Religion in the Political Arena
RELIGIOUS news was once reserved for the back pages of the local newspaper. But today one is just as likely to read about the actions of the clergy on the front page. Why?
Because now, more than ever, religion is involved in politics. And politics is front-page news. At every political level, from local precinct elections to international conferences, the clergy are having a vigorous share.
Of course, in a certain sense this is nothing new. The churches of Christendom have always entwined themselves in the state’s business. However, in recent years the clergy have also assumed a much more aggressive role in political matters. The road for this change was paved by the second Vatican Council, in the early 1960’s. It urged Catholics to be more wrapped up in social and economic issues. Protestants have followed suit. The desire to help other people is commendable. But the vital question is, How should this help be given?
Jesus Christ said: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) Probably every clergyman knows those words from memory; a true Christian believes them. The latter knows that if one acts contrary to Jesus’ words the results will not be good. Then, why is it that the clergy still insist on getting involved in political matters and, as it were, try to make God’s kingdom “part of this world”?
Because, frankly, they believe that the political organizations, not the religious ones, have “clout” or power today. Thus the “Reverend” Carl McCall of New York city reasons: “Politics is the only base on which the people respect a clergyman today.’’ And the 1971 Synod of (Catholic) Bishops said that politics is where “action on behalf of justice” takes place.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Louis R. Gigante, a New York City councilman, who is also an associate pastor of St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, asserts that there is only one way for him to get things done: “By power. It’s all power. . . . one of the reasons I’m in politics is to become a political boss, and I want to be a boss to get the power.”
But what are the results of such reasoning—good or bad? Let us look first of all at South America and see.
South American Revolutionaries
Says the Jesuit weekly America: “Keeping the Catholic Church out of partisan politics in Latin America is easier said than done.” Why? One reason is that the Church has always been in Latin-American politics. But here, too, the clergy’s stance has changed radically in recent years.
At one time the Church was the darling of the wealthy classes. Bishops in northeastern Brazil admitted as much in a pastoral letter last year: “The Church not infrequently was equated with those who held cultural, social and political domination. Many times she identified herself more with the rulers than with the ruled. . . . The Church became, for this domineering culture, an assistant.”
The results, in the opinion of those bishops, were intense suffering for the common people. So, now, they want to swing the Church around behind “the march of the people to liberate themselves.” But are the results of doing this any better?
The Brazilian bishops liken political liberation to salvation and believe it will come by violent revolution. Already Brazilian priests have been convicted of cooperating with urban guerrilla movements. Similarly, in Colombia, an organization known as “Priests for Latin America” has been accused of favoring revolutionary upheaval.
Now, as a consequence, the Brazilian government has charged that at least one Catholic Church education program is really a front for promoting Communism. The government states that in the past “Marxists considered Christianity a part of the capitalist regime. Today, they point to Christ as a bulwark of communism, and through this they succeed in getting the support of religious people.”
However, at the opposite extreme, during a recent Venezuelan presidential election, Catholic bishops strongly condemned what they called the ‘ambiguities’ of socialism and Communism. Meanwhile, Chile’s bishops have openly criticized the political policies of that country’s ruling junta. In Argentina, the political meddling of priest Carlos Mugica led to his assassination last May.
Thus, at one extreme the Church is said to support Communism; on the other, she is denouncing it. In between these two poles are varying shades of political ideology espoused by members of the South American clergy. And sandwiched in the middle are the common people, confused—hardly ‘liberated’—by a lack of unified Church leadership. Understandably many of them wish the Church would just stay out of politics. But, as America noted, that “is easier said than done”!
Other Religious Rebels
The revolutionary priests of Latin America have set the example. They have been followed by Philippine Island priests and nuns. The results have been similar.
One Communist underground movement, the New People’s Army, was raided by the Philippine government last year. Who was the rebel leader? The “Reverend” Luis Jalandoni, a highly respected Philippine priest. With him was his wife, a former nun, as well as a .38-caliber revolver and writings of Mao Tse-tung.
In Africa the clergy’s political interference has highlighted another bad result: it divides the churches internally. African black church members are told to gain dominance over white churchmen. Burgess Carr, canon in residence at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Monrovia, Liberia, a black, says:
“Any outright rejection of violence is an untenable alternative for African Christians.
“If, for no other reason than this, we must give our unequivocal support to the liberation movements, because they have helped the church to rediscover a new and radical appreciation of the Cross.
“In accepting the violence of the Cross, God, in Jesus Christ, sanctified violence into a redemptive instrument, bringing man into a fuller human life.”
Such arguments ignore entirely that Jesus said that those who live by violence will die by it. (Matt. 26:52) Nevertheless, black members of Christendom’s churches violently oppose white “Christians,” even if they are members of the same religion. Division results. People far outside Africa are indirectly involved in creating and deepening such hatreds and divisions. In what way?
Well, did you know that the World Council of Churches has supplied money to African terrorist organizations? The Council has said that in the past it used “quiet efforts . . . through established institutions‘’ in Africa to try to accomplish its aims. More recently, however, the Council claims that “a significant number of those who are dedicated to the service of Christ and their neighbor assume a more revolutionary position.”
Now consider: Some 400 million persons around the earth belong to churches in the World Council of Churches; that is almost four out of every ten people who claim to be Christian. Possibly even the church you attend supports the World Council. Did you realize what your donations were being used for? Would you say it is contributing to unity?
Not to be overlooked is the fact that the clergy’s political activities have brought death to many. In Ireland, both Protestants and Catholics have been behind violence that has taken over a thousand lives, many of them innocent children. WBBM in Chicago expressed the views of many when it said in a radio editorial: “Religion’s hands are blood red in Ireland, just as they were in the Crusades in days long past and in world wars of more recent vintage. . . . the more reprehensible group of all is the clergy, and let no one tell you differently.”
Yes, wherever you look—in the Americas, Asia, Europe or Africa—the story is the same. The clergy of virtually every religious stripe are in the political arena. But who can say that the results are good?
What About the Results?
Just review what we have discussed so far. Religion in politics has divided priests, preachers, nuns and laymen in their opinions and activities; it has turned some to radical left political activity while others support the rich on the right; it has brought death to many and oppression upon multitudes, rather than liberation; it has indirectly implicated people all over the world in revolutionary activities; it has split the churches both within the ranks of the clergy and among their flocks. Those are hardly good and desirable fruits. But that is not all.
The clergy have lost the respect of the very ones whose favor they have often sought to curry. Thus Anthony Lejeune straightforwardly writes in London’s Daily Telegraph:
“When Christ said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, he was, according to a clergyman recently, making a ‘political and earthly’ statement, dissociating himself from the ‘imperialism, exploitation and oppression’ represented by the government of the day. The Gospel . . . in that clergyman’s view . . . is . . . a call to political action. . . .
“The tendency of the modernist clergy towards socialism goes with an exaggerated faith in political solutions; with a belief, in short, that Christ’s kingdom is of this world. Of course, Christ said it was not: but that difficulty can be overcome by a little convenient reinterpretation. . . .
“Men thirst for a kingdom which is not of this world: and, if the Christian Church no longer offers it, they will seek it elsewhere.”
Writing in a similar honest vein, To the Point, a news magazine published in Johannesburg, South Africa, said in an editorial:
“The churches must decide what is their essential job. If they propose to set up a secular power or ‘kingdom’, they will use the dangerous weapons that go with it. But then they must stop pretending to act in the name of one who said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’.”—April 12, 1974.
The clergy’s hypocritical and unprincipled actions have made them few real friends among men.
Even more importantly, religion’s involvement in politics has made her ‘an enemy of God.’ (Jas. 4:4) Jesus knew that his kingdom was heavenly and that it would, in due time, end all oppression and wickedness. The facts indicate that we live near the time when that event will take place.—Dan. 2:44; Matt. 6:9, 10; chapters 24 and 25.
In the meantime, Jesus said, his disciples were to ‘pay back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and pay back to God the things that are God’s.’ The Christian apostle Paul also said: “Everybody must obey the civil authorities that are over him.” Of course, if the “civil authorities” told Christians to do something that God said is wrong, then true Christians would “obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1, C. B. Williams’ Translation in the Language of the People; Acts 5:29) But ‘obeying the civil authorities’ would not allow a Christian to be a revolutionary, would it?
The Biblical viewpoint is supported by the clear statement in the book Church and State in Scripture History and Constitutional Law by James E. Wood, Jr., E. Bruce Thompson, and Robert T. Miller (1958): “Jesus was no political revolutionary and steadfastly refused to become involved in political revolution, preferring death to insurrection . . . Paul’s extant writings contain no direct attack on the imperial government of Rome.”
Just think: the results of the clergy’s involvement in politics seem deplorable to humans. Imagine how disgusting they must look to God, whom the clergy claim to represent. We may be glad, as the Bible tells us, that all such false religion will soon be destroyed forever by God. On the other hand, true worship will endure.—Matt. 7:15-20; Revelation chapters 17 and 18.
Jehovah’s witnesses are known internationally as neutrals toward this world’s affairs. They really believe Jesus’ words: “My kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) Do you?
Would you like to have a hand right now in assisting those who are downtrodden—but doing so in a way that God approves and that really works?
If so, visit a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s witnesses and learn about those Christians who are in truth “no part of this world.”