How right is right? When does admirable adherence to conviction stray into the realm of dogmatism, intolerance and even fanaticism? How many millions have been harmed by those falsely claiming heavenly endorsement of their actions? How does this relate to politics in Utah County? Does the devil really dwell at Democratic National Headquarters?
With Tuesday's primary elections at hand, these are issues on lots of minds. That is evidenced by unprecedented state Republican efforts to attract moderate voters through a $5,000 radio campaign. Two respected GOP state senators, overheard recently at the Capitol, voiced quiet concern about the direction of the Republican Party in Utah as longtime supporters defect due to a perceived takeover by unabashed far-right extremists. There's a lot at stake politically.Religions and religious people of all shapes and sizes have every right to be in the public arena promoting and protecting their interests. If they don't fill the moral vacuum, somebody else will. People who squawk about constitutional separation of church and state haven't read the Constitution. There is no such thing, though statutory law has evolved to create that firewall in some instances. That "wall of separation" phrase was introduced by Thomas Jefferson, who had seen Europe ripped apart by religious strife.
That said, Christian soldiers who march onto democratic battlegrounds should be willing to joust by the rules of democracy and not theocracy - whatever helmet, sword and shield they may be wearing. They are wise to consider "time, place and manner" and to use speech that is inclusive and appropriate to help garner broad support and out of respect to their non-religious foes. That may be done without compromising principles.
They may be nudged or driven into the political arena through legitimate personal inspiration and be spiritually guided around political land mines, but that divine direction should be considered for themselves and not the masses.
Any candidate or public office-holder who dictates heavenly mandates for the body politic and who denigrates others who don't agree due to their alleged lack of "higher enlightenment" should be viewed with suspicion. Such people ought to review key differences between a theocracy and a democracy.
One system of governance is based upon divine revelation, oneness and top-down direction - funded by voluntary donations. Confidentiality may often be in order. The other is based upon an adversarial system of law and politics, with loyal opposition playing a key role in refining legislation and setting policy. Its authority is derived from the bottom up - funded by obligatory tax contributions. Full disclosure is demanded.
Many well-intentioned people have become frustrated trying to impose a religious template of government over a secular model and vice versa. A successful church leader may struggle with open meetings. An effective politician may inject cantankerous debate into a religious council. They forget that vigorous argument, lobbying and compromise are keys to making democracy work effectively, while certain spiritual gifts, adherence to absolute truths and proper respect for hierarchal order are essential to a true theocracy.
There certainly are crossover principles - integrity, frugality, outreach, persuasion, dedication, personal spirituality, hard work and others - applicable in both arenas. But the systems have different foundations and ultimate ends. Ascribing too much divine intent to a secular organization, including a political party, may lead to dogmatism. As a general authority of the LDS Church recently noted, there are positive and negative elements in both major political parties that ebb and flow over time.
Those who become blinded by extremist ideology may develop an unhealthy case of tunnel vision and siege mentality. A frenetic insistence they have divine endorsement of all their political positions, outside a theocratic infrastructure, may be born more of desperation than inspiration.