As Americans, we’re conditioned to see church and state as mutually exclusive. We’re told that our democracy will crumble unless we keep religion out of government. But in fact, religion and churches are very present in our political lives, all the way from discussions of Romney’s Mormonism to Catholic bishops’ disagreement with Obamacare.
What place can or should religion have in our public lives, if any?
A group of American faith leaders – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – have joined together to issue an interfaith national economic budget. They’ve proposed a budget based on principles of social justice, in opposition to proposals that seem to care hardly at all for poor and suffering people.
Together they drafted and proposed the Faithful Budget in opposition to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan and approved by the House of Representatives. Ryan’s budget, in contrast, has been condemned by Catholic bishops as immoral because it will hurt the poor. Despite Ryan’s own Catholic faith and his assertion that his budget operates on Catholic Social Teaching principles, it doesn’t. His proposals aren’t Catholic as they completely ignore the poor.
Even despite differences in their faiths and the many disparities of their separate scriptures, religious leaders and like-minded organizations banded together to ask the U.S. administration to uphold values that they all share: to serve the common good with mercy and justice; to provide strong support for the poor and vulnerable, both domestically and internationally; and to continue caring for the Earth and nature.
But where’s the religion?
Serving the common good isn’t something exclusively found in Bible groups; it’s found in the Supreme Court, in community centers and in public parks – even on government-funded interstate highways and public transportation routes.
Support for the poor and vulnerable is seen in welfare and food stamp programs, in government campaigns to end hunger and provide clothing and education for the underprivileged.
Caring for nature? Green initiatives and the battle against global warming aren’t derived from the Quran, Torah, or even the Bible.
These key foundations of the Faithful Budget are more in tune with the “irreligious” Capitol Hill that we’ve come to know – that is, until you realize just how religious the Hill actually is.
Out of the 100 U.S. Senators currently serving, all identify with a religious tradition. Similarly, Rep. Pete Stark of the House of Representatives serves as the only “openly” atheist member of Congress in its history – so where’s the secularism that’s stressed?
As a country that assumes total detachment from religious tradition is not only possible, but also ideal, there seems to be very little practice of this distinct separation.
If top government officials are religious, how does church not permeate the U.S. Capitol? How can we expect our administration to leave their beliefs at home when we ourselves struggle with maintaining such a disconnection?
This clash between reality and our ideals is exactly what we at the Loquitur believe calls for a more tolerant discussion of faith on the federal level. Although the U.S. regularly provides funding for faith-based non-profits and non-governmental organizations, the endorsement rarely extends into legislative delegation. This is why the Faithful Budget is unique and worth learning about: Congress isn’t the one behind it.
When three major religions are capable of deliberating amongst themselves to come up with a course of action for an entire nation – seeking not to preach or convert, but to truly care and advocate for the voiceless and marginalized – it leaves us wondering one thing: while we remain tethered to the idea of keeping public office and places of worship intrinsically separate, are we passing up an effort to collaborate, to unite as Americans, as one nation?
Should we not strive for a diverse array of voices, joined under the common goal of caring for all Americans – and for all humans? For the collective goodwill of creation?
The U.S. Congress isn’t made up entirely of Christians; not exclusively by Jews either, or by Muslims. There are Buddhists among their ranks, even Quakers and Unitarian Universalists.
At Cabrini, we’re taught the importance of the common good. We’re also provided with a spectrum of perspectives and shown the importance of “welcoming the stranger” to the table. We’re involved in partnerships with vulnerable communities like Norristown, which stands as testament to what change the Faithful Budget can affect.
We, better than many Americans, recognize the link between faith and justice, between church and state. It stands on our shoulders to advocate for the poor, to call for a Faithful Budget.
If not us, then who?