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Does God have a place in the platform of a political party? It depends upon whom you ask.
On day two of the Democratic National Convention, three attempts were made to include God in the Democratic Party Platform. San Antonio Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked for delegates to ratify the proposal by voice vote and an awkward moment ensued when the first two votes deadlocked. The third vote drew even louder opposition, yet the chair gaveled the proposed change into place, which drew loud boos. Who knew God would be so controversial at the convention?
The change was made at the insistence of President Obama after the platform committee nixed the original language which said: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.” The idea of God-given potential comes from the Declaration of Independence and shouldn’t be controversial. So what’s the big deal anyway?
Opponents are right to see that there is danger in manipulating God for political gain. God has been used too often as a hammer to drive home points, only at the expense of others. And both parties can agree that God shouldn’t be used as anyone’s battering ram. So should God be part of any Party Platform? Is it for the sake of galvanizing the base? To make a broader point? Or is something else at play? Abraham Lincoln put it well when he said “We trust, sir, that God is on our side. It is more important to know that we are on God’s side.”
Acknowledging God is in fact part of a political tapestry that goes all the way back to the Mayflower Compact, weaving through Colonial Charters, and into the Declaration of Independence. The GOP platform refers to the Creator a dozen times but before any temptations befall those given to self-righteousness and get carried away with quips like Paul Ryan’s “Democrats were against God before they were for Him,“ they should note how often God’s blessings were invoked in major Democratic speeches.
The debate over God in politics and party platforms is a worthy one and something our Founders well understood. They realized that nationalized sectarian religion is wrong. Equally so is a real danger of removing Him from the political equation altogether. Without the Creator as the basis for our rights and liberties then where do our rights come from? If God has no place in government then what is above government to keep it in check? After all, it is the officially atheistic regimes like North Korea and Cuba that are most oppressive and dangerous. The Kim Jung Il’s and Castro’s of the world deny human rights, free speech and religious freedom and replace the idea of “God-given potential” with “state-given potential.”
Hail Caesar. Or not.
When government assumes the authorship of rights and becomes the ultimate provider and sustainer of human life then it becomes a defacto god. The unspoken assertion in this brouhaha is that when citizens value what government can give them instead of treasuring government for protecting their inalienable rights then we have lost the idea and the greatness of the American dream.
The Democratic Party will keep God in their platform for another four years. Whether He gets an invitation in 2016 is too soon to say. But the question facing the rest of us in the meantime is: what is God’s place in public life and in our government?
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a non-profit public policy organization. He resides in Trigg County with his wife and children.