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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

Is There A Proper Role For Government and Religion in Public Life?
Date Posted: September 24, 2021

Pastor Nathan Wilson believes so, having written an op-ed article for the Indianapolis Star explaining how. His assertion being that politics and religion are not natural enemies but should be deeply related, neither using the other as a tool of coercion but one informing the other as decisions are made and policies set on the local, state and national levels. Which thoroughly scares some people silly. The point being that if one is truly “religious”, our perception of right and wrong – good, better and best – will be impacted. More than that, it will define who we are, shape the decisions we make and dictate how we interact with others.

More to the political point, Pastor Wilson notes how for most of us, “ not fundamentally about campaigns or (even) candidates...” It’s about pure water and clean air. It’s about not being hungry and having access to health care. In other words, to be legitimate, politics must be practical; to be effective, it must be functional. Out of necessity, politics must involve itself with war and peace, the economy and property rights. It’s about suppressing crime and legislating its punishment; even setting guidelines for how we express ourselves. Sometimes, by necessity, it intervenes in how we raise our children; at other times it merely interferes.

Summing up his thoughts, Pastor Wilson insists that, “Those who are serious about politics take religion seriously.” (Even if – for some – only to manipulate religious people to their benefit.) While, “Those who are deeply religious pay attention to politics.” (Or should, as it often sets the tone for how we practice what we preach on a daily basis.) He then goes on to suggest some areas where people of faith in particular should be socially aware and involved, which will be considered later. The reason for that being an article submitted within a few days of Pastor Wilson’s by Lee Hamilton, a now-retired member of the House of Representatives, where he was a voice of reason for 34years and respected by many on both sides of the ideological aisle; giving a concise explanation of the ideology and goals of both parties vying for political control of our government – which includes the on-going debate concerning the proper role of government in our lives.

In highlighting the primary differences between the two approaches to government, Mr. Hamilton contends that the ensuing debate is a good one to have, while decrying the mean-spirited tone it is often expressed with; cautioning that no election is likely to settle the question of the proper role of government in American life which has been argued over since our founding. Republicans generally espouse the conservative conviction that government should be as limited as possible – Ronald Reagan’s declaration that, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is our problem.”, becoming their rallying cry. In their view, much of what the government spends is wasted and most of what government attempts is intrusive; thus their proposed reduction in regulations, the promise to cut taxes and their idea of turning entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid over to the states – supported, if at all, by grants from the federal government. Privatization, or the dismantlement of traditionally government-run agencies seen as a way of freeing the private sector from the intrusion of government, leading to a more robust economy and society.

On the other hand, Democrats more often see value in a strong government role in achieving social equality, championing public-funded “safety nets” which require a certain amount of taxation for their support. In their view, public spending is necessary to stimulate the economy and regulatory systems are essential to controlling the excesses (or greed) inherent in our free market economy. Government, properly utilized, increasing the likelihood that everyone will have access to the “American Dream.”

The gap between theses views may seem insurmountable, yet may not be as unbridgeable as some think. Mr. Hamilton, like Pastor Wilson, stressing the practical expectations most Americans have of their government. The real issue for most being how the country works on a day-to-day basis; which necessitates people of diverse backgrounds and ideologies coming together to solve their problems. “We the people” expecting our government to, “ well and efficiently, (to) be as productive as the private sector, (to) exert itself to keep the market functional, but not so much that it over-regulates business, and get a handle on entitlements so that they’re sustainable... Most Americans believe that we can not prosper unless government builds infrastructure, protects property rights, helps develop the economy, sustains basic scientific research, undergirds the development of human capital, and protects the social safety nets. In essence, government is a tool – it’s one of the ways that we as Americans meet the challenges that confront us, whether its fighting a terrorist attack or educating our children, safe-guarding our retirement, undergirding commerce and protecting the country’s national dreams. Government may not be the highest, broadest purpose of the nation, but most people recognize that without it, we cannot prosper. So while many people may feel that Washington has too much power, they still want it to protect their interests.”

When Wall Street crashes, natural disasters strike or the more mundane problems of failing schools confront us – pragmatists, those people who test all concepts and ideologies by their practical results, step to the fore. Even then, achieving a definitive consensus on the proper role of government in our lives is elusive, as it constantly changes according to the needs of the moment. More than likely, we will continue the debate as we work through our differences and devise solutions to our problems one issue at a time.

Pastor Wilson insists that, “Religion should increase our honesty, civility and compassion.” In a political environment exhibiting little to none of these characteristics, we Christians should make sure we don’t become part of the problem and provide a bridge that spans the gap created by heart-felt differences of opinion. Always remembering that, “...whatever (we) do, whether in word or deed, (we are to) do it all in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

Check back next week for more on Pastor Wilson’s suggested points of discussion for social awareness and Christian involvement.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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