This weekend the Family Research Council hosts the Values Voter Summit, a conference in the heart of Washington, DC that brings together many of the nation’s top religious and political leaders. Here, the religious right finds easy company with the Republican Party. Members of Congress such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz find warm welcome among those whose faith in God leads them to embrace traditional family and social values. It is a place where rhetoric about God easily turns into rhetoric about nation and where belief easily translates into conservative politics.
As a theologian with political views far different from those given at the Values Voter Summit, I cringe as I listen to speeches invoking God’s name on behalf of political agendas. Friday morning, for example, Marco Rubio gave a stirring account of his faith in Jesus Christ, who “suffered a brutal death and he resurrected from the dead, to erase the sins that separate us from him.” Though Rubio’s words were a matter of faith, they came in the midst of a diatribe bemoaning what he sees is the government’s campaign against traditional values. He fears his understanding of America, “this country that God has blessed us with,” is being lost under the current administration. Indeed, Rubio says, “Despite everything that is going wrong in our country today, I believe with all my heart that God is not done with America yet.” The implications of the senator’s rhetoric are clear: God, and good Christians, are on his political side.
The Christian Gospel, however, offers a vision of God’s kingdom that critiques all forms of government. Faith’s perspective gives hope that humanity can always do better, no matter who is in power. When religion is used to endorse a specific political party, this vision gets compromised. Politics is a messy business, and when it co-opts belief for its own purposes, religion gets dirty and loses its prophetic power. This explains why the third commandment proscribes taking God’s name in vain, and also why many in my generation are turned off by organized religion. Too often religious belief ordains specific programs of political action, as if God were the one who advocates cutting benefits to the poor and restricting equal access to social institutions such as marriage.
As I watch the Values Voter Summit, I become increasingly frustrated with what I see happening there. It is not long before I call upon hellfire and brimstone, considering the judgment that awaits those false prophets who presume to speak on the Almighty’s behalf. I revel in the thought that someday these ones will encounter God and will be set straight in their wrong thinking. Someday, they will give a full account for all their misdeeds and the damage they have done in the name of religion. Someday, they will see the truth about the harm their rhetoric causes to both faith and society.
As my mind turns to judgment, though, my heart reminds me that I believe in a God who forgives sinners. I trust that God offers salvation to a world that often completely misses the mark. There are second chances in God’s kingdom with endless opportunities for grace. Though I desire to condemn, God desires to save. Though I revel in the thoughts of judgment, God invites humanity to restored relationships and communion. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Someday, I smile, people like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — people like me — will know exactly where God stands on political issues. Someday, when God sets us straight, we will all see the truth.
Image via Gage Skidmore.