Word Searching God

UPDATE: Democrats add “God” back into the party’s platform at President Obama’s insistence.

It’s inevitable really. Whenever a major speech is given or a political party’s platform is released, scores of articles begin appearing that comment on how many times a particular word was used. Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, for instance, never once said Mitt Romney’s name and she only once said “Republican” to say it doesn’t matter “whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above.” Nevertheless, it was clear to most observers that her speech was a step-by-step take down of Mitt Romney and the GOP’s policies.

In like manner, criticisms are being leveled against the Democrats because the official platform they adopted in Charlotte, NC does not contain the word “God.” These criticisms began in conservative and Republican-leaning online publications like the National Review and the Weekly Standard, but have found their way into more mainstream news organizations like CNN and ABC. This type of word search journalism can capture a news cycle or be used to create caricatures of one’s opponent, but it rarely results in thoughtful analysis of the speech or the platform.

Many are quite unhappy about the removal of “God” from the 2012 DNC platform (the 2008 platform used “God” once and the 2004 platform seven times). I, though, see it as a step in the right direction, as far as the separation of church and state is concerned.

The platform’s section on “Faith” recognizes the importance of faith to the American story:

Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.

It also goes on to speak to church-state separation specifically:

We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.

Both the church and the state are vital institutions in American society, but working for a proper balance between the two is essential if both will be able to thrive. Moreover, the platform seems to recognize that millions in our country believe in no God at all and they are no less an integral part of our great democracy.

But just what should be the relationship between my personal faith and my politics? While I am an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state my faith influences my personal politics at almost every level. It is precisely because of my faith that I choose to vote for whom I vote. One party will not win my vote simply by including “God” in their party’s platform more than the other party and a party will not lose my vote for not including “God.”

Instead, I study the rest of the platform to see their position on things like war, poverty, upholding individual freedoms, supporting equality for all, etc. and compare those with my understanding of the work I think God wants the people of God to be involved in. Just as speaking Spanish is not enough to win over Latino voters and having female speakers is not enough to win over women, so including overtly religious language does not guarantee that I will vote for your party. If the language is not accompanied by supporting policies, then it is nothing but lip-service.

You see, I believe that policies, like budgets, are moral documents. They expose what our real priorities. I am a Christian, but I will not have a blind affiliation to a political party that thinks they hold the monopoly on “God” and the Christians in this country simply because they have included the word “God” in a platform that very few will ever read. My religious beliefs have a different effect on my political views than do others’ religious beliefs. I respect that difference and celebrate it even, but party platform writers and journalists seem yet to have learned that there is no such thing as “the religious vote.” Christians (like Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and so on) are complicated and intricate people with a plethora of life experiences and religious beliefs that influence how we understand everything from economic to foreign policy – just take a moment to think about the difference between Southern Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, and Alliance Baptists.

Religious people in this country are a diverse, multifaceted bunch and applying a simple word search to a party platform cannot tell the whole story of a political party’s relationship with the complicated topics of faith, religion, and God, nor does this word search understand how deeply intertwined our faith is with our politics, for we often don’t even know ourselves.

11 thoughts on “Word Searching God

  1. I would like to make a comment, but if you are not going to allow it then please let me know so that I will stop coming to your site and reading your posts. thanks.

    What is your reaction to the fact that God and Israel were booed by a sizable number of people in the democratic convention. So much so that they had to take three votes and probably gave the vote a 2/3 majority when it sounded almost equal to me?

    At what point do we become so inclusive that “faith” in general overtakes a belief in the one true God. Even though you are liberal, surely you understand that God will only tolerate idolatry so far.

    Will God continue to bless a nation who has become ashamed of Him in the name of tolerance?

    1. I don’t think I have ever disallowed comments. Your comments in particular are quite probing, so please keep them coming.

      I heard about Democrats “booing God” last night, but did not get a chance to watch the video until today. It is, I think, inaccurate to say that they were “booing God” as two amendments were being voted on simultaneously, so there is no way of knowing for sure which change to the platform the majority were hoping to vote against. CSPAN’s coverage, for instance, continued to show a couple voting “No” to the amendments that had signs indicating they were Arab Americans. I’m guessing that they were voting against recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As to the voice vote, I thought the first voice vote was clear for the “ayes” but it got worse with each vote.

      So, I guess it could provide some negative optics, but nothing as clear as Republicans cheering the number of prisoners on death row that had been executed in Texas at a debate during the primary or booing the gay soldier. Those instances were much clearer.

      As for Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, it has been stated American policy under many Presidents but none (Democrat or Republican) has taken the step to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv for a simple reason, it’s a horrible idea politically and would almost guarantee that no two-state solution is ever agreed upon.

      I’m sure that some in the audience did not want to see the phrase “God-given” added back into the party’s platform, but we have no way of knowing whether all those voting “no” were voting on the amendments were voting specifically against the inclusion of that language. Moreover, as Albert Mohler pointed out yesterday – and he’s nowhere near being liberal, or even moderate – “God-given” is not really religious language in this country anymore anyway. It is a part of our civic religion. This is the same reason “In God we trust” is allowed to remain on our currency, because the Supreme Court ruled that it is culturally, but not religiously significant.

      Also, I think it’s important to remember that political parties are not religious organizations and while they are made up of many religious people, promoting a specific religion, or even the belief in God, is not only not part of their job, it comes dangerously close to advocating for the violation of the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.

      As to whether the country is ashamed of God, I could not say. Certainly, the vast majority of this country’s citizens still self-identify as Christian. Moreover, one could also ask which is being more faithful, giving lip service to God or doing what you think God has called you to do (helping the poor, orphans, and widows, being inclusive and not exclusive, etc.). To be sure, these are not mutually exclusive and I am not saying that the Republican party *only* gives lip service to God, far from it. But just because the Democrats have been less outspoken and more inclusive in their party’s platform does not mean that we can say they are ashamed of God or are engaging in idolatry.

      And one last thought about your final question: “Will God continue to bless a nation who has become ashamed of Him in the name of tolerance?”

      What do you think this country should be doing to show that we are not “ashamed” of God? I believe that the government and politics is no place for people to try to legislate their religious beliefs. Indeed, that is precisely why so many came to this country hundreds of years ago in the first place. And what do you think will happen if God chooses to stop blessing this country?

      1. my comments about the posts were referring to a previous post I made on the “fair” document that disappeared after I posted. My apologies if that was a glitch or a mistake.

        I will have to come back to you on this as I don’t have much time at the moment but I think the shock and dismay of the chairman says a lot to the situation. I think you would agree there is a growing animosity in this country against religion (Christianity in particular) and Christ said it would be this way. I would be interested in looking at the stats but I think we would find that those who have a more negative view of religion or are atheists would more likely vote democrat than republican.

        I think our country in general has somehow placed the Constitution (or the abuse and overreach of what the Constitution actually says and was intended to do) as some type of cushion(for lack of a better term) between us and God. Certainly the constitution provides religious freedom but that is our view up.

        My question is what is God’s view down. Does the constitution have authority over God. Does God view what we do or don’t do through the lens of the Constitution. Are we going to pull out the Constitution as our defense when we stand before Him on judgment day?

        got to go…..will get back to the thought. thanks

        1. I do recall that comment and when I went to respond it wasn’t there. Must have been a glitch. Apologies.

          I think you ask a good question about whether God views things through the lens fo the Constitution. The obvious answer is no. This does not mean, though, that the Constitution is necessarily at odds with God and God’s designs for the world. My understanding of God is one that does not include God desiring forced proselytizing on a governmental level, but of course, this is all conjecture. We could, I suppose, look at how the Hebrew Bible understood God to be their king, then weren’t satisfied with that and wanted a human king, and God gave them that. We could say that as Christians we should support a “Christian nation” in the truest sense of the word, but the NT does not support a view like that – mostly because it was probably not a realistic thought for them to entertain. We could also go further and see that as soon as Christians had enough power they did intertwine themselves deeply in the government of the state, made Christianity the official religion, and began persecuting and oppressing those who weren’t like them in much the same way they were persecuted when they were a minority.

          So, it seems to me, since we cannot know whether God would be a supporter of the separation of church and state or not, we can only go on the evidence that we have. And as I read the evidence there has never been an instance of government and religion being tightly intertwined in which some groups were not oppressed and in which both the state and the religion were defiled in the end.

          So I don’t think we would need to metaphorically pull out the Constitution as a defense, but to call on our own conscience and exhibit our concern for those that make up the “least of these,” show the work we did fighting injustice by any means necessary, and remember that Jesus said to render to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s.

          1. I have a few questions…

            What is the result of someone accepting the good new and believing on Christ as Savior?

            What is the result of someone rejecting the good news?

            you responded with “My understanding of God is one that does not include God desiring forced proselytizing on a governmental level,”

            I think you would agree though that Jesus told us to go out to all the world and to every city and proclaim the gospel. If they accept, then the Kingdom of God has come upon them and if they reject, they should shake the dust off their feet.

            Furthermore, it is evident by the life of Christ and Paul that they took the gospel to the lowest parts of society (in societies eye’s) and to the most powerful government officials.
            “Paul you must testify for me in Rome”

            It is further evident that when faced with a government command not to continue to spread the gospel (Peter and John) we have the authority and the conscience to reject such a command….”Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard”. So I think Scripture is clear that when it comes to spreading the gospel, that God’s command and plan to save everyone trumps government authority which is temporary and in which evil people do corrupt without religion.

            I also believe that we can see through Scripture that Jesus was greatly concerned with the least of these and providing for them. But when they only came back to Him for more food (feeding the 5000) he gave them a rebuke and told them to work for Spiritual food. So I think the idea that the “least of these” ministries” trumps the spiritual needs does not stand up to Scripture. I would take issue with the false idea that democrats somehow do a better job at helping in these areas. I live in Mississippi and my view is probably a little skewed in that almost everyone I know is willing to help, but the statistics show that republicans are more giving of their resources (even if tithes are included). I think our Vice President’s record of giving is less than to be desired and it would be hard for me to follow someone who wants me to give my money for others but is unwilling to even give 1% of his. That’s not right any way you look at it.

            Now I am not in favor of “forced conversions” where there is a human punishment for not accepting, but I also think the trend of shutting out every mention of Christ in prayer, school, city, park, etc has gone way past the point of the Constitution.

            Finally, I ask you this since you are a person of “community”. If 99.9% of a community wants to include God and Jesus Christ in their lives and in their schools, why is it fair for 1 person to keep the rest from having an enriched life by that. Other than to say it is against the constitution, I mean really. Are we not entitled to live happy lives. Is that not what you said that people came here for. For religious freedom. Is that not why people choose to live in a certain place and with a certain group of people. Just as you would argue that it is not right to establish a national religion, I would argue that it is more than fair to establish a local one (community). I doubt that you will see me making a move to a large community of Muslim Americans anytime soon unless the Lord sends me. At some point these ideas of religion freedom (to the degree of one person rules over all) becomes ridiculous). In those situations, it is simply time for that person to leave the community.

            1. The answer to your first two questions would be that I do not fully know. I mean I can reproduce numerous atonement theories and theories of soteriology, but those are all, ultimately, educated guesses that do not necessarily represent reality (i.e. what *really* happens when one “accepts Jesus”). I do believe in “salvation,” but I do not believe in the existence of a literal heaven and hell, so this “salvation” does not mean that one escapes hell and gets to go to heaven. That is a prominent view (or at least variations of it) in the NT, but it is based in an apocalyptic worldview which I do not share.

              I can agree, though, that Christians are called to spread the “good news” and that Christians saw their faith as above the laws of government. There is nothing wrong with this view. Quite often, my views as a Christian are at odds with our government.

              “I also think the trend of shutting out every mention of Christ in prayer, school, city, park, etc has gone way past the point of the Constitution.” I, obviously, do not think it has gotten out of hand or gone past the point of the Constitution. Christ can still be mentioned in all of these places, but government employees cannot leads prayers. This is in keeping with the Establishment Clause. Would you think it ok for verse of the Qur’an to be displayed in our court rooms or the code of Hammurabi?

              To your point about the will of the majority trumping the minority I would say that I know of no example where the rights of a minority were not infringed when put to a majority vote. The mere fact that more Americans identify as Christian does not mean that it is suddenly ok to dismiss our Constitution’s most basic freedoms of speech and religion. I think that if a group of Christians want an all Christian community, they can establish a commune or something of that sort and move there, but to say that any entity of the government, even at the local level, should just accept and promote the religion of the majority does precisely the opposite of what our Constitution envisions.

              I’m not sure where the Biden statistic comes from (not disputing, just haven’t seen that one). I have seen, though, that the GOP VP nominee, Paul Ryan, donated 4% of his income in 2011 and 1.2% of his income in 2010 to charity (http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/08/paul-ryan-and-private-charity.html). Neither seems the best example in this area. I would argue, though, that this is more problematic for Ryan since his view is that the government should get out of this business altogether and that private organizations should provide all the care necessary. One would think that someone with that view would give more to charity to make his idea even close to a possibility.

              1. What then is the definition of “not perish” and the definition of “eternal life”?

                Why in the world would you personally dedicate the years and the sacrifice of your time and your family for something “salvation” and the understanding of God, if it is of no benefit to you….or any benefit that you can express with truthful sincerity anyway.

                In other words, why are you a Christian?

                I am a Christian because I believe that that I am a sinner (an apparent one at that) and Jesus is truly the Son of God, not a philosopher. I believe he has the power and authority to raise me up from the dead and give me eternal life. Other wise, as Paul says, If I only have hope in Christ in this life (because it is a certainty that we all die), we should above all be the most pitied. And why not just eat and drink..

                To your remark on the establishment clause, I would say this. the “state” has systematically moved the boundaries of what is state to the point that we must ask this question. What is not “state”? Other than the church house and there are now threats and lawsuits to what a pastor can say there. So, there is no longer a “free exercise thereof” but a “managed exercise” that is constantly under attack and subject to one-sided negotiations in which the “state” controls the outcome .

                I am not saying the local government establish and promote a specific religion, they just need to get out of their business. It is hypocritical. They find fault with Christian groups who help others and want to promote the gospel along with that help, but if the government so much as gives a dollar to anything, they now somehow make demands.

                1. Your question is a good one and one I have asked myself multiple times over the years. I don’t have a short, simple answer as to why I still self-identify as a Christian. I still believe in God and the redemptive work that God is trying to do in the world. I believe that this work gets done in myriad ways, some we recognize, some we don’t. I believe that as the people of God we are saved for something, not from something and that is to bring about, as best we can, the kingdom of God here on earth.

                  As to the heaven and hell bit, I know that is odd for many modern Christians, but it has not been a constant belief in Christianity and the Hebrew Bible exhibits no belief in the two either. Moreover, from my reading it seems fairly clear that the references to “hell” should be understood in their contexts to be referring to Gehenna, a city trash dump, that served as a go-to reference of suffering. Beyond that, though, the very concepts of heaven and hell derived in an apocalyptic worldview that sought to answer the question of why the righteous were suffering and the evil weren’t. So it posited that in the next life or the age to come that the truly righteous would be rewarded and the evil would be punished. It was a recognition that life’s not fair and a way to offer a message of hope. It was a dualistic worldview shared by Jesus. I understand that and do not try to deny it, but that doesn’t mean that I must protect that worldview, much of which we have already rejected anyway, onto my life and try to live accordingly. For instance, I personally know of no Christian who literally believes that heaven is below us (inside the earth) and that heaven is directly above us in the sky. We know that heaven does not exist in the Milky Way galaxy as a literal place so then maybe it is outside of our galaxy, but even so we have gone far beyond what any 1st Century believer in the concept would have believed or even been able to comprehend. I’m just not sure that my taking the next logical step breaks that much more with the 1st century worldview than what the majority of Christianity has already done. Our beliefs/disbeliefs in heaven and hell are different in degree, not kind.

                  So while it may not seem consistent with the majority view in Christianity today, I find support in ancient texts (of which the Bible is a major one), my life experiences, etc. and see my views as compatible with faith. To be sure, Christians have long taken belief in one particular tenant to be a deal breaker for those with whom they disagreed, but that does not change the fact that followers of Jesus have always been extremely diverse, even on issues that seem foundational to many like the humanity/divinity of Jesus. Some early followers believed he was fully human, others believed he was fully divine, and still many others held views somewhere else along the spectrum. All were “Christians” or followers of Jesus. Not until a few hundred years after Jesus did the fully human and fully divine view become the majority view. Indeed, this very issue is still hotly debated in the 5th century.

                  1. We had a wonderful blessing last night in our small groups meeting. One of the ladies came into the class with a terrible migraine headache. She was crying and asking her husband to take her home. So we gathered around her and were praying for her. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me to touch her forehead three different times during the prayer. Afterwards she told the other ladies in the group that when I had touched her forehead that her headache went away immediately. This is certainly not a boast on my part because i didn’t do anything but believe and obey. But, it does show the power of God and the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that Christ said that he would send. This is certainly not the only encounter that i have had like this as the Holy Spirit speaks to me often so I know without a doubt that the Holy Spirit is true and dwells within me. If the Holy Spirit is true and He has the power to do what Jesus said He would do, then I also know that Jesus was true and His Word is true.

                    So if Jesus is true and He was raised from the dead and He sent the Holy Spirit down, then Jesus is alive. If Jesus is alive, then the question is….Where is Jesus? and where are the angels?

                    He is very clear in the Scripture that He is from above and that he was going back there to prepare a place for us. So where did Jesus come from and where did He go back to? That place is heaven.

                    In Mark 12:18-27 Jesus spoke of the resurrection. Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God? 25“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like…. (angels in heaven). 26“But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob’? 27“He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”

                    So I think Jesus would disagree with you about the Hebrew Bible. He makes it very clear that Abraham, Issac, and Jacob were still living. If they were not on earth living, they must be in heaven.

                    Human kind has certainly made advances since the 1st century, but do you really feel that we have caught up to God? If God can create this world and everything in it and this universe, I don’t think it is much of a stretch for us to believe He can create a place (heaven) in which we cannot detect. To say that heaven or hell is not near is really more of a limitation on us and our limited abilities.

                    I would also disagree with you on the matter of hell. These words of Jesus are very powerful and go beyond any imagery of a trash dump.”Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

                    1. But then, of course, we have the Sadduces, a 1st century Jewish group that only revered the written Torah (as opposed to the Oral Torah what the Pharisees revered and followed) and thereby rejected the resurrection of the dead and any sort of final judgment (reward and punishment in the afterlife), so the interpretation you offer is not the only way to read the Hebrew Bible.

                      I’m not opposed to the limitation being on our end, really. But the matter of a literal heaven and hell is just no longer foundational to my faith as it once was. I see ambiguity in the Bible regarding these topics and don’t see it as a “make or break” aspect of faith, but then again, I admit, I don’t see much as a “make or break” aspect of faith.

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