Religion and Politics

The Washington Post has an interesting piece on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s visits to Louisiana churches. And doesn’t believe it should happen. Yet, in recent memory, Barack Obama visited many churches as he was running for office. Clearly a double standard is operating here; Gov. Jindal is a Catholic but as he has Indian heritage, people question his religion. Remind you of anyone in national politics? Thought so!

The only problem I have with Jindal is that he “attends Mass when he can.”

Political Altar Egos

The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge raised questions last week about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s regular speaking appearances at Sunday church services around the state.

“I’m completely just humbled and honored that I’m asked to come and worship with Louisianians across the state,” Jindal told the newspaper. “It’s important for the governor to get out of Baton Rouge.”

No doubt it is, but should a governor or any elected official be getting out of the office to go evangelize? There’s often a fine line between politicking and preaching in America. Jindal obliterates it in one five-part, 40-plus-minute personal talk and testimonyhe gives at New Chapel Hill Baptist Church in West Monroe, La.

“I think it’s like this,” the governor says near the end of his sermon. “God has given us the book of life. He doesn’t let us always see the pages for today or tomorrow, but he let’s us look at the last page in the book of life. And here’s the amazing thing. On the last page, our God wins. Our God gets up off that cross. He beats death. He beats Satan. And because of what he’s done for us, we can have the gift of eternal life (so) let’s recommit ourselves to go plant those seeds of the gospel so that others might come to have that gift of eternal life. It may be the most important thing we do. You may change someone’s life for all of eternity and not even realize it in this life. And whatever we do let’s go plant those seeds for the Lord.”

For some, Jindal is fulfilling what evangelicals call the Great Commission — Jesus’ final instructions to his followers, as reported in Matthew 28: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” He’s also reassuring his fellow Louisianans that he is a Christian. Jindal was born in Baton Rouge shortly after his Hindu parents immigrated from India. He converted to Catholicism when he was a teenager and says he attends Catholic masses when he can. But as Rev. Gil Arthur of East Leesville Baptist Church told The Advocate, Jindal’s Indian heritage leaves some Louisianans still wondering about his personal beliefs.

President Obama, who was born in Hawaii but who’s African father was Muslim, spent a lot of time on the campaign trail talking — and in some cases preaching— about his faith in Christ.

Even though the Constitution says there is no religious test for public office, We expect our politicians to use religious rhetoric when they talk to us, and we all but demand that they tell us and reassure us about their personal religious beliefs. But when does politicking become pandering?

I was at Mason Temple in Memphis in 1993 when President Clinton paid his respects to God and the Church of God in Christ: “By the grace of God and your help last year, I was elected president of this great country,” Clinton said in what clearly is more sermon than speech.

I suspect most Republicans — and many Democrats — figure God had nothing to do with it.

There are no laws against politicians speaking, preaching or pandering at worship services. Congregations are free to invite anyone to speak from their pulpits, even governors and presidents they didn’t vote for. Public officials are people of faith, too.

But is it inappropriate or just plain wrong for our elected officials to take their faith-based, scripture-laced politicking directly to the pulpit? Should elected officials, who represent citizens of all faiths and no faiths, preach the gospel? Should governors evangelize?

Former Florida Gov. Reuben Askew, a Democrat, once said: “While I believe in separating church and state, I do not believe in separating church and statesmen.”

What do you believe?

BY David Waters

| September 4, 2009; 2:38 PM ET | Category: Under God
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