God works in mysterious ways, no question about that. Sometimes above politics, recently He seems to have joined the Republican Party. That's not too big a surprise. The GOP is also known -- by the Rev. E. V. Hill of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, at least -- as the "Prayer Party," presumably because it favors school prayer. So, of course, does God, along with tuition tax credits. It is therefore natural that He should favor the Republicans. Why wouldn't He feel more comfortable among his own kind? Or perhaps -- unlikely idea -- the Republicans are in greater need of salvation and God recognizes a fertile field when he sees one. Who knows.
In any event, His spirit, at least, was much in evidence at the Republican National Convention. He told the Rev. Jerry L. Falwell that President Reagan and Vice President George Bush were His "instruments in rebuilding America." Rev. Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, kindly passed God's message along. Probably God told Frank Sinatra something, too, but I didn't hear about it. Frank looked awfully serious on the television, though, almost as if he were in church. I didn't hear if Joan Rivers gave Him credit for her jokes, either. But I think that He's been speaking to Paul Laxalt, the president's campaign manager, because Sen. Laxalt wrote a letter to Christian leaders urging them to "organize a voter registration drive in your church . . . that will surely help secure the reelection of President Reagan and Vice President Bush." It makes a person think. I mean, would you really want to be a Democrat if God is on the other team?
We have come rather a long way from 1960, when the Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, appeared before a meeting of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. The concern then was not that Kennedy might be irreligious, but that he might be too religious and that his particular religious affiliation might influence his decisions affecting the welfare of the country. "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," Kennedy told the ministers, " -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. . . . "
It is good to remember these remarks of Sen. Kennedy in this election year, and to compare them to Sen. Laxalt's "Dear Christian Leader" letter or to the statement made by our own president in his acceptance speech in Dallas: "If our opponents were as vigorous in supporting our voluntary-prayer amendment as they are in raising taxes, maybe we could get the Lord back into schoolrooms and get drugs and violence out." Maybe we could, but I wouldn't want to count on it.
There is no qestion but that God is in the air these days, and not just in Dallas. Everyone from Michael Jackson to Prince, whom the Village Voice calls "the inventor of erotopop," to Ronald Reagan to Jerry Falwell is invoking His name and listening to His message, which, we have to assume, suffers somewhat in its various translations since the messages are often contradictory. When President Reagan said, as he did at a prayer breakfast in Dallas, that "politics and morality are inseparable," it seems to me indisputable, though I think it is at least arguable that "as morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. . . ."
Religion and politics are not necessarily related, and the sooner we disentangle them, the better. To confuse religion with politics -- or with morals, for that matter -- is to trivialize two very serious human activities. To think that a minute or two of prayer in school is going to drive violence and drugs and sexuality out of the classroom is to delude yourself. And to bring the whole idea of God into this sectarian political arena is to trivialize that mysterious and noble expression, too.