Association of church and state

Minister and rabbi met with residents to talk about
the historical and modern roles of faith in politics
Sunday, October 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:47 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

With the election just days away, more than 100 Columbia College students and faculty and community members gathered at the college’s Dorsey Chapel to discuss a topic that has permeated this election season: religion and its role in politics.

At the forum Monday, the Rev. John Yonker of First Christian Church gave a brief history of religion in American politics, and Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom outlined current political issues and their relation to religion.

Yonker cited some of the cases in U.S. history in which religion and government have overlapped. During the Colonial period, he said, churches were supported financially by the government. In some colonies, citizens were barred from public office because of religious views.

Yonker said religion continues its influence on U.S. government. Churches are exempt from paying taxes, for example, and “In God we trust” is printed on currency.

He encouraged the audience to use common sense, discuss political issues and make informed decisions when voting in the upcoming election.

“We are called to live in the world,” Yonker said.

“Withdrawal is not an option. We need to be involved in the political process.”

Feintuch briefly outlined the religious relevance of gun control, capital punishment, same-sex marriages, abortion, stem-cell research and global warming.

These issues sparked questions from the audience such as, “How should we let a candidate’s religious views affect our vote?” “Is there any hope that religion will ever be truly separate from government?” and “Is there a war that is truly sanctioned by God?”

Monday’s forum was part of a three-part colloquium that focused on ethics, philosophy and religious studies, said Tony Alioto, Columbia College professor of history. Alioto, the endowed chair in ethics, religious studies and philosophy, said he thought the event had accomplished its purpose.

“We wanted to bring the issues out and examine them in more depth and detail than just mere slogans,” he said.

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