Archive for May, 2005
Old habits die hard. I am talking here about habits of mind; habits of language; habits of politics. A few weeks ago some of my colleagues and I announced a new project we are calling Talk to Action. Its a web-based effort to talk about the culture and direction of those who are opposed to the theocratic Christian Right.
Since then, we have been posting essays on a temporary group blog site — and getting some good responses. In a few weeks we will unveil a far more interactive site — and take it out for a test drive. And we want you to come along for the ride.
We are learning as we go along and we will value your participation. We are also learning in the open. No one has done this before, so we approach this with a lot of hope a lot of excitement — and a alot of humility.
While we have some good ideas we want to try out, we don’t think we have all of the answers. But we do think that among all of us, we will generate some fresh thinking; some fresh language; and some good ideas. Some of them may be yours. Or something you say may be the spark for fresh thinking we cannot yet imagine. No matter where you are in the country or the world, you will be able to come to Talk to Action to find out about useful resources; to have civil debate; to have thoughtful conversation; to find allies.
Meanwhile, back at our temporary blog, there are new posts by some of the most knowledgeable and insightful writers and thinkers in the field. (Soon to be joined by more!) They are wise, sometimes funny, almost always provocative.
Chip Berlet has a new essay, commenting on a Newsweek column by Anna Quindlen — who “bemoans the fact that America has been ‘hijacked by those who cannot tell the difference between opponents and enemies, between disagreement and heresy, between discussion and destruction.’”
“As a country that aspires to be a constitutional democracy,” Berlet writes, “this is more than just bad news. Democracy requires the type of informed consent that can only be achieved through vibrant and often tumultuous debate. Closed minds slam shut the door of civil discourse and block the path to civil society.”
“At the root of this problem is the wedding of dualistic demonization and moral supremacy. It’s not just the dualism of ‘I’m right and your wrong.’ It raises the stakes to ‘I’m the guardian of the morality and the society that you seek to destroy for evil purposes.’ That’s a box that’s hard to get out of. What sane person would debate the devil incarnate?’”
Berlet concludes: “I tend to see dualistic demonization most frequently used as a tool of the Political Right. When I see it used by the Political Left, I think it needs to be opposed as well.”
Many of us question whether constitutional democracy, in any meaningful sense, will survive in our time. I believe if it is to survive, we need to have a growth spurt of political maturity in the life our still adolescent nation. The nature of that maturity needs to come in the form of increased knowledge and skills in the political arts on the part of those who are not theocratically inclined. One of these arts is political conversation that leads to action.
Are you in?
Talk to Action — Coming Soon!
One of the most polarizing men in America is at it again. But this time one of the victims of his latest smear job is standing up to the bully in an essay on Salon.com.
Valerie Kaur and her dad used to be Rush Limbaugh fans. No more.
“In mid-May,” she writes, “I played an Iraqi prisoner in the opening night of the play Abu Ghraib, an original student production at Harvard University… My father called to wish me luck. Imagine his disappointment when I told him what Limbaugh had said about me in his radio program that day:
“‘Here you have these dunces … at Harvard now doing a playing on the travesties of Abu Ghraib, and you know this is going to get back to the people in Baghdad, the insurgents and this sort of thing. It’s just typical. These people hate the country, folks. I’m telling you: There’s an anti-American bias in the American left.’”
“My dad, who has voted Republican all his life, was shocked. ‘But this is beyond partisan politics!’ he said. ‘Has he seen the play?’”
“No, and Limbaugh still has not seen the show. Neither… has Bill O’Reilly, who lambasted the play on his television program… ”
Abu Ghraib, which has a cast of 15 students, was written and directed by Harvard sophomore Currun Singh. It tells the stories, “of a soldier whose friends were killed in war, of an insurgent filled with hatred for Americans, of the sergeant who turned in the incriminating photographs from Abu Ghraib.”
Kaur, who is studying ethics at the Harvard Divinity School, reports that these are “factual accounts.”
“My character,” she writes, “is based on a real Iraqi prisoner, Huda Alazawi, arrested by American soldiers in December 2003 after she inquired after her missing brother. They detained her at Abu Ghraib overnight, and in the morning they threw his dead body at her feet.”
Thanks to Valerie Kaur for her courage in standing up to Limbaugh and O’Reilly — and to Salon.com for giving her the space to tell her story.
UPDATE: Illinois High School Kids Challenge Rush to Debate.
Nationally syndicated radio demagogue Rush Limbaugh not only picks on college student productions of plays he has not seen, but he picks on high school students he knows nothing about. Kate N. Grossman, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Limbaugh recently claimed “that Evanston Township High School students ‘don’t know anything about World War II’ and ‘they’ve probably never heard the name Adolf Hitler’ because they’re so focused on a multicultural curriculum.”
“The comments prompted a response Friday from ETHS Superintendent Allan Alson, who wrote in a letter to the Review that Limbaugh ‘spoke inaccurately and unconscionably about Evanston Township High School and its students….’”
“Some Evanston kids want to show Limbaugh what they know. They want to debate him on American history.” [More]
This essay had started out as round-up of recent news about the struggle against theocratic trends in the U.S. It still is, but thanks to the approach of Memorial Day, I have rewritten it in light of the sudden realization that the wise words of some vets more than 25 years ago, influenced me in ways that I never fully understood, until now.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I want to recall and thank the men and women of my parents’ generation who fought in World War II; those who never came home, and those who did — especially those who tried to find something out of their experience of the horrors of war to help the society to which they returned to understand the value of what we have. Some of them taught me a lesson that informs my life and my work to this day. I believe that in their way, they were seeking to honor those who did not come home. And I want to join in honoring thier sacrifice.
Like many of my generation, I opposed the war in Vietnam. There were painful divisions in our country over that war that linger on today. But there were some who supported the war — WWII vets, men I hardly knew — who said something to me that has stayed with me all these years. I no longer remember thier names, or maybe I never knew them in the first place, but I will never forget what they said: “I disagree with what you are saying, but I will fight for your right to say it.”
There was no question in my mind that they meant exactly what they said. But it has taken me these years for the full impact to hit me — as it did last night as I started to write and the tears streamed down my face.
This essay is my Memorial Day tribute to them, the sacrifices they made, and the honor and wisdom of their words that helped shape my life. They stood for an idea of America that is America at its best. I hope that I may do justice to them.
Here are three stories about the ongoing fight for people to believe and to speak freely in America.
Rob Boston, writing at The Wall of Separation (the blog at Americans United for Separation of Church and State) reports that the Air Force is scrambling to recover from revelations that the United States Air Force Academy has apparently engendered a domineering evangelical Christian culture on campus, resulting in rampant religious supremacism and toleration of hate speech, among other attacks on the civil and constitutional rights of cadets. The good news is that Air Force seems to be acting decisively and has issued a remarkable statement:
“‘Senior leaders, commanders, and supervisors at every level must be particularly sensitive to the fact that subordinates can consider your public expressions of belief systems coercive. Using your place at the podium as a platform for your personal beliefs can be perceived as misuse of office. Where, when, and how you espouse your beliefs is important. Use your best judgment, and show your Airmen the respect you want to receive.’”
The Air Force also affirms that personnel and their families have the right “to hold to any belief system they choose…. This includes respecting an Airman’s right to align with traditional religious views as well as his/her right to not align with any specific view.”
Here is the part that nails it for me: “We have the honorable privilege of upholding a Constitution that both protects each American’s right to freely exercise their religion and forbids the government’s establishment of religion. Commanders are responsible to create conditions where those tenets flourish simultaneously, limited only by the requirements of good order and discipline and military necessity.”
These are all the right words. But Members of Congress are intent on ensuring that the the Academy lives up to them. Let’s encourage the Air Force and Congress to continue to do the right thing.
But while religious bigotry may get cleaned up at the Air Force Academy, what to do about Cale J. Bradford the state judge in Indiana who has ordered two parents not to discuss their faith with their child?
The Indianapolis Star reports, “An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge’s unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to ‘non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.’ The parents practice Wicca, a contemporary pagan religion that emphasizes a balance in nature and reverence for the earth.” The ACLU is representing the parents in their appeal. Legal scholars interviewed by the Star think getting the order reversed should be “a slam dunk.”
“Even the U.S. military accommodates Wiccans and educates chaplains about their beliefs, said Lawrence W. Snyder, an associate professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University. ‘The federal government has given Wiccans protection under the First Amendment,’ Snyder said. ‘Unless this judge has some very specific information about activities involving the child that are harmful, the law is not on his side.’”
Chuck Currie has the story of how over 800 students, faculty and alumni of Calvin College recently took out a full page ad in the Grand Rapids, Michigan newspaper in response to the planned commencement speech by President George Bush. Their statement read in part:
“By their deeds ye shall know them, says the Bible. Your deeds, Mr. President–neglecting the needy to coddle the rich, desecrating the environment, and misleading the country into war–do not exemplify the faith we live by… Furthermore, we urge you to repudiate the false claims of supporters who say that those who oppose your policies are the enemies of religion.”
Commenter Greg (scroll down past the original post), has the text of another ad — which also appeared in the Grand Rapids Press. This one was signed by 140 Calvin College faculty staff and emeriti, who declared in part: “…we understand that no single political position should be identified with God’s will, and we are conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of others. At the same time we see conflicts between our understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your administration.”
“As Christians we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.”
“As Christians we are called to lift up the hungry and impoverished. We believe your administration has taken actions that favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.”
“As Christians we are called to actions characterized by love, gentleness, and concern for the most vulnerable among us. We believe your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.”
Jesus Politics has more on the courageous Calvin College protestors, as does Bruce Prescott at Talk to Action: “David Crump and the other dissenting professors at Calvin College have given hope and encouragement to a lot of other evangelicals who are tired of being lumped together with the right wing,” Prescott writes. “When so many Christians do little more than give lip service to a faith that risks everything for Christ, thanks for having the courage to put your faith in action.”
On this Memorial Day weekend, let’s resolve to fight for those who are persecuted for having different views, whether they are Jews, Lutherans and atheists at the Air Force Academy or Wiccans in Indianapolis. And let’s thank and honor the evangelical Christians at Calvin College who had the courage to confront, with great civility, a cowardly president who goes to exraordinary lengths to appear in public only with those who agree with him.
I can think of no better way to honor those who fought that we might be free to disagree.
There is a big conversation going on in the United Church of Christ about same sex marriage. The issue will be on the agenda of the liberal Protestant denomination’s biennial conference in Atlanta in July. As might be expected, some are for it, some aren’t, and some want to study the issue. As might also be expected, some people have strong views on the subject and are likely to leave the historic church. Some already have.
The renowned Pastordan, the unofficial pastor of The Daily Kos and other precincts around the blogosphere — and a UCC minister — has published a detailed report on the UCC’s internal debate at BooMan Tribune. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the politics of same sex marriage.
“…if the “pro” resolution passes,” writes Pastordan, “it will cost the UCC in division and lost revenue for the national church…. What can you do?”
“Well, if you’re not a member of a UCC church, not much right now. We’re not a terribly hierarchical denomination; a letter-writing campaign pressuring the higher-ups will probably get you a lot of sympathy and agreement, but it’s up to the body to vote on this. You could toss the national church a few bucks, or write and let them know that you’d think about joining a mega-cool denomination that approved of SSM, but I ain’t telling you to.”
“No, for right now, just keep us in your thoughts and prayers, and get those itchy typing fingers ready for this summer. ‘Cause you know that every right-wing loon and his Senate sockpuppet is going to be denouncing us as Exhibit 1A in the decline and fall of the American Empire… “
One of America’s most militant antiabortion activists plans to launch a primary challenge against a longtime moderate Republican leader of the Florida State Senate. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, and “spokesman” for the parents of Terri Schiavo was publicly asked by two locally prominent Republicans to challenge incumbent Jim King in the GOP primary. The announcement came in a series of press conferences in Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. Terry says he will run if he can raise $15,000 in the next three weeks. But given the high profile announcement, it seems likely he will run no matter what happens.
The Associated Press reports that “King is one of the nine Republicans who helped block a bill in the last legislative session aimed at keeping Schiavo alive…. King, who has served in the Legislature since 1986 and was Senate president in 2003 and 2004, did not return phone calls Thursday for comment. He has said he would run for another four-year term in 2006, his last chance before term limits would block another run.”
Terry who has a knack for news, is a Christian nationalist and a theocrat and one of the most polarizing men in American politics. Jim King epitomizes the moderate, business wing of the Republican Party. He has been a top leader in both the Florida House and Senate. The race will likely be one of the highest visibility races in the nation and throw into sharp relief the difference between the theocratic Christian Right and and mainstream Republicanism. Among other things, King is pro-choice, was a leader in promoting death with dignity legislation in Florida, and is a supporter of public education.
There is much I could write about Randall Terry, (and I did in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy) but as the campaign begins, it is worth noting that in the 1990s, Terry was a national leader in The Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party) and in a 1994 op-ed in The Washington Post, went to far as to denounce Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition as “the mistress of the Republican Party.” Now that Terry is a wannabe Republican office holder, it will be interesting to hear how he explains that one.
“What the Bloggers are Saying,” is the title of a sidebar to the cover story about Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick in this week’s Valley Advocate (also The Springfield Advocate). These papers cover the cities and towns of the Connecticut River valley from Vermont to the Connecticut border.
Staff writer Andrew Varnon spotted a trend that has converged with the Patrick campaign: “In the past year,” he writes, “Massachusetts has developed its own miniblogosphere. It is still rather nascent, but there is a core group of bloggers emerging who are concerned with state politics. And to these new bloggers, Deval Patrick has almost a ‘rock star’ status. All of them are talking about him.”
This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a newspaper has reported on the existence of the informal network of MA political bloggers. We sprouted up independently, but eventually discovered each other. We often discuss and link to interesting posts on each others blogs — and in so doing we have built a considerable statewide readership. This trend will continue as we write about the governor’s race. This will be important in part because, as Deval Patrick learned when he made his recent campaign swing through western Massachusetts, The Berkshire Eagle, the largest paper in the region has a policy of not covering the race until this November. (I wonder if Eagle readers know about that? I wonder if they would think its a good idea?)
I think there are a lot of things the Left can learn from the Right — which has been doing most of the political innovation and best organizing in the U.S. over the last quarter century.
One place the Left can look to for some lessons is The Leadership Institute. Founded by conservative movement activist Morton Blackwell, it has been teaching young conservatives how to be campus activists, journalists, and provocateurs for a generation. Progressives have never bothered to even try to match the Institute — leaving the field of well organized campus activism largely to the Right. Its not that there are not some good organizations of the center and the left that do some training, its just that they are not so focused, funded, and effective.
Anyway, there is an excellent and important article on Salon.com based on reporter Jeff Horowitz’s experience attending a Leadership Institute training. The article is so full of valuable insights, I think it is one of the most important articles anyone will read or write about politics this year.
The Leadership Institute, Horowitz reports, is “a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) charity, drawing the overwhelming majority of its $9.1 million annual budget from tax-deductible donations. Despite its legally required ‘neutrality,’ the institute is one of the best investments the conservative movement has ever made. Its walls are plastered with framed headshots of former students — hundreds of state and local legislators sprinkled with smiling members of the U.S. Congress, and even the perky faces of two recently crowned Miss Americas. Thirty-five years ago, Blackwell dispatched a particularly promising 17-year-old pupil named Karl Rove to run a youth campaign in Illinois; Jeff Gannon, a far less impressive student, attended the Leadership Institute’s Broadcast Journalism School.”
“Over the last 25 years,” Horowitz continues, “more than 40,000 young conservatives have been trained at the institute’s Arlington, Va., headquarters in everything from TV makeup for aspiring right-wing talking heads to prep courses for the State Department’s Foreign Service exam. Classes are taught by volunteers recruited from the ranks of the conservative movement’s most talented organizers, operatives and communicators.”
“The Leadership Institute has succeeded,” Horowitz concludes, “in part, because it’s had little to no competition from the left.” That has started to change. The Center for Progressive Leadership has recently been launched as an answer to The Leadership Institute. The Center’s web site says it is “the first national political training institute dedicated to building the next generation of progressive political leaders. Through intensive training programs for youth, activists, and candidates, CPL provides individuals with the skills and resources needed to become effective political leaders.”
Meanwhile, Horowitz raises many interesting questions about the efficacy of the Left’s political and electoral organizing on many fronts, for example: “Chris Stio, an institute staffer who directed the Bush-Cheney field operations in northeast Michigan, warns his students not to buy into second-term crowing about America’s irrevocable slide into conservatism. ‘Enough people were yelling and screaming about the president that if they’d actually picked up the phone book and started calling, they might have won,’ he says. ‘They went to concerts, they bashed the president, but they didn’t work. If enough people had, maybe we’d have a different president. The election was not inevitable. And too many think it was.’”
There is much to learn from The Leadership Institute — not that other sectors of society should ape their style and their tactics. First, we should understand what their tactics are — such as deliberate provocations intended to upset and throw liberals off balance; rigging student referenda; and so on. Second, we should be planning to create training institutes of our own, although the Center seems to be a good start. But more importantly, we need to develop a culture of learning about politics and citizenship instead of reusing the same old ineffective tactics in the same old ways year after year.
It is long past time to talk about these things. Fortunately there is a diary on The Daily Kos summarizing the article and leading to discussion. When Talk to Action’s phase II goes live in a few weeks, it will be the place for exactly the kinds of focused and thoughtful conversations and debatees we need to have about tactics and strategy, the lessons we can learn from the Right, and what works and does not work in response.
James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family doesn’t like the filibuster deal. He wanted the GOP Senate majority to end the Senate rule that allows members to filibuster presidential judicial nominees that they find to be extreme or unqualified. Dobson wanted to pack the federal Appeals courts with Christian Rightists — and President Bush was all too happy to nominate them. That moderate Republicans were willing to buck Majority Leader, Sen. Bill Frist(R-TN) as well as the president on the so-called “nuclear option,” (ending the filibuster rule) should send a clear signal that the Senate will not destroy all comity and deliberative sense, and use raw majoritarianism to impose its will.
At issue were seven nominees viewed too extreme by the Democrats (and probably some Republicans) who had been threatened with a filibuster. In the deal, the Democrats agreed not to filibuster five, and reserved the right to filibuster the other two, and any future nominees only under “extraordinary circumstances,” the definition of which is left open to interpretation. (Blue Mass Group has the whole memo of understanding among the 14 Senators.)
“This Senate agreement represents a complete bailout and betrayal by a cabal of Republicans and a great victory for united Democrats,” Dobson said. “Only three of President Bush’s nominees will be given the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, and it’s business as usual for all the rest. The rules that blocked conservative nominees remain in effect, and nothing of significance has changed. Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist would never have served on the U. S. Supreme Court if this agreement had been in place during their confirmations. The unconstitutional filibuster survives in the arsenal of Senate liberals.”
“We are grateful to Majority Leader Frist for courageously fighting to defend the vital principle of basic fairness,” Dobson continued. “That principle has now gone down to defeat. We share the disappointment, outrage and sense of abandonment felt by millions of conservative Americans who helped put Republicans in power last November. I am certain that these voters will remember both Democrats and Republicans who betrayed their trust.”
As usual, Dobson engages in demagogic and revisionist versions of history. In fact, Thomas, Scalia and Rehnquist were never threatened with filibusters, and any Senator could have filibustered their nominations if they had chosen to do so. (There are alot of people who wish some Democrats had had the courage to do so.) But Dobson not only lost some of his choices for the federal bench. He may have blown some political capital with his high handedeness. His lobbying campaigns, including ads targeting Senators in their home states, rankled not only liberals but conservatives.
USA Today reports: “James Dobson: Who does he think he is, questioning my conservative credentials?” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said in an interview. Dobson, head of the conservative group Focus on the Family, criticized Lott for his efforts to forge a compromise in the fight over the judges. Lott is still angry. “Some of his language and conduct is quite un-Christian, and I don’t appreciate it,” the senator said.
The Los Angeles Times, detailed the deal and its implications: “For their part, Republicans agreed not to lend their votes to the drive, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), to change the rules of the Senate to prevent future Democratic filibusters… During Bush’s first term, Democrats filibustered 10 of the president’s 52 appellate court nominees, complaining he had chosen conservative ideologues without consulting with the minority party. Bush resubmitted seven of the filibustered nominees, and Democrats said they again planned to block them… As part of the agreement, two of Bush’s nominations – of William Myers to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and of Henry Saad to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Detroit — would remain stalled. The other five filibustered nominees, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown — would proceed to a floor vote. Owen’s vote was expected Tuesday.”
Of course five of the previously too egregious seven candidates will go forward for a vote by the full Senate, where there is a good chance that they will be confirmed. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is targeting Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor for defeat when they come up for a vote on the Senate floor.
A few weeks ago, top leaders of the Christian Right distinguished themselves by claiming that those who oppose some of President Bush’s judicial nominations are opposed to people of faith, even anti-Christian. This rhetorical campaign culminated in a rally for religious bigotry led by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council which was Orwellianly titled “Justice Sunday.”
The insulting claims outraged Christians and members of other faith traditions who opposed some of the president’s extreme judicial nominees — and placed into sharp relief the attitudes and intentions of the Christian Right and its allies in Congress.
At issue of course, was the effort by the GOP majority in the Senate to end the filibuster, a tactic that allows the minority to block votes on nominations and legislation that they consider to be particularly eggregious. The issue comes to a head this week, and all sides are making a final effort to influence Senators to take thier side in the final showdown.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has a good summary report on whats at stake. It concludes that the current fight “… has everything to do with what type of country we’ll leave the next generation. Will it be a multi-faith republic where people of all faiths (and none) live together in peace thanks to the separation of church and state or will it be a quasi-theocracy where the Religious Right has been handed the power by federal courts to meddle in everyone else’s lives? We must make every effort to see that it is the former, not the latter.”
FaithfulAmerica.org — the advocacy arm of the National Council of Churches (NCC) is urging mainstream Christians to speak up and to speak out.
The NCC is urging people to “SEND A MESSAGE to your Senator saying the filibuster is NOT anti-faith and that preserving it is an important way for every voice to be heard. We must never allow social and religious fundamentalists of any faith to silence the voices of those holding different beliefs.”
The Interfaith Alliance is holding various events in Washington, DC over the next few days.
Click here to take action in support of the filibuster.
The key swing votes in the Senate are said to be Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, John Warner of Virginia, Mike Dewine of Ohio, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
For more on mainstream religious responses to the filibuster battle and the nominees at issue, check out this report by Chuck Currie.
How one looks at the strengths and weaknesses of any worthy opponent has everything to do with the strategy one adopts in any struggle. The principle is the same whether the matter at hand is a military battle, a business plan in a competitive marketplace, or even sizing up an opposing little league team. (Strong pitching? Weak defense? Power hitters? Good running game?) Like any movement, the Christian Right has its strengths and weaknesses. Any competent counter-strategy, locally or nationally, has got to have at least a back-of-the-envelope analysis, grounded in facts, and presented in calm, rational language.
One of the key ingredients in the ideology of the Christian Right is the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. And somehow this intention of the Founding Fathers has been thwarted by (pick one) — liberals, judicial tyrants, the ACLU, secular humanists, all of the above.
This idea is tremendously powerful. It asserts that “the Christians,” (however one may define Christians), are the intended rulers of the nation, because that’s what The Founding Fathers, and by extension, by implication, the Constitution sought to accomplish. In some versions, God intended that America be a Christian nation. Its a powerful piece of political and religious mythology that feeds into another powerful myth — that Christians are persecuted in the U.S. The effect is to make people feel that something has been unustly, unrighteously taken from them and that that something must be “restored” or “reclaimed.” Its a powerful narrative and it flows quite naturally from the mouths of D. James Kennedy, David Barton, Roy Moore, Pat Robertson, and many more. There is a large industry of text books, seminars, speech and power point presenters that inform and popularize the movement. Christian nationalism is integral to the political events sponsored by the Christian Coalition and it is a recurrent theme on Christian television and radio.
But for all of the work that has gone into crafting this narrative, and as popular a notion as it is, there is a problem: the facts of history do not support the myth of Christian nationalism. This is one of many aspects of the Christian Right that has been largely ignored and has gone largely unanswered by the rest of society during its march to power.
I have written about this over the years, but since this turned out to be one of the main topics when Dr. D. James Kennedy and I appeared on the NPR interview show Fresh Air recently, arguably the issue is now on the national agenda, or at least pretty close.
To some, the question of whether America was founded as a Christian nation, may seem academic, and perhaps even unimportant in the face of the urgent affairs of state in Washington, DC and elsewhere.
But I think that it is very important and deserves our urgent attention. The reason is that Christian nationalism is a powerful ingredient of the political and religious identity of the theocratic Christian Right. It is a powerful, quasi-religious myth that helps to animate their politics. It helps to prop up their attack on the separation of church and state and the idea that Christians, (only of the correct sort of course), should be our elected and appointed government officials — among other things. What if many members of the voters who support the Christian Right realize that they have been had? That history does not support Christian nationalism? What if the rest of us, who support religious equality and separation of church and state are able to gain the upper hand in the telling of our story as a nation? It is a story that can be told by all of us, in our lives, in our writings, in our communities, in our medida.
There are many flaws in the argument for Christian nationalism, mostly because of lack of evidence. Advocates for Christian nationalism resort to two main tactics. One is to cherry pick quotes from various of the founding fathers (often out of context, sometimes fabricated), that tend to support their view. The other is to cite the Declaration of Independence, which invokes the “Creator.” Much is made of the Declaration for this reason. Given the importance of the Declaration in our history, and the way we revere the document, it is a shrewd choice. But the Declaration does not prove what D. James Kennedy sought to use it to prove — that America was founded as a Christian nation.
The Declaration, written in 1776 was a revolutionary manifesto, a political document used to rally people to rise up in revolt against the king of England. But the Constitution makes no mention of God or of Christianity. In fact, the only mention of religion in the Constitution is to state in article 6 that there will be no religious tests for public office. What this meant was that one’s religious orientation would not be a factor in determining criteria for public officials. By logical extension, it also meant that religion would be irrelevant to one’s status as a citizen. It meant that for the first time in the history of the world, we would have a nation based on religious equality.
The Constitution was written and signed by many of the same men who wrote and signed the Declaration. If they had wanted to include God and Christianity in the nation’s charter, they certainly could have done so. But they didn’t, and for very good reasons. And this is the problem faced by the Christian nationalists. The Constitution and everything about its history and development belies the assertions of the Christian nationalists. They did not invoke God or declare a Christian nation, it starts out simply, “We the People of the United States” — no deities, no higher law. There would only be what “we the people” decided would be our laws and our governing principles, and how they would evolve over time. And thats why the Christian Right invokes the Declaration to anchor their argument. They have nio choice — the Constitution does not suppor thier argument. Their argument is that weak, and they are that desperate. So far, they have pretty much gotten away with it.
The Christian Right of the 18th century opposed ratification of the Constitution when it was sent to the legislature for ratification. Part of the opposition centered on the lack of acknowledgement of God and Christianity in the Constitution. The Christian Right of the 18th century didn’t like the Constitution when it was written — and they don’t like it now. So they pretend.
It is long past time for a more concerted effort to challenge the Christian Right on its misrepresentations of our history. I talked alot about Christian nationalism and what’s wrong with it in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. (I also highly recommend The Godless Constitution, by Isaac Kramnick.) We have to challenge a form of historical revisionism that the late theocratic theologian R.J. Rushdoony called “Christian revisionism.”
We do not need to start from scratch. The battle has been underway for some time. Just today, blogger Bruce Prescott links to a story in the Houston Chronicle that details how mainstream Baptists are taking on Christian theocrat Rick Scarborough. “I think he’s a very dangerous man,” said [David] Currie, also a former pastor and a devout Baptist, in a recent interview. “That whole ‘Christian nation’ movement is attempting to undermine the absolute strength and genius of this country, and that’s the First Amendment…. To make judges a religious issue is ludicrous.”
Let’s step into the fray. Let’s start to see ourselves as part of the story of our nation — and not allow the Christian Right to twist our history in support of their contemporary theocratic agenda.
[Crossposted at Talk to Action]