I began my “working with people” when I was 13. Before then, it had been mostly close and extended family interactions, learning my place there.
As I started high school, my dad promoted me to a job at the local country store, working after school and Saturdays. I was the one employee working with the owner and his wife. I stocked shelves, did janitorial duties, cut meat and made sandwiches, pumped gas (it was in done in those days) and did whatever else needed doing.
My boss gave me, in the first few minutes on the job, the prime directive: “Do not talk politics or religion.” I was to greet customers, be cordial and accommodating, but politics and religious talk were off limits. Seems quaint today. It was awhile back and in rural Tennessee, after all.
I’ve been a minister serving churches in several states, an Army Reserve chaplain, and I have served as a hospital and hospice staff chaplain for four decades. And I’m obsessed with politics. The irony is amusing to me.
During those years I watched religion become a central player in politics used by the sincere and the unscrupulous alike to describe how faith informs and energizes their lives and agendas of leadership. It has become a litmus test in some sections of our nation. Partisans attack and extoll religious ideal and virtues equally. For some it is small talk expected and for others it is awkward conversation.
Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were called atheists and James Garfield was a preacher. Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft were Unitarians with unorthodox beliefs. Hoover was a Quaker and his oath was softened to “maintain” rather than “defend.” Kennedy had to address the Baptist establishment as a Roman Catholic to get a pass in his 1960 race. Nixon was a Quaker and was forced to resign the presidency. Jimmy Carter admitted his lust and was ridiculed. Obama was called a Muslim as a slur.
One’s relationship with that which is ultimate in life, no matter the name, creed, or ideology adhered to or rejected, is a personal thing and a sacred aspect of personhood. It is truly a right of being. It is an “unalienable right.” No one can live my life nor is accountable for it but me; not my parents, religion, philosophy, ideology or other person.
Our beliefs are not the words we say or don’t say, or the label we choose as our identification or that is given us. Our beliefs are expressed though our behavior and the choices we make.
For me, acts of love and compassion are primary. Next in importance are humility, open-mindedness and generosity. Life is an interdependent wonder. Everything that contributes to the health and wholeness of that unity matters, and is good and is of love.
Anything that seeks to divide and isolate, and is toxic to the health and wholeness of our interactive life, is bad and is of greed.
Spirituality is an individual’s sense of relatedness to the ultimate. Religion is the organized system: communities of choice or inheritance, to carry and promote ideals and moral guidance that should serve that sense of relatedness, the being, and becoming of all life.
Politics is all of that expressed within an individual’s larger community: neighborhood, city, county, nation, and world. Involvement in politics is one’s expressions of values inspired or validated by individual’s spirituality. It is love broadly lived.
The Rev. Dr. Doak M. Mansfield is pastor of the Community Unitarian Universalist Church of the Tri-Cities in Pasco. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email email@example.com.