Jan 192015 2 Responses

Martin Luther King, Jr: Why Religion Deserves a Seat at the Table

Christopher Reeves, best known for his portrayal of Superman, once told the students at Yale, “When matters of public policy are being debated, no religion should have a seat at the table—that is what is provided for in the Constitution.”

It’s a common belief in today’s society. Many assume the Constitution separates the discussion of practical policy with the theories of religion. (See: Children, Disability, and Abortion)

Last year I was invited to speak to an MBA class at a public university. Before I entered the room, a debate took place among the students because several students did not believe a pastor should be allowed to speak in a public university. Despite the fact that I have the education, have taught MBA level classes, and lead a non-profit organization with multiple locations, a multi-million dollar budget, and significant staff, some students believed my religious practice prohibited me from rightfully lecturing in an educational setting.

Hopefully it is not necessary for me to point out that both Reeves and the MBA students are promoting the exact opposite of what the Constitution proclaims. The First Amendment very clearly protects my rights (and yours) regarding religious practice. Someone cannot keep us from holding an office, teaching a class, or commenting on public policy because of our religious beliefs. While I would not have a right to go into a public university’s MBA program, ignore the subject matter, and then force my religious beliefs onto the class, I do have every right to use my experience to teach the subject matter of the day. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past)

Yet not only do I have a right to the table of public policy, America needs religious thought at the table. Proof is found in the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Never forget, it was the preacher who led the charge for radical change in the discussion of race in America. When someone says the church needs to be quiet regarding politics, preachers need to keep their noses out of the public square, and the religious thought has no seat at the table, they are denying the long history of religious people and religious thought in making American what it is. They are denying Martin Luther King, Jr.

Advocates for faith should not have the only voice at the table discussing public policy. We should not fall for the temptation of believing we are morally superior to those who do not believe. As a matter of fact, my religion would prevent me from having that opinion. Christianity doesn’t proclaim moral superiority, but instead reminds every person of their moral poverty.

However, in the same way that believers shouldn’t be the only voice, they also shouldn’t be excluded from the debate. Everyone has a belief system. Each person sees the world through some worldview which influences every aspect of their lives. It is foolish to think that believers in religious thought are biased in their thinking while the atheist, agnostic, or secularist has pure thinking.

In the same way the religious believer is foolish to assume the unbeliever can’t be moral, the unbeliever is foolish in assuming only the believer is biased.

Everyone is biased. Everyone has a worldview. Everyone is bringing some kind of faith to the table. To exclude one from a discussion because of religious belief is un-American and unwise. (See: What a White Man Knows About Racism)

We are free to ignore any opinion we wish, but we are never free to silence another. And whenever we rule out a whole class of people without ever really considering their opinion, we do so to the detriment of society.

Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life should cause us to reflect on many things.

We should renew our pursuit of racial equality through action and conversation.

We should intentionally build relationships with those who are different from us and learn from them.

We should understand our faith demands action within our communities.

But we should also remember the value of having a person of religious thought involved in discussions of public policy. A religious voice shouldn’t be the only voice in a pluralistic society, but it should be an important voice.

2 Responses to Martin Luther King, Jr: Why Religion Deserves a Seat at the Table
  1. betty5ue Reply

    If you classify Atheism as a religion, which there is basis to do since it is a sincerely held belief about God, then the statement “religion should not be allowed at the table” would mean either “no one can come to the table” or “only my religion (atheism) should be allowed at the table.” It’s time for Christians to quit being cowed and treat atheism as the religion it is.

    • Jimmy Ipock Reply

      I’m afraid atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
      I’m an atheist, and I think people with religious beliefs should have a seat at the table. The thing is though, it seems like many religious people DON’T think those with non-belief should have a seat at the table. I can give example after example as evidence. When the religious (some of them at least) get into power, they tend to try and erode those that don’t agree with them. I think there is ample evidence for this.

      As an atheist, I don’t think people of faith should be excluded from the discussion. Most atheist are complaining not because people of faith have a say, it’s because they get a say, and then they want control.

      We have a secular government, there is a good reason for that, we have thousands of years of history, it seems like mixing religion and government is a recipe for disaster.

      However, part of the population IS religious and I think they should have a place in the conversation.

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