Politics. Did reading that word make you shudder or elicit a reflexive eye roll and groan of exasperated pain and/or boredom? Is this a topic you try to stay away from in certain company?
If the answer to either question is yes, you are not alone. I am right there with you. Politics is not my bag — I have no use for it. As a matter of fact, in parts of my family, I am sort of the black sheep when it comes to politics because I don’t engage in it. I’ll be completely honest with you right now: I haven’t voted in the last few presidential elections because I can’t wrap my head around the idea of voting against a candidate instead of for one. Many people vote for candidates they don’t necessarily know or like in hopes of preventing another candidate from winning.
However, I have a deeper concern when it comes to politics and that is that I have a certain set of standards I live by that are informed by my religious faith and there hasn’t been anyone for me to vote for that represents those standards. My family has often counseled me that I need to set my faith aside to vote, that my faith shouldn’t be influencing my politics. I have had to tell them every time they suggest this that I can’t do that because my faith isn’t something I do, my faith is who I am. It is my identity, and I can’t just set aside my identity whenever it’s inconvenient. It is this idea of faith being identity — and not just something you do — that I want to share with you while you’re enjoying that morning cup of coffee (or evening cup of coffee — don’t limit yourself as to when you can enjoy that lovely brown liquid).
As I read or watch social media these days, I keep seeing people perpetuate this idea that people of faith are messing up politics and that they should leave their religious beliefs at the door when it comes to voting or expressing support for any other of a multitude of issues being debated in our country today. I think people feel this way because they assume faith is an action instead of an identity. There are many people of faith who find themselves in this place — whether we are a Christian, a Muslim, a Wiccan, a Buddhist or anything else, our faith is viewed as something that we do, not who we are. So with that understanding of people of faith, would you still ask them to set that identity aside to engage in politics? If the answer is yes, then to be fair, you would also have to ask people to set aside other things that make up someone’s identity: Their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, culture, etc. I’d like to believe that many people wouldn’t feel like that would be right, appropriate or helpful. We are a country of diverse views, opinions and passions that are informed by our identity. We should never try and exclude those things from our politics. We are a better country and people by having those diverse identities represented in our politics than we would be without. With that being said, here are a couple of what I hope are helpful thoughts to contemplate:
When interacting with people of faith, try and approach them with the understanding that their respective faiths are not what they do, it’s who they are. Consider how your conversation with them might change when you realize that they just can’t set aside that faith. Take a minute and contemplate what politics would look like if people of different faith traditions and people who are not religious could accept each other’s identities and look at how to bring those together in the best way possible for the greater good.
If you’re a person of faith, make sure whatever is that you’ve got going on is actually a part of your faith, that your identity matches up. Speaking from the Christian point of view that is my identity, that means if you claim to be a Christian, you do not make allowances for hate, dehumanizing others or tearing people down. If you do any of these things, your identity is based on a perverted view of Christ and you need to make some changes. This idea is easily translatable to other faiths. While I can’t speak for another faith because that’s not who I am, I encourage everyone to let your identity be the best version of your faith and not the worst.
We have so much brokenness in this country and in this world these days. We need to take every opportunity to bring healing in every place we can. One of the constants that exists in pretty much every faith — and outside of faith — is that we are meant to live in community with one another. That won’t happen until we stop seeing religious faith as a demographic trait and realize it as an integral part of a person’s core identity.
The Rev. Joshua Manning is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church of Ipswich. Midweek Musings rotates among North Shore clergy.