The Action Thursday entry yesterday elicited email responses concerning the mixing of politics and religion. One reader quoted a popular bumper sticker: “The last time we mixed politics and religion, people were burned at the stake!”
Which makes us wonder if they’ve ever heard of Martin Luther King.
Granted, religion was also in the mouths of white supremacists who opposed Dr. King. This fact, however, simply strengthens the argument that the good should not shy away from pressing the politics of justice with religious reasoning.
The real question about mixing politics and religion is not whether you do, but how you do it, and to what end. As with the Divine Right of Kings discussed yesterday, the unjust will mix them whether the just do or not, and if you fail to address religious arguments laid forth in service to injustice, you’ve ceded the contest to evil.
To paraphrase a quote attributed to Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to fail to engage evil where it actually wages war.
Any institution claiming a moral or ethical mission, whether it be religious or otherwise, has a duty to draw a line and vigorously contest violations of it. While valuing the separation of sectarian and government authority, Reform Unitarianism nevertheless believes that it is of critical importance both to the spiritual and political life of any nation to distinguish between the virtues and vices particular to that nation’s history and culture.
The virtues should be celebrated and defended as expressing the “better angels” of its nature — as Lincoln described our moral selves — and the vices condemned and routed as corruptions of those angels.
This is particularly significant for American Unitarian Reform, as Unitarian Christianity was so central to the establishment of our country: our Revolution “sparked” by a Unitarian sermon, our Independence championed by a Unitarian in the Continental Congress, and our Declaration of such first and prominently signed by a Unitarian.
But, Reform Unitarianism can serve this purpose in other countries as well, honoring the separation of sect and state while still urging the political discourse to moral ends by recognizing and celebrating moments of virtue in their region’s history as having both political and religious value.
The alternative — leaving the field of religion as a staging ground from which corruption, evil, and injustice can conduct never-ending raids into civilized political discourse — is an irresponsible strategy of moral failure and impotence.