When God gets tossed around in politics, Americans usually think of conservative evangelicals pushing hot-button issues like restrictions on abortion. But a December interfaith gathering of Metro Detroiters made it clear that the Almighty gets carried across all ideological lines.
Former Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida gathered 11 congregations in Detroit — Jewish and Muslim as well as Christian — to promote passage of the then-pending auto industry bailout bill in Congress. Representing a parts supplier, James Settles asked congregants at a Detroit church "to continue your prayers, so we can see a miracle."
Then there is the People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), made up of more than 1,000 churches and faith-based groups. It staged a "prayer rally" outside of the Treasury building to protest home foreclosures. The Rev. Lucy Kolin of Oakland declared: "This building behind us has the power to prevent another two million foreclosures."
The organization is a bit like a Christian Coalition of the left.
There's nothing wrong with any of these positions — or those espoused by the religious right. America has a long history of politically active clerics.
But none of them necessarily reflects religious, or at least Christian, principles.
Christians have spent the better part of two millennia attempting to work out the proper relationship between religion and politics. That usually meant one institution attempting to control the other.
The ugly result — the abuse of government power, corruption of the church and magnification of the impact of human sin — demonstrates the true genius of the First Amendment. The institutions of church and state should remain separate, but religious no less than secular principles play a legitimate role in the public square.
However, applying Christian principles requires more than a little humility. The Bible tells much about man's relationship to God and man, but very little about the role of government. That is, Christian principles yield no specific legislative agenda.
For instance, one cannot read Scripture without a profound appreciation of our duty to help our neighbors. However, we are commanded to give, not to make others give.
The welfare state is a matter of political prudence, not religious principle. That is one reason why the Apostle James encouraged us to ask God for wisdom. Christians are expected to be compassionate, but God does not detail how we are to give compassion practical effect. The point is, compassion is not enough. Consequences matter.
Should the government further bail out the auto industry? Channeling scarce resources into failing industries will divert needed money from existing companies and potential new enterprises, destroying even more jobs.
Attempting to freeze the housing market would merely prolong the agony of many people who borrowed too much. Artificially propping up housing prices also will penalize potential buyers — especially low-income and new purchasers.
A Christian's walk in the political world will never be easy. But Christians should never forget that their principal duties have nothing to do with politics.