On God and Government: The Interview

As we often hear about the separation of church and state, but we don’t always hear about religion’s impact in government through lobbying and campaign contributions. Yet, with the 2012 presidential campaign season approaching, we hear about the importance the evangelicals have in early states as Iowa and South Carolina.

Let’s not kid ourselves, religion has always played a role in our government. James Madison had a reason for including freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights, and the same be said for Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. The US Supreme Court first used “building a wall of separation between church and State” in Reynolds v United States (1878).

William Jennings Bryan’s rooted his presidential campaigns in his faith. Rev. Billy Graham influencing the White House goes back to President Eisenhower. Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority served as a force for the conservative right in the 1980s. Today, Rev James Dobson’s Focus on the Family is strong. By the way, the PBS series God in America is a wonderful learning opportunity. (Video, transcripts, and other resources are here.)

On Easter Sunday, ABC’s This Week (with Christiane Amanpour) used the entire hour to feature God and Government. Below are some points that I found interesting.

The show opened with separate interviews with two prominent pastors: Rev. Franklin Graham and Rev. Tim Keller. Listen to them helps demonstrate differences within Christianity. The interviews are on this link.

Equally information was the roundtable discussion between Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Eboo Patel, founder of a the Interfaith Youth Core and a former member of President Obama’s Faith Advisory Council, Reverend Al Sharpton, and ABC’s Cokie Roberts and her husband Steve Roberts, an interfaith couple (Catholic and Jewish). Again, the theological differences are both profound and interesting. Here are a couple of quotes that struck me.

(C Roberts) Well, one would hope that religion stands in the place of trying to make people come together on high ground. But the – the fact is is that – that there’s lots of arguing and yelling and screaming and it takes place among religious people; in some cases inside churches. But I don’t want to go too far on this because keep in mind this – in this country, we’re not fighting with each other over religion. And that’s happening in most parts of the world.

(Sharpton) If – with – with all of us sitting around this table from different faiths, if those that we learned and emulate those faiths that Mohammed and Jesus and Moses set out, they wouldn’t have a problem. It’s those that come in their names that have so polarized American and world society. And I think if we sought to rise to the level, the thinking, the spirituality of those that we claim to follow, we would be able to break those barriers down.

(Patel) Faith can either be a bomb of destruction. It can be a barrier of division. Or it can be a bridge of cooperation. Our job is to make it a bridge of cooperation.

(Patel) We have a remarkable opportunity in this country. This is the first nation that brings people from the four corners of the Earth from every conceivable ethnic, racial, religious, national background to build together a country. We have an opportunity to be a city on a hill where the Mosque, the Synagogue, the Church, the Tsonga, the secular humanist society, works together in a world in which those communities are too often at each other’s throats.

(S Roberts) I think an even more pressing spiritual issue is tolerance. Our whole history has been replete with spasms of intolerance. And eventually we overcome them, and we have to do it again. … But history tells us that that will change. For 250 years that each new group America says we’re now perfect, we’re going to pull up the drawbridge, because the next group – the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Irish, the Jews, the Chinese, the Japanese, they’re going to degrade our culture. All of the rhetoric, all of the hate, all of the nativism that is being focused on Muslims and to some extent on Latinos today, we’ve heard periodically throughout our entire history.

(Land) (about the birthers and those thinking President Obama is a Muslim) I think they’re irrational, and a little imbalanced. I – I have no doubt whatsoever that Barrack Obama is a very typical 21st century main line Protestant. …  I say the idea that he wasn’t born in Hawaii, and the idea that he’s a Muslim is just flat nuts.

What are your thoughts?


14 thoughts on “On God and Government: The Interview

  1. The quote about religion being both a tool for destruction and a for construction is spot on. As in any source of power, you can use it to build or to destroy. The problem with religion, as opposed to most other things, is its’ basis in faith. If you say the Earth is flat, I can pull facts to (try to) convince you otherwise. But how do you prove which religion is “right”?
    Partly related is the quote from the Supreme Court about the wall between religion and politics. The original intention of the “separation of church and state” was so the government did not support one religion as “the state’s religion”. It was never intended to either inject or subtract religion totally from the political argument. And for those who love to toss around the “one nation, UNDER GOD” line from the Pledge, bear in mind that phrase (“under God”) was added in the Fifties as a reaction to perceived intrusions of “Godless Communism”.
    Sorry, I’m distracted. “K-19:The Widow-Maker” is on. A fantastic, wonderful, heart-breaking, soul-elevating movie of the love of man for his fellow man – oddly enough, aboard a Soviet missile-armed nuclear submarine during the Cold War. And with a small subtext of religion, just to keep it “on topic”. They just had the final toast to the men who died. I’ll now sign off and go weep for a few minutes, as I do every time I see the movie – and I’ve seen it over a hundred times, literally. “To comrades!” Goodnight, Frank, my fellow Ohioan Tovarisch!


    • John,
      Not only was that episode of This Week was loaded with wonderful quotes, it also had some head-shaking moments. But in this post, I picked the high road. I enjoyed the show so much, I watched it again yesterday!

      Interestingly, you mention several of phrases that the public commonly misunderstands: “separation of church and state”, “one nation under God,” and I’ll add “In God We Trust.” As you know well, everything has a history, thus a context. Ah ha … possible future posts! Thanks for sharing.


  2. GOOD Morning, Frank!

    Another informative, interesting and thought-provoking gem. I was encouraged with S. Robert’s comments, and hope one day more attention is spent on tolerance and less upon fear/hate.

    Listen, on a non-related matter, just a note of THANKS to you and John for your classy move, sharing some profound thoughts on behalf of my late mentor….hat tip. Off to read some of my favorite reading–your “Opinions in the Shorts”–woohoo!Have a great week!


  3. Lots of important things to think about in your post today. First, I like the HOPE that religion can be a bridge of cooperation. Second, I like the WARNING that religion can be a bomb of destruction. And third, I like how this country LUCKED OUT with Founding Fathers who through their knowledge of European systems of government and legal codes, tried their best through the U.S. Constitution and the Bill Of Rights to prevent anyone, or any group, or any court, from using religion as a QUALIFICATION to get elected to public office or render a decision in a court of law.


  4. If you are interested in the topic of US politics/history and religion, read Mark Noll’s “America’s God”. It is a highly readable account of history and politics. It is a “big” book but a fabulous read. More than once as I read it, I found myself stopping and thinking, “so that’s why we do that”.


  5. Thanks for posting the link to the interview! I am very much in favor of the understanding that the job of government is to ensure we have the ability and right to believe (or not believe) as we choose, not the intention to mandate principles of individual beliefs into the national specter or “right” or “wrong”.

    Great article!


    • Beaglezmom … can I use Beagz for short?

      Well said. When it comes to elections, I’m cautious about those from the far right. You know the type … they make it seem they speak for all that our religious, and of course want everyone to adopt their line of thinking. Nonetheless, this was a wonderful show and watching it will be worth your time. Thanks for commenting.


  6. I agree with you religion has always played a part in politics in America.. Mostly because we have been a religious country. But what if that changes? What if tolerance becomes indifference? I see a trend. A trend of tolerance, which I suppose is good, but now a lack of passion follows. We must learn to uphold our beliefs with passion while loving those with a different worldview. We can not give up everything this nation has held fast – both the freedom of religion and a Christian or at very least Deist beginning. The moment we let go of one, the rights of the other will be revoked. It is our very “Christian” nature as a nation that allows us to be tolerant.


    • Journey,
      Consider watching the 3-part PBS series God in America as it does a good job of capturing various aspects of religion in America. Of course it can’t cover everything in 3 hours. Regarding today, I see “the battle” continuing between different Christian groups. Whereas some are tolerant to other Christians and other faiths, others what to impose their religious “values” upon all of us. Nonetheless, this program helped me see the divisions and all those interviewed were respected to all – yet differences are evident. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


  7. I really liked Sharpton’s comment. If we emulate the spirituality of the leaders like Jesus, Mohammed, etc., we’d be better off.

    Religion will always play a role, but those who invoke it should be very careful with their behavior. Like Ensign. Religious hypocrisy is the worst, and they get knocked off their high horse quite quickly after a scandal.


    • Spinny,
      The theological differences of the guests were evident. Yet, those quotes were the ones that struck me the most. One thing for sure, there is no shortage of religious hypocrites! Thanks for commenting.


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