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Pew and politics

It is election season here in Minnesota. We have hotly contested races for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, governor and the Minnesota Legislature. Next year, Duluth will have a mayoral election without an incumbent.

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It is election season here in Minnesota. We have hotly contested races for U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, governor and the Minnesota Legislature. Next year, Duluth will have a mayoral election without an incumbent.

In late September, the Pew Research Center Religion and Public Life Project released a report on the perception of religion's influence in American life. The report indicated that 72 percent of Americans say religion is losing influence in the United States, a five percent increase from 2010.

Perhaps in response, an increasing number of persons surveyed, though still a minority at 32 percent, say that churches should endorse political candidates. I guess the reasoning would be that communities of faith can increase their influence by increasing the range of issues on which they can comment.

This is a lousy idea. Churches already have enough work to do without adding endorsements to their agenda. Further, there are already too few places where people with differing political perspectives gather together. Churches are not always such places, but they can be, unless they suddenly begin endorsing candidates.

While I don't think churches or other religious organizations should endorse political candidates, I do think one's religious values should influence one's political choices. Every religious tradition has within it moral ideas and ideals. Many political issues have moral dimensions to them. There is an inevitable overlap, then, between religion and politics.

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However, this relationship between one's religious perspective and one's politics can be badly managed.

There are two ideas important to a healthy engagement of religion with politics. One is recognition that we live in a pluralistic society and there are distinct benefits to such pluralism. While there is something deep within us that wishes for a world in which everyone thought like us, we would be poorer for it. We develop as human persons in dialogue with others whose ideas and experiences are different from our own. We sharpen our own thinking in conversation with others who may disagree with us. Political conversation in a pluralistic world should strive for public intelligibility and public accessibility. Appeals to sources only within our own religious tradition, without attempts to find a more public intelligibility, are not helpful.

The other idea important for a healthy engagement of religion with politics is humility, including intellectual humility. We don't always see things as clearly as we think. We may misunderstand some of the important documents of our own faith tradition. Humility doesn't mean we shy away from courageous action. It means we remain open to new ideas and new perspectives and we remain willing to admit that we may have been wrong.

It may be that if those of us who claim a religious faith willingly engage in political conversations in ways that appeal to public intelligibility, if we speak and act with a modicum of humility, perhaps our genuine influence might increase.

While there is something deep within us that wishes for a world in which everyone thought like us, we would be poorer for it.

Related Topics: FAITH
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