On Voting for Religious Values
Mainstream Baptist printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jan 18, 2006 at 09:14:43 AM EST
Six weeks before the last national election, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke at New Orleans Baptist Seminary and said,

"We have a right and an obligation and a responsibility to go forth and to seek to bring our religious convictions to bear on public policy issues," Land said. "That's not called a violation of the separation of church and state. That's called religious freedom. It's called freedom of speech."

Like other Christian Nationalists and Dominionists, Land speaks as though Christians occupy a privileged position when speaking in the public square.  Constitutionally, people of no faith and people of all faiths -- not just Christians -- have an equal right and and obligation to bring their convictions to bear on public policy issues.  Religious freedom and freedom of speech are rights that all citizens of our society share equally.  These rights exist because the First Amendment created some "sacred ground" where, by force of law, we do not permit others to force their religious convictions on us and where we are not allowed to force our religious convictions on others.  That is what separation of church and state means.

Our first responsibility as citizens of a pluralistic democracy is to assure that the laws governing our society are just, equitable and that they preserve religious liberty for all. Then, by persuasion -- not by force of law -- in an ongoing, open public forum, the people all religions and of no religion are free to promote their competing visions of the common good.

Some evangelical Christians, among them many Mainstream Baptists like myself, still believe that faith should be shared by persuasion - by what the Apostle Paul calls the "foolishness of preaching."  We believe that our community of faith can grow by sharing the gospel in the open forum and respectful dialogue created by the common ground of religious liberty for all.

Southern Baptists and many other evangelicals, however, have given up on persuasion.   They are working to undermine pluralistic democracy.  They expect Christians to exercise dominion over the community by imposing a narrow and rigid subset of religious values on all society by legislation, adjudication and by a very doctrinaire education.  For them, the community of faith grows by mobilizing voters to elect politicians who will force a nation of increasing religious diversity to conform to a single set of religious values.

It doesn't take a genious to forsee that, over time, the religio-political strategy of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals will create a backlash that will discredit their faith and undermine their community.  Time, however, is short for most Southern Baptists.  They think Jesus is coming soon to remove them from the trials and tribulations that they are already bringing on the world.  That's why the Dominionist mentality is truly a threat to our faith, our community, and the world.

You've touched upon a critical point- the difference between evangelical persuasion and dominionist theonomy.

The first permits a dialogue, and the choice of whether or not to join a particular community of faith and voluntarily accept a set of beliefs and rules.

The second dismisses dialogue- turning it into a strict top-down hierarchial imperative, removes the choice of whether or not to join and participate in that faith group (with negative consequences for not participating), and mandates religious belief by force of law and government mandate.

This is something that we must teach to people who dismiss all religious talk as unimportant, people who brush off the Religious Right as a bunch of harmless wingnuts. That is what they count upon.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Jan 18, 2006 at 11:29:49 AM EST

The secular left is understandably tempted to write off all religious talk.  At times they can be as overbearing as the religious right.

People of moderate and progressive faith need to find their voices and start raising them.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Jan 18, 2006 at 12:10:03 PM EST

If I learned anything at all during my sometimes harrowing experience with religious zealots, it is never to ignore or dismiss what they say- especially if it is said in a threatening way.

When someone believes that they have a God-given right to harm another, they will do it, because they have the excuse of scripture- even poorly interpreted scripture.

I found this out first hand, and survived the experience. I will never make that error again.

On the other hand, one has to balance vigilance with rational examination and deep understanding of the motives of such people- otherwise, you will be jumping at shadows... or sermons.

by Lorie Johnson on Wed Jan 18, 2006 at 12:56:39 PM EST

this is one of the reasons why, at Talk to Action we make such a point about seeking to learn about the various factions and theological tendencies in conservative Christianity, and even within the political/social movement we call the religious right.

Some people are violent, some people are not. Some people are very clear about wanting a theocracy, some are cagey about it. Still others would oppose the theocrats if they were given a chance to or challenged to look at the situation differently. Seeking to know, and finding out about these differences is critical to political success in defending democracy in our time.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Jan 18, 2006 at 06:13:03 PM EST

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