Political discourse in America is pretty mean already, and the Religious Right wants to make it worse.
The Family Research Council sponsored a “Watchmen on the Wall” conference for North Carolina clergy, and the harsh rhetoric there tells you how they view the world.
In the first place, when the FRC talks about “the wall,” they aren’t talking about the wall of separation between church and state. Just the opposite, in fact. They are talking about moving America as close as possible to a fundamentalist theocracy where their take on religion holds dominion over everyone.
To the Religious Right crowd, all political differences are a spiritual struggle between good and evil. They are “good,” and the rest of us are, well, you guessed it. Whether the issue is reproductive justice or marriage equality or any number of other public topics, they are on God’s side and everyone else is siding with Satan.
To implement its vision, the FRC wants to organize fundamentalist churches into a disciplined voting bloc and dominate the political process. Hence the gathering of 275 (mostly Baptist) clergy in Charlotte, one of a series of such meetings around the country.
According to the Winston-Salem Journal, FRC President Tony Perkins said, “They have decided that a child is a choice. They have decided that marriage is an issue of personal identity. Where is the righteous indignation in the church?
“The solution to what ails America,” he continued, “isn’t going to be found in Washington, D.C., it’s going to be found in the churches of America and in the men that preach the word of God.”
But Perkins’ recipe for change didn’t stop with spiritual reformation. According to the local newspaper, FRC staffer Kenyn Cureton offered attending clergy a voter impact toolkit they can use to register and “educate” congregants. He said some political issues can alienate churchgoers, but – not to worry – losing those people isn’t as important as spreading the message.
“When you take a bold stand for God Almighty on the pulpit of your church, there will be people in your church who say, ‘Finally, someone willing to take a stand,’ ” he said. “We are up against the mobilized, demonized forces of hell itself. Evil is not coming, it’s here.
“Get your place on the battle line,” Cureton thundered. “Put on the full armor of God!”
The News Journal says the pastors stood and cheered, clapping and raising their hands.
It’s disappointing to see religion misused in this way to divide America and literally demonize fellow Americans. I certainly have no objection to clergy speaking out on issues. And there’s nothing wrong with encouraging parishioners to learn about issues and vote.
But what the FRC miscreants are doing is something entirely different. They want conservative churches to mobilize on behalf of favored candidates, ostracize those who disagree with them and dominate the government.
One speaker was clear about the agenda. The Rev. Jim Garlow, a Newt Gingrich protégé and senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, blasted the 1954 federal law that bars churches and other nonprofits from endorsing candidates, claiming that the Christian community has suffered since its passage.
“A muzzling, a silence came on the pulpits of America,” Garlow argued. He said that because of the law, “this cultural myth, this wrongful definition of the separation of church and state has emerged.”
His allegations, of course, are completely untrue. Churches are not silenced. Pastors are free to address any public topics their conscience demands.
The only thing they can’t do – and the thing that rankles the Religious Right most – is turn their tax-exempt houses of worship into political action committees on behalf of candidates.
I guess the thing that bothers me most about all this is the Religious Right’s use of religion as a weapon against their fellow Americans.
When Cureton dismisses those who disagree with him as “evil” and the “mobilized, demonized forces of hell itself,” he’s going too far. It’s unkind, divisive and, frankly, un-American. Can’t we debate public issues without this kind of shrill harangue?
There’s more than a whiff of Iran-style theocracy here. Like the ayatollahs, these folks claim to be the personal representatives of God and, guess what, God has chosen them to rule everyone else!
The Religious Right is always worried about the imposition of shariah (Islamic law) in America; I’m more worried about Cureton, Perkins and the extreme fundamentalist Christian political movement.
There are a lot more Religious Right operatives in America than there are Muslims. And Muslims here generally support the separation of religion and government.
If only fundamentalist Christians did.