Mike Gerson Dishes on Faith and Politics

Posted on July 5, 2007 In Blog

They say Karl Rove is “Bush’s Brain” – but it was Michael Gerson, now of the Council on Foreign Relations, who was the President’s pen. The former wordsmith in chief has a WaPo op-ed on Senator Obama’s speech before the United Church of Christ, whereby he (Gerson, not the Senator) dissects the place of religion in American public life.

Gerson is well qualified to do so. Before joining then Governor Bush as a speechwriter, he worked for, among others, Prison Fellowship. Compassionate conservatism wasn’t a sound bite to Gerson, but a way of life. Gerson’s main theme is that a religious voice for a candidate isn’t created simply by placing whatever policy proposal they support within a few words of the Lord teaches…

With some well placed sarcasm, Gerson has this MONEY quote: “The whole enterprise — there are examples on the right and left — of asking “What Would Jesus Do?” on the earned-income tax credit or missile defense is presumptuous. Jesus, were he around again in the flesh, would probably be doing sensible things such as healing the sick, embracing outcasts and preaching sacrificial love.”

We agree that true religious expression in the public policy and political realm must come from a place of true religious expression. Saying what’s in your party platform is what God wants done is a bit presumptuous.

Religious faith, tradition, and even commandments have a place in public life. They inform, they offer direction, guidance. Upon the faithful, they make demands, they require something. Still, in our pluralistic, secular and democratic society, there is a balance and a line. For Jews, the Torah is neither conservative or liberal. To those on the liberal side of the aisle, whole sections of Jewish law and lore are inconsistent and downright antithetical to modern liberalism. But to libertarians, capitalists and political conservatives, there are uniquely populist and communitarian (dare we say socialist) aspects of Jewish tradition.

We may have trouble determining whether the Lord is for or against Social Security reform or no fly zones, and where He might come down on welfare or school choice. But we know that He doesn’t like intellectual dishonesty. And for all of us in the public policy business, Gerson’s words are a modern day prophetic warning.