It has been my experience that when discussing politics or conservative politicians, people frequently bring up the purportedly religious nature of the conservatives.
My wife and I were visiting a couple in our neighborhood, touring their house, and chatting about what was going on in our lives. The woman reminded us that she had seen us on TV at the SLC Democratic party on TV on election night 2004. We talked briefly about politics, and the woman asked “How can you not like President Bush? Just the other day he basically bore his testimony in his speech.”
In Relief Society a couple of years back, my wife rolled her eyes when, in a discussion on integrity, some sister raised her hand and cited Bush in a discussion on integrity. “I’m grateful we now have a president with integrity” she proclaimed. “He’s always talking about his faith.”
In a comment on my post about oil profits, one person here claimed Bush was “God-fearing.”
Are we that unfamiliar with the scriptures? Are we so unwilling to apply the concepts taught in the scriptures to real life?
Yes, the conservatives are experts at using the language of religion. Does that make them religious?
The Pharisees in the New Testament were also very conversant in the language of religious. They quoted the scriptures, and they knew the codes of their faith. They said all the right things technically. They gave offerings, prayed publicly, went to the Temple, and performed all the other external obligations of their faith.
But were they truly spiritual and in tune with the Gospel? According to the Bible, it seems not. Both John the Baptist (Matt 3:7) and Jesus (Matt 12:34) disparaged the Pharisees as a ” generation of Vipers.”
The key to truly understanding this comes from the Savior when, as the Religious Right frequently does, the Pharisees came to denounce Jesus’ disciples (and by connection, Jesus himself) for not adhering to their superficial and narrow interpretation of morality.
“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me (Matt 15:8).” See also Isiah 29:13, Mark 7:6, 2 Nephi 27:25, and Joseph Smith History: 19.
Just because a person or group of people use the language of religion or perform the external observances of religion does not make one spiritual or in harmony with the Lord. Indeed, it seems to me that we have reason to be wary of those who very publicly and loudly pronounce their religiosity:
1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine aalms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matt 6:1-6).
It would be foolish to assert that religion is a purely private matter and has no place in the public realm. But the Savior’s caution seems to suggest that we should be careful about taking at face value those who make a show of their religion.
There are those who incorrectly believe in their pride that they are close to the Lord because of their external righteousness.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt 7: 21-23).
Worse yet, there are also those who cynically use the language and forms of religion in order to take advantage of the power religion has in society.
Christ explicitly warned his followers about such people, and how to detect them.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt 7:15-20).
There are conservatives and Republicans, both voters and elected officials, who are very sincere about their faith. Of that I have no doubt.
But I fear that many of the leaders of the conservative movement have very cynically co-opted the language of religion for their own ends. They are not concerned with following the guidance of the Lord, but in using the name of the Lord for their own ends.
What are the fruits of the machinations of the leaders of conservative movement?
- Thousands dead and billions of dollars spent on a war based on false pretenses.
- Use of torture in multiple instances, as well as the defense of such practices.
- Denial of basic rights in incarcerating alleged enemies.
- Legal deterioration of civil rights (ie, the Patriot Act).
- Executive abuse of power in telecommunication surveillance.
- Multiple financial scandals among conservative leaders.
Just for a start.
These are not the fruits of “God-fearing,” “righteous,” pious men.
Let me be absolutely clear. Such sins are not the exclusive domain of the conservatives. Liberals have had their share of sins, most recently evidenced by the apparent scandal of William Jefferson.
The difference is that, by and large, it is not the liberals and Democrats who have been draping themselves in the robes of piety and religion. It has been the conservatives beating their chests about God being on their side. Christ seems to have found this hypocrisy much more offensive than simple lack of religion.
Some Democrats, having seen the political success of conservatives in using the language of religion, have begun mimicking those tactics. This is no better from the mouth of Hillary Clinton than from President Bush.
In LDS culture, there is a great deal of concern about “swearing.” We tend to be very worried about the use of the name of the Lord and the various other “four-letter words” as expletives (although we seem to have no problem using made-up substitute words—heck, dang, darn, gosh, et al—in exactly the same way). This is considered largely to originate in one of the ten commandments “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Exodus 20:7).”
I do indeed believe that when we flippantly use the Lord’s name as an expletive, we take his name in vain.
But how much more in vain is it to use the Lord’s name for self-serving political purposes?
Reagan advisor and Presbyterian elder Clyde Prestowitz has sounded a note of caution to all those who co-opt the language of religion. “Politicians who use God as a prop for their campaigns should remember that ‘God is not mocked.’”
Let the conservative movement beware.