Two columnists in the Washington Post take a look at tomorrow’s “Justice Sunday.”
The American flag was appropriated by the political right wing years ago. Now the Christian right is trying to hijack religion. This time it shouldn’t be allowed to happen without a fight.
The statement by one of the sponsors of tomorrow’s event, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is an example of the Holy War that is being launched by the right. In one of the most outrageous smears to be uttered by a so-called religious leader, Perkins said that “activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups . . . have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.” That is an unmitigated lie that should not be allowed to stand.
Which judges are out to rob Christians of their heritage? That is religious McCarthyism. Perkins should name them, provide evidence of their attempted theft of “our Christian heritage” or retract that statement with an apology. Don’t count on that happening.
Angered by Democratic opposition to some of President Bush’s judicial nominees, Perkins’s group has also put out a flier charging that “the filibuster . . . is being used against people of faith.” To suggest Democrats are out to get “people of faith” is despicable demagoguery that the truly faithful ought to rise up and reject.
But will that occur in American pulpits tomorrow? The Christian right counts on the religiously timid to keep their mouths shut. So why not exploit religion for their own ends? They will if we let them.
They are not now and never will be the final arbiters of Christian beliefs and values. They warrant as much deference as religious leaders as do members of the Ku Klux Klan, who also marched under the cross.
They should be resisted, not pandered to by politicians. Case in point: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The Republican leader is going to appear by videotape at tomorrow’s self-pity party. He shouldn’t. But if he does, Frist should use the occasion to tell the assembled that they are wrong in saying Bush’s nominees are being blocked because they are people of faith. He should say that invoking Christianity as an instrument to advance a political agenda or to vanquish a political opponent is divisive, demagogic and beyond the pale in American politics. And if Frist shows up on TV and passes on the opportunity to place his party on the side of tolerance and goodwill, then his performance will be Exhibit A in the case to be made against his presidential quest.
The Bergen Record in Hackensack, N.J., editorialized that the attempt by the Christian right to dominate all three branches of government “has to frighten anyone who is not a Christian conservative. It should frighten us all.” Baloney. It should make us mad. Fighting mad.
People calling themselves Christians are gathering once again for a crusade against what they consider to be the secular humanist subversion of Christian values. This time the object of their wrath is the judiciary. In the wake of the fanatical and fruitless assaults against the judicial system for letting Terri Schiavo die, the Family Research Council will convene tomorrow what it calls “Justice Sunday,” a live simulcast to pit Christian values against “our out-of-control courts.”
The burgeoning assault on the American judicial system by right-wing Christians is an integral part of their attack on “godless” secular humanism. According to them, secular humanists nurture a culture that promotes abortion; encourages gay marriage; prohibits prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in permissive schools that indoctrinate students with Darwin’s “theory” of evolution; preaches moral relativism; and generally threatens to subvert the Christian foundations of the republic.
What these self-avowed Christians do not acknowledge — and what the American public seems little aware of — is that the war they are waging is actually against other people calling themselves Christians. To simplify: Right-wing and fundamentalist Christians are really at war with left-wing and mainstream Christians. It is a battle over both the meaning and practice of Christianity as well as over the definition and destiny of the republic. Secular humanism is a bogeyman, a smoke screen obscuring the right-wing Christians’ struggle for supremacy.
The assault on the judiciary is especially revealing. The vicious attacks on Judge George Greer, the Florida jurist who presided over the Schiavo case, reveal the bizarre nature of right-wing Christian fantasies. A regular recipient of hate mail and threats against his life that required him to walk to court with an armed marshal, Judge Greer is a lifelong Southern Baptist, a regular in church and a conservative Republican. None of those credentials protected him from the assaults of fellow Christians, including messages saying he would go straight to Hell. What he found “exasperating,” he told a journalist, “is that my faith is based on forgiveness because that’s what God did. . . . When I see people in my faith being extremely judgmental, it’s very disconcerting.”
All Americans, of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion, need to be on the alert to preserve those principles. The burden falls especially heavily on the mainstream Christians who are slowly awakening to the gravity of the challenge facing them. Too long tolerant of their brethren, too much given to forgiveness rather than to confrontation, they need to mount a spirited, nationwide response to what constitutes a dangerous distortion of Christian truths and a frightening threat to the republic they love.
The end of the proverb, as anybody with a cursory knowledge of the Bible — and of theatre — knows, is “shall inherit the wind.”
Update: Apropos of that quote, today we scattered some of the late Jerome Lawrence’s ashes around the tree planted in his memory in the Playwright’s Garden at Independence Community College, home of the William Inge Theatre Festival. Jerry was a co-founder of the festival in 1983 and attended it for many years. “There was much greatness in that man.”