Can Religion and Politics Be Separated in the Age of Trump?
Institutions and communities across America are divided over politics, culture, identity, and the overall direction of the country. Are religious congregations any different? How do religious leaders today navigate deeply divisive issues — like the “Muslim ban” and terrorism, new American actions in the Middle East, gay marriage, abortion, the administration’s handling of undocumented immigrants, and the president’s most controversial tweets — in their own congregations?
Adam Hamilton starts the discussion by refuting the notion of separating church and state, because the two are fundamentally intertwined. Politics — one classic definition of which is who gets what, when, and how — involves making value judgments, he argues.
Big IdeaI would hope that you bring your faith, commitments, and values to the table when you’re practicing politics.Adam Hamilton
Sharing common values is what binds his politically diverse congregation in Kansas City, says Hamilton, who doesn’t shy away from political topics in his sermons. But it forces him to think more deeply about how he addresses current affairs, and he hopes any debate he spurs is coupled with true listening and Christian kindness.
Big IdeaTo be liberal means to be open to reform, generous of spirit, all these beautiful things. To be conservative means to recognize that some values need to be conserved no matter what, even if they’re not popular or in style. If you’re conservative without being liberal, you’re stuck; if you’re liberal without being conservative, you’re unhinged or unmoored. But if you have those two things together, you have the best of both.Adam Hamilton
It’s not enough just to get to know others better to achieve social justice, say faith leaders. Most religions require some kind of service to society, and that may involve taking uncomfortable political positions.
Shira Stutman: This is one of the things that keeps me up at night in terms of what it means to do justice work. We can talk about justice work as getting people who don’t know each other to know each other a little better … but there’s something about justice work that extends beyond the basics of just getting to know the other person, into really engaging and seeing the other in ways that might make those of us with privilege a little bit uncomfortable, and that goes above and beyond this basic have compassion for the other person. When you take positions on politics, what you’re really doing is the harder work of justice that gets you the most pushback. The harder work is the real work, and that’s the work that gets us in trouble.
Khalid Latif: That’s the purpose of religion — good religion to me is you’re addressing societal ills. I would say the biggest societal ill in our country right now is racism. If your practice of faith is only self-serving and is not bringing benefit to people around you, then what does the practice of that faith really accomplish?
Shira Stutman: [Including] people around you beyond the people you’ve even met. … And that’s sometimes a harder sell because it’s scarier, it makes me uncomfortable to think about fighting institutional racism, because it means I have a role to play in it myself. And I think that’s the harder work.
Adam Hamilton: I agree. The New Testament, true religion is to care for the widows and the orphans, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and have mercy. All of these things are to see the other and to see God in the other. So, any religion that is only this solo religion about me and God and our relationship together is serving the narcissism that’s inherent in us. We all have a narcissistic tendency, and our religion can become very narcissistic. But it’s got to be that balance. There are two dimensions of this: the internal, our relationship with God, our spirituality … that give the power to be able to do and help me to see things I wouldn’t have seen about myself, and then it allows us to say let’s roll up our sleeves and do something.
Adam Hamilton explains how the mostly white congregation of his United Methodist Church of the Resurrection is building bridges with Kansas City’s large black community. Building relationships across lines, he argues, may be one of the few silver bullets against racism.
The three faith leaders share their biggest takeaways. Khalid Latif says that as a first step against racism, for example, we have to admit how we contribute to it. As a Jewish community leader, Shira Stutman sees her role as being one of an ally or accomplice to other, more vulnerable communities. And Adam Hamilton says he tries to model respect and kindness when speaking to people about issues on which they may disagree.