By all measures, I am devout. I read the Bible daily and consider it to be God's word. I pray before meals. I go to church on Sunday and have no trouble saying the creed. In short, I believe the fullness of the truth is found within the Christian faith.
But I am sick and tired of watching Christians baptize their political beliefs or anoint their leaders as favored by God. Sometimes this is blatant, as when some members of the evangelical movement suggest there is a "Christian" position on everything from the Middle East to tax policy to capital punishment. Others tout their leaders as the "Christian" choice. This seems to be the modus operandi of Mike Huckabee's campaign. (Of course, he is a Christian candidate. But so are all the others.)
And while the right side of the political spectrum tends to be especially adept at trumpeting this faith connection, the left is not completely innocent on this issue, either. In the past year I have been in the company of plenty of "enlightened" Christians who assume that George Bush is a surrogate for demonic forces.
So what is the solution? Many in the media and academia assume that religion should be left in the private realm. They point to the dangers of intolerance and theocracy and suggest that faith commitments simply do not belong in the public square. It is fine to pray, worship and read the Bible. But keep it at home or in the sanctuary. This is toxic stuff and it needs to be contained.
But I could never countenance such a solution. My faith is not something merely private. I am called to love my neighbor and that inevitably involves me in the political arena. Moreover, I believe God created the world and remains deeply involved in the world. God calls us to be stewards of that creation and God also has a passionate commitment to love and justice in the humanity community. The call to compartmentalize faith is a call to abandon it. Therein lies the dilemma. How do you live out deeply held beliefs in the public realm without being obnoxious and arrogant?
My answer is rooted in the Lutheran tradition, but I would suggest it has wide applicability across the Christian faith. It begins with an understanding that we do not live out our faith in an attempt to impress God. My political views do not make me more "righteous." Also, there is no candidate running for president who enjoys the special blessing of God.
When it comes to politics, my goal as a Christian is to serve the neighbor and tend to creation to the best of my ability. Like the rest of humanity, I use the gift of reason to determine how best to do that. And it is not always the case that Christians have the best ideas about how to order society. For example, Thomas Jefferson has much of great value to say about the pursuit of justice and equality. But he rejected the central claims that Christians make about Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, I proceed in the realm of politics with the knowledge that I could be wrong. My position is not necessarily the "will of God." Where has God made his position known on the race for the presidency or U.S. involvement in the Middle East? So I move forward with humility while avoiding the sin of indifference. Politics does matter. But Christians dare not exhibit an arrogance that confuses their political beliefs with those of God.
One happy fruit of this point of view might be to interject some civility into American political life. After all, it is difficult to have a political discussion with someone who is convinced they are representing the will of the Lord.
Faith ought to drive one to care for the neighbor and creation. But Christians need to recognize that they have no special mandate from heaven on the legislation or leader that will best get the job done. For the sake of the secular realm, both neighbor and creation might be better served if Christians were less "religious."
Mark Tranvik is an associate professor of religion at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.