Piel: Can moral and ethical issues be raised without being partisan?

After hours of watching television, our neighbor George recently asked, How does your religious faith relate to the recent Supreme Court decision? With fear and trembling we will share several thoughts from conversations with friends, neighbors and the loyal opposition.

First, the “warning shot over the bow” was when our president said during the primaries that when he was elected he would nominate judges on the court who would over-turn Roe v. Wade. From his faithful base came the hope that finally the courts would over- turn what they perceived as a sin or even murder and deny women the right of choice. From the other side came the fear that even if it was not overturned the court would give states the freedom to slowly but surely deny women basic reproduction rights to their own bodies.


The nominee to the Supreme Court might well be a nice God-fearing, loving family man who in his testimony implied that he did not like to see old-established court decisions over-turned. On the other hand he may be the one vote needed to open the door to return women to the dark ages where reproduction rights were highly restricted and abortion in any form was a crime punishable by imprisonment.

At this point it would be good to bring up the “religion/church and politics” issue.

Both during and following the confirmation hearings we heard the question raised, “Can religion and politics interface with each other or should religion/church stay away from politics and vice versa?” Rather than a personal comment let us share three different opinions.

In a “first person” article by editor Robert Cargill in the latest issue of Biblical Archeology Review, he wrote on “Political v. Partisan” — “there is a difference between being ‘political’ and being ‘partisan’.”

While we cannot avoid what some consider ‘political’ matters … BAR avoids “partisan” commentary. In this hyper-partisan world in which we find ourselves, everything appears politicized to some, whether intended or not.

Pastor Scott Anderson (Westminster Presbyterian-Madison, Wisconsin) writes ,“If we don’t talk about politics in the church setting we are giving folks permission to compartmentalize their lives. Jesus Christ is Lord of ‘all’ of life, including our political life, and that includes the decisions we make in the voting booth.”

Professor Peter Bouteneff (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) adds “when committed Christians are asked to weigh in on politics — especially as politics weigh in on morality — we speak about ‘values of the gospel.’ With this we are really talking about ‘Christ’ values. And that entails identifying who Christ is, what he does, and what he teaches us.”

Here are two issues that came out of the hearing. First, If people have lived exemplary lives should we forgive or even overlook something that they did early in their youth? Is it OK to say “boys will be boys?” Should we be held responsible for things we do or say even if they happened a long time ago? Should we lay blame at the foot of a woman who attends a party knowing that there will be heavy drinking? Does this mean she is “fair game” for anyone who comes along? Should she still be treated as a woman and not a conquest?

Second, one thing that we probably already knew is that it often takes a long time, even years, before a woman who has been sexual abused can talk about the traumatic experience. Even then, she often can remember the pain of the moment but not the exact details. As is often the case she may feel people, even those in authority, will not believe her or she will feel ashamed or even somehow personally responsible.

A final comment has to do with the serious divide in our nation and the role of the president, whoever he or she might be. Did his comments in regard to the hearing bring us together or simply stoke his political base?

Columnist David Brooks wrote “we’re in an age of negative polarization. And that means you don’t have to like your own party. You just have to hate the other one.” The hope of a majority of Americans, including those of faith, regardless of who they voted for hold out the hope that we could be brought together as a nation. For many of us our hope is also built on the premise that our president would lead. But when our leader makes a comment about those who opposed the nominated person with the words “it was brought about by people who are evil” does that really help build unity?

George reminded me that some who are reading this column already are saying that we are mixing too much religion with politics. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote “religion and politics do not mix. In particular they do not mix if the pastor uses the pulpit to lay down what he or she thinks should be said about, for example, American immigration policy or what we should think about what it means to ‘Make America Great Again.’ … The only problem with ‘religion and politics do not mix’ is that the phrase is one of the strongest examples we have of political rhetoric. There is no escaping the political. To refuse to take a political stance is to take a political stance.”

Let me go back to something Cargill wrote about the difference between being political and being partisan. What others call political issues to faith believers are really moral and ethical issues. Hymn writer Fred Pratt Green wrote “when the church of Jesus shuts its outer door, lest the roar of traffic drown the voice of prayer, may our prayers, Lord, make us ten times more aware that the world we banish is our Christian care.”

Our final question is in our “age of negative polarization” is it possible for the religious faithful to raise moral and ethical issues without being “partisan?”


Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.