Hope or hatred?
Invitations to social gatherings may request: “Please, no talk about politics or religion,” but that’s likely redundant because talking about one often invokes the other.
So while we have said goodbye to the Iowa caucus, the legislature is in session, and politics and religion remain in play. And we’ll endure political campaigns that culminate in November elections — including one for the presidency.
A refresher in civics: Both the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions declare “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” That’s from Article VI of what the founding fathers decreed in 1789. The Iowa Constitution (1846) says the same.
Rabbi Jack Moline, executive director of the national Interfaith Alliance, put it this way during a visit to town: When the president-elect takes the oath of office, he swears upon a Bible to uphold the Constitution — and not vice versa.
The U.S. and Iowa Constitutions and Rabbi Moline notwithstanding, religious rhetoric is part of our politics because constitutions restrict government action and not Uncle Harry, Aunt Judy or even office holders and candidates for public office.
So in recent news, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) said Jesus Christ was treated more fairly in the process leading to his crucifixion than was President Trump in the impeachment process.
About the same time, Pope Francis, in comments about caring for children, was said to have likened Trump — accused of mistreating immigrant children — to King Herod, who slaughtered infants around Bethlehem to wipe out threats to his rule by the rumored Messiah. (The pope had not mentioned Trump by name.)
The religion and politics mix hits Iowans’ homes of worship because people of the same faith — be it Christian, Jewish or Islamic — disagree over interpretation of their scriptures.
For example, the generally conservative magazine “Christianity Today” called for removal of Trump from the presidency, and the 12.5-million-member United Methodist Church laid the groundwork for splitting over the issue of gay marriage and ordination; a $25 million settlement was proposed for conservative congregations that want to form a new denomination. Such disputes trouble Iowa and Des Moines religious leaders.
Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, says, “…there is a difference (between) availing oneself of your faith as a source for addressing the hard questions in our society and misusing faith to put forward a political agenda that harms people and the world.”
The Rev. Michael Burk is bishop of the Southeast Iowa Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — 138 congregations with about 90,000 members, including all the ELCA churches in and around Des Moines. The ELCA itself has lost congregations on issues similar to those causing the UMC split.
Bishop Burk, in an email, noted, “The issue [of divisiveness] is among the most troubling for leaders in this church these days. Society…has become so politically polarized that it is difficult to talk about any pressing issues — or even about noteworthy leaders associated with particular issues — without being branded as someone ‘against’ all that someone else may hold dear.”
Rabbi David Kaufman of Temple B’Nai Jeshurun, a Reform synagogue in Des Moines, noted: “The Reform movement has the problem of overwhelmingly left-leaning politics on a national level. Many congregations are having problems with hyper-partisan leftist politics and seeing moderates, much less conservatives, expressing concerns or even leaving congregations over politics. Some congregations are considering leaving the national organization because of politics…(I)n our movement, several of my colleagues and I have begun a ‘purple congregations’ discussion group to address this issue…partisan politics are causing problems in our congregations, both promoting division and causing alienation.”
The Rev. John Ludwig, a retired priest in the Diocese of Des Moines, shares concerns about divisiveness. “I recall the late ’50s and early ’60s and the civil rights marches and fire hoses and attack dogs…(S)ome clergy and religious sisters took part in those demonstrations…some questioned why religious people were involved…I’m not sure what will help some healing to take place.” If people would “cooperate on some minor projects, maybe we can find a modicum of trust to take on bigger issues.”
The Des Moines Area Religious Council is best known for its 14 food-pantry operations and other food-security projects, but it also is building a series of interfaith programs consistent with what Father Ludwig mentioned.
Such projects may lessen what Bishop Burk underscores as “among the most troubling realities that we face…that human beings are willing to participate in being pitted against each other, without regard to the promise that the very people we see as so unreasonably affixed to ‘the other side’ are loved by God every bit as much as God loves us. In the end, that is and shall ever remain the source of our hope.” ♦
Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants and Reason column for CITYVIEW.