The 2006 elections bring with them an increase in the number of concerns expressed over the appropriate role of religion in politics, an increase in the number of questions about the relationship between faith and electoral process, and an increase in the volume of the public debate regarding the exact location of the dividing line between ”church and state.” Two of the major ongoing debates in our society are over what “the free exercise of religion,” guaranteed by the Constitution, and governmental “establishment of religion,” prohibited by the Constitution, truly mean.

In California two situations have gained significant attention from the print and electronic media. In Southern California, the Internal Revenue Service is threatening to revoke the tax exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church of Pasadena for a sermon condemning the Iraq War. The IRS claims that the sermon was a partisan attack on President Bush. The church maintains that it was a simple call for justice and integrity in the dealings of the United States with other countries. In point of fact religious leaders, both conservative and liberal, have lined up in support of All Saints saying that what the church is accused of is nothing more than taking a stand for social justice within the dictates of its religious tradition.

In Northern California, a prominent San Francisco pastor has been employed as a consultant by the Scharzenegger for Governor Campaign. The pastor, the Reverend Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church, has long been involved in local, state and national politics. For a time he was an appointed, and then elected, member of the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. His hiring by the Schwarzenegger campaign raises eyebrows in that two years ago Brown was an opponent of the Governor. It raises ethical concerns in that it makes it difficult to know where his work as a Christian minister ends and where his work as a political consultant ends. When he stands in the pulpit is he speaking as Pastor Brown or political consultant Brown?

The Interfaith Alliance, a Washington based lobbying group, published a guide for political candidates about how to relate to religion with integrity. Among the main points were:

  1. You cannot fake authenticity
  2. “People of faith” is not a voting bloc
  3. Don’t suggest spiritual authority can be transferred into political authority
  4. Respect religious diversity and religious liberty
  5. Don’t assume that agreement on religion guarantees agreement on politics
  6. If you choose to speak in a house of worship, respect IRS guidelines and respect the integrity of religion. (Houses of worship should be “partisan politics free zones.”)

I find these points to be helpful in sorting out all the competing claims and ideas. As the guide reminds the prospective candidates under point 3:

One crucial component about the knowledge of religion is a commitment to the forgotten virtue of humility. Religious leaders don’t know enough about God, holiness, or transcendent mystery to be able to declare a candidate as “the chosen one.”

We have a sacred obligation to declare our values in the public square. We have a sacred obligation to stop short of saying any candidate, or office holder, fully embodies those values.