Religion and Politics

Ken and Betty Frank - Turkey Greetings from Istanbul, Turkey! In the 1960 US election, many Protestant voters were worried that Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy would, as President, take orders from the Vatican. Until that year, all US Presidents had been Protestant. Would JKF be able to separate US secular politics from his Catholic religion? During the campaign he specifically addressed a gathering of Protestant religious leaders to reassure them of his non-sectarianism. This year there are similar concerns in the US related to Mitt Romney, a possible Republican candidate for the US Presidency. He's a Mormon. Would he be able as President to represent all Americans and not push a sectarian agenda? Would he be more loyal to the US Constitution or to the church hierarchy? Such questions point to the continuing religion-politics controversies in US society. Where do voters look for guidance in these issues? There are those who say that the US is a uniquely advanced model, leading the way in the world, illuminating the best way forward in combining democracy and freedom. According to this way of thinking, all other countries are farther behind the US, and so US voters should look only to their own most recent experiences to guide them. But whatever the voters decide to do is, in this view, what other countries should emulate. Another point of view, and one that is more attractive from our perspective, is that the US is not different from other countries in the gamut of human social experience. Every country has to work out its religion-politics controversies in its own way, to arrive at something the people of that country can live with. There's no "one size fits all" model. As we look at how various countries wrestle with the religion-politics controversies, we see similarities, and we see differences. Comparisons are instructive and develop empathy for others. The country where we live and work, Turkey, recently held parliamentary and presidential elections. The biggest issue for many voters was the role of religion in politics. There has been a newer political force on the Turkish scene in the past few years: a growing middle class that is more comfortable with the presence of religion in public life than has been seen in Turkey in the past. Almost half of the voters elected the party that is said to represent this group - but whether for religious or political or economic reasons, or some combination, is not easy to say. This party now controls Parliament and chose its candidate as the new President of Turkey. So this situation puts the same question on the social agenda of Turkey: will the party in power represent all Turkish citizens and not push a sectarian agenda? Will the new President be more loyal to the secular state or to religious law? In a somewhat similar move to what JFK did, the new President of Turkey made a speech to the nation promising he would be impartial and committed to secularism. The ruling party is now working on a new constitution. The changes that might come will, among other things, prepare Turkey for entry into the European Union. It's a time of high drama in this country, and we don't know how it's going to turn out. Turkish voters need to find their own path in this drama. The US experience may or may not be relevant. Similarly, US voters may or may not find Turkish experiences with religion-politics controversies to be applicable to their own. But for each group to know that they struggle with similar serious issues of great depth and complexity builds global solidarity. This similarity provides a platform for peaceful cooperation rather than competition. It looks like the way God would have us live. Peace, Ken & Betty Frank Ken & Betty Frank serve as missionaries with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey. They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board. They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program

Greetings from Istanbul, Turkey! 

In the 1960 US election, many Protestant voters were worried that Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy would, as President, take orders from the Vatican. Until that year, all US Presidents had been Protestant. Would JKF be able to separate US secular politics from his Catholic religion? During the campaign he specifically addressed a gathering of Protestant religious leaders to reassure them of his non-sectarianism.

This year there are similar concerns in the US related to Mitt Romney, a possible Republican candidate for the US Presidency. He's a Mormon. Would he be able as President to represent all Americans and not push a sectarian agenda? Would he be more loyal to the US Constitution or to the church hierarchy? Such questions point to the continuing religion-politics controversies in US society.

Where do voters look for guidance in these issues?

There are those who say that the US is a uniquely advanced model, leading the way in the world, illuminating the best way forward in combining democracy and freedom. According to this way of thinking, all other countries are farther behind the US, and so US voters should look only to their own most recent experiences to guide them. But whatever the voters decide to do is, in this view, what other countries should emulate.

Another point of view, and one that is more attractive from our perspective, is that the US is not different from other countries in the gamut of human social experience. Every country has to work out its religion-politics controversies in its own way, to arrive at something the people of that country can live with. There's no "one size fits all" model. As we look at how various countries wrestle with the religion-politics controversies, we see similarities, and we see differences. Comparisons are instructive and develop empathy for others.

The country where we live and work, Turkey, recently held parliamentary and presidential elections. The biggest issue for many voters was the role of religion in politics. There has been a newer political force on the Turkish scene in the past few years: a growing middle class that is more comfortable with the presence of religion in public life than has been seen in Turkey in the past. Almost half of the voters elected the party that is said to represent this group - but whether for religious or political or economic reasons, or some combination, is not easy to say. This party now controls Parliament and chose its candidate as the new President of Turkey.

So this situation puts the same question on the social agenda of Turkey: will the party in power represent all Turkish citizens and not push a sectarian agenda? Will the new President be more loyal to the secular state or to religious law? In a somewhat similar move to what JFK did, the new President of Turkey made a speech to the nation promising he would be impartial and committed to secularism. The ruling party is now working on a new constitution. The changes that might come will, among other things, prepare Turkey for entry into the European Union.

It's a time of high drama in this country, and we don't know how it's going to turn out.

Turkish voters need to find their own path in this drama. The US experience may or may not be relevant. Similarly, US voters may or may not find Turkish experiences with religion-politics controversies to be applicable to their own. But for each group to know that they struggle with similar serious issues of great depth and complexity builds global solidarity. This similarity provides a platform for peaceful cooperation rather than competition. It looks like the way God would have us live.

Peace,
Ken & Betty Frank

Ken & Betty Frank serve as missionaries with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board.  They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).