Politics is spirituality, demonstrated
Matthew Carriker is the Protestant Chaplain.
The “Conversations with God” books by Neale Donald Walsch say that our politics is our spirituality, demonstrated. This might appear to contradict popular wisdom. After all, shouldn’t we avoid religion and politics at the dinner table?
When I was in college, my good friend and college roommate, a liberal, was dating a girl whom he was enjoying getting to know. As soon as my roommate found out that this girl was Republican, he called it off. The negative associations with the Republican Party were so strong that my roommate could not see past them.
We are living in a politically divided and polarized United States. Conservative-minded students often complain that their views are marginalized at our liberal campus. In conservative regions, I know liberals who are afraid to make their political views known for fear of pushback and retaliation.
When I went to college, I was very active in social justice, traveling to protest the School of the Americas in Georgia, co-founding an anti-sweatshop group and leading the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness month organized through the Chaplaincy. One of my biggest self-realizations came after I realized how deeply interconnected spirituality was with social justice work.
Prior to this realization, I identified primarily as a social justice activist. Now, I identify with my spirituality first. That identity gives me energy, passion and commitment to continue the social justice work that I am engaged in.
This realization I am speaking of was actually a bit of disillusionment. At the time, I was doing a lot of front line work for peace and justice. As I began exploring the spiritual side of my identity, I realized that the social justice activists I knew working for outer peace had very little inner peace.
What I’ve come to realize since is that there are many dimensions of peace. Working for outer peace alone is difficult and often leads to isolation and burnout; to work for inner peace alone can be isolating and lead to a contractive consciousness.
When we make a commitment to the spiritual part of our identity, no matter our religious background, we commit to both the contemplative and the active side of the spiritual journey.
My spirituality is rooted in my connection to a Higher Power that loves me unconditionally. The contemplative dimension of the spiritual path involves practices that “fill my cup” and allow me to receive the unconditional love that is my birthright. The active dimension of the spiritual path is the calling to go and spread the love that I’ve received with others. If the Higher Power I know as God loves me unconditionally, then my job is to love others unconditionally — not only interpersonally, but to make the love manifest at structural and institutional levels as well. Am I going to fall short? Most definitely. But that doesn’t negate the invitation.
To be spiritually rooted is to dive into a love that is expansive. The opposite of this is a love that becomes increasingly contractive. For example, if I love only my family, what good is that? Everyone loves their family, or at least hopefully some people within it. If I love only my country, that may be a good starting point, but, spiritually speaking, it is not enough. To be expansive in our consciousness is to seek to love everyone. To use language from my tradition, every person is a “child of God.” That doesn’t mean we need to personally know everyone, but rather to simply act from a place of interconnectedness with all people and with the earth.
Moving into a consciousness of expansive love is simple, but not easy. In our politics, it means we are called not to demonize people on the other side of the aisle. I admit this is very hard for me in our current culture and administration. Now, please don’t get me wrong: This does not mean we shouldn’t hold our elected officials accountable. Part of our spiritual commitment is to hold all our elected officials accountable to their moral promises, Democrats and Republicans both. To be political does not necessarily mean to be partisan.
One piece of being spiritual that is missing from our current political scene is the ability to take responsibility for our own things first. The Christian scriptures share, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” While both parties struggle with taking responsibility for their own failings, this is one of the many serious moral failures of the Trump administration. When we do not recognize our own failures, our default is to point the finger at others to avoid our responsibility. This is a dangerous tactic, which is why it is so important for us voters to hold all our elected officials accountable to a higher standard of truth, responsibility and integrity.
Lastly, to allow spirituality to inform our politics means to approach our beliefs and points of view from a mindset of humility. Just as I do not have all the answers about faith, I also don’t have all the solutions to fixing our country. When we have a “humility theology” or “humility politics,” then we are not so attached to our truth that we speak it without love. Realizing that a world of love and compassion is what we are striving for, we realize that we must “be the change,” as Gandhi so famously said. A spiritual grounding invites us to be not so fiercely attached to our own truths that we neglect to express them with love and compassion. This is the tip of the iceberg, offering some initial reflections on the intersectionality of faith and politics. I welcome your thoughtful responses.