When Faith and Politics Don't Mix

From hunting and liquor laws to public education and marriage.

According to a poll taken shortly before the Super Bowl, 50 percent of American sports fans think supernatural forces affect the outcome of athletic contests. Judging from recent debates, many Virginians think supernatural forces should affect the outcome of political ones, too.

Take Sunday hunting. Virginia is one of the few states that forbid it, and hunting enthusiasts have been pressing to lift the ban for years. This year they may be winning — though plenty of others still object to the idea.

Some of the opponents are hikers, bird-watchers and similar outdoor recreationists who would like to have one day when they don’t have to worry about catching a stray shot in the neck.

But others agree with Del. Thomas C. Wright Jr. (R-Lunenburg) who wants everyone to “think about the direction our country is going in, the direction our morals are going in. I think this country was a lot better off when we had some respect for Sunday, when you got up and went to church and things of that nature. Sunday is the Lord’s day, it’s a day of worship, and hunting is not going to do a thing but continue to chip away at that day.”

Sentiments such as those have deep roots. Virginia’s “blue laws” against Sunday merchandise sales lasted well into the 1980s; localities in Hampton Roads and the Roanoke Valley voted repeatedly to keep them. (Even the vice president of the Tidewater Merchants Association insisted, “Sunday is not a day for work.”) Virginia didn’t open any of its state-run liquor stores on Sunday until a decade ago — and many of them remained closed on Sunday until 2012.

Today, faith-based arguments sometimes masquerade as something else. Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton), for instance, is sponsoring House Bill 207, which ostensibly protects teachers who want to teach “the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” Critics view it as a stalking horse for creationists, noting that Bell believes God created a “mature Earth” around 10,000 years ago.

In other cases, the biblical basis for state law remains explicit. Last year, the commonwealth finally repealed a provision of the state code — written in 1877 — that prohibited “lewd and lascivious” cohabitation. But the Code of Virginia still makes adultery a crime, along with fornication. If you are not married, and you have sex in Virginia, you are breaking the law. On Wednesday a House subcommittee on constitutional law killed a proposal to repeal that statute.

This year, legislators beat back a proposal that would have forbidden counselors — clergy excepted — to practice “conversion therapy” on minors to change their sexual orientation, as well as a measure that would have allowed gay and lesbian couples to adopt. Measures to start the process of repealing Virginia’s ban on gay marriage have gone nowhere.

That ban currently faces challenge in court. Attorney General Mark R. Herring has won raves for switching teams and siding with plaintiffs seeking to overturn it before the ink on his letterhead had dried. The ban is irrational and unjust, as explained in last Sunday’s column. But there are good reasons, entirely separate from the merits of the issue, to criticize Herring for abandoning his post.

A group of religious leaders who held a news conference a few days ago didn’t make any of them. Instead, they did Herring a huge favor by decrying “the moral status of the nation” and calling homosexuality a “perversion” and suggesting 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis were messages from God about the need to repent. (Nobody who says Event X is a message from God ever explains why God wants to be so obscure. Calamities are subject to competing explanations. A few flaming words in the sky would be much more clear.)

Progressives find all of this terribly off-putting, and rightfully so. But social conservatives aren’t the only ones “trying to impose their values on the rest of us.” A few days ago, the left-leaning Virginia Interfaith Center held its Day for All People event in Richmond. Advocates pushed for the center’s 2014 legislative priorities — which include expanding Medicaid, sustaining the state’s ban on uranium mining and investing in solar power. The Christian left and the Christian right disagree on many things, but they seem united in the belief that their beliefs should shape public policy.

And why shouldn’t they? People of faith are citizens, too, and everybody’s political views are informed by values of some sort or other. No reason a disciple of Christ should enjoy less liberty to petition the government than a disciple of Karl Marx or Ayn Rand.

On the other hand, there’s a difference between personally held views and official government policy. Virginians of a Christian persuasion might feel differently about the appropriate degree of religion in the public sphere if county supervisors opened meetings with prayers by Wiccans, or if Muslims penned legislation to make health clubs hold separate exercise classes for men and women.

Possibilities like the latter led two years ago to the introduction of House Bill 825, whose purpose was to prevent “foreign law” from influencing Virginia’s courts. This wasn’t owing to a sudden spike in the popularity of Lithuanian jurisprudence. It was a prophylactic against creeping Shariah.

The measure languished in committee, which is just as well. Judging from current debate, the theocratic threat is coming from an entirely different direction.

This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  • Rich||

    Virginians of a Christian persuasion might feel differently about the appropriate degree of religion in the public sphere if county supervisors opened meetings with prayers by Wiccans, or if Muslims penned legislation to make health clubs hold separate exercise classes for men and women.

    "Religion poisons everything."

  • R C Dean||

    if Muslims penned legislation to make health clubs hold separate exercise classes for men and women

    Who needs legislation? I'm sure with the right appointees, a diktat can be handed down that refusal to have separate classes is a violation of Muslims' civil rights.

  • John||

    I wouldn't be surprised if that hasn't already happened. I am pretty sure government facilities owe reasonable accommodation to religious practices. So how could a gym at a public university not do that? Don't they owe their Islamic students reasonable accommodation?

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    +1 Minnesota footwashing station

  • SQRLSY One||

    “Calamities are subject to competing explanations. A few flaming words in the sky would be much more clear…” Yeah, I hear ya… But, just the other day, I was staring at the sky, and there it was, clear as all git-out, in FLAMING huge big blood-red letters, “I, God Almighty, do Hereby forsake My Devine Job, and sign it ALL over to Government Almighty” … There it was, plain for ALL to see. If ya’ll did NOT see it? Y’all was just listenin’ to SATAN, and NOT lookin’ at the RIGHT time! So there! … Time is NOW to stop worshippin’ this “God” dude-impostor-quitter-type dude, and start worshipping with us wise SCIENFOOLOGISTS at the Church of SQRLS!!! To learn more about Scienfoology, please see www.churchofSQRLS.com

  • SQRLSY One||

    Hey Y’all… Did ANY of y’all see it THIS time?!?! I just went out on my back patio to spank my dog and take a whizz (hoping that the neighbor lady would see and admire, yes, I will ‘fess up, it is true, about my lusts), and there it was, plain as day again, and this time, God Godself had written in the sky (this time in slightly less angry, flowing red cursive script), “Hey, SQRLSY One, you ingnernt, half-blind MORON, you mis-read ME, I did NOT say that the ignernt ones out there was a listenin’ to SATAN, Ah had said, them was a-listen’ to the CATO Institute, which is WAY much more badder than Satan”. So y’all, Ah haz bin corrected by God, so Ah’s ams feelin’ much obliged to kerreckin’ mah shortcomings… Y’all stop fearin’ SATAN, now, and start fearin’ CATO, please… Ah haz heard it from the MAN Upstairs!

  • Sevo||

    "When Faith and Politics Don't Mix"

    Always and everywhere.

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    It's hard to discern where politics has stepped its bounds and where faith has. I guess it's a mix of both.

    The thing is that with a reasonably small scope of politics, this question goes away. Notice that the Progressives of the 19th century were only able to take hold after Lincoln shredded state sovereignty.

    Faith has no place in politics when politics don't regulate and dictate the actions of your faith.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Lincoln!

  • Sevo||

    "The thing is that with a reasonably small scope of politics, this question goes away."

    So long as the concept of government has any meaning, I can't see it going away.
    If there are cops and a military, someone has the power of coercion and I do NOT want those who do acting on their faith.

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    In an absolute sense, no, it won't go away. However, in a practical sense, 90% of the modern "faith and politics" issues are caused by gov't outgrowing its "rightful" bounds.

  • Robert||

  • sarcasmic||

    Faith in AGW. Faith that government can fix things like poverty and sickness. Faith that drugs are bad m'kay.

  • Rich||

  • Rich||

  • Floridian||

    What is a DH?

  • OneOut||

    Designated Hitter.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    When Faith and Politics Don't Mix

    Always.

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    So...no anti-death penalty support from people who have their faith inform such position?

  • Almanian!||

    One of the reasons we like our present church is the great attempt to stay away from cleary "political" issues. Yesterday's sermon, in fact, was a lesson on same. We much prefer this approach. It's amazing how far you can get into everyday issues and how your faith interacts with it without getting political at all. And vice versa if you want...

    It's interesting to me that politics gets into and interferes with religion every bit as much as the other way around. Me - I want to be left alone on all fronts, and do the same for/to others.

    Separating the two to the degree possible (no establishment, free exercise thereof, "mind your own fucking business, Jerry Falwell/Sharia Law guy", etc. etc.) seems always to be a good idea if you want to live in a truly "free" society.

    If you don't - well, history and the present are littered with religious states and state religions. Have fun...

  • Rich||

    Serious question: Why do so few people know, much less adhere to, the Silver Rule?

    (I'm thinking here of the non-Satanic version.)

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Is that the thing about werewolves?

  • Rich||

    "Do not do unto other werewolves what you would not have them do unto you."

  • AlmightyJB||

    Those that have the silver make the rules

  • Sevo||

    Good question. Much preferable IMO.

  • Radioactive||

    what about the Bronze Rule?

  • OneOut||

    The deductibles are much higher on the Bronze rules than the Silver.

  • Almanian!||

    I certainly don't know. My belief? "Cause most people fucking suck, and it's part of the human condition."

    This is consistent with why I hate [most] people so much, so...

    :)

  • LynchPin1477||

    I suspect it is a difference in interpretation. People hear "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and think, don't lie, don't steal, don't hurt -- you know, don't be mean. But someone of the evangelical persuasion does want others to lead them away from "sinful" behavior. For them, I suspect they think they are living the Silver Rule.

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    That's the dumbest SnoCone argument I hear. It absolutely applies in the situation where you are good friends with the person and know that their actions are compromising their own morals and ethics. It makes no sense to hold a stranger that happens to be an atheist or agnostic or hindu to a judeo/christian morality.

  • LynchPin1477||

    It does to them, because they think accepting Jesus Christ as their Personal Lord and Savior is the only way to lead the atheist/agnostic/hindu/muslim/whatever to heaven and way from hell. Combine that with the (often deeply held) belief that they should love one another like brothers (or sisters) and you quickly realize why it is such an important and personal mission for them.

  • Square||

    I think LynchPin is saying that if you are a deeply religious evangelical (or deeply religious anything, really), you don't put your religion on the same plane as other people's. You don't see it as "my religion is just as much my own personal delusion as everybody else's religion is." Everybody else's religion is a dangerous delusion from which you can save them with your religion.

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    Caesar will decide when you have rendered enough unto him, thank you very much.

  • Homple||

    And Bigguth Dickuth will enforth hith decthithon.

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    I see it both ways. My church doesn't wade into the minutia of politics, but is also not afraid to take a stand on an issue where they have a stake. That's the way I like it. No "you should vote this way", but also no cowtowing to the whims of the culture.

  • LynchPin1477||

    I've studied the history of the Catholic Church a bit. I came to the conclusion that my religion has been greatly harmed by its historical ties with politics. That's what confuses me about people who want more religion in politics. History is pretty clear that separation of church and state is a good thing for both church and state.

  • Square||

    People forget that Jesus was, in an important sense, advocating a complete turning away from political and social life. Trying to figure out by what rules Jesus would, say, run an international corporation, is missing the point in the deepest possible way.

  • prolefeed||

    Trying to figure out by what rules Jesus would, say, run an international corporation, is missing the point in the deepest possible way.

    Jesus wouldn't try to run a corporation because that would take time away from spreading his religion. And, if he was somehow forced into being the CEO, he'd promptly run it into bankruptcy IMO if not wind up in jail for taking funds he had a fiduciary duty to manage for the stockholders, and giving it all away to the poor.

  • Square||

    Exactly. Here's half of the New Testament:

    Congregation: "What do we do about marriage?"

    St. Paul: "THE WORLD IS ENDING PEOPLE!"

    Congregation: "So, should I stop paying my taxes?"

    St. Paul: "THE WORLD IS ENDING PEOPLE!"

    Congregation: "But if I make 10% on my investments overseas, should I give it all to the poor, or can I keep some for my family?"

    St. Paul: "THE WORLD IS ENDING PEOPLE!"

  • Thomas O.||

    Jesus would be big on money-laundering. "Make friends of yours through dishonest wealth..."

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Hunting on Sunday? I don't think so!

    From Wikipedia:

    http://bit.ly/1lWLG8O

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    Creeping theocracy: Virginia repeals lascivious cohabitation law, the AG accepts a court decision striking down the sodomy law even as applied to sex with minors. But it won't repeal other laws. And it won't pass a law to ban conversion therapy.

    Maybe they don't want to mix religion and state, and so they leave it to parents to say what kinds of therapy are OK.

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    Agreed with the sentiment up to here

    And it won't pass a law to ban conversion therapy.

    None of the state's business if you want to run a conversion therapy clinic, unless they can prove fraud.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    As I said, "Maybe they don't want to mix religion and state, and so they leave it to parents to say what kinds of therapy are OK."

  • Duke Trshmnstr of Stench||

    sorry, misread your comment. Three lashes for me. Just don't lock me in Warty's dungeon!

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    Bring in STEVE SMITH!

    "He is all yours, STEVE!"

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    The 8th Amendment wouldn't allow that.

    Heck, the *Turkish* constitution wouldn't allow that.

  • Doctor Whom||

    My religion teaches that the Elder Gods have more pressing priorities than the day of the week on which you hunt. It also teaches that They gave us uranium and that we should use it gratefully. I am being persecuted for my faith.

  • LynchPin1477||

    They gave us uranium and that we should use it gratefully

    So...we should use it to try and turn ourselves into ant-men? Or were you thinking human sacrifice? Those two aren't necessarily incompatible.

  • Square||

    You don't inquire into the motives of the Elder Gods. You just Obey.

  • Swiss Servator, Befehl!||

    And you obey one megaton at a time!

  • Number 2||

    "A few days ago, the left-leaning Virginia Interfaith Center held its Day for All People event in Richmond. Advocates pushed for the center’s 2014 legislative priorities — which include expanding Medicaid, sustaining the state’s ban on uranium mining and investing in solar power."

    I must have missed the Gospel in which Christ condemned Uranium. It must have been in the secret Gospel after he condemned fluoridated water.

  • Doctor Whom||

    But the Code of Virginia still makes adultery a crime, along with fornication.

    The state supreme court has already struck down the fornication law.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    So it did:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_v._Ziherl

    OK, so Virginia repealed its cohabitation law, the state high court struck down the fornication law, and the AG agreed to accept a court decision against the sodomy law, including the parts about having sex with minors.

    Other than that, it's totally a theocracy!

  • James Taggart||

    But, what if you fornicate with an adulterous sodomite? Would that get you tripe jeopardy?

  • prolefeed||

    This year, legislators beat back a proposal that would have forbidden counselors — clergy excepted — to practice “conversion therapy” on minors to change their sexual orientation

    Devil's Advocate: seems to me to be unlibertarian to tell consenting parties what kind of therapies they may employ, not to mention a violation of First Amendment rights.

    Yes, this therapy is retarded, but freedom means allowing people to do things you personally think are stupid.

    House Bill 207, which ostensibly protects teachers who want to teach “the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” Critics view it as a stalking horse for creationists

    Again, First Amendment and freedom of expression. This would apply to protecting teachers who buck the orthodoxy on AGW theory, protecting them from being fired for not towing the lion.

  • ||

    The First Amendment doesn't protect anyone from getting fired, just from being thrown in prison. If someone wants to fire you for teaching AGW, they have the right to do so.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Government = Force backed by violence rationalized by the "ethics" of those in power.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Gotta Serve Somebody

  • OneOut||

    "Government = Force backed by violence rationalized by the "ethics" of those in power."

    rationalized by the lobbies of those with enough money that their political speech is the only one loud enough to be heard by those in power.

  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    As the author says, there is religious influence on public policy from different sides of the spectrum. There's even pro-liberty religionists, like Tom Woods and the pro-free-market evangelicals.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    I'm sick of the Mises crowd and their racist baggage. They should just declare themselves anarcho-conservatives and leave the classical liberalism umbrella alone.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    While I believe that people should be allowed to believe whatever nonsense they want, what's the difference between banning religion and making it illegal for people to believe in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy? I think business and property taxes are worse than taking any rights away from schizophrenics.

  • ||

    What you think is irrelevant in a free society, where people decide for themselves what's important. Rights are rights. None take importance over another.

  • CentristClassicalLiberal||

    So not being forced to pay taxes on land or business transactions is just as important as people being able to run around naked in city streets while eating LSD (the former of which I don't think should be legal in all places at all times and the latter i'm not sure of)?

  • Thomas O.||

    Sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad. There'll be the supermodel chicks running naked in the streets, but so will the dumpy middle-aged guys with back hair and skin problems.

  • Radioactive||

    Mind your own fucking business...rule #1

  • Agile Cyborg||

    It's not the minding of someone else's business that is particularly wrong in the general sense- it's the taking what one infers from studying someone else's business to create a negative assumption that informs bias that informs a dictate to control, repress, or publicly reject.

    For example, Radioactive, I can see you running around butt-nekkid drunk and high in your backyard chasing 3 perky ladies who are likewise butt-nekkid whilst a butt-nekkid midget tripping balls chases the whole lot of you... I am effectively not minding my own business because for one, it's fucking funny and, two, it's fucking funny. Afterwards, I go inside, grab a cold stout, and settle into a night of Rust. None of us are worse off for 'business not being minded'.

  • Jackand Ace||

    "The Christian left and the Christian right disagree on many things..."

    There's a Christian left? I don't think so. You can find various groups that support progressive policies (really, they more often just are vocal against certain right wing policies, like the "nuns on the bus" dislike reducing money spent on the poor), but its hardly a movement. In fact, it can never be a movement on the left because of things like abortion.

    The Christian right is a movement. And its a movement with sizable influence within one party- the Republicans. Do you want to see religion and politics mix? Elect a Republican.

  • Square||

    Jesuits. Case in point, Pope Francis. Abortion alone is not enough to push all Christians to the Republicans.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Certainly not all. But here is my point...there is no left wing Christian voting bloc in this country. Some will always vary their vote. But there is a very strong Christian Right voting bloc, who never vary, never will vote for a Democrat, and its all due to abortion and gay rights.

    So I'll ask you, if we went and searched how many congressmen and women invoke the Bible during discussions on policy, who do you think would have the most references to that book, Republicans or Democrats?

    By far Republicans.

  • montana mike||

    This idiot doesn't know many Catholics.

  • cheaurelio||

    Or perhaps the Catholics he knows are also Cuban Americans.

  • Jackand Ace||

    In fact, in the last R primary, you had 3 prominent candidates (who all at one time led the field) publicly announce how their Christianity will influence their policies...Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry. And you had in the previous election a VP nominee who said the same, and she would have been one heartbeat from the Presidency. You would have to let me know the last Democrat who embraced that influence on policy.

  • Square||

    I think I see what you're saying, and I think you're right that it's abortion that is the wedge. "Social Justice" was originally, after all, a Catholic idea, and I could count on one hand the number of Catholics I've met who would EVER vote Republican, but because of the abortion issue, the Church would never openly support Democratic candidates.

    Thus, there is a pre-existing wedge issue between the Democrats and their most loyal religious denomination that prevents there being a religiously motivated Democratic group the way there can be a Republican one. Catholics have to support Democrats in spite of their religion instead of because of it.

  • Jackand Ace||

    I remember the days of the Berrigans and Thomas Merton. Indeed there is that element among the Catholics. Abortion split that group. When you think of Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Dobson...all of them...I bet there is not one Democrat they have endorsed in the past 20 or so years.

    To me, it was a false equivalency. In fact, I think Barton invented the term "Christian left." There is no such thing.

  • Robert||

    Jackand Ace, you never heard of The Catholic Worker? The Social Gospel? The World (& National) Council of Churches? Liberation Theology? Sojourners? American Friends Service Society? And yeah, of course Jesuits.

    The only major division of Christianity I don't know of as having a "left" component is the Orthodox, and that might just be because they escaped my att'n.

    Of course a lot of those wind up not easily classifiable as "left", as where they take on enough aspects of the "right" to be that kind of populist (as the Social Gospel tended to run to), or where they shed so much engagement that they're anarchist resisters, pretty much indistinguishable from radical libertarians; I know some Mennonites like that.

  • Jackand Ace||

    Of course I have. I read a biography of Dorothy Day. And see my post above speaking about the Berrigans and Merton.

    But that is ancient history...well, not ancient, but well in the past. Merton died in the 60's. None of them were active when Roe v. Wade hit the books.

    Are you suggesting today that the Jesuits are a voting bloc for Democrats? I don' think so. My son went to a Jesuit college, and they may be free thinkers but they hardly openly endorse the Democrats. As opposed to other Christians, like Reed and Robertson, who openly endorse ONLY Republicans.

  • Daily Beatings||

    "If you are not married, and you have sex in Virginia, you are breaking the law."

    I guess the slogan "Virgina is For Lovers" is false advertising?

  • James Taggart||

    But, what if you're married to someone else? Does it still count?

  • bassjoe||

    Somewhat OT but I don't get why people want the government funding any sort of faith-based institutions, directly or indirectly.

    For example, government money should NOT be going to parochial schools, whether through vouchers or anything else. It sounds all well and good but government money is never free for long; strings will come attached to that money eventually and the parochial education will be corrupted by government mandates.

    I also don't get the tax-exempt status of places of worship. In return for paying no taxes, the church WILLFULLY restricts its political speech. How exactly is that not corrupting of religion? (Let's forget for a moment that places of worship routinely politick without actually risking their tax-exemption, making a mockery of the dumb law.)

  • LibertarianX||

    There is a quaint phrase I use with those who believe I need their help to live my life in a moral manner when I am doing them no harm:

    SHUT THE HELL UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!

  • James Taggart||

    Does it really make sense to send sodomites to prison? Won't they just get really good at it?

  • foodscientist||

    Please don't neglect to consider the impact of "other" religious segments on daily life - for example, the pervasive, intrusive, and extortionist Kosher certifications in the food industry. Certainly, these are not laws, but clearly demonstrate undue religious influence in society and business.

  • Feromancer||

    I am a very religious individual, and I believe, as our Founders believed, that our Constitution is for the Governance of a moral people...
    AND
    I agree, we MUST separate STATE from RELIGION; just as the 1st Amendment says...
    In other words, we SHOULD NOT legislate morality.
    Laws are supposed to PROTECT RIGHTS, nothing more.
    Putting the government in charge of Morality is a BAD IDEA, and it infringes on Religious Liberty.

  • cheap soccer jerseys||

    Separating the two to the degree possible (no establishment, free exercise thereof, "mind your own fucking business, Jerry Falwell/Sharia Law guy", etc. etc.) seems always to be a good idea if you want to live in a truly "free" society.

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