Faith and Politics beyond fundamentalism
We are in an election cycle. Many sectors of the different Churches, the Roman Catholic included, mobilize around projects for the country and candidates for several positions. This is the moment to clarify the relationship between faith and politics.
In the first place, we should distinguish between politics written with a capital P, and another with a small p, or between social politics (P) and party politics (p).
Social politics (P) is related to the common good of society; for example, the organization of health care, the school system, transportation, salaries, etc., are related to social politics. To struggle for a neighborhood health center, uniting to bring a bus line to the top of a mountain, is to engage in social politics.
That form of politics means the common search for the common good. All citizens and all Christians, Catholics or Evangelicals, can and must participate in that level of politics.
Party politics (p) represents the struggle for state power, to control the municipal, state and federal governments. The function of the political parties is to obtain power, to change it (the process of liberation), or to wield it as it is presently constituted (to govern the state as it exists). The party, as the very word implies, is a part, a piece of society, not all of society. Each party represents the interests of groups or classes that undertake projects for the whole society. If they achieve state power (govern) they will try to put into practice public policies according to their program and their party’s vision of the problems.
In terms of party politics, it is important to consider the following: to understand the party’s program; what place the people have in this program, whether it was discussed by the bases, whether it considers the historic demands of the people; whether it provides for popular participation, through its movements and organs, in its conception, implementation and control; who are the candidates that represent the program, what is their biography, whether they are on a blacklist, whether they have always maintained an organic link with the bases, whether they are truly allied with and representative of the causes of justice and necessary social change, or whether they want to keep social relations as they are, with all the contradictions and injustices that implies.
This mode of political power has been historically exercised by our elites for their own benefit, forgetting the subject of all power, that is the people.
How does faith enter into all of this?
Faith has to do directly with God and with God’s design for humanity, but it is within society and is a creator of opinion and decisions. It functions like a bicycle; it has two wheels through which it becomes effective in society: the wheel of religion and the wheel of politics.
The wheel of religion becomes concrete through prayer, celebrations, preaching and the reading of the Scriptures.
Through the wheel of politics, faith is expressed by practicing justice and solidarity, and denouncing corruption. As we can see, politics here is synonymous with ethics. We have to learn to maintain equilibrium over the two wheels to be able to act correctly.
The Bible considers the wheel of politics as ethics more important than the wheel of religion as cult. Without ethics, faith becomes empty and fruitless. Practices and not preaching are what have worth to God. Better than proclaiming, «Lord, Oh Lord» is to do the will of the Father, that is love, mercy and justice, things that are practical, and therefore ethical.
Concretely, faith and politics are together in people’s lives. Faith includes politics, that is, a Christian because of being a Christian, must strive for justice and social well being; s/he must also opt for programs and persons that are as close as possible to that which is understood as the project of Jesus and God in history. Pope Francis emphasized that when he was in Brazil.
But faith reaches beyond politics, because faith also refers to eternal life, to the resurrection of the flesh, to the transformation of the universe, something that no social politics, no political party or state can promise.
The passage from faith to party politics is not direct, that is, from the Bible is not directly deduced the support of a given political party, a person’s the duty to vote; or how much the minimum wage should be. The Bible does not offer solutions, but the inspiration to be able to make a good choice of party, and to create a dignified wage. For a Christian who follows the line on which Pope Francis keeps insisting, politics should be:
–liberating: it is not enough to transform the society that exists; what is important is a different model of society, one that is more inclusive, and through participation, facilitates social justice.
– liberating, starting with the poor and excluded majorities: it must begin from the very bottom, because that way no one is left out; if it started with the salaried worker or the bourgeoisie, it would omit, from the start, almost half of the excluded population.
– a politics that uses liberating methodologies, that is, one that facilitates participation by the people, from the bottom up and from the inside out; a politics that offers more than a representative/delegating democracy, but a participative democracy through which the people with their organizations help to discuss, decide and solve social questions. That was the great demand of the June 2013 demonstrations, which is firmly entrenched now.
– a socio-ecological democracy that respects the rights of Mother Earth, of the eco-systems, the animals and all beings of creation with which we maintain interdependent relations.
This kind of politics is one of the highest forms of social love.