God is a Republican, or is she a Democrat?

William Safire

September 01, 1992|By William Safire

REMEMBER when politicians concluded their speeches with "Thank you and good night"?

symbol for the other side's immorality, much as the American flag was used in previous campaigns as a symbol for the other side's lack of patriotism.

A few years ago, Democrats answered the Nixonite flag lapel pin with heavy flag drapery; are Democrats now to counter Bush's wooing of the religious right with fervent protestations of morality, displaying red, white and blue crosses and stars?

I hope not. The more effective response is to challenge the religious propriety of any political organization's claim to having God on its side.

Lincoln addressed that in his Second Inaugural. The North, fighting against slavery, was certain it was doing God's will; why, the Emancipator wondered, did God let the terrible bloodshed go on and on?

Lincoln's conclusion was that God might not be on either side: "The Almighty has his own purposes." He later wrote to a political ally about that speech: ". . . I believe it is not immediately popular. Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them."

That Inaugural, with its "malice toward none" peroration, is now popular, but its troubling theological point is missed: God is not in moral bondage to humankind. His design is not for us to discern. As the biblical Job learned, God does not have to do justice on Earth -- nor need he explain the suffering of innocent babes in Somalia, Bosnia or Kurdistan.

Believers may properly refer to God with respect in every activity, including politics, but it is the height of presumption -- irreverence to the point of blasphemy -- for any political or religious leader to arrogate the right to cast God's vote. His is the most secret ballot of all.

Whose side is God on in the 1992 presidential race?

His side.

Thank you. God bless each and every reader of this column, even you lefties. And God bless America (which is not to say that God should not also bless the rest of the world).

William Safire writes a column for the New York Times.

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