With the New York Republican primary coming up on Tuesday, voters trying to make sense of political candidates have frequently been confronted with religious issues. Our clergy share their views on politics and religion.
Pastor Charles A. Coverdale, First Baptist Church, Riverhead:
Despite what some say, politics and religion always have mixed. Religious leaders are also people who are involved in community activities. They see, learn and understand what their communities need. Political personalities and leaders also are expected to see what communities need.
Let's use the concept of affordable housing as an example. As religious leaders, we see the need for affordable housing in our communities. Government has a role in getting affordable housing in a community. So, when I hear religious leaders and political leaders only voicing opinions on the rich or upper class, I want to know what God they're listening to. The God I know cares about the poor and the suffering.
I'm also not comfortable with politicians saying how God would feel about something. If you hear from a god and what he is saying is contradictory to the word of God, then I'm suspicious of what God they're listening to. That is the same thing I tell my congregants. Do the person's words and policies match up? Does what he says match up with what is the written word of God? If not, then be suspicious of the speaker.
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg, Congregation Sons of Israel, Woodmere:
Religion and politics can exist by respecting each other's proper parameters. Thomas Jefferson said (in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802) that there should be " . . . a wall of separation between church and state." The state should not impose any religion on its citizens. And, there also is the notion that a religion shouldn't impose itself on the state.
When it doesn't harm the social cohesion of the nation, a state can accommodate religions. In the same way, religions should teach their practitioners about abiding by the rightful laws of their state.
Public policy should be informed by our ethics. Everyone should have the freedom to share his or her religious perspective. I see nothing wrong with any faith community sharing its perspective on the issues. Where I fall shy is for clergy to outright endorse a particular candidate. A clergy person is obligated to weigh in on a particular issue, but the individual congregant should draw his or her own conclusions about whom to vote for.
In the United States, we have the blessing of a free marketplace of ideas where we all can share our convictions. And, our candidates can express their religious convictions, so long as a candidate clarifies that it is his conviction that something is wrong or right. He can speak on his own faith conviction. He should resist speaking on God's behalf.
We're divided as a nation because political discourse is divisive the way we do it. Instead of talking about parties, we have to talk about what is ethically right and what is ethically wrong and go from there. We have to talk about civil issues from the standpoint of ethics.
An election year is an opportunity to talk about what is important for all of us. And, we should have these discussions without disrespecting each other.
It is true that some politicians have chosen to say how God would feel about this issue or that issue. I'm reluctant to speak for God. Those who do can get it wrong. I do think that, in a spirit of love and goodwill, we can more closely discern what God would want us to do.
Joy Weaver, co-clerk, Conscience Bay Monthly Meeting, a Quaker congregation, St. James:
Historically, Quakers early on were quite involved in running the towns in which they lived. Then, there was a period where Quakers withdrew from government and refused to hold any offices. That attitude has slowly disappeared. We had Quakers in the last century who held office. We also have a lobby in Washington, The Friends Committee on National Legislation.
In general, Quakers believe that religion and politics should not mix. We believe in causes more than candidates. On the other hand, there is a belief that the way to get things done is from the inside. You can't stay on the outside and expect things to change in the way you would like to see them change.
I think religion works best with politics when we support the causes and not the individual candidates. And that's why I want the candidates to be more transparent in what they really champion.