Christian faith and the complicated overlaps between religion and politics highlighted a talk by Dean of Religious Life Reverend Scotty McLennan and Ron Sanders, a member of the Stanford Association of Religions Executive Committee, Thursday afternoon. The event, “Looking at the Christian Faith and Politics in the 21st Century,” was part of a regular series of lunch panels and talks hosted by Stanford in Government (SIG).
McLennan and Sanders began their discussion by sharing their perspectives on Christianity, how they think the general public perceives it and the role of religion in politics today.
McLennan said he wished to clarify three commonly misunderstood aspects of Christianity. First, he said, the Scripture was not written by God, but a reflection of mankind’s quest for the divine; second, McLennan said, no personal conversion experience is necessary for someone to become a Christian; and finally, he concluded, Jesus was someone who was “not God, but a great historical teacher,” and McLennan’s “Lord and Savior.”
McLennan then read a verse from Isaiah, in which Jesus proclaims that the “spirit of the Lord is upon me…he tells me to bring peace to the poor.”
McLennan told the audience to take away the notion that Jesus was “very social justice-oriented, very open to people of other religions and traditions and very open to marginalized peoples.”
McLennan then added that Jesus was a “promoter of the free exercise of religion,” and a “defender of people of all backgrounds.”
When applying this introduction of Jesus and Christianity to politics, McLennan said that religion should be involved in politics, citing the “Mother Teresas, Desmond Tutus, Martin Luther Kings” in history as the prophets who had carried out Christian ideals and had been instigators of political change.
He added that Christians should beware of using religion as a trump card.
“Never make a political argument that ends with ‘I think this because I’m a Christian,’” he said. “Instead, people of all faiths should learn to speak in a common civic language.”
Sanders then spoke about his experiences with evangelism.
What he has found through his interactions with his audiences, Sanders said, is that “Jesus generally receives a neutral or positive reaction from most people, while Christianity as a religion mostly receives negative sentiment.”
Offering his explanation for this perception, Sanders said that when the values of the secular and the religious clash, evangelicals are inclined toward debating heatedly against their “earthly government.”
And as a result, Sanders added, “We’re not quite at home…we’re exiles, we’re aliens.”
Sanders said that evangelicals know that they are asked to pray for peace for people of all backgrounds and faiths. This fact is not always conveyed to the public, however, he said.
Halfway through the lunch, McLennan and Sanders opened the discussion up to questions. Students asked about contemporary social issues, such as the death penalty.
Both Sanders and McLennan said that they oppose the death penalty, believing that Jesus “preached forgiveness” and asked his followers not to “return evil for evil.”
Their response led to a follow-up question–whether they viewed Jesus as a pacific figure.
Sanders said he believes Jesus’ greatest commandment of “loving the Lord your God with all your heart” and “loving your neighbor.”
“Loving your neighbor,” Sanders said, “means that you do not fight him.”
Sanders said that Jesus was not entirely pacific, however, and traced back to the Roman Empire’s adoption of the “just war theory,” arguing that there can be circumstances when one nation has to fight a just war.
The Iraq War, Sanders said, was not one of those just wars. He also argued that there is a wide gap between just war theory and pacifism, but that the Christian ideals in just war theory are slowly surfacing in international laws concerning justice and humanitarian protection.
Another student asked how the speakers respond to people who see faith and reason as completely separate entities.
McLennan acknowledged that it is very possible for religion to “end a conversation” because one party does not consider that faith could be part of anyone’s reasoning.
“There are conversation enders in completely secular conversations, too,” he said, adding that faith is not the sole reason why productive conversations may end.
McLennan said he acknowledges that the institution of religion has alienated many, but that the prospects and ideals grounded in Christian ideology are prevalent enough that productive conversation can easily occur between people of all faiths and ideologies on campus.
“I heard McLennan and Sanders speak in SLE this year and thought it was interesting how they were talking about their different perspectives on religion in a rational and reasoned way,” said Adrienne von Schulthess ‘15, a member of the SIG Campus Awareness committee that organized the event and a Daily reporter. “I thought it would be great if I could open that up to the rest of the community.”