Sep 17, 2012

What good does religion do in politics?

"Current distrust of the role of religion in politics, is focused upon the divisive force of hot button issues, such as abortion, gay and lesbian rights, school prayer, 'family values,' the putative 'secularization' of American society, the role of the religious right in electoral politics, all polarized by the intemperate, and emotional, if not vitriolic, language of print, radio, television, and internet commentators, who increase the size and arouse the emotions of their audiences by frequently belittling, ridiculing, and demonizing those with whom they disagree. In this atmosphere, comity, trust, civility, and fellow regard, necessary habits for democratic discourse cannot thrive. Recently, I was browsing in my local bookstore, when two clerks, who knew I taught courses in religion, confronted me with an urgent question:  'What good does religion do in politics?' They clearly were agitated by some issue of the so-called 'culture wars' featured in the news that morning. As I paused, they added 'in 25 words or less.'
"'I don’t need 25,' I replied. 'My answer is Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.' 
"They were surprised and then nodded, 'O.K. but they were exceptions,' as if I'd cheated. They were, of course, right King and Parks were exceptional, but they are exemplary of the values of citizenship which we ought to try to emulate. And both were inspired and motivated by the religious institutions and values of African-American social Christianity."
-- Albert J. Raboteau, a leading scholar of African-American religion and winner of the James W.C. Pennington Award, on the hope of religion in politics.

Read the full speech: "Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement: As Precedent for Religion in U.S. Politics."