Monday, December 17, 2007

My Mitt Romney moment

I was invited to a comparative religion class at a Beaverton high school last week to talk about the Quakers, their history and beliefs. In the previous weeks, a parade of religious speakers, as well as an agnostic and a humanist, had presented to the class.

After my planned remarks, I invited questions. Hands flew up.

To my surprise, many questions were blatantly political. Like it or not, this became my Mitt Romney moment. The students asked my views about abortion and evolution. Someone actually asked my political affiliation. And one young man, clearly testing my limits, asked whether I thought Hillary was no more than Bill's puppet. I declined to respond.

My visit to the high school was grassroots evidence that religion and politics are inseparable in this run-up to the primaries. These bright high school students have bought into the blending of the two. They are so accustomed to politicians talking about religion that they couldn't imagine my talking about religion without commenting on politics — and, when I didn’t, they tried to smoke me out.

I suggested that religion could transcend politics. Quakers believe that there is “that of God” in everyone. Democrats and Republicans need to take that to heart, I said, but even that sounded like a political statement.

My visit to the high school classroom left me with a firmer belief in the need for a separation of church and state. But that conviction too is suspect, eyed suspiciously through a religious lens in these frighteningly divisive times. Hordes of voters, including many of these students, have rejected any such separation, with little thought of the horrendous consequences.

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