The word “God” not a political wedge, Rep. Ryan

Mary Altaffer AP Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a campaign event at Kirkwood Community College … Continued

Mary Altaffer


Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a campaign event at Kirkwood Community College on Sept. 4, 2012 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Republican vice-presidential nominee, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, attempted on Wednesday to make the word “God” into a political wedge issue. He said that the Democratic Party “purged” mentions of God from their platform, and that is “not in keeping with our founding documents, our founding vision.”

It is well to keep in mind, of course, is that the word “God” is not in “our founding documents,” i.e. the Constitution. “Religious freedom,” however, is in both our “founding documents,” and in the Democratic National Platform.

But what is really troubling to me in Ryan’s statement is the subtext that saying, or even just printing the word “God,” is the same thing as being faithful to the movement of God in history. I believe Ryan is trying to say that somehow the Democratic Party is “against God.”

As a Christian minister and a lifelong Democrat, I know just how untrue that is. But even implying such a thing is dangerously divisive, and sets the different approaches to faith and values in our diverse American society against one another.

View Photo Gallery: Faith is on display at the gathering of delegates, held this year in Charlotte.

We must recognize that just saying the word “God” does not guarantee faithfulness; it can even be regarded as the opposite of faithfulness, an attempt to make an idol of an infinite God.

Judaism has held that the name of “God” should be unspoken (outside the temple). This fits with the meaning of the name given in Exodus 3:14, where Moses wants a “name” to take to the Israelites so they will believe him about God’s direction. God speaks, and uses the dynamic formulation of “I AM.” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Moses doesn’t get “a name,” Moses gets revelation of the infinite being of God. The gods of Egypt, by contrast, really were idols.

From a Christian perspective, faith in God is not demonstrated so much by “talking the talk” of using God language as much as it is “walking the walk” of doing what Jesus taught us to do. That is, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and care about those in prison.

When Jesus separates the “sheep and the goats,” the saved and the unsaved in Matthew 25:31-46, the only question that matters is whether someone cared for the “least of these,” the poor, the naked, the homeless and those in prison.

Those being judged ask Jesus, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Jesus replies, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

How does the “Ryan budget” stack up by that measure of faithfulness?

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."

    Religion has always been political – it has been used historically to maintain ruling classes, exclude and oppress minorities and to insulate minorities from assimilation.

    Religion may be the opiate of the masses, but to the ruling classes it has always been a Remington shotgun loaded with buckshot.

  • mikedanmom

    Wow, must have worked but the democrats proved they can’t count up to two thirds

  • mikedanmom

    Watching the Mayor of Los Angeles trying to count the votes of putting God and Jerusalem back in the platform was truly pitiful.

  • quiensabe

    When Jesus separates the “sheep and the goats,” Susan, the only question that matters is whether you believed Jesus is the Son of God.

    Anyone can care for the poor, the naked and so on and still fail in this life. That’s the tragedy of where we are. How can the democrats think they’re doing God’s will by killing children in the womb and encouraging homosexual activity as acceptable?

    You, of all people, as a representative of God on earth should know these things. Yet you ignore the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

  • Shingo56

    Oh dare Ryan insinuate God is or is not part of any platform! God is judge. Shame on you Ryan! Shame on you!

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “When Jesus separates the “sheep and the goats,” Susan, the only question that matters is whether you believed Jesus is the Son of God.”

    Are you saying that this verse is the only thing in the bible that has any validity?

    By the way, “Gospel” means GOOD NEWS and as the Angels announced at Jesus’s birth, I believe it was, “Peace to whom God’s favor rests” and “This is GOOD NEWS for ALL the people”.

  • madmax476

    How can the republicans claim they’re doing God’s work by lying at every turn, ignoring and marginalizing the poor, enriching the wealthy at the expense of the poor, vilifying immigrants and preaching hate of fellow Americans from the pulpit … Hypocrite be thy name

  • quiensabe

    What I’m saying, Thomas, is that believing in Jesus Christ must come first. After that, you are commanded to go into all the world and preach the “Gospel.” Your good works should follow because you love Him. We have God’s grace and we cannot gain His favor through good works. “We are saved through faith and not works lest any man should boast.”

  • Catken1

    “How can the democrats think they’re doing God’s will by killing children in the womb and encouraging homosexual activity as acceptable? ”

    You’re right! How DARE we treat half of God’s children as human beings who own their own bodies, when God meant them to be property, breeding machines, things to be used! Obviously, God gave women the burden and work of reproduction, but not the intelligence or consideration to make responsible choices as to when and how. God didn’t make us PEOPLE, after all – an undifferentiated blastula with no nerve cells or brain is a person, but to call its living, thinking, feeling mother a human being is just BLASPHEMY. She’s property!

    And when God gave gay people loves, families, happiness, and comfort, S/he didn’t actually mean for them to USE them. Nooo. Love is a Bad Thing for some of us, family is a Sinful Evil, and caring for someone faithfully through life makes you deserving of hellfire – if you have the wrong dangly bits, that is.

    Your God is like a parent who gave ten presents to ten children, told nine of them, “I gave you a good present! Use it responsibly, but enjoy it and love it!” and the tenth, “I gave you a bad, flawed present. It might be just like the others to your eyes – it might give you as much joy and happiness as the presents I gave your siblings- but it would be WRONG for you to love and enjoy it. Put it in the closet, hide it, never look at it again, and don’t you DARE complain that you don’t get the love and happiness your siblings get. I MEANT for you to be lonely and unloved, and if you DARE seek love and happiness, I will BURN you!”


    I was SPECIFICALLY thinking of the fate of the Jews during the Inquistion in Spain. Inquisition = Catholicism = christian.

    And the Cathars.

    Oh, and those blacks whom the christian god had ordained to be slaves in America. Mark of Cain, right?

  • tony55398

    When you die God will ask, “Did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless”, in other words did you Love your neighbor as yourself. Love is God itself and no one can enter Heaven without possessing the Love that saves, God.

  • quiensabe

    I’ll pray for you, Catken.


  • PhilyJimi

    Quiensabe – If you believe in an all powerful and all knowing god then your god has killed plenty of children in the womb. Expcet people just call it a “natural abortion”. But when a doctor does the same exact thing is it now murder, what a strange double standard. Doesn’t the unborn who was abort via a “natrual abortion” also have a soul? How can they get saved by Jesus? Are they buring in hell?

    If you say this is is part of your god’s plan then how is it we also have freewill and he doesn’t interfere in our lives.

    Man made gods and religions, was a mess for all of society.

  • Kingofkings1

    Ryan has a problem. He thinks he is holier than the guy next door

  • cricket44

    Yes, Democrats do respect women and believe that how people love is no one else’s business.

    I’ll pray for your enlightenment, Quiensabe, and that your misguided beliefs never get legislated to damage people.

  • Land94

    I am a pastor.
    I am a Christian.
    I am a democrat.

    No, I don’t think abortion is awesome, but that’s MY belief, and not something that I believe should be forced upon all other people (especially considering I’m not a woman). I’m straight, but do you know what Jesus said about homosexuality?

    At all.

    As a party, as a government, and as politicians, the duty of those who run this country is to provide for all people in it as best they can, not to force their religious beliefs on everyone.

    I am a pastor, who preaches about a God of love who gave all his children free will.

    I do not believe that he gave me free will so that I could take it away from others.

    Often times, the god my atheist friends have rejected, is also the god that I have rejected, which seems to be the god that (most) republicans talk about.

    An angry, wrathful, furious god who is here to punish and marginalize, and take away all free will which he has blesses us with.

    Again, my God gave me free will, but not so I could take it away from everyone else.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “What I’m saying, Thomas, is that believing in Jesus Christ must come first. After that, you are commanded to go into all the world and preach the “Gospel.” Your good works should follow because you love Him. We have God’s grace and we cannot gain His favor through good works. “We are saved through faith and not works lest any man should boast.” ”

    What you’re saying is that you have either constructed the “box” or found that “box” that you have crammed God into and you “know” the steps to be taken to get to this “God” of yours and “win over” His favor.

    Did you get God’s permission to make God so small as to basically turn following God into a set of rules or a formula?

    By the way, Gospel means GOOD NEWS and for those that think that as long as they get to the “good place” than that is Good News or at least good enough news , I feel sorry for.

  • ThomasBaum

    Didn’t God become One of us for ALL of us?

    Some will take detours, but isn’t that just like God to have “won” the “keys” to the detours?

  • quiensabe

    Well, let’s start with you Pastor Land94. So Jesus did not address homosexuality by name. He did say that a man should leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife. Of course, we must assume he meant a woman and not another man. He also said He didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

    Secondly, no one is forcing Christianity on anyone. And, yes, you have free will. You, and others who are promoting perverted activities, are forcing your beliefs on me. You should know that you will be resisted. I do not want my children or grandchildren being taught that perversion is normal.

    Third, God is not angry. But He is Holy and if you have read the Bible, you know, especially as a pastor, that He cannot look upon sin. As a pastor, you should also know that there is where Jesus comes in. He was made sin so that we could enter in. You should also know there is no other way.

    I suggust, Pastor Land94, you start at the beginning and get re-born, because it is obvious that you are not.

    I will pray for you too.

  • SimonTemplar

    Sure, simply putting the word God into their platform, as the party leadership did the other day, is meaningless. However, their original CHOICE to REMOVE the word God is anything BUT meaningless. If their document had never used the word, or if they had removed it years ago and Ryan was merely commenting on the absence of the word alone, then Thistlethwaite’s position might be valid. But their deliberate choice to remove it is in and of itself a statement and statements will receive attention and if necessary rebuttal. Otherwise, why do you feel the need to defend the Democratic Party’s original position? They walked into this one with their eyes wide open.

  • backspace1

    amos 2 and deuteronomy 13, in spite of these hesresies? and what do we do with this better half of darker angel.

    it isn’t irony, an emptiness of words for those of us that seek in gathering. perhaps in disdain, for a lack of purpose or a jealousy, out of fear of understanding.
    or maybe when we get there, or maybe someone will say and ask, r we there yet?

    professor as we heresied thru thesis and the twisting of scripture, i would like to ask my fellow inmates,to pause and reflect through my eyes.

    as I accept the vision of world through corrupt eyes, and as i pass the torch in exit, or in surrender of my values, was it worth the price paid to have partaken in the discussion?
    i guess perhaps one day, the fight will end?

  • persiflage

    Ryan comes off as a whiny, shrill adolescent – fingernails on a chalkboard.
    Listening to this pompous fool’s monotonous vocal perturbations on the subject of God, religion, reproductive rights, and the prerogatives of the ruling class is beyond obnoxious – for just 5 minutes. Imagine having to listen to this joker for four very long years………

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