Panel Parses Religion, Politics

Academics and leaders of various Christian denominations gathered on Oct. 29 to discuss the impact and facets of religion and politics. The eight-person panel, organized by Wagner graduate students Katelyn Riconda, Adam Cross and Carlos Rodriguez, was in the Rudin Family Forum for Civic Dialogue.

Wagner dean Sherry Glied commenced the panel and set the stage for discussion between the religious leaders.

“There are issues that engage our politicians, our public life, our public organizations and the question on the table today is how does religion play in that space?” Glied said.

Colt Anderson, dean of Fordham University Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, said the Catholic Church is becoming more involved in policy and politics.

“Ever since Roe v. Wade, the Catholic Church has become more and more engaged in civic spirit, but it has also become eternally polarized,” Anderson said.

Helene Slessarev-Jamir, professor at the Claremont School of Theology, said she first came into contact with Christianity through her political involvement.

“I had a religious transformation in my late 20s working on Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign,” Slessarev-Jamir said. “It was the place where I, for the first time, saw a form of engagement in religion, engaged Christianity, where Christian beliefs were tied to to justice activism.”

Jill Rauh of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said the Catholic community has made an effort to impact social injustice. “The Catholic Church has been consistently engaged throughout the last several decades,” Rauh said.

“After the second Vatican council in the 1960s there was an effort by the U.S. bishops to recognize that there were so many issues impacting low-income communities, and people of color, and they wanted to do something, so they created the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.”

In addition to religion and politics, the panelists shared individual stories about their relationships with their respective denominations.

After the formal panel, each speaker joined a small group of attendees to discuss religion in politics in a more intimate setting. Attendees’ beliefs varied from very religious to secular.

Laura Seide, a graduate student at Wagner, said she values being able to engage with people of different faiths, even though she does not affiliate with any.

“Especially since I come from a very liberal Massachusetts background, so the whole faith in politics idea is so foreign to me,” Seide said. “At the same time, faith communities have already made constituencies, and if we don’t mobilize them we’re losing out on a large segment of the population.”
Cross said the discussion on religion started by the panel will continue during the two-day conference ending on Thursday.

“I think there is never enough time to go deep enough and it felt like we skimmed over a lot of things that we could have spent a lot more time talking about,” Cross said.

Dr. Tony Richie, Senior Pastor at New Harvest Church of God, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Adjunct Professor of Historical/Doctrinal Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, also served as a member of the panel and said the following: “Biblically and theologically we understand that Christ’s Kingdom is not synonymous with earthly administrations–which are at times conflicted and confused about the nature of true political power as it is appropriately personified in Jesus Christ. Yet Christ’s presence and power extends into every realm of life, including the political. Pre-Pentecost instructions by Jesus (Acts 1:8) indicate that the Spirit bears witness in an extroverted outgoing mode of proclamation and action that should exemplify Pentecostals as well. Thus Pentecostals are not isolationists. In the Acts 2 Day of Pentecost account the Holy Spirit addresses and embraces the diversity and multiplicity of tongues and cultures–and thus so should we do today in the civil arena as well as the religious. The notorious failure of various US security agencies to communicate or cooperate prior to 9/11 provides a noticeable parallel to an all-too-frequent lack of communication or cooperation between religion and government in our nation. In the United States, the times call for a constructive and productive relation between faith and politics. The doctrine of the Separation of Church and State, like that of the Separation of Powers in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, should function in terms of cooperative balance rather than exclusivist restriction. Accordingly, an appreciation of the US political tradition of freedom of religion may supply a rich resource for progress in a climate of mutual respect between religious and political authorities.”

(Source: NYU News. A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 30 print edition.)

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