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For heaven's sake, don't mix religion with politics

Election years make me queasy.

Not because the campaign signs are so hideously ugly or because the corporate donors who pay for this year's signs will be writing next year's legislation.

And not because of the negative campaign ads _ those handy announcements that tell us which scoundrels have raised taxes, burned flags, consorted with terrorists, stolen candy from babies and generally undermined the institution of motherhood.

I can live with all that.

What makes me uncomfortable is the religious politics.

Specifically, it is how some candidates and their zealous supporters make speeches or sales pitches with a religious flavor that frequently have less to do with God than with getting votes or making political points.

What they say is "religious" is the same way putting on a suit and tie on Sunday morning is a religious act. It looks nice on the outside, but has very little to do with redemption and enlightenment.

Recently, Howard Dean went to South Carolina and tried to cozy up to voters there by talking about the Bible. But when he classified the Old Testament book of Job as part of the New Testament, his candidacy lost steam and respect. Not because he is lacking as a Biblical scholar, but because he tried to be something he was not.

He took a shot at religious politics and failed miserably.

Four years ago, President George W. Bush talked about his personal struggles and his religious conversion in a very direct way. He has followed it up with an administration that pays such painstaking attention to moral and personal behavior issues that Time magazine recently referred to him as the "Nanny in Chief."

Those things, along with his position against abortion rights, have some Christians willing to write Bush a free pass on every questionable call he makes _ chief among them, the war in Iraq. In their eyes, Bush can do no wrong, and it is un-American to question him. To them, Pat Robertson is not alone in his assertion that Bush is God's candidate.

That is religious politics at the grass roots level.

Yet, the worst form of religious politics is the virulent strain that tends to drive wedges between people. The practitioners of this form of religious politics are bent on using matters of faith as a tool to divide us. And their actions make us question whether they have any clue what it means to "love one another."

A handful of people associated with Landmark Baptist Church in Brooksville have decided to run for the Hernando County Commission and the Brooksville City Council. Public service is a noble aim, even if it is an unusual form of community outreach for a church.

But the act lost some of its nobility when candidate Richard Power talked about the war on terrorism being a religious war, and when he referred to Muslims as "Mohammedans."

To a Muslim, the term "Mohammedan" is blasphemous. You might as well say they worship stone idols _ and theirs is the most idol-averse faith you'll encounter. Muslims consider Mohammed a very human prophet who was given a revelation from God, but they don't worship him.

As for the holy war thing, President Bush himself stood before Congress with ground zero still smoldering and said the war on terror was not about Islam, but religious extremists. If you ask me, it was the finest moment in his presidency _ a real act of statesmanship. By naming extremists as the enemy, Bush pointed the finger at people like Osama bin Laden, who have reached the zenith of religious politics, the point where it totally corrupts their faith.

To bring a true Christian perspective to government is a fine thing. But the Landmark Baptist candidates need to watch what they say. Not as a matter of political correctness, as the Rush Limbaugh dittoheads would certainly characterize such a warning, but as a matter of decency.

If they intend to play religious politics, causing strife with people of other faiths, they will do more harm than good to the cause of Christianity.

And in that case, I would just as soon they stay home.

_ Robert King can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to rkingsptimes.com.

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