medicini/AP.)