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Word Searching God

Thomas Whitley

UPDATE: Democrats add "God" back into the party's platform at President Obama's insistence. It's inevitable really. Whenever a major speech is given or a political party's platform is released, scores of articles begin appearing that comment on how many times a particular word was used. Michelle Obama's speech at the DNC, for instance, never once said Mitt Romney's name and she only once said "Republican" to say it doesn't matter "whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above." Nevertheless, it was clear to most observers that her speech was a step-by-step take down of Mitt Romney and the GOP's policies.

In like manner, criticisms are being leveled against the Democrats because the official platform they adopted in Charlotte, NC does not contain the word "God." These criticisms began in conservative and Republican-leaning online publications like the National Review and the Weekly Standard, but have found their way into more mainstream news organizations like CNN and ABC. This type of word search journalism can capture a news cycle or be used to create caricatures of one's opponent, but it rarely results in thoughtful analysis of the speech or the platform.

Many are quite unhappy about the removal of "God" from the 2012 DNC platform (the 2008 platform used "God" once and the 2004 platform seven times). I, though, see it as a step in the right direction, as far as the separation of church and state is concerned.

The platform's section on "Faith" recognizes the importance of faith to the American story:

Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires.

It also goes on to speak to church-state separation specifically:

We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.

Both the church and the state are vital institutions in American society, but working for a proper balance between the two is essential if both will be able to thrive. Moreover, the platform seems to recognize that millions in our country believe in no God at all and they are no less an integral part of our great democracy.

But just what should be the relationship between my personal faith and my politics? While I am an ardent supporter of the separation of church and state my faith influences my personal politics at almost every level. It is precisely because of my faith that I choose to vote for whom I vote. One party will not win my vote simply by including "God" in their party's platform more than the other party and a party will not lose my vote for not including "God."

Instead, I study the rest of the platform to see their position on things like war, poverty, upholding individual freedoms, supporting equality for all, etc. and compare those with my understanding of the work I think God wants the people of God to be involved in. Just as speaking Spanish is not enough to win over Latino voters and having female speakers is not enough to win over women, so including overtly religious language does not guarantee that I will vote for your party. If the language is not accompanied by supporting policies, then it is nothing but lip-service.

You see, I believe that policies, like budgets, are moral documents. They expose what our real priorities. I am a Christian, but I will not have a blind affiliation to a political party that thinks they hold the monopoly on "God" and the Christians in this country simply because they have included the word "God" in a platform that very few will ever read. My religious beliefs have a different effect on my political views than do others' religious beliefs. I respect that difference and celebrate it even, but party platform writers and journalists seem yet to have learned that there is no such thing as "the religious vote." Christians (like Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, and so on) are complicated and intricate people with a plethora of life experiences and religious beliefs that influence how we understand everything from economic to foreign policy - just take a moment to think about the difference between Southern Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, and Alliance Baptists.

Religious people in this country are a diverse, multifaceted bunch and applying a simple word search to a party platform cannot tell the whole story of a political party's relationship with the complicated topics of faith, religion, and God, nor does this word search understand how deeply intertwined our faith is with our politics, for we often don't even know ourselves.