For about fifteen years or so, the phrase “people of faith” has been common in American political discourse. I am sure we will hear it this year as the various candidates in the U.S. presidential race talk about the “people of faith” who support them. We might see groups such as “People of Faith for (Name the Candidate)” working to get their preferred candidate elected.
Two assumptions behind the phrase “people of faith” concern me. First, it implies that there is a group we could call “people of no faith.” If we must note specifically that there are “people of faith” in our culture, it follows that there are “people of no faith.” Otherwise, the qualifier “of faith” would be unnecessary. The political action group could be named “People for (Name the Candidate)” because everyone in the group would have faith.
Yet to make a distinction between “people of faith” and “people of no faith” is rather pointless. After all, there is no such thing as a person of no faith. All human beings place their ultimate trust—their faith—in something, whether a deity, an earthly leader, or even their own abilities.
As concerning as it is to imply that some people have no faith, I am more troubled by the second thing this phrase assumes. We see that the people to which the phrase refers have faith, but it does not say what kind of faith they have. Is it Christian faith? Muslim faith? Jewish faith? Buddhist faith? Ostensibly, the phrase designates religious people, but it does not tell us what the religion of these people happens to be. It is generic, intended to cover any and all who claim it.
That is intentional, as the goal is to get a significant number of devout people to set aside their dogma and unite for a common cause. Religious distinctives are papered over because they are seen as less important than what really binds people of faith together—the mere fact that they believe.
Certainly, it is not wrong to work to protect life side by side with someone who is not a Christian. To the extent that I and a Muslim agree that abortion is wrong, for example, I can work with him to end legalized abortion on demand. But there is a way to do this without making the content of faith generic and indifferent. Indeed, we must not make the content of faith indifferent, for that insults people whose beliefs about God are fundamentally incompatible with ours. What right do I have to say to the Muslim, “We really believe the same things about God,” when he says that we do not?
More importantly, Jesus tells us that the content of faith matters. All people have faith in something, but we are not saved simply by having faith. We are saved only if we have the correct object of faith. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). If we are not people of faith in Jesus, we will be lost for all eternity.
Choosing the object of faith cannot be reduced to personal preference, such as picking red clam chowder over white clam chowder or a blue car over a green one. It is a matter of saving truth. The wrong object of faith will save no one.