Should Religious Groups be Allowed to Act as Political Advocates
In the United States of America there have been many discussion concerning the topic of Church vs. State. I have seen leaders of religious groups run for political offices on a platform based on their religious belief systems. One side of the argument is that religious leaders should keep their focus on empowering the religious community so the decline of religion in America does not continue in the downhill slope it has been moving at. The other side of the argument is that religious leaders should be a part of the political system in our country because we were founded upon religious value systems. Both sides of the argument have validity and the fact that each side thinks they are correct is not exactly the truth. Organized religious group leaders should be allowed to act as political advocates but only in certain arena’s where they are closer to the people in their constituency and have the ability to interact with them on a daily basis.
Moral leadership constitutes no challenge to the status claims of either elected officials or their civil rights counterparts, because it has not categorical meaning in the political world. At most, the notion that Jesse Jackson held twenty-two million moral proxies provided a convenient, temporary cover under which individual elites could push their specific agendas. (Reed, A. L. 1986). In his book The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon, author Adolph Reed says that religious group leaders provide a temporary cover of political knowledge to wedge their way into public office when the reality is that they want to push their specific agendas on the world at large. By 1995 Pat Robertson was wealthier and more powerful than he ever could have imagined. His Christian coalition was the foremost power in Washington, D.C. and his hand picked leader, Ralph Reed was hailed as a political genius of the highest order. After decades of waiting to take power it should have been easier for the Christian Right to enact its agenda. Politics, however, is rarely so simple. Instead of seizing the initiative, Pat Robertson and the coalition sat back and let events unfold. As the decade wore on the group was beset with scandal. money problems, and internal power struggles. (Marley, D.J. 2007). In the book, Religion and American Politics, the authors examine the effect of Religious Groups as Political Advocates throughout history in the United States. (Noll, M.A. Harlow, L.E. 2007) Although our country was founded upon the revolution of British religious zealots and their quest for freedom of religion and worship, there has been vast development in the political arena. The United States has become less religious as each era has passed. In the 1988 Presidential Election, there were two religious leaders running for the Presidency for both prominent political parties. Reverend Pat Robinson a Pentecostal was on the Republican ticket and Reverend Jesse Jackson a Baptist was on the Democratic ticket. After both primaries, other more political, less public religious figures were elected to represent their parties. Our country, at large feels as though religious group leaders have no place in national politics. Therefore as a country we disagree with the fact that organized religious group leaders should be allowed to act as political advocates. Although our country was founded upon religious principles, the assumption is that once a religious leader gets into a position of power and have the people on his or her side egging him or her on, they can lose a grip on their principles and become subjected to underhanded immoral issues, which in the media we know gives way for a rude awakening. However, because our country was founded upon religious values that have eroded over the years, if there could evolve from the shadows a strong, religious leader who is pragmatic in thought, grounded in political knowledge, and conscious of the world around him or her, they may indeed make a good political leader. In order for this to happen, the individual must be sound in their values, and open-minded enough to allow others to be themselves without forcing them to believe their religious slant.
If we continue along the path we are headed in as Americans, how can we stand as “One Nation, Under God”? Will the grace of God that has allowed us to become the most powerful nation on the earth continue to exist with us removing the value system on which we were established? The fact that they selected King, a newcomer to Montgomery, to be their spokesman is perhaps the most revealing comment on the timidity of the local clergy. As one of the woman activists put it, the ministers who didn’t want the presidency of the MIA… were just chicken, passing the buck to Dr. King. nevertheless, the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association brought the preachers into the forefront of the protest, and they remained there for the duration. (Fairclough, A. 1987) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proved that a religious group leader could in fact become a political advocate. For he became one of the greatest civil rights activists that this country has ever known. Because of his voice, America moved into a new equality of cultural differences which had plagued our country for centuries. Although Dr. King was elected as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He kind of backed into that position because of the timidity of other leaders. His election proved to be the best choice that they could have made though. This proves that organized religious group leaders can in fact become effective political advocates, for Dr. Kings leadership roots evolved as a Baptist preacher.
Particularistic identity politics, often hand in hand with political partisanship on behalf of specific religious kin groups, threatens to obscure the universalistic normative aspirations around which freedom of religion or belief has been conceptualized. This even happens in intergovernmental forums politically tasked with the defense of universal human rights (Bielefeldt, H. February 2013). In his article entitled Misperception of Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt explores the freedom of religion or belief as recognized as an international human right. He looks at different auspices such as combatting the defamation of religions and preserving state imposed inter-religious harmony or promoting ideological versions of state secularism.
Throughout our history, there have been arguments over human rights, racism, and how far the Church can delve into the political arena. This is all a sub topic of the issue written into the constitution concerning church and state and the misinterpretations that we have over the First Amendment to the Constitution. E.R. Norman, a historian protests that the separation of church and state in the federal constitution was not originally intended to disconnect Christianity and public life; it was a device to prevent the supremacy of one sect over another (Hamburger, P. 2002). So as we continue forward in this discussion, we find that religious group leaders, if not made of impeccable moral fiber, can come unwound if they obtain too high of a public office. Therefore, it would be better suited for them to keep their political aspects local where they can continue to mentor their church congregation and support human rights issues in their local communities. This can prevent them from getting over the top and inciting a riotous claim against another religious group or attempting to persuade the entire country to believe their own religious slant. Could it be a better idea for Christians to come together as a group, with a single mindedness of cause to restore the morals in this country like praying in schools, in homes, as families and applying values learned in the bible and in church to their lives. In the event that a man or woman of impeccable moral fiber who has been tested and found impermeable by influential issues because of pragmatic thinking and ability to decide what is best for society at large wants to run for public office; It is still best to keep it on the local level to prevent being smeared by the media or tempted to leave the group that they help the most to live a good moral christian lifestyle for a political career.
We see that religious group leaders being allowed to play a role in political advocacy stand on the fact that our country was founded upon Christian values and they have depreciated over the years. This is exemplified by prayer being removed from the public school system, and lack of religious discipline in American families. The side of the argument that is against religious groups being allowed to act as political advocates say that state imposed inter-religious harmony may not be promoting ideological versions of state secularism. Additionally, religious group leaders may not have the courage to pursue sensitive issues concerning human rights or stop terrorist threats to our common welfare in a timely manner. Therefore it is okay for an organized religious group leader to become a political advocate, however it is best that they keep in on the local level. At the end of the day, both sides are correct. How much value do we hold in the American family and the foundation upon which this country is built is dependent on how well we continue to define how far we should go to persuade others to apply our individualized religious beliefs.
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