The relationship between politics and religion continues to be tumultuous, four experts on faith and politics told about 250 people last night at an ARCO Forum panel entitled "The Faith Factor in American Politics."
Two of the panelists, Union Baptists Church Reverend Jeffrey Brown and Jim Wallis, the author of Faith Works, said they believe faith-based organization (FBOs) can play a positive role in fighting social problems.
Wallis said FBOSs can "revitalize civil society"--particularly in the struggle to end poverty.
"We may be on the verge of a new movement of economic justice, [one in which there is] a remarkable unity of churches," Wallis said.
Brown sought to address concerns about maintaining the separation of church and state, arguing that faith and politics have never been completely separate.
"From the African-American experience there has always been a melding of religion and politics," Brown said.
He also said faith can be an effective means of helping troubled youth.
"There were also moral and spiritual roots to violence, and it was there that I could contribute to," he said.
Still, Wallis cautioned against religious activism co-opting the "government's legitimate role" or turning "churches and synagogues into social agencies."
Father Robert F. Drinan, a professor of law at Georgetown University and former U.S. representative from Massachusetts, said he was concerned about blurring the boundaries between church and state.
"100 million Americans are not affiliated with any church," Drinan said. "When they see people referring to Jesus, they're opposed to that."
As a result, he said, the "faith factor should not exist in a presidential campaign."
The fourth panelist, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne spoke last, offering a historical perspective on the issue.
"The religious right can neither be blamed nor credited with creating this link between religion and politics," he said. "[These] battles are not new."
Dionne expressed hope that FBOs would force liberals to acknowledge the reality of effective non-governmental groups while forcing conservatives to confront the poverty that such groups seek to alleviate.
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