In the United States, much of the conversation around faith is dominated by conservative voices. Progressive Voices of Faith is a new series where we seek to share an alternative but spiritually rooted perspective. Each month we reach out to the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) community to get their perspective on important, often polarizing issues. Ahead of the midterm elections this month, we asked PSR alumnx, students, and faculty how they felt their faith informed their political views.
Almost everyone who responded described themselves as very politically active, following the news regularly, always voting, and volunteering and donating to causes that mattered, and 80% percent said their religious beliefs informed their political beliefs and actions. A wide range of issues were seen as a high priority for the PSR community including access to health care, LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive justice, immigration, help for the unhoused, and equitable education.
As an example of how his faith informs his views on immigration Dr. Peter Rios, Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Intercultural Studies at PSR pointed out that many scriptures in the Hebrew and Christian testaments advocate for justice for foreigners. In Matthew 25:35-40 Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Deuteronomy 27:19 says, “Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”
Rios added that he believes Jesus expects us, as a community of faith, to be involved civically: “’Well, then,’ Jesus said, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.’” (Mark 12:17). PSR President David Vásquez-Levy, a nationally recognized leader on immigration, agreed saying, “Religious communities need to step up to the task of creating a new narrative about immigration that more fully captures the depth of wisdom from these communities as well as the wellbeing of all. Most sacred texts are stories of people on the move.”
“Well beyond the familiar idea of welcoming the stranger,” he continued, “the Bible and other sacred texts recognize, as Hebrews chapter 11 attests, that to be a person of faith is to be a person on the move. Whether we are addressing questions of human sexuality, the rights of individuals and communities, or the wellbeing of those most marginalized, progressive movements need to make an argument on religious terms for inclusion and for human thriving.”
Leonard McMahon, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care, Spirituality, and Political Theology, allows his faith to free him from the political divisiveness that marks so much of the current political discourse, saying, “My faith empowers and enables me to stay connected across difference, a capacity that is vital for a healthy, deliberative democracy. Trust, not agreement, is necessary for a politics of love. My faith allows me to trust my political opponents because I trust that my God is their God too.”
We also asked our community about how they reconcile the tension between ‘religious freedom’ and the Constitutional separation of church and state. Alumnx Gayle Benson, who in addition to an MDiv from PSR holds a Ph.D. in political science, set a foundation for the discussion saying there’s “No need to ‘reconcile.’ The Bill of Rights Article One is quite clear. [It] prohibits the government from using its powers to establish a religion. The people’s powers, however, are protected from the government—the right to express opinions, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Such opinions, assemblies, and petitions may well be informed by religious belief. ‘The People’ — both individually and collectively — are then free under the Constitution to use these rights to influence the government. That includes using those rights in the interest of goals informed by their religious belief. There is no issue… but there is power.”
Another alumnx, who asked not to be named, agreed that while faith may dictate our stance on issues like gun violence, immigration, housing, and creating an economy where all can succeed, we should remain humble about the intersection of faith and policy because politics is never cut and dry. “Faith may call us to action,” he said, “but policy choices often involve difficult tradeoffs.”
Dr. Rios, addressing this complexity said, “I don’t think anyone can escape this tension and reality within U.S. society.”
What’s apparent throughout the PSR community is that the work of transformation requires that we seek to be spiritually grounded. As we head into the midterm elections, we encourage you to find strength by listening to the latest episode of our podcast, Change Happens Now, featuring PSR alumnx Adriene Thorne (MDiv ’08), who serves as Senior Pastor at historic Riverside Church in New York City and read the blog post entitled Personal Manifesto for Transformative Spiritual Leadership & Activism by singer-songwriter, transgender activist, and current PSR student Ryan Cassata, where he states, “The first step to my transformative leadership process is always to seek to grow my spirituality. My spirituality is the foundation of my activism and ministry work. Without my personal spiritual practices, I do not process the strength that it takes to be a skillful leader.”
Below is a list of further resources and stories shared by our community
Ignite Institute’s Change Happens Now Podcast episodes with Adam Taylor, President of Sojourners, and Professor Peter Rios
Pew Research Center: Religious Landscape Study
Human Rights Campaign: Religion and Faith
White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America — by Khyati Y. Joshi
Decolonizing Christianity: Becoming Badass Believers — by Miguel A. De La Torre