Why cant we talk about religion and politics? These are the two topics you are not supposed to discuss in polite company. Dont break up the dinner party by bringing up either of these subjects! Thats the conventional wisdom. Why? Perhaps its because these topics are too important and too potentially divisive, or because they raise issues of core values and ultimate concerns that make us uncomfortable.
All over the country I feel the hunger for a fuller, deeper, and richer conversation about religion in public life, about faith and politics. Its a discussion that we dont always hear in America today. Sometimes the most strident and narrow voices are the loudest, and more progressive, prophetic, and healing religion often gets missed. But the good news is about how all that is changing.
Abraham Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming Gods blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on Gods side.
Those are the two ways that religion has been brought into public life in American history. The first way - God on our side - leads inevitably to triumphalism, self-righteousness, bad theology, and, often, dangerous foreign policy. The second way - asking if we are on Gods side - leads to much healthier things, namely penitence and even repentance, humility, reflection, and accountability. We need much more of all those, because they are often the missing values of politics.