Today is my father's birthday. I write this in honor of all he taught me about faith and politics, in relation to my reading of Faith and Politics by John Danforth, and to encourage my fellow citizens to participate in the city of Troy's upcoming elections.
Some basic background on my pater - a writer/philosopher and poet/author, Dr. K. Srinivasa Sastry was born in pre-independence India, losing his father when he was two, and completing his masters (BA Honors) when he was just about twenty. He's published many books and writes copious diaries. He was generally the source of my knowledge of the Hindu faith, until I had to go find faith for myself and in myself (this is when it gets complicated, as did our relationship). Anyway, he is one of the first people I call to discuss theological and philosophical issues with, and sometimes my writing (he often reciprocates). He also loves to talk politics, and had a lot to say about the Emergency back in India when we lived in America in the '70s.
Some background on John Danforth - a former three-term Republican senator from Missouri and an ordained Episcopalian minister, he wrote a book called Faith and Politics, where he quotes from the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul's Epistle to the Romans. In his book, he suggests that Christianity as a reconciling faith can be used as a way of engaging in politics, encouraging our leaders to focus on pressing problems and not on wedge issues. Danforth was a peace envoy to Sudan for G W, and highlights how we can help alleviate suffering in the world, as well as move forward together as a nation. The book, subtitled "How the 'Moral Values' Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together" reviews key divisive issues of the day: public religion (like me and Troy's 2005 NDP story), the case of Terry Schiavo, abortion and judicial restraint, stem cell research and gay marriage.
In the book, Danforth talks of the need to speak out and act, reminds us that "blessed are the peacemakers;" his concluding chapter is "Paul's Primer for Politics." He questions not whether people of faith should be engaged in politics, stating instead that we should not bring a certain faith-based agenda to our politics. As we could with most religious scriptures, he shows how we can use different texts from the Bible to support conflicting propositions. Danforth however, focuses on the primacy of love, humility and the guidelines for reconciliation as found in the Bible, to move forward. "If we believe we know God's truth and that we can embody that truth in a political agenda, we divide the realm of politics into those who are on God's side, which is our side, and those with whom we disagree, who oppose the side of God....We are seekers of the truth, but we do not embody the truth. And in our humility, we should recognize that the same can be said of our most ardent foes."
This reminded me of Gustav Niebuhr's statement in his book, Beyond Tolerance, about his great-uncle Reinhold Niebuhr's call to humility: "An acknowledgment that even when one professes an adherence to religious truth, one doesn’t fully know God’s mind." Danforth says we need a latter-day Reinhold Niebuhr - and I agree, given what this Niebuhr said about religion and politics, like this: "absolutism, in both religious and political idealism, is a splendid incentive to heroic action, but a dangerous guide in immediate and concrete situations. In religion, it permits absurdities, and in politics, cruelties." Much of this corresponds to what my father taught me.
My hometown of Troy - which is home to almost sixty (yes, 60!) houses of worship - has an important election coming up on Nov. 3, so faith and politics are very relevant. We are a community struggling like many before us, and many around us, especially in Michigan. The Troy Clergy Association wrote an open letter to the current Council about these issues. We need to elect officials who will lead us through these difficult economic times. We have many in our midst whose political strategy sets out extreme positions, people whose approach is black and white, and leaves no room for compromise. Twenty second sound bites and catchy phrases like "Tax Fighter" may help win elections, but where there are no new ideas, no basis for convergence of differing opinions, we will have no progress. We need public and elected officials to focus on reconciliation and compassion, identify and save the community's important services, realizing that they bring varying perspectives to the table and are open minded in their approach. I encourage my fellow-citizens to take action - to speak to the need to solve our community's problems by casting their vote for those who are willing to work with others who may not always agree with them, and who realize that they may not be the sole Truth-tellers.
A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.