Freedom Writer - October 1994
Why we are concernedabout the Religious Right
By Rev. David Heckenlively
Every citizen of this country has the constitutionally guaranteed
right to free speech and to support ideas and movements of their choice.
So why have we become so concerned by the political activity of those
who are politically and theologically conservative? Summed up, we
are concerned about their intolerance to the ideas (and rights) of
all those who disagree with them. Below are some of the reasons why
we are concerned.
They have taken the term Christian and appropriated it as their own.
They have made the term into a political code word, meaning someone
or something that agrees completely with their political point of
view. The term was never theirs to take. They ignore the fact that
there are tens of millions of Christians (even using their definition
of the term) who disagree with some or all of their political views.
The founders of this country went to great lengths to take religion
out of politics and politics out of religion, because they had personally
seen the results of hundreds of years of war in Europe with Christians
killing Christians in the name of Christ. The worldwide Church of
Jesus Christ is very diverse and no one person or group has the right
or privilege to speak for all Christians, but that doesn't stop the
Religious Right from trying.
They are absolutists. They know with absolute certainty that they
are right on every issue. This largely comes from their belief in
Biblical inerrancy (meaning that the Bible was written, word for word,
directly by God). In practice, it means “the Bible, as we choose to
interpret it.” Therefore they assume that they are literally speaking
for God on every issue.
When you read their literature, you can see they view the political
struggle as a kind of holy war for the salvation of mankind. They
often characterize their opponents in religious terms, e.g. heretics,
Satan, anti-Christ. They feel justified in being totally intolerant
of the views of others because if they are right, then all others
have to be wrong.
The whole democratic process is based on open and honest dialogue
about the issues, trading ideas and solutions, and arriving at a final
solution that is a compromise — a meeting in the middle that most
people can support. But they can't compromise, because that would
mean making deals with Satan. That means their negotiating terms are
always the same: unconditional surrender.
Absolutism short-circuits the political process and is the basic reason
why there has been so much religious persecution and so many religious
wars in history. The Bible points out that there are dangers to crying,
“Thus saith the Lord” (cf. Matthew 7:21-23).
They have a double standard: they love to play hardball when they
are dishing it out but cry foul if anyone criticizes them. They are
mean-spirited in their tactics with political opponents. For example,
Jerry Falwell has been openly spreading vicious lies about President
Clinton being responsible for murdering Vince Foster and also being
the kingpin of a murder ring in Arkansas that has killed dozens of
people. When Clinton objects to this and many, many other gratuitous
insults, Cal Thomas accuses him of McCarthyism. Their tactics go way
beyond fair comment; they are character assassination.
Their favorite theme right now is that all of their critics are guilty
of Christian bashing and religious intolerance. It's ironic they should
accuse others of being intolerant when it is their own greatest fault.
Jesus proclaimed a gospel of acceptance and love, willing to hate
the sin, but to love the sinner. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell,
Pat Robertson, and the others. I've heard many things, but love, forgiveness,
and tolerance are not among them. Most of what I've heard has been
name calling, finger pointing, and abuse heaped on those they consider
their enemies. So much for “love your enemy.”
So how should we respond to all of the above? I have some suggestions.
Be sure we take the high road. While inflammatory rhetoric is their
stock in trade, if any of their opponents reply in kind, they love
it because it proves they are being persecuted for their religious
beliefs. So for practical reasons (if not because we are ethical,
moral, religious people), we need to take the high road and deal with
the issues only. We must speak out aggressively when we believe they
are misrepresenting or distorting the facts, but we must scrupulously
avoid any and all personal attacks. The public is getting fed up with
politics and politicians wallowing in the gutter and we will do our
cause more good by not joining them down there.
Remember that they are us. The basic beliefs of people in the Religious
Right are the same things we believe in: honesty, integrity, hard
work, and a moral lifestyle. We all have relative and friends who
are conservative and who are either members of the Religious Right
or are sympathetic to their ideas. So they are us. These people are
morally upright and want to do the right thing. The problem is that
they are the new Pharisees. Their idea of the road to the salvation
of humanity (both literally and figuratively) is to enact rigid laws
and then rigidly enforce them. Therefore they are always long on punishment
and short on prevention. While hardcore advocates are not going to
budge on their hardcore issues, that doesn't mean that our chief operating
tactic shouldn't be sweet reason. They honestly want to do what is
right and Christian, so we need to give them other options that meet
We need to watch what they do and say. Since they are convinced that
they are in a holy war and that the ends justify the means, they are
not adverse to stealth maneuvers. Like suddenly controlling a majority
of the nation's school boards and many of the state Republican Party
organizations. In this case, for us knowledge really is power.
David Heckenlively is a minister at Faith United Methodist Church
in Racine, Wisconsin.
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