Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Religion and Politics

By Eran Wade
Can politics mix with religion? There’s the old saying not to discuss religion and politics in polite company. Both topics are personal and deeply held beliefs. On this trip to Colombia, I am exploring both facets. I am on this trip as a result of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Does going with a church group automatically make the project suspect? Can the church get involved in human rights and do it in an honest, objective, and effective way? It makes sense that the church would know about freedom of religion, but what about freedom of speech and other human rights?

A number of months ago, a friend and I were talking about the dangers of mixing religion and public policy. We both agreed that faith can motivate us to advocate certain issues, but using faith to advance a particular agenda could be dangerous.

A few nights ago I had a party with my friends to talk about this trip. I spoke for a few minutes to share with them about why I was going to Colombia. I said that even though the trip was not without some nice benefits—my interest in international public policy, being immersed in a second language, and getting out of Chicago during the coldest temperatures of the year—the impetus behind my going were the stories of courage I read about in preparation for the trip. I read stories of children of pastors who are nearly killed and then sent home with a warning for the parent. I read stories of people who had to flee their homes for helping the displaced and homeless. On and on they go. Does it matter that the pastors are of one particular faith? Is courage a member of one political party? Is speaking out only for those in the Presbyterian denomination? Does social justice live only at the nearest archdiocese? I told my friends at the party that these stories of courage made a deep call on my heart. I told them that this project is bigger than any political party or agenda. This project is bigger than any religious denomination. This project is about human rights and I can’t see too many more important causes to get behind.

If ever there was a chance to be motivated by my view to focus on the issues rather than a partisan agenda, this is it. Helping workers who are advocating for human rights for the displaced is not a Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian, or Independent cause. It’s not a value that the Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, or atheists have cornered in the marketplace of ideas. Sure I have a certain faith and certain political affiliations. But while these values may fit into any or all of these groups; at its core, this project endorses a human cause. That’s why I’m here.


Blogger keda said...

the question is not can religion and politics mix. because they are both deeply held beliefs as you say, they are the lense through which we see problems and solutions. They mix all the time. I think it is inevitable. One will informe the other, unless these beliefs are not as deeply held as we are led to believe. Maybe the question is how should they mix?

I look forward to hearing more about your trip, Eran.

3:35 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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