There appear to be certain religious connotations attached to the two prevailing political parties in our country. The Republicans are closely aligned with Christian fundamentalism with its highly partisan view of Christianity, the one which insists that only proper Christians are approved by God and therefore fit to run the country. The Democrats by comparison are more attuned to a developing ecumenicalism within American Christianity which allows for other faiths and beliefs to participate on an equal basis in our society and its governing institutions.
As we turn to the political differences between these two parties, we need to note that all parties in the American political system share a commonality. All parties will have positions which address the most obvious of governmental priorities, namely the economy and national security. The differences will be in the proposed ways to measure and address these priorities through public policy. The business of ethical or moral implications will inevitably influence policy decisions, often under the influence of the religious elements which support opposing positions, in our case between Christian exclusiveness or Christian ecumenicalism.
So let’s consider the issue of economics from the two religious perspectives. Firstly, all church people have a great respect for wealth. That goes without saying. The two views points diverge in how they view that wealth, what it signifies in relationship to God. For many in the fundamentalist camp, the wealthy individual is marked as blessed by God, implying that they are morally superior. Theological aspects like those expressed in the Prosperity Gospel and to a larger extent in the general insistence that America has excelled because of its Christian affiliation are based on this idea of wealth reflecting God’s approval. The underlying assertion is that those with wealth deserve to be rich because they are just better people overall. It is the American concept of meritocracy expressed in religious terms.
The alternative religious view of wealth does not dismiss the significance of financial success, but the conclusions drawn from that success are different. Such success is seen as much more than the result of virtue, intelligence, and virtue; but also, in significant measure, of favorable and random life circumstances. And, instead of investing in the individual a moral superiority which bestows a right to claim lordship over others, that wealth carries with it an obligation to use it constructively for the larger good. The basic difference in view then boils down to the responsibilities which the wealthy should accept- either to use that wealth to pursue more and more and claim God’s greater personal blessing or to act in Christian charity to bless others.
When we move to address national security, I think the religious difference become even more stark. To the religious fundamentalist, national security is basically a matter for the military and law enforcement. Everything under the umbrella of national security is covered by the use of force, often of the violent type. If foreign enemies can be kept outside our borders, and internal criminals are quickly eliminated by death or imprisonment, then national security is covered in this limited view.
The religious ecumenicalists see a much broader picture of national security. In addition they likely don’t accept that our security and that of others in the world can be easily separated and yet maintained. For this group national security is not achieved separate and apart from the security of each citizen from all of those factors which threaten life and general wellbeing.
This broader security includes things like economic security- the assurance that one can actually participate in the economy successfully and earn a living wage. Economic prosperity cannot be reduced to merely having any sort of employment; it must include an adequate job which provides money for life necessities and some surplus. This definition of national security includes guaranteed health care, protections from natural disasters, environmental security, and a vast array of issues related to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Limited government, lower and lower taxation, reduced governmental involvement in commercial activities, and more and more military expenditures do not remotely address most of what should be included as national security issues under this paradigm.
The religious supporters of Republican politics are prone to dismiss people of the ecumenical persuasion as godless and opponents of religious freedom. The truth is of course much more complex than that. Seeing the divine as more attuned to mankind in general than just to some narrow partisan group is not to deny God and a sense of divine accountability even. Instead this more accepting religious view aligns well with what Jesus actually emphasized in his teaching. He certainly never encouraged wealth seeking as a sign of godliness. He rejected violence and militarism in both his life style and his guidance to his disciples. He succinctly dismissed the notion that we please God other than by how we treat the most lowly among us, including foreigners and prisoners. So, far from being ungodly, the “ecumenicalist” can rightfully claim a divine mandate, equal to anything the fundamentalist can claim from the same sacred text.