05 November 2012

Is God a Republican?

The November 2012 issue of the Seventh Day Adventist magazine Signs of the Times inquires after the party affiliation of the deity on its lurid red cover, but when anyone asks such a question so baldly, the answer is sure to be "No!" Inside, writer Loren Seibold doesn't take the question seriously enough to prove or disprove the point. The big question is just a hook to draw readers into Seibold's discussion of the relationship of religion and partisanship. The writer notes that "It has become virtually impossible to get elected as a Republican without leaning in some way toward conservative Christian values and promising governmental advocacy for the ideas that conservative Christians hold dear." But while noting that "many of these Christian values are also mine," Seibold maintains a skeptical stance toward partisan religiosity. That's not because he doesn't trust any party to perform "governmental advocacy" for his values, but because he doesn't really think that's government's business.

Going against some revisionist historians and theologians who portray Jesus himself as a kind of political radical advocating against the Romans or the rich, Seibold finds his savior "startlingly apolitical." His literal reading of the famous "Render unto Caesar" quote renders Jesus's agenda "hardly the revolution [anyone was] hoping for!" While Seibold insists that "God expects good rulers to make and enforce rules that protect people and property," he generally takes a "my kingdom is not of this world" stance, stressing that since Jesus's time, God has authorized no one, as far as the writer can tell, to rule in his name.

Writing in a publication perhaps self-consciously outside the Christian mainstream, Seibold appreciates that "Even in a country where most of us use the same Bible, we certainly don't all understand it the same way." That raises the "uncomfortable" prospect of favoring one denomination over another. For Adventists, a practical example of undesirable legislation would be a law, long proposed, requiring Christian services to take place on Sundays. In such a scenario, "the politicians who give one religious group what they want may be taking freedom from another." Denominational bias threatens to get in the way of more sensible appraisals of politicians. Pointedly, Seibold claims that "if Abraham Lincoln were running for president today, it's unlikely he could ever be nominated by his own Republican party." While many might agree with that premise because they see Lincoln as a champion of centralized government and some degree of racial equality, Seibold suggests that Abe would be disqualified by the fact that "he was a member of no church, never publicly confessed a creed, and never publicly used religious beliefs to justify his policies." He was also far from telegenic and, as Daniel Day-Lewis intends to demonstrate, had a high-pitched reedy point likely to provoke mockery in our time. In any event, Seibold's observation is valid; Old Abe's reticence toward overt religion would probably hurt him now.

If Seibold meant to argue that Christians have no obligation to vote Republican, his argument is self-evident yet also irrelevant to his potential target audience of believers. After all, even the most dogmatic GOP ideologue would agree with Seibold that "God has no party affiliation." But many will still believe that Christians have obvious and imperative reasons to prefer Republicans over Democrats, while a perhaps smaller number will believe the opposite. There's really little point to proving that God isn't a partisan unless it follows from that that his worshipers shouldn't vote. As long as they can vote, they'll find reasons of faith to vote one way or another -- but at least they'll have Seibold's assurance that they aren't going to Hell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"God expects good rulers to make and enforce rules that protect people and property"

Really? Where does he get that idea from? According to the bible, "god" is very subjective towards whose property and population was deemed worthy of "protection".