Faith in Politics and Government

Position Paper

Applying the Christian Faith in Politics and Government

Our faith requires that we focus on the poor and vulnerable, conduct positive campaigns and put constituents before ourselves

July 25, 2016

By Art Sherwood

Democratic Candidate, N.C. Senate District 45

Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell and Watauga counties

Background

I have witnessed first-hand the caustic effects of politics in religion. From 1979 to 1989, I served as a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During that 10 year period, I watched in dismay as a highly-respected pastor from the Dallas area was denied a teaching position because he had the temerity to allow his congregation to include women when electing deacons. This was just one event of many in which Baptist seminaries were taken over by fundamentalists so that they could transform the Southern Baptist Convention into what we see today.

Art Sherwood

Art Sherwood

As a Southern Baptist, however, I know that the concept of the “priesthood of the believer” requires that I use the brain given me by God to apply the teachings of Jesus.

Not only does political intrigue sully Christianity, but the misapplication of our faith also corrupts politics. Again, an anecdote drives home this point. During the last election cycle, a candidate for office was working a poll on Election Day and had a voter tell her, “I’m going to vote for you.” When the voter came out about 30 minutes later, she told the candidate, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t vote for you because you were not on the ‘Christian list.’”

This is ludicrous. There is no “Christian list.” Neither political party – indeed, no political party – can claim to be the “Christian party.” Indeed, this sort of demonizing of people is entirely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. This story is one that is repeated across the nation. It causes harm to the political process and our faith.

Equally concerning, however, is what the Republican Party has done in the name of Christianity in North Carolina. It has cut unemployment benefits in half. Median incomes are down. Our state’s social safety net has gaping holes, as Governor McCrory and the legislature rejected the opportunity to expand Medicaid, which benefits our neediest citizens, adversely impacting the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians that don’t have access to healthcare. Indeed, we can only speculate as to how many North Carolinians die prematurely because they can’t access healthcare. Students, teachers, professors and administrators are dispirited as the legislature has launched an assault upon all levels of our public education system.

Public health and the environment have been compromised, as polluters may now consider compliance with environmental protection laws voluntary, and the energy extraction industry can now keep secret the deadly chemicals it uses in its many processes. For-profit companies run our “public” charter schools. Private companies own local municipal water supplies, taking money that is badly needed for infrastructure reinvestment and instead sends it to out-of-state investors in the forms of dividends.

The attack upon voting rights is well documented. Gerrymandering, requiring photo ID at the voting booth, shortening the one-stop (“early”) voting period, and moving precincts such as currently being attempted on the Appalachian State campus are all examples of the GOP-led attack upon our most fundamental individual liberty. As reported in the “Altered State,” a publication by NC Policy Watch, Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina said, “We’ve lost every gain we’d made. We’ve lost just about all the pro-voting, pro-democracy laws that we had pushed.”

He also observed, “There’s a real harsh, mean spirit inside the Legislative Building, more so than I’ve ever seen.” Such a spirit is in obvious conflict with the spirit that should exist among those claiming to pass laws based on their Christian faith.

This makes my heart sink.

Galatians teaches the opposite. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5: 22, 23 NIV).

While political leaders applying – and debating – Christian faith is as old as the republic, the legislation passed by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory cause pain to our state’s most vulnerable citizens. This is not only inconsistent with the Gospel, it undermines it. We live in perilous times. That is why it is more important than ever – for our nation and for Christianity – that we properly apply our faith in the public square.

Indeed, this is the single most important reason why I decided to seek office. Fearful that our political system is being corrupted and concerned that our Christian faith is being undermined by those wishing to impose a theocracy, I concluded that it was time to continue my lifetime of service, based in my understanding of Christianity, within the political realm.

It is my view that, because of my Christian faith, I am called to:

  1. Show preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable;
  2. Run a positive campaign; and,
  3. Upon election, govern with a servant’s heart.

What follows is how I plan to do that.

Show preferential concern for the poor and vulnerable

First, let me clearly re-state that no political party can claim to represent Christianity.  That does not mean, however, that I cannot let my Christian faith guide me as I seek to care for others in whatever I do, including serving as a state senator.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is asked what is the greatest of the commandments. He quotes the Torah, saying, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22: 37-40 (NIV).

Nobody but God can judge how I or others are doing in obeying “the first and greatest commandment.” However, how we are doing at loving our neighbors as ourselves – especially as it is plays out in the political process – is easier to measure.

We should remember also that the only time in the New Testament that Jesus states how our lives will be judged is found in Matthew 25 in the story of the sheep and the goats. There, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40 NIV).

There is a point-of-view within conservative Christian circles that it is not the role of government to care for the poor and vulnerable. First, Jesus never prescribed how we are to care for the poor, sick, imprisoned, widowed, orphaned and other vulnerable people; he just said care for them. That means we can do it individually, through government or corporately as a church. However, Christianity is not standing in the gap for the poor and vulnerable as it should. In fact, if every Christian in the United States that attended church tithed, more money would be collected on Sundays throughout the year than our nation’s annual entire domestic budget.

As theologian and author Tony Compolo noted in a magazine article published in 2008, “…there is evidence throughout the Hebrew Bible that rulers are held responsible for their governments’ caring for the poor. For instance, in Isaiah 10:1-3, there is condemnation of those legislators who create laws that fail to benefit the widow and the orphans and serve the interests of the rich and powerful. In our highly individualistic western culture, we often fail to see that collectives, such as nations, will be judged by how they have responded to the needs of the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:31-46).”

So, I unapologetically support universal health insurance with a single-payer system. I will fight to restore voting rights by eliminating voter suppression laws and end gerrymandering by establishing an independent commission to draw federal and state representative districts. I will vigorously defend all levels of public education. And, I take seriously the stewardship of creation by supporting a moratorium on fracking and supporting alternative energy sources.

Run a positive campaign

The golden rule in politics is, “She / he who has the most money, rules.” This mindset has led to a level of incivility and dirty campaigning in politics that is depressing turnout and harmful to our national dialogue and respect for government. The impact of thinly-veiled coordination between campaigns and special interest groups has caused billions of dollars to be spent on attack ads through media and mail. This is clearly inconsistent with the Golden Rule we learned in Sunday School: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

That is why, when the opportunity presented itself on July 9 at the North Carolina Blackberry Festival, I asked my opponent to agree to run a positive campaign. She agreed. As I stated in a newspaper article following that agreement, I understand that it is appropriate to challenge each other on policy. That is why I challenged my opponent to debates and hope that she will agree as she has indicated. It is not appropriate, though, to challenge each other’s character. Not only is it because it is inconsistent with the Golden Rule, it is also critical that our younger generation witness us living out our faith, even in the heat of political battle.

Govern with a servant’s heart

Campaigning in a manner that is consistent with one’s Christian faith is one thing; governing is quite another. Our founders established a republic with checks and balances. It demands of us that we work together in a civil manner. The days of a political leader saying that his sole purpose is to obstruct the efforts of a political opponent must be put behind us now if we are to solve the problems facing our communities, state and nation.

Will my faith influence how I vote? Absolutely! I agree with the insight of E. J. Dionne from his book, “Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right.” He wrote, “Without religious inspiration and the organizational role of the churches, many of the greatest achievements of American progressivism would have been impossible.” From ending slavery to establishing the Social Security system, Medicare and Medicaid, many of our policies have been motivated by Christians’ concerns for the most vulnerable among us.

Sadly, we can no longer say what President John F. Kennedy said to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington D.C. Speaking on April 21, 1960, nearly eight months before his election, he said, “I do not think that religion is the decisive issue in any state. I do not think it should be. I do not think it should be made to be.”

Clearly, religion is a divisive issue today. It certainly is in North Carolina. Our citizens deserve better. What we don’t need are politicians proof-texting the Bible to beat up on one another. What we do need are elected officials who, while in Raleigh, are thoughtful and focused on the needs of the people. We need elected officials, who while in the district, get out and listen. We need elected officials who will be a voice for all the people, not just narrow religious special interests.

Conclusion

As I considered this run for the North Carolina State Senate, I had to ask myself, “What does it mean to be a Christian in politics and government?”

I concluded that first and foremost, it means to live as Christ lived – with a servant’s heart. Scripture teachers, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (Phil. 2:4-7, NIV). So, we must first have a servant’s heart. That is the number one characteristic of a leader; clearly, any person that seeks elected office is seeking to be a leader.

Once in that leadership position, we must live a life of love. We can – and must – do it.  Still, in politics, that is no easy charge. Consider how counter to the political culture this insight is: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13: 4, 5 NIV). These verses warn against everything that is customary in politics. If I behave as most politicians, I am in violation of Scripture. Consequently, I undermine my witness and ruin my chance at my most important calling – “… the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24c, NIV).

It is time to end our religious wars. It is time to quit turning governing into a zero-sum game.

Our testimony is offered not only by words, but by actions. Indeed, it is our practices that people “hear” the most. So, we are to live as Paul admonished in this letter to the Corinthians. He continued, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:6, 7 NIV).

Please notice that nowhere in this document have I indicated a need to impose my Christian beliefs on others, but rather to acknowledge the demands my understanding makes on me personally. Each of us, as autonomous individuals, must make our own determination of where we come out in this dialogue. It is not my place to judge another’s faith journey, and certainly not the role of government to make any such judgments (Matthew 7:1).

Our people, our communities, our state, our nation, our faith and our world all demand of us that we live authentic Christian lives. It is not easy to do, especially in the realm of politics. It is not easy to do so when governing in a republic, with so many voices and so many needs. But it can be done. It must be done. If we do so, we are promised success of the highest order, according to Paul, who also wrote, “Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8 NIV).

Support My Campaign

If you agree with me that it is time for Christians in government to focus on the poor and vulnerable, conduct positive campaigns and put constituents before themselves, please support my campaign. I ensure you I will always strive to be a “Compassionate Servant and Effective Leader” in the North Carolina State Senate. You can donate here.

Additional Information

 Position Papers

The Environment: Fracking and Related Pipeline Development – Citing threats to public health and the environment, Sherwood calls for employing the Precautionary Principle

 News Releases

Art Sherwood Refutes Claims by McCrory of ‘Carolina Comeback’

Sherwood Slams Effort by Watauga Republicans to Suppress ASU Student Voting

Art Sherwood Calls for Positive Campaign, Opponent Agrees

Art Sherwood Calls for Moratorium on Fracking in North Carolina

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