Delivery alert

There may be an issue with the delivery of your newspaper. This alert will expire at NaN. Click here for more info.

Recover password

A Sunday lesson in church and state

Darnell Smith, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Albuquerque, addressed a rally in 2011 protesting Gov. Susana Martinez's line-item vetoes of social services. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Darnell Smith, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Albuquerque, addressed a rally in 2011 protesting Gov. Susana Martinez’s line-item vetoes of social services. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

More and more Americans want churches and other houses of worship to express their views on social and political issues, according to the latest report of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“The share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up six points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43 percent to 49 percent),” according to the report.

Two-thirds of white evangelical Protestants and 48 percent of Roman Catholics agreed that religious organizations should “express their views on day-to-day social and political questions.”

For reasons I don’t quite understand, since I’m religious myself, church involvement in public life makes me nervous. Religion can make some people entirely too confident in their own opinions and entirely too dismissive of the opinions of others.

In the extreme, you get Islamic State barbarism, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms, genocide and church-sanctioned racism.

I’m leery of the power of religion to hijack a debate. Our nation’s unfortunate experiment with Prohibition in the 1920s was a creature of religious revivalism in the early 20th century, according to historian Garry Wills.

I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to know with certainty the mind and will of God.

Of course, there are zealots of all stripes, from doctrinaire economists to hateful atheists. Religion has no monopoly on self-righteousness or misplaced certainty.

Allen Sánchez suggests my anxiety could be based on an improper understanding of the concept of separation of church and state.

Sánchez has lobbied on behalf of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops against the death penalty, embryonic stem cell research, cockfighting, physician-assisted suicide and gay marriage. These days, he is pushing for better funding for early childhood education.

Church-state separation “is about what government can do. It’s not about what the church can do,” Sánchez said.

Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for better early childhood education funding at a 2011 rally at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for better early childhood education funding at a 2011 rally at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Wills, in a book on the subject called “Head and Heart: American Christianities,” says that, to the nation’s founders, the concept meant only that the government may not establish a state religion.

Sánchez’s clients – New Mexico’s Roman Catholic bishops – are teachers first, he said. “I’m not there (at the Legislature) on behalf of the Catholic people. I’m there on behalf of what the bishops want to teach. We bring what we believe the teaching to be.”

Every citizen, religious affiliation notwithstanding, has a moral obligation to take a stand in the political arena, he said. Religious affiliation doesn’t disqualify you from taking a stand.

N. Darnell Smith, pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, and president of the Ministry Fellowship of Albuquerque and Vicinity, says he preaches on political and social issues just about every Sunday.

He has led protests against social service budget cuts, called for the firing of police officers involved in the Omaree Varela child abuse case and is organizing the fellowship’s efforts to inform political candidates of community concerns: “Jobs, education, housing, health insurance. The same things that concern everyone else concern us.”

“The black church has always been the bedrock of our community,” Smith said. “The pastor has always been the spiritual leader, the community leader. The pastor has always been the politician who never ran for elective office.”

Pastors can rally people “to vote in a way that is going to meet the needs of our community much better than any politician can do,” he said.

“The Bible says the body is the temple of God,” Smith said. “We have to feed the body spiritually, emotionally and physically.” And you have to feed “the social side. If you want to make a difference in our community, you have to vote.”

It’s a big responsibility with a lot of risk. “You have to make sure you live above the board,” Smith said, and you can’t allow “politics to become more important than Christ.”

What makes a conversation with Smith and Sánchez somewhat reassuring is that they both possess the humility that zealots lack. The world’s major religions require believers to be as certain of their own fallibility as they are of God’s infallibility.

The English general and politician Oliver Cromwell put it this way in a 1650 letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Winthrop Quigley at 823-3896 or wquigley@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

AlertMe
TOP |