Posted by William Nunnelley on 2012-10-12

By Drew Laing

Religion has been a cornerstone of American politics through history, Christian ethicist Mark Douglas said during a program on "Faith and Politics: Do We Need Religion in the Public Square?" at Samford University Oct. 11.

"Religions and religious faith have always been involved in American politics as both guiding forces and subject matter and they show no sign of disappearing in the foreseeable future," said Douglas, who teaches ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga.

The event was sponsored by Samford's Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership.

Not only has religion been a "guiding force" in American politics, but according to Douglas, there's been an innate divisive nature between politics and religion since the inception of America.

"Political secularism has been in the U.S. formally, since the Bill of Rights. So politically, there's division [between religion and politics]," Douglas said.

"We started with political secularism, moved our way to cultural secularism and then that manifested itself into more of a civil religion," he added.

Douglas also stressed the idea of faithful engagement in the public square of private issues such as religion, but religious people are struggling to find their voice and to convey their message eloquently.

"There are religious voices all over the place in public, but they are having trouble being coherent," Douglas said.

Douglas spent time in 2006 writing an editorial for an Atlanta weekly The Sunday Paper. While engaging in public discourse about topics ranging from religion, politics, tragedies and contemporary issues, Douglas said he discovered that religious language tends to be tolerated.

"I learned people are more interested in 'attractive' than clear arguments," Douglas said.

Douglas teaches courses in science and religion and directs the master of arts in theological studies program at Columbia.  He is author of the book, Believing Aloud: Reflections on Being Religious in the Public Square and founding editor of @this point: Theological reflections on church and culture, the seminary's online journal.