“What’s that on your shirt?” the old friend of the family asked me as we made small-talk during halftime of the Florida/Auburn game in 1992 (which the Gators won, 24-9, by the way.)
“Excuse me?” I looked down to see if there was an errant smudge of ketchup from my hot dog or a dribble of soda dotting the landscape.
He pointed to a button I was wearing, smiling with a slight malicious glint. “That right there. It looks like a bird took a crap on your shoulder.”
“No, nothing wrong there, Mr. So-and-So. Everything looks nice and clean to me.”
The button in question:
He continued poking his Republican stick at me, despite the fact that the teams were running back onto the field.
“I didn’t think Baptists voted for Democrats. That doesn’t seem right.”
“Yes sir, we do. We vote for whoever we like. Making conscious decisions is a very Baptist thing to do.”
Fortunately, before he could bait me any further, it was time for the third quarter to start. In our world, Gator football often supersedes anything else, including politics and religion. Or the uncomfortable intermingling of the two. Good thing too -- I was going to have to try to reconcile my innate instinct to be polite to one’s elders with my overwhelming need to speak my mind in the face of cloaked hostility.
Thank goodness we won that game. And the election. "We" being a relative term, natch.
Fast forward ahead 16 years. It’s last week. I’m walking across the parking lot of the church I’ve attended since I was in the womb after going to my weekly interdenominational women’s bible study. (It’s a lovely coincidence that my church graciously hosts this wonderful activity.) I notice a couple of women looking at my car a little oddly. Flat tire? Big scratch on the side? A present left by a passing-by seagull?
Nope. They’re staring at my bumper sticker.
In a sea of cars with RUDY! and MITT! adhered to chrome and windshields, my little oval declaration of devotion to Obama sticks out. Like a sore thumb.
I’m used to being the odd woman out in my groups of real-life friends and acquaintances when it comes to the intermingling of politics and religion. Not often you meet a white female liberal Democrat Baptist in the South. I’m the only one I know. Notice I didn’t say Southern Baptist -- even though my church fell into that category when I was growing up, we’ve totally moved out and away from that realm and fall on the much more moderate side of things. A main reason why I still attend there, actually.
While I take both my religion and my politics very, very seriously, I’m not crazy about mixing the two, however -- it’s like a bizzaro version of that old commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (“You got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”)
“You got your politics involved in my religion!”
“You got your religion involved in my politics!”
Neither option is nearly as tasty as that Reese’s cup. These days, anyway. But I’m very cognizant of the fact that religious activism played a huge part in the mobilization of such political movements as abolition and civil rights. And sincere religious rhetoric is an intrinsic component to many landmark American speeches -- both Dr. King and President Lincoln freely evoked their personal religious beliefs in their statements -- which we simply view now as a matter of course.
All that being said, there’s no way the two can completely be severed from one another -- it’s just not how our society works these days. But... our country was indeed founded on the separate principles of religious and political freedom...
History review time! (thanks, Wikipedia!)
The separation of church and state is a legal and political principle derived from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." The phrase "separation of church and state", which does not appear in the Constitution itself, is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, where Jefferson spoke of the combined effect of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. It has since been quoted in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court.
Maybe I’m more adamant about this than most because I am a lone little idealistic soul out in the world in which I travel -- the liberal apologist thinker in a tank of more moderate conservative voices. It’s a hard place to be sometimes -- right about the time of the ‘92 elections, I was the coordinator of the singles Sunday School group at church. And in our pre-packed lesson material one quarter was a session about the evils of abortion. Ai yi yi. Fortunately, the wonderful woman who was our class teacher had a problem with it as well -- even though I still believe we had differing opinions on the subject itself, we both agreed that Sunday School was not the best forum for such a topic and inevitable discussion, and so we opted to take a sidebar and talk about something else that day. Amen.
What’s interesting to me in this ideological give-and-take is the fact that conservative values often get classified as the singular religious values. Or the only family values. To me, they are different things. Lines have gotten blurred. The conservative thinkers have bogarted the market on all things religious and family-oriented, when in fact, they’re not the only playahs in pews on Sunday morning or Saturday night or whenever. Not from where I sit, anyway (Four rows back from the platform on the right in the sanctuary. Yes, the right. I like the view lines from there. At least in church.)
I saw a bumper sticker the other day on my way home from taking Will to school that gave me a laugh, a wave of hope and a feeling of solidarity. I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Hooray!
Yeah. I’m a member of the Religious Left. And proud of it. Nice to have a label -- even a loose one -- for where I hang in this crazy melange of people trying to do the business of life based on their personal moral compass. I’m in good company, too, per wikipedia: FDR. Jimmy Carter. Harry Truman. Al Gore. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Stephen Colbert (cool!)
And Barack Obama.
In my ‘net hunt to discover more about what makes the Religious Left tick, I’ve read some really interesting things; seen the word “socialism” used more than once in context (more about that later, I think); and reaffirmed within myself the values I hold dear. Both religiously and politically.
So the next time I cause a spectacle in my church parking lot with my Obama sticker or when I speak out about my opposition to mandatory prayer in schools or voice my opinions (softly but intelligently) on the creationism versus evolution brouhaha, I will do so with a little more confidence. And passion. Not only because it’s what I believe in my heart is right, but because I know I’m not alone. Both in Heaven and on earth.
The community of believers were of one heart and one mind. None of them ever claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common.
~ Acts 4:32, The Bible