Talking faith and politics

When somebody says, "I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior," well, I can hardly argue with that.

It does go against my Catholic grain to hear such blithe confidence that, no matter one's care for the poor, marital fidelity or acts of kindness, the experience of being saved trumps all. But in fact, most of the born-again Christians I actually know are fine people, better than me for sure. So I haven't tried to talk Roman theology with them.

But now I have the uneasy feeling that the politicians are accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of the body politic.

A column last week in The New York Times says it is important to engage with these politicians. So how do I engage with Texas Gov. Rick Perry?

I've been thinking about that all week. I'm glad to see tens of thousands of Texans gathered in prayer. I don't want to point out to them that their previous group prayer has not brought drought relief. I don't want to dis prayer. What I want is to quote James 2:16, "If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"

I think of the old joke about the Rabbi to whom God promised a lottery win to resolve an economic crisis in the synagogue. The Rabbi complains to God that the money hasn't come and God says, "You have to buy a lottery ticket."

I want to say to all those praying Texans, "We have to stop carbon pollution. We have to raise taxes. We have to provide health care for the poor. It is not enough to pray." I imagine that such comments to them would look like a failure of faith and a reliance on human works.

So here we are, men and women of faith who can't talk to one another. This is not a new situation in the world. But it is a dangerous situation.

I do have a small strategy that I try to practice. I talk to people.

For example, I wrote a letter a year ago in support of the health care legislation and took it to everyone on my block, asking them to sign. Some said no, but we talked. A week ago, I talked at lunch with the daughter of a resident in the retirement community where my mother lives. I learned that the daughter greatly admires Glenn Beck -- as a Christian man, she said -- but we managed to talk. My mother said I did OK.

So I encourage you, gentle reader. Talk about what's important to you with the people you rub shoulders with. And pray. By all means, pray.

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