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Published: Saturday, 11/3/2012

Lincoln had right approach on religion

BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

In my month on the job as The Blade’s religion editor, I’ve had the privilege of attending Muslim, multifaith, and Mormon services. I intend to continue being with those outside of my own faith, sometimes as an invited guest, other times as a visitor. I also will join with people in religious societies of my own traditions. And there will be Sundays when I sleep in — freedom of religion includes the choice not to participate.

Freedom of religion is best seen in the variety of churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other meeting houses where people go to share in spirituality. There’s not one faith that everybody has to follow, no single way to think and act. Religious freedom even honors those with no religion.

Many of our secular leaders are deeply religious people, and they carry their morals to public service. A few weeks ago I interviewed a Lutheran minister, the Rev. Angela Zimmann, a Democrat who is running for Congress in the 5th District. I also talked to her opponents, including Republican Rep. Bob Latta, the incumbent, a Roman Catholic who said, “When we're talking about religion, it’s important to go back to our founders and talk about the First Amendment.” He emphasized that religion is the first freedom mentioned there.

He then said, “And that’s why I object to the religious mandate on health-care organizations.”

I don’t see a church's resistance to health-care reform as a demonstration of religious freedom. I’m grateful that religious institutions follow scriptural teachings to care for the sick by building hospitals. I’m more grateful that they base their medical services on the best science. I don’t want to see public-oriented health care compromised by religious beliefs, or one organization being able to opt out of a tax that all are expected to pay. And I resist freedom rallies that seem coerced by a religious hierarchy.

Religion and politics cause friction in just about every election season. Respecting freedom can be uncomfortable. Keep goals of self, church, and state in mind.

Follow the lead of Abraham Lincoln. In 1846, when he was running for Congress against Peter Cartwright, who was an evangelical Methodist, both candidates were at a religious meeting. Mr. Cartwright invited everyone who wanted to go to heaven to stand up. Many did. Then he asked that everyone who didn’t want to go to hell rise. The rest stood — except for Honest Abe. Mr. Cartwright asked, “May I inquire of you, Mr. Lincoln, where you are going?”

Mr. Lincoln got to his feet and said calmly, “I did not know I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress!”

If the concept of religious freedom is twisted in such a way that corporate policy stifles people’s needs and safety, take Lincoln’s lead and keep the direct goal in mind.

TK Barger is the Blade religion editor. He can be reached at tkbarger@theblade.com.



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