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Ministers Trying to Mix Religion and Politics:

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:

Voters should oust congressional Republican leaders because U.S. foreign policy is delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ, according to a evangelical preacher trying to influence closely contested political races.

K.A. Paul railed against the war in Iraq on Sunday before a crowd of 1,000 at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, his first stop on what he hopes is a 30-city campaign.

The Houston-based preacher said he believes that the Bush administration has delayed the second coming because U.S. foreign policy has blocked Christian missionaries from working in Iraq, Iran and Syria....

I somehow wonder how welcome Christian missionaries were in those countries — especially Iran — even before the war, and as you might gather arguments about delaying the second coming of Jesus Christ won't influence me much. I suspect they also won't influence most Christian voters much, since I doubt that the typical Christian shares Rev. Paul's view about what determines the timing of the second coming.

But I do think this is a useful illustration of how "mixing religion and politics" is hardly an exclusive province of those promoting conservative positions — as of course anyone who is familiar with the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, and various other movements in American history already knows. My view: People should be entirely free (both as a legal and a moral matter) to use religious and even theological arguments in favor or against a particular policy, whether it's the war, abortion, homosexuality, slavery, alcohol, discrimination, or whatever else, just as they're free to use secular philosophical arguments (including ones that rest on unprovable assumptions that many in the audience won't share). Of course, many of those arguments will be unpersuasive, even to those who are generally of the same religion as the speaker. But the question should be whether the arguments are sound, not whether they're religious.

On the other hand, I'd think that people who are outraged about how God talk is used on other issues — on the grounds that such talk impermissibly "mixes religion with politics" — should be equally outraged about God talk being used to oppose the Iraq war.

Steve Martin (mail):
But I do think this is a useful illustration of how "mixing religion and politics" is hardly an exclusive province of conservatives

I agree with the statement that "mixing religion and politics" is not an exclusively conservative endeavor.

But do not categorize the pastor at issue here, K.A. Paul, as a liberal. Neither he, nor his followers, are politically left of center.
10.11.2006 6:28pm
Commenterlein (mail):
Whenever people use religious or theological arguments in favor or against a particular policy, they open themselves up to having the argument, and by extension the underlying religion or the underlying religious text, questioned.

Unfortunately many religious believers tend to get really irate when that happens.
10.11.2006 6:31pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Obviously it's a ridiculous reason. I tend only to get outraged, though, when majoritarian religious beliefs are forced on minorities. Quirky outlier religious beliefs are hard to get too upset about.


But the question should be whether the arguments are sound, not whether they're religious.


Yes, but it would also be nice if people realized the extent to which religion is inherently personal, and thus rather dubious as a basis for broad social policy.
10.11.2006 6:34pm
Houston Lawyer:
Politics from the pulpit was so pervasive in Black churches that the Republicans came up with a strategy of quietly handing over cash to Black ministers "for church projects" in exchange for a promise to stick to preaching instead of exhorting to vote.

I have always thought that it would be difficult to police when religious proclamations crossed over into political issues. Sure, there are easy cases, but what about condemning a candidate by name because he voted in favor of something that offends the preacher. The preacher wouldn't have to say "vote for his opponent", but people are free to read between the lines.
10.11.2006 6:37pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Commenterlein: I appreciate the correction; I've changed "conservatives" to "those promoting conservative positions," since I'm talking more about the nature of the positions being advocated and not the speaker's overall views on other issues.
10.11.2006 6:38pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Bad theology should be debated as much as bad politics. But like with politics, theology should be argued with a notion of the subject, something mostly missing in much of the conversation I've seen.

There are plenty of great religious reasons to be against the Iraq war, with the Quakers exemplifying such arguments not only in the present political climate but throughout the last several hundred years. Quakers I know are amongst the most persuasive because among other reasons they can't be accused of picking which war is "good" according to which party is in power.

K.A. Paul, however, is preaching plain bad theology, unsupportable except in his own mind -- never a good foundation for theological discovery.

His is a shabby argument on all grounds. On the theological side he is denying some aspects of his theology (God is omnipotent) with this one (George Bush can overcome God's plans). How small of a god does he worship who is dependent on George W. Bush's foreign policy?

Sad really. Though, my suspicion is that the God K.A. Paul worships isn't in heaven but located in his bank.
10.11.2006 6:39pm
DK:
As a rule, people who go over the left-wing deep end and people who go over the right-wing deep end both arrive in the same place. It is just silly to talk about whether this guy is "conservative" or "liberal" if you believe either word has any meaning beyond "people I don't like"
10.11.2006 7:08pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The post seems to conflate opposing *Republicans* with opposing a *policy.*

There are both Dems and Repubs who support the Iraq war. A religious leader can support/oppose that war on religious grounds without being partisan.

Whereas, obviously, calling for the members of a particular party, as such, to be voted for/against, is pretty much what I find under "partisan" in my dictionary.
10.11.2006 7:14pm
Amanda (mail) (www):
Paddy O.

I would not be suprised if K.A. Paul does honestly believe that the world must go to hell in the handbasket before Christ can come again.

He isn't making an argument about the powers of God relative to the president. Rather, he's interpreting the Book of Revelations (see Wikipedia's summary of Christian eschatological differences)

I would guess that a minority of Christians in the U.S. believe that the world must decay before the Second Coming could possibly occur, but I could just be attributing my own beliefs to millions of faceless others. I haven't seen the numbers, but I'd guess that a not insubstantial number would agree with K.A. Paul. This guess, again, may be based on nothing more than the fact that Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" books about the Rapture have sold pretty well.
10.11.2006 7:17pm
jeffreymark (www):
One of your commentators called this bad theology. He's so right about that. I know of no true theological scholar who believes this Tim LeHaye style drama. And, as a United Methodist minister, I have not encountered any other Methodists who take this stuff seriously.
Much of this end time thinking developed from a contextually flawed shallow theology called Dispensationalism. I wrote a whole series on the end times and the Middle East at my blog - http://jeffreymark.typepad.com/myfolder/religion/index.html.
10.11.2006 7:22pm
Steve:
K.A. Paul is a bit of a documented nut, in case anyone doesn't know the name.
10.11.2006 7:23pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"As I've argued before, the theoretical case for ignoring candidates' religious beliefs when deciding whom to vote for is not open-and-shut: Religious beliefs (whether atheist, fundamentalist Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever else) are at least in theory pointers to how a person is likely to act, and the similarity between your beliefs and a candidate's might in theory be a good predictor of the similarity in your moral values and your views on what the government ought to do. But in practice, it seems to me that the correlation is low enough, and appeals to such a correlation are dangerous enough in a religiously pluralistic country that they ought to be eschewed and condemned."

vs.

"My view: People should be entirely free (both as a legal and a moral matter) to use religious and even theological arguments in favor or against a particular policy, whether it's the war, abortion, homosexuality, slavery, alcohol, discrimination, or whatever else, just as they're free to use secular philosophical arguments (including ones that rest on unprovable assumptions that many in the audience won't share)."

Could you distinguish these please Mr. Volokh?
10.11.2006 7:32pm
JB:
I think the distinction is that "eschew and condemn" doesn't mean "prohibit." Eugene is arguing that (a) thinking this way is a bad idea, and (b) people still should be free to do it.
10.11.2006 7:42pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Euguene is just pointing out that opponents against mixing religion and politics should be consistent whether the speaker is conservative or liberal.
10.11.2006 7:57pm
randal (mail):
Eugene - you're getting sloppy!

On the other hand, I'd think that people who are outraged about how God talk is used on other issues — on the grounds that such talk impermissibly "mixes religion with politics" — should be equally outraged about God talk being used to oppose the Iraq war.

Who said "mixes religion with politics"? Then why is it in quotes? Are you putting words in your enemies' mouths?

I don't recall any serious arguments that religion should stay out of "issues", or that preachers who talk about "issues" are "impermissibly 'mix[ing] religion with politics'".

I've only heard serious arguments that preachers who use tax-exempt assets such as churches to promote specific candidates may be crossing the line. If that's what this guy is doing, then sure, he's just as bad as the rest.

I've also heard people mention that talking politics in church cheapens religion, and many people would avoid that kind of church, but that says nothing about it being in any way "impermissible".

Have you been watching too much cable news? Feeling a tad jealous of the fame and glory that comes from being publicly rash?
10.11.2006 8:01pm
Steve P. (mail):
Daniel -- it appears to me that his arguments are that a) a statement of someone's religion isn't likely to be strongly correlated to any serious policy position, and b) whether or not religion is an indicator of an individual's actions, people are free to say and imply that it is.
10.11.2006 8:03pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Yes... they're legally and morally free to do it, but the practice should be eschewed and condemned. I dunno... maybe I'm the only one who sees a contradiction here, but I just wanted Eugene to clarify. I'm not going to get into a debate with people here over what someone else meant in a blog post.
10.11.2006 8:08pm
Justin (mail):
I'm also morally outraged by my nutty neighbor who thinks we should kill puppies to bring Jesus Christ back.

Why should we be outraged over a nutball with little/no real-world abilities to affect outcome? This seems more like a (very weak) moral equivalence and strawman argument.

Nobody on the left would seriously support or believe what Paul is spewing, we just don't have the time to condemn every kook in the book to appease conservatives who want to avoid discussing the consequences of their support for tragic policy.
10.11.2006 8:15pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Amanda, eschatology is all wrapped up in considerations of God's power. That's why Revelation was written really, to say that after all things are said and done it's gonna be okay for those who stuck with it.

His is bad theology because he doesn't see that he's made a really small sort of God to defend. Much the same as Muslims who think their God is so small that he needs a car bomb to win the day. Sadly, you're right though, a lot of people really do believe this sort of stuff. However, there are distinctions even in this. There are those who think the world will decay no matter how much we try to fight it and those who think the world will decay because of some fellow's active stopping of God's perceived plan. The former bit has a pretty decent theological background, the latter is inconsistent in all sorts of ways. This works out in different religious responses. Those who think there's a decay no matter what have a fatalism like Aragorn near the end of Lord of the Rings. The world is going to hell but let's do what we can to keep it right. Folks like Paul come up with names and faces in each generation who are somehow preventing God from doing what he wants.

Maybe K.A. Paul does believe it, but that for me makes it even more sad. Religion may be a set of beliefs, but theology is a field of real study going back thousands of years with well-defined boundaries and standards. Paul is coming to, in my opinion, a terrible political decision from terrible theological opinion. My guess is that he's not particularly grounded in either subject.

"Euguene is just pointing out that opponents against mixing religion and politics should be consistent whether the speaker is conservative or liberal."
As should those who are in favor of mixing religion and politics.
10.11.2006 8:24pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Course, now that I re-read his comments I'm struck even more by how important it is to be consistent not in rejecting the mix of politics and religion but in making good political arguments against the political bits and good religious arguments against the religious bits.

How, for instance, did Bush delay the Second Coming by preventing missionaries to these places? He's only been in office for 8 years. Missionaries have been going there for the last 2000. My mechanic is Christian Iraqi who visited Christian relatives there a couple monthes ago (in the North, where everything is lovely). Iran is the same.

Even more silly, and more exposing of his ignorance of his own religion, is the fact that missionaries have been sent <i>from</i> Syria. Indeed, his namesake the apostle Paul, was sent from a town in what is now Syria.

Maybe K.A. Paul's god was taking a nap then and missed that.
10.11.2006 8:35pm
Grant Gould (mail):
"But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mark 13:32)

If there's pulpit to be found from which this verse has not been taught, it's because people like Mr. Paul haven't stopped by town recently. If there is one truth in Christian theology, it's that nutters that tell you when this world is going to end and what preconditions it requires are way the heck outside of every possible main stream of interpretation.

Of course Mr. Paul should be allowed to say whatever the heck he wants on this subject. But it's unlikely even the fringiest of the substantial denominations will give him the time of day. The end of the world attracts weirdos, which might be why Jesus warned his disciples to stay away from the question.
10.11.2006 8:35pm
Rich B. (mail):
I don't think anyone is denying that churches can use their pulpits to say anything they want, up to and including "Vote for only Democrats at all times, or else you will burn in hell."

The question has always been whether churches should be able to do this while maintaining their tax exempt status. In that case, if you lower yourself to care about the Earthly level, shut up and pay your property taxes.
10.11.2006 9:12pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
How, for instance, did Bush delay the Second Coming by preventing missionaries to these places? He's only been in office for 8 years.

But that was enough to delay the Second Coming by at least 2 years and 5 months. It had been set for 6/6/06, and now has had to be moved to 2008, when it's gonna play hob with the primaries. "And tonight, on the O'Reilly Factor -- an exclusive interview with the Whore of Babylon."
10.11.2006 11:05pm
Christopher M (mail):
I'd think that people who are outraged about how God talk is used on other issues — on the grounds that such talk impermissibly "mixes religion with politics" — should be equally outraged about God talk being used to oppose the Iraq war

Not really. There's a difference between thinking something is a silly reason and being "outraged" over it. If you think "god talk" is just factually incorrect, because no such entity exists, it's pretty reasonable to get "outraged" when it's used to justify bad things but not when it's used to justify good things. It would be different if the anti-god-talk people used god talk to argue against the Iraq war, but I haven't seen any of that.

For example, I would be outraged if someone maintained that their religion required them to kill random innocent people. On the other hand, if someone maintained that their religion required them not to kill random innocent people, I would think that was a silly reason not to kill people, but I really don't see why I should be outraged over it.
10.11.2006 11:29pm
therut:
How many liberals fail to see left wing politics sprouted as theology by lets say Willis, Lerner for just two examples. The thing is theological liberalism is not even known about by many Americans. It makes no sense to many unless they were taught liberalism as a theology. When liberal theologians talk about supporting the poor with state supported welfare (tax payer money) I never hear Rev. Linn get upset about the separation of church and state. Nor the ACLU for that matter. And why is there not a boat load of books and editorials about us becoming a theocracy when preachers push for liberalism ie socialism because of their religions beliefs. Why is it fine to use tax payer money to fund left wing religious theocrats dogma? Why is that not considered cramming their religion down my throat? I have never heard explaination for this. Does anyone have a good legal reason this is allowed or not challenged as a church state issue?
10.12.2006 2:04am
Lev:

the world must go to hell in the handbasket before Christ can come again.


Would that mean he is the twelfth imam?
10.12.2006 4:22am
Aultimer:

on the grounds that such talk impermissibly "mixes religion with politics"

EV: The usual meme against such mixing is invoked when an elected official selects her course of action based on personal religious views, rather than on the (supposedly opposing) will of the electorate. That's a very different kind of mixing than anti-war preachers, whether pacifist or nutjob armageddon-ist.

You've argued before that there's nothing wrong with an official doing so, and I agree so long as the candidate identifies this decision-making process when asked as a candidate. Those who misrepresent it should be burned at the stake to save the soul of democracy, of course.
10.12.2006 10:04am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Therut,

I think when religion is invoked to help others, particularly the underprivileged, people tend not to object as much as when it's invoked as a political bludgeon. That could be fair or unfair.
10.12.2006 12:06pm
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat (mail):
So, the Bush administration is unable to prevent Kim Jong Il from developing nuclear weapons but able to prevent Christ from returning to the Earth to redeem the faithful.

If that's so, either the Christians are seriously mistaken regarding the divinity of Jesus or the North Koreans are surprisingly correct regarding the divinity of their Dear Leader.

Of course, if the latter is the case, it still doesn't preclude the Norks rising up and nailing Kim to a tree . . . assuming there are any trees left in North Korea that haven't had the bark stripped off for nourishment before being burned for fuel.
10.12.2006 1:47pm
therut:
Marcus1-------But that is the problem. Who says it helps.The BIBLE??????? I do not accept welfare or socialism as helping. And since these people push it as a part of their religious dogma I want the left to quit pretending they are for separation of church and state. I do not want their moral preaching to be law in the USA. Or their religious ideas to be used to support the laws. Isn't that what we hear from these believers all the time in their left wing attack groups. They need to be honest. They are just for their ideology and socialism that they call Christianty. I want to see the ACLU and REV. Linn be honest. State the obvious. They are pushing their religious beliefs on the rest of us who have a right as they would say of freedom from religion. Except theirs of coarse. Some even go as far to preach it as "Biblical economics". PLease spare me their religous preaching.
10.12.2006 2:15pm
eddiehaskel (mail):
therut:

First, politics is about elections and the distribution and use of power.

Using religious precepts to justify one's stance on various issues may or may not be political. There may be many non-religious reasons for the ACLU to put forth a particular view, e.g. civil rights are mandated by a "correct" interpretation of the constitution and governmental authorities that interfere with voting or do not provide equal access to public entitlements should be constrained by application of those constitutional precepts. That a preacher might say the this is also the Christian way is simply parallel. Should a church lose its status for supporting efforts to obtain these rights. I think not. But you are assuming that if one individual (whether clergy or secular or part of the government) has a particular justification for his/her position, that such justification can be ascribed to all those that agree with the position. That's a leap of faith to which you are not willing to admit.

For a governmental official to justify his decisions on religious grounds or to make a claim that voting for his/her opponent would be anti-[fill in the religion of your choice] is not permissible. For a court to suggest that a particular law is permissible or impermissible because of a religious tenant is equally abhorrent to our system.

It's a cheap shot to blame your mis-conception of socialism (which I will assume is your catch-word for anything even remotely similar to any New Deal reforms) on religion. But it is even more outrageous for Christians to ignore the main thrust of Christ's life work to claim that so-called "socialist" reforms, e.g. basic protections for the poor, are evil.

I am curious concerning what your conception of any government's role might be, and especially our federal government in light of the aspirational language included in the Constitution.

Are you as concerned about the active interference of our government, e.g. the whole debate concerning sexuality, contraception and abortion, as you seem to be about economic policies? Are you as concerned about the "corporate socialism" (if I may be allowed to coin an obvious oxymoron)?

But to respond to the professor's point, I would challenge him to provide the following: a religious basis for any war; a religious basis for discrimination; a religious basis for inhumane treatment of prisoners. Each of issues is at the heart of many "political" conflicts, but in a manner that is wholly different from an individual stating that whatever it may say in the constitution, God says . . . .
10.12.2006 2:58pm
dweeb:
Yes... they're legally and morally free to do it, but the practice should be eschewed and condemned. I dunno... maybe I'm the only one who sees a contradiction here
You're not. It appears he has one view regarding candidates and another regarding issues.
10.12.2006 6:26pm
Ken Arromdee:
a religious basis for inhumane treatment of prisoners

What, seriously? Read the book of Revelation. Adhering to the enemy is punishable by torture. "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

Of course, Revelation is supposed to be metaphor, but not everyone agrees on exactly how much metaphor is in it, and even if this is a metaphor, comparing something to torture in an approving way seems to indicate approval of torture anyway. It's like saying something smells as sweet as a rose--if you didn't think roses smelled sweet, you'd never have chosen that metaphor.
10.12.2006 11:32pm
deenk:
Some commenters have referred to the ACLU and Barry Linn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Was the original post aimed at supporters of these organizations? If so, then it strikes me as misinformed. Neither organization has argued that religious viewpoints have no business in public policy. All of our views are informed by our ethical beliefs, including religious ones. Americans United, in particular, has been aggressive in discouraging official support of sectarian religions. So, relief/punishment for the poor, protection/expulsion of unborn foetuses, and support/opposition to the war are not invalid because they are inspired by religion. Officially sanctioned invocation of Jesus or Mohammed at city council meetings, government funding of sectarian prison programs/marriage counselling/sex education, and teaching theology in science classes are activities that violate the first amendment and should not be allowed. These latter beliefs have little relation to the idea that religiously inspired views have no place in government policy.
10.13.2006 4:43pm