2009 Archives

Texas Faith


The following is from the May 30, 2009, edition of The Dallas Morning News. William Lawrence, dean and professor of American Church History in SMU's Perkins School of Theology, and Robin Lovin, Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics at SMU, provided expertise for this story.

June 1, 2009

Texas Faith is a weekly discussion that poses questions about religion, politics and culture to a panel of religious leaders.

This week's question is: When, if ever in our secular democracy, is it appropriate to advance public policy with God's words? When it is OK? And more to the point, when does it cross the line?

Here are excerpts from some of this week's answers:

William Lawrence, dean and professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University:

Two issues emerge. The first is the overt one, asking when or whether it is appropriate to use God's word – or to claim divine authority – for governmental policy. Actually, in a theocracy like today's Iran or the 16th-century Reformed city of Geneva, that is the approach to public policy. And it can be a very effective device for maintaining social order. But the American system functions with an entirely different order. To advocate for views is legitimate. To embody those views in the nation's public policy is not.

The second issue is about absolutes. But is that really true? Or is religion also about the nuanced interpretations of complex human issues when the principles of justice and mercy have to be balanced? To claim religious authority for a public policy position is to miss this terribly important point.

Robin Lovin, Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics, Southern Methodist University:

Faith is not easily reduced to bumper stickers. It is a way of seeing reality as a whole, and it involves a judgment that falls on ourselves, as well as on our enemies. Faith can be translated into policy, but that requires careful thinking and enough honesty to admit that the results rarely pronounce us as righteous as we thought we were.

Read the full story.

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