The Common Good
April 2008

The God Factor

by Molly Marsh | April 2008

Books that bridge faith and politics.

These days, you’d have to work pretty hard to avoid the flood of books on faith and politics. We’ve highlighted many of them in our pages, including The Party Faithful, by Amy Sullivan; Souled Out, by E.J. Dionne Jr.; Faith in the Halls of Power, by D. Michael Lindsay; The Scandal of Evan­gelical Politics, by Ron Sider; Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (see review, page 45); and of course Jim Wallis’ The Great Awakening. Here are a few more to consider.

How should a Christian approach faith and politics in a pluralistic society? For a good primer, see Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics (BakerBooks), by Amy Black, a professor of politics and international relations at Wheaton College. Black covers all the thorny issues, including the myths around America as a “Christian” nation, whether Christians must vote Repub­lican, why the U.S. has two political parties, the functions of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, and what the Con­sti­tution actually says about the role of religion. The final section helps readers apply their own faith to politics.

For religion professor Charles Marsh, author of Way­ward Christ­­­­­ian Sol­diers: Freeing the Gospel from Polit­ical Cap­tivity (Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press), the political strength of evangelicals, particularly conservative leaders, has come at a great cost. “We have too often seized the language of the faith and made it captive to our partisan agendas—and done so with contempt for Scrip­ture, tradition, and the global ecumenical church,” he writes. Ex­hibit A is American evangelicals’ overwhelming support for the invasion of Iraq, a plan that became identified with the will of God. Marsh offers a thoughtful, well-written jeremiad that ultimately calls us to a season of reflection and repentance, so that we can rededicate ourselves to being the “peculiar people” of Christ.

In Red Letter Christians: A Citi­zen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (Regal Books), Tony Campolo directs our attention to the radical words of Jesus—marked in red in some versions of the Bible—and how they might apply to a range of issues, including the environment, the Iraq war, AIDS, gay rights, gun control, abortion, immigration, and economic issues such as the federal budget and the minimum wage. Instead of lining up as Republicans or Democrats, writes this Eastern University professor in his characteristically direct style, we should say, “Name the issue” and go from there.

In A New Kind of Conservative (Regal Books), Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland church in Longwood, Florida, urges conservatives to expand their list of biblical concerns to include poverty, social justice, AIDS, and the environment. He dispels five myths about religion and politics (among them: “We Can Fix Things if We Elect Christians into Office”), and discusses the difference between being a Christian in politics and being Christlike in politics. Above all, he calls us to become mature Christians, to debate ideas and policies accurately and respectfully, and to know the issues.

Michael Gerson, former speech­­writer for President George W. Bush, calls conservatives and Repub­licans to a more compassionate conservatism in Heroic Conser­vatism: Why Repub­licans Need to Embrace Amer­i­­­ca’s Ideals (HarperOne). Ger­son, who defends the war on Iraq as pursuing a “noble goal,” considers the Bush administration’s aid to Africans suffering from HIV/AIDS a prime illustration of the “heroic.” “If Republicans run in future elections with a simplistic anti-government message, ignoring the poor, the addicted, and children at risk, they will lose, and they will deserve to lose,” he writes.

Molly Marsh is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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