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In 1993, Dr. Cornel West wrote his landmark book Race Matters, which analyzed and challenged the way of thinking for many in America regarding race relations. Almost ten years later, he followed that up with another book titled Democracy Matters. It is time to complete the trilogy and tackle the far more complicated issue of faith, or more specifically, theology in the context of culture and politics. Faith in the context of politics represents a generalized belief system, theology delves into specifics, and includes, for our purposes, how doctrinal positions directly relate to public policy.

Everyone’s belief system finds its roots either in a voter’s socialization, major life experiences, or theology. When an assessment is made as to why people think or believe the way that they do on various cultural and political issues, each person’s belief system comes from one of these sources. There are many people in America who would consider themselves people of faith who hold the Bible as a valid and practical text. Having a group of core issues that are faith-based and assessing candidates based upon one’s own theology would appear to be just as valid and common as a person who assesses issues and candidates based upon life experiences. Faith is and has been a major part of our country’s past and present culture. In some way and on some level, faith naturally filters into politics. The question is, how and on what level should theology have an impact on political decision-making?

Here lies the challenge: if politics were exclusively or primarily a matter of theology, then voters would only vote for candidates whose theology directly matched their own. Protestants would never vote for Catholics, Christians would never vote for Jews, Methodist would not vote for Baptists and so on. This sort of strict code would make it nearly impossible to vote for anyone whose beliefs on matters relating to God where not identical to your own.

The issue regarding theology is how to express theology in relation to substantive issues. We may follow this up by asking: How does theology determine what is and is not a substantive issue?

It is possible to have differing theologies and still come to the same conclusion on public policy. In reverse, it is possible to have similar theologies and come to different conclusions on public policy.

Let’s look at the issue of “life” and the issue of “poverty” as examples:
Liberals interpret “protecting life” primarily in relation to capital punishment, making sure that this form of Justice is limited or completely absolved that no one receives capitalism punishment unjustly. A Conservative interprets “protecting life” primarily in the context of minimizing and/or banning abortion, protecting unborn babies, and making sure that once all children are conceived, they have an opportunity to experience life outside of their mother’s womb. Therefore, what we have is a similar theological position on protecting life, but different interpretations on how this is manifested in politics.

The same holds true on the issue of Poverty. A conservative interprets addressing poverty primarily from the perspective of individual and /or church responsibility, while a liberal interprets addressing poverty primarily as government’s responsibility. A conservative says, “Government needs to stop subsidizing laziness and allow the free market to address financial challenges,” while a liberal says, “There are government institutions and systems in place that are discriminatory and need to be overhauled, and monitored to create equality of opportunity.” Both see the theological premium placed on poverty, but they each come to different conclusions in how this is expressed in regards to public policy. This dynamic between theology and Public Policy is what we are seeing being played out during this campaign season.

Senator Santorum and President Obama have both continuously expressed that they are Christians, one a Catholic and one a Protestant. Mitt Romney while not espousing Christianity is a Mormon who consistently present himself as a man of faith and family, who has previously served in a pastoral position with in his religious circle. Arguably, each of the three have very different theological perspectives. Senator Santorum represents conservative theology, whose emphasis is many times placed on personal morality or social issues, President Obama represents liberal theology whose emphasis is on public morality and social justice, while Governor Romney represents a Mormon theology, which also appears to reflect a personal morality.

When faith, theology or the Bible is brought into the political equation, candidates who use them must make sure that they are representing the totality of a biblical, faith-based or theological position without cherry picking certain issues that fit into a party’s platform, while completely discarding other issues that may be biblically/theologically valid, yet outside of the main stream of partisan politics. Voters should investigate the theology of candidates to determine why and how they have come to the public policy conclusions that they have. Theology and faith, according to the Constitution should not be used as a prerequisite for running for office, but there are no limitations on theology being used to determine how one should vote.

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