Political candidates plead that we leave religion out of politics. That is not possible. Both religion and politics are a part of our human involvements. Both ask for high levels of commitment and both are emotionally charged. Voters feel the pull of both when they step into the voting booth. American voters have not been well-served by news services and their reporters who dance around the issues involved. Three issues come to my mind immediately. I will mention two and write a bit more about the third.
The first issue is Christian nationalism. Most Christians accept America as a secular nation in which religion is to be practiced without government interference. However there are many Christians, who believe the United States was formed to be a Christian nation. They believe it is destiny and the will of God that Christians should rule over non-Christians. Their aim is control. Christian nationalists are not benign. They produce candidates and barter with their votes. Many moderate candidates curry their favor. Their views, their presence, their goals, and their power are rightful topics in our political discourses.
The second is the onslaught against the rights of homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons by religious organizations. The recent Proposition 8 controversy in California is a case in point. The two largest donors to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 were Roman Catholics (through the Knights of Columbus) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Neither broke any law in providing funding for the anti-Prop 8 campaign. Both religious bodies opposed the granting of marriage rights to gay people because of church doctrine. Catholics and Mormons can believe whatever they like, but when they propose that their doctrinal beliefs be made the law of the land, their beliefs become proper subjects of discussion in the political arena.
The third issue has arisen in the very recent struggle over insurance coverage of contraceptives for women. While other religious groups have protested a federal requirement that insurance programs, paid for by employers, include coverage for contraceptives, the loudest voice of protest has come from the Roman Catholic Church.
Roman Catholics have long and clear traditions about human sexuality. According to Catholic teaching, sexual activity has only one purpose….procreation. Sexual intercourse without procreation intent is sinful. Sexual activity for simple enjoyment is not acceptable. The use of any kind of contraceptive by either a male or a female is forbidden. Further, sex related sin is a serious matter. It is a primary expression of lust. Lust is one of the Catholic’s seven deadly sins. In Catholic thinking, contraceptives promote sexual activities that have no positive purpose. In the name of religious freedom Catholics argue against participating in the distribution of contraceptives in any way. They are probably raising a valid constitutional issue. If we understand their theology, we understand their stance. Their belief about human sexuality is ancient and fixed. They are not about to change their minds. Roman Catholics teach that sexual activity is for procreation. When that purpose is thwarted, the will of God has been violated.
The result, whether intentional or not, is the large Catholic family.
In the past large families offered both social and economic benefits. We live in a changing world. World population is exploding. Six billion people on planet earth has quickly become seven billion and eight billion is just around the corner. We talk about pollution of air, land and water. We assess the causes. We tab the burning of fossil fuels with justification. However we sidestep the number one problem of the world. It is population explosion. The explosion of population in much of the world is driven by religious conviction. The reality is that the Roman Catholic Church is a major polluter of the world through the promotion of population growth.
Roman Catholics are not alone. One of the marks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the large family. The family life made possible by large families is treasured. Promotion of large families is part of church teaching. Mormons are the fastest growing religion in America. In the United States, Mormons have little growth beyond birthrate. Utah’s greatest export is excess population.
In the world today the birthrate in Muslim nations is unsustainable. Population growth in India, Africa, and Central and South America is pushing life beyond the resources to sustain the people. Only China has shown any willingness to address the problem of unsustainable population growth.
Can religious practices that actively promote wild population growth be ignored in the name of religious freedom? Religious beliefs and practices that threaten the earth as a place for human habitation cannot be left out of the political dialogue.
Here in the United States there is no religious test for running for public office. Our Bill of Rights keeps government out of the religion business. The Bill of Rights does not keep voters out of religious considerations. When people run for public office, the voting population has a right to know how the candidate’s religion will potentially affect public policy. The Bill of Rights does not ban religion from the public square. When a candidate enters the public square, his/her personal religion is not left behind. Voters have good reasons to ask religious questions.
The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.
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