I am very excited about the new emphasis of the community concerning Religion and Politics. For so long, only the voices of those who were found on opposite ends of the spectrum have been heard. It is so refreshing to hear and to be able to have a forum to express different views about the relationship of Religion and Politics.
I hold that my remarks at the Forum which elicited a favorable response from the observing audience was one that struck a chord of current thought. My remark was, "I do not want to be tolerated, I want to be respected." That is my view of this dialogue and discussion. If we can get past the process of salvation (baptism, confession, belief, etc.) to the life of salvation, we can better hear our neighbor and better see the need for cooperation within our total social structure. Religion ought to impact politics. In all of my graduate work in religion and theology, I have taken note that belief takes place within a social structure and when that structure is positively affected by religion, social gains are made. When there is discord among the religious community, usually over the process (whose way is "the" right way), negativity comes forward and affects the social structure negatively.
I believe that we are making a wonderful statement when we come together and discuss our differences. As we discuss in dialogue, we begin to see needs that exist on both sides of the track and, in deed, affect both sides of the track. I am currently witnessing in Oklahoma City an amazing movement toward respect in our religious community around the issues of social justice. It may not be on the front pages of the newspaper or the lead story on the local newscast, but there are initiatives and organizations that are setting aside the process which so easily separates us and are making progress in solving the problems which beset us. It is occurring because people are valuing each other and their beliefs. No one is requiring anyone else to sign on, just to join, join on to a train that is moving down a track toward reconciliation and justice. One must realize that the proliferation of non-denominational churches and independent political party affiliations is a statement to the out of date idea of holding to a process that has outlived its usefulness. I am not calling for the discarding of any religion, just the re-evaluation of how the practice of that religion puts forth its values.
I would love to see the use of the Bible as a valued resource for living, in addition to its redemptive procedural message. I find some of the best advice for politicians and other career minded individuals within its pages. I can read those pages and utilize those insights without causing a crusade. Likewise, I believe that other religions hold life affirming insights that would be beneficial to many if they could just get past the process. Politicians would be well served to study the pages of Holy Writ to find insight and wisdom in governing the people.
There is a connection between religion and politics. In my view, it exceeds the discussion of respect. My cultural/ethnic heritage is rich with the work of religion in the political arena. It is not a discussion of impossibility or ill-fit, it is a process that lent itself to the progress of a people. Social norms were established and maintained by religion and not law enforcement. Social services were performed and funded by the church and not by legislation. This discussion is not foreign to me, in fact it is very much a part of me. I have only re-directed my focus from the practice to the theory behind the practice that precedes this time and place. I took notice in my hometown of Memphis that it was the politician who knew the church and its people who were most successful on the local level. That connection is less visible and even less relevant today, however, I see a resurgence of the voice of religion in the political arena and it is not all bad. I hold that the journey of re-directing attention from the practice or process, to the discussion of values and victims, enlarges the table of dialogue. When we enlarge the table, a variety of views are heard and benefit is gained from insight that was once shut out because of a structured process of salvation. When we communicate and listen, we begin to see that the common ground is the moral and ethical value found in living together, serving together, and making a difference together. The politics of division and the religious practice of separation ("Never discuss religion and politics in "mixed company"), have insidiously inserted itself into our culture as a way of keeping us from addressing the problems that we surely have the resources to attack and subdue.
The issue of race was not an item of discussion during out forum. I have fleetingly made reference to race in the arena of politics and religion in this position paper ("my cultural/ethnic") purposely, Race is an issue of the utmost importance and can easily cloud the discussion of religion and politics, yet, the same formula can be proven beneficial in dealing with race as I have set forth for religion and politics. If you will respect me for who I am, you will have an opportunity to hear where I am, and then be able to gain from my journey, experience, and perspective.
I pray that I have raised some issues of discussion within this paper that will cause questions to be asked of me that will assist me along my personal journey. Let us continue on this road of recovering that which we lost or perhaps never had. God is still in the creating business.
Rev. George E. Young, Sr., is pastor of Holy Temple Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Rev. Young received his Master of Divinity degree from Phillips Theological Seminary where he is studying for a Doctorate in Ministry and was a Merrill Fellow at Harvard Divinity School. He also serves as President of the Oklahoma State Convention of the Progressive National Baptist Convention and is founder and chair of the Faith To Government program, a mentoring program between local congregations and youth from the Juvenile Court system. He delivered these remarks as part of a panel discussion on "Government and Religion" for the Citizens League of Central Oklahoma.