Introduction to the JLE Symposium on an important aspect of the religion and politics debate

[1] In a recent issue of Time, Michael Kinsey, the well-know liberal pundit, made a rather startling claim. Contrary to much secular liberal opinion that the religion of a political candidate does not and should not influence his or her political life, Kinsey argues this: “If religion is central to their lives and moral systems, then it cannot be the candidates’ own ‘private affair.’ To evaluate them, we need to know in some detail the doctrine of their faith.”

[2] What do Lutherans think about how Christians should evaluate the religious identity and claims of a candidate, both in their electioneering and in their legislative efforts? To reflect on that question, the online Journal of Lutheran Ethics has assembled a varied group of people who have given much thought to this aspect of the relation of religion and politics. Among them is one elected politician-Senator John Marty of the Minnesota State Senate-as well as a number of thoughtful commentators from the fields of journalism, history, political science, theology, and ethics.

[3] All of the writers are familiar with and employ the Lutheran “two kingdoms” doctrine but each one interprets it a bit differently from others. All acknowledge that Christian politicians may present themselves and act differently in the political realm than others, but not necessarily. Gustaf Wingren argued that in the vocation of the Christian the two kingdoms intersect, so that must also hold true of the political vocation. What does that mean? How much and in what manner should the Christian’s religious and religiously-based moral convictions influence his or her political life? How should we as Christian citizens evaluate and assess that intersection? You will enjoy the following ruminations on those questions.

Robert Benne

Robert Benne is the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion Emeritus and Research Associate in the Religion and Philosophy Department, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia and Professor of Christian Ethics, The Institute of Lutheran Theology.