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FIRST-PERSON: Our political & religious beliefs should not be separate

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) — North Carolinians may be the deciding voters in selecting the next president of the United States. They are a swing state, with polls showing a virtual dead heat between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The election there may be influenced by the issue of gay marriage — the state’s voters affirmed the traditional definition of marriage in May by passing a marriage amendment.

In a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle about voters in North Carolina, Alexandria Pitts, a 19-year-old elementary education major at a major university offered her opinion. She said, “My religion is Christian, but I’m still going to vote for Obama. My politics and religious beliefs are separate.”

As a Christian, Ms. Pitts is certainly free to vote for either candidate — Republican or Democrat. But it’s troubling to hear her state that her “politics and religious beliefs are separate.”

Too many Christians today live compartmentalized lives. They have religious beliefs — but those beliefs are kept separate from what we decide about money, moral choices, relationships and ethical decisions. Too many Christians believe religious beliefs are private, with little impact on public behavior.

A few years ago, a friend of mine refused to participate in an activity in his workplace. When asked by his boss for a reason, he replied, “It violates my Christian convictions.” His boss told him, “That’s your problem. You are letting your religion affect your life.” Wow! Somehow I thought it was supposed to work that way.

Today, if you base your political decisions (or any other aspect of your life) on your religious convictions, you are stigmatized. You are called a legalist or a fundamentalist. You are out of touch with reality. You are inflexible, or worse, intolerant. There is little respect, if any, for the person who tries to base life on principles drawn from religious convictions.

My hope is you will draw a different conclusion than Ms. Pitts. My hope is you will take seriously your responsibility to understand Christian convictions and base your decisions — political or personal — on them. We live in an unprecedented time when politicians and political parties are staking out positions with clear moral dimension. It is our responsibility to understand the choices we face and base our decisions on convictional Christian thinking.
Jeff Iorg is president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., just north of San Francisco, and the author of “Live Like a Missionary.” This column first appeared at his blog, JeffIorg.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).