Faith & Values

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God as campaign underdog

By Michael Gordon

Here’s the biggest Election Year headline almost guaranteed not to go viral: God is running as a clear underdog.

We’ll let the Rev. James Forbes explain.

“It’s very clear that we cannot serve both God and Mammon,” says Forbes, a prominent New York preacher who’ll speak at a Charlotte church before the Democratic convention.

“And guess what: Mammon is the reigning deity.”

Mammon, from the New Testament perspective, is the false god of greed and material wealth. In election-year terms, Mammon is blessed with a formidable campaign war chest.

Forbes attributes Mammon’s lead over God in the popular vote to the country’s deep-rooted “spiritual depression.”

You know the signs:

A discourse fueled with contempt. Us vs. them. Political intransigence. Anger, even violence, against “The Other.”

All are symptoms of what Forbes calls an “absence of accountability to one another.”

Politics, nor political leaders, can’t change that. It’s up to the spiritual community, he says, to restore hope.

That’s no easy task.

Over the next few weeks, an all-consuming presidential campaign, which embodies much of what Forbes feels is already wrong with the country, will begin dominating the national attention span.

What’s more, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish the political voices from the spiritual ones.

Many religious groups have already chosen sides in the campaigns. Questions of a candidate’s beliefs and spiritual qualifications to be president have been dogging the hopefuls for more than a year.

Is Obama or Romney really a Christian? Who’s the better Catholic: Ryan or Biden?

A Pew Foundation poll in March found that voter discomfort with political candidates talking about religion had reached an all-time high.

The exception: evangelical Christians. Not surprisingly, some 300 conservative pastors gathered in Charlotte last week to discuss getting more involved in the campaign.

Other denominations also are weighing in. During the week of the convention, Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte will sermonize on election-year thoughts for Catholics.

The next day: Sister Simone Campbell, head of a group of nuns who have been critical of Republican spending plans for the poor, will speak at one of Jugis’ churches.

While they come from similar spiritual backgrounds and represent the same church, here’s betting $5 for the collection plate that they won’t be voting the same way for president.

For Catholics, who breaks the tie?

Which leads to the key question: Is there a risk to religious groups when their spiritual and political voices merge?

Can they do the work that Forbes says must be done, or do they simply become one more indistinguishable voice in a partisan shouting match?

Gordon: mgordon@charlotteobserver.com
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