Controversy over the connection between faith and politics surfaces once more following Jim Zeigler’s use of biblical analogy to defend Roy Moore against allegations of sexual misconduct.
Early in November, The Washington Post reported on the accusations of several women who said that Moore sexually approached them when they were minors.
Moore, who has made Christianity central to his political identity, responded to the accusations by tweeting, “The Obama-Clinton Machine’s liberal media lapdogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I’ve ever faced! We are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message.”
During his interview with The Washington Post, Jim Zeigler, Alabama state auditor, cited the biblical story of Mary and Joseph in Moore’s defense.
“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” Zeigler said.
Backlash to Zeigler’s comments was immediate. Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, called out Zeigler’s comments as irresponsible and biblically inaccurate.
“Using the relationship of Mary and Joseph to, in any way, excuse or legitimize the sexual abuse or sexual harassment of a minor, or anyone, is monstrous,” Martin tweeted.
Ed Stretzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton College, wrote in an article for Christianity Today: “We should be angered, first, that politicians think they can lie to us so easily by appealing to biblical language and characters. Second, that we so easily fall for such tactics. For the past decade, evangelicals have been easy marks, and I hope that people won’t fall for these things.”
Micheal Wear, former Obama campaign and White House staffer and author of “Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America,” and Rod Dreher, senior editor at the American Conservative and author of “The Benedict Option,” visited John Brown University’s campus early in the semester and shared their views on the intersection between faith and politics.
“Christians have a responsibility and unique resources from which to draw that can help them to enter into politics in a way that is not just self-interested, but that is other-focused,” Wear said. “In a political climate right now, that is very much about scraping whatever you can for your particular interest or the group you align yourself with, Christianity actually has resources embedded within it that actually push back against all those temptations and some of those provocations.”
“It’s like the Bible says: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his soul?’ I think that is a tremendous risk that the church and this country and this generation faces—the idea that winning political power at all cost is justified. We see this everywhere now in our country,” Dreher said.
Wear and Dreher shared life experiences that have shaped the way they perceive the role of politics among faith communities. Both agree that internet culture is contributing to the political isolation between those with different views.
“Our internet culture, the culture of stimulation, of always exciting your emotion, where you can also go into your bubble and only listen to people like yourself and work yourself up into a frenzy of anger. I think we end up making politics an idol,” Dreher said.
Wear believes Christians involved in politics should be careful about their outreach methods, especially the Christians who try to blend faith and politics. “We need to leave out those tools of emotional manipulation outside of our efforts because we need to recognize the burden it puts on people’s souls is much too important than just gaining a couple of points or raising some extra funds,” Wear said.
Dreher referred to David Campbell and Robert Putman’s book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unite Use,” as a good resource that shed light on the current role of politics among faith circles.
“One of the things they [Campbell and Patnum] found on their study was that Americans tend to choose their churches based on their politics, not choose their politics based on what the church teaches,” Dreher said. “We tend to have these reinforcement mechanisms where you feel like nobody in your church disagrees with you on politics. So, it’s easy to think that this is the Christian way to think about things.”
Dreher challenged the youth at JBU to rediscover the roots of their faith, to stand against the opposing currents of popular culture, and to be confident in their faith when facing opposing ideas while treating people with dignity.
“Running on the fumes of your parent’s faith or just on an aura of Christianity that has accompanied your life is not going to be sufficient for the days ahead. For those who are politically active and interested, thinking that you can just draw on the intellectual capital of the faith, on the history of social justice on the church, and leave the spiritual formation behind is a recipe for failure so this is a time to rediscover the history and tradition of the church. It is a time to invest in spiritual disciplines that have nourished the church for millennia,” Wear concluded.