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Spring 1985 · Vol. 14 No. 1 · pp. 42–43 

Religion and Politics Do Mix

Harvey Wollman

An old adage says, “Talk to me about anything except religion and politics!” One’s religious identity and political preferences are personal and sensitive and had best be kept to ourselves, or so we are taught to believe. Politics and religion are my favorite topics, and I enjoy discussing them with anyone and everyone who will listen. To me, they include the area of our man-God relationship and man-to-man relationships. By not being willing to discuss them, we really have very little to say to anyone about anything except maybe small talk about the weather or other trivia.

I never needed to violate my values or my Christian faith.

I made a choice to formally enter the Church as a teenager and while in my twenties formally entered the political arena. Both were conscious decisions born out of conviction that each was worthwhile. There are some similarities because one can serve God and others in each or both environments. Beyond that, similarities become differences. When I serve in the Church as choir director on Sunday I don’t seek or expect recognition. The motivation is obedience, service and giving. When serving in a public office, one does seek attention, recognition and notoriety. Without that, it is difficult to survive for very long. In the Church, humility is a way of life. In political life, humility is something you remind people that you have.

It is a distinct advantage to be a Christian in a secular environment. In a political environment, which is as secular as any I can think of, guidelines {43} for decision-making come as a result of one’s personal sense of values. Nothing affects that as much as one’s religious faith or lack of it.

Historically, Mennonite Brethren tended toward a radical dualism instead of a constructive dichotomy. These attitudes are changing over time, and men and women from our tradition are entering public service in proportion to our numbers. This seems to me to be appropriate.

From my own experience, I can say that while serving as the elected Leader in the State Senate, or as Lieutenant Governor or as the Governor of a State, it was not necessary to violate my values, my conscience, or my professed Christianity in anything I did or said. There is tremendous freedom to be an individual, a conformist or nonconformist. What is difficult is to be consistent, uncompromising and totally upright at all times.

I voted many times knowing that I would invoke the wrath of one of my varied constituencies but never voted in a way that violated my personal value system which was the product of my Christian faith.

My biggest disappointments came when some of my fellow Mennonite Brethren would say, “I would vote for you for Governor if you were a Republican.” I always assumed that our kinship in Christ and our membership in a tiny religious Conference would mean more than almost meaningless and hard to distinguish political groupings, but I found it otherwise.

Christians today really need the gifts of discernment. There are movements in the religious right that seem to me to fly in the face of biblicalism at least as strongly as do those of the far left. I’m sure that there is a place for those of us who identify with Christ in serving in a secular environment. One does not need to get one’s politics and religion all mixed up to do this.

The values that the scriptures teach are values that can be manifested in our public policies. I would encourage men and women in our churches to seek to become influential in the public policy-making field. It is no place for the naive, for the over-sensitive, for the faint-hearted, or for those with blind political allegiance. You need a sense of history and tolerance for those who have differing points of view. But most of all you need a strong assurance, based on study and prayer, that what you are doing is right.

Harvey Wollman farms near Hitchcock, South Dakota, and is a member of the Board of Missions and Services of the North American Mennonite Brethren Churches.

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