Reconciling faith and politics | Ott Observations

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When time permits, I attend a Saturday morning men’s discussion group at my church. We review the scripture readings for Sunday and then discuss what they mean to us in our life.  

One week our reading was from Genesis, telling the story of Abraham being tested by God. God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his only son, and then at the last minute rescinds this instruction because Abraham has proven his fear of and obedience to God.

Imagine today if you were told by God to kill your son, didn’t receive a last-minute change, and had to explain your action to the police. The best we could come up with in our discussion was that the lesson was to obey God but not to take the story too literally.

A few years ago, there was the movie “Hacksaw Ridge,” that told the true story of Desmond Doss and his service during World War II. Doss’ religious beliefs prevented him from killing anyone or even carrying a rifle. Yet he wanted to serve and was assigned as a combat medic.

His company despised him because they couldn’t count on him to fight with them. Enduring multiple wounds, he ended up saving dozens of men, becoming the only conscientious objector to ever win the Medal of Honor. Doss didn’t compromise his faith even in the cauldron of war.

But what if all Americans had done the same? Or all people across the world?

After attending a religious retreat several years ago (I would recommend a retreat to everyone), I made the decision to convert to Catholicism. In learning the faith, I became aware of the Social Teachings of the Church. These teachings instruct us to value life, opposing abortion, but also opposing capital punishment, gun violence and war.  

They teach us to stand against racism, social injustice and unjust immigration policies. They instruct us to help the poor, the weak and those marginalized by life.  And they tell us to protect the environment which is a gift from God.

Many of our Saturday readings and discussions present issues which polarize us politically. Often, I am told by some that if our government follows these teachings, then we will devolve into Socialism and economic ruin, or we will have unsecure borders with terrorists and rapists running amok.  

Certainly there are practical considerations, like taking the story of Abraham, literally. But we have Social Security and Medicare, helping millions, without devolving into Socialism.  We are a nation of immigrants and to this day we have new immigrants making important contributions to our society … without terrorists and rapists amongst us.

I don’t really have an answer for how to reconcile faith and politics. Maybe you have it all figured out, but maybe you shouldn’t be so self-assured.

I have a growing sense that an absolute answer isn’t as important as an ongoing quest to be pragmatic AND do a better job of practicing our faith’s teachings – including what we expect our government to do.  

Surely we can do much more consistent with our faith without destroying our economy or the fabric of our society. It’s something to ponder.   

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