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Dear Christian Right:
Supporters of President Obama cheer as they wait for the president to appear on stage during the Obama Election Night watch party on Nov. 6, 2012 in Chicago.
In the aftermath of this Tuesday’s election, which CBN’s David Brody described as a “COLOSSAL DISASTER” –you might not be hankering for advice from a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, Jewish atheist. Nor might you be in the market for counsel from a person whose aim is to rejuvenate America’s woozy and staggering tradition of secularism.
Well, if it’s any consolation, my research indicates that you were the ones who concussed secularism in the first place! Why have the courts moved away from John F. Kennedy’s vision of an America “where separation of church and state is absolute?” How is it that even the IRS is afraid to mess with you when you annually break the law on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday?” By what authority could President Bush and then President Obama mandate federal “faith-based” offices of dubious constitutional sanction? Why do politicians talk so much about God on the campaign trail?
We owe those developments, in large part, to you guys! After Roe v. Wade conservative Christians reemerged in national politics—traditionalist Catholics first, and then evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants under the leadership of Rev. Jerry Falwell. And once you all got back in the scrum it was game on for you and game over for us. You brought secularism and its preferred judicial policy of separationism down to its knees. You changed the discourse. You changed the political culture.
I’d reach out and give you a bloodied boxer’s embrace. But at present my vision is blurry and I get headaches contemplating all you’ve done to our country. Then again, maybe we can commiserate: while secular America is currently enjoying a rare moment of triumph, you’re the ones about whom the obituaries are being written.
I, for one, would never count you out. Your demise was predicted at the end of the 1980s with the unraveling of the Moral Majority. It was forecast again by some of your own leaders as the 1990s wound down. You’ll be back, I’m sure. But if you want your movement to persevere please consider this friendly advice:
Make up Your Minds: Might I suggest that you folks select your preferred 2016 presidential candidate no later than, let’s say, 2014? For reasons that are not entirely clear, social conservatives have entered the last two presidential elections lined up behind, well, no one.
Why you waited nearly 11 months to take notice of Mike Huckabee in 2007 is anybody’s guess—did you really think Fred Thompson was your redeemer? As a result you got Arizona Sen. John McCain—whom you did not like (and who did not like you ).
Perhaps in response to the dearth of social conservative candidates in 2008, you loaded up the 2012 slate with what we could all agree was “an embarrassment of riches.” Yet while you were oohing and aahing over Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, an establishment type named Mitt Romney–how do you say “meh” in evangelical dialect?–grabbed your party’s nomination.
Conservative leader Richard Viguerie has referred to Mitt Romney’s loss as “ the death rattle of the establishment Republican Party.” “Far from signaling rejection of tea party or grass-roots conservatives,” Viguerie continued, “the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party.” Fair enough. But the battle will be lost if your leadership can’t figure out who it supports until Super Tuesday. Anoint one chosen candidate and lay hands on him/her as soon as possible.
Less Santorum, More Bush: Which leads me to fret that, as of today, Rick Santorum or someone like him, is your man. I would urge you think that one through, lest the GOP get McGovernized in 2016.
Americans, by nature, are a serene and ecumenical lot. They don’t mind learning a little about a candidate’s faith. But–note this–they hate learning a little (or a lot) about how divisive a candidate’s faith can be.
I concede that the hardworking, brawling Santorum showed you a lot in the primaries. But at every turn he seemed hellbent on showing voters that he was—just as his critics alleged—“ultra.” Ultra- opposed to reproductive freedoms, he lamented that an abortion performed on a raped woman victimized her twice. Ultra-sure of his faith, he mocked president Obama’s “phony theology.” Ultra-dismayed by secularism, he said separation of church and state made him want to throw up.
Ownership of a large collection of sweater vests is not a license to anathematize half the country! The Christian Right will never expand beyond its own base unless it abandons the ultra- stuff. Say what you will about George W. Bush, he rarely, if ever, used his faith to pillory other types of Americans. Compassionate conservatism will get you a lot further than sanctimonious smackdowns.
Purge Hatefulness from Your Hearts: Many in this country view the Christian Right–I don’t think I am telling you anything you don’t know–as haters. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the current president of Focus on the Family, the candid Jim Daly. In an interview with Krista Tippett, Daly expresses his dismay and even contrition as he ponders what other citizens think of evangelical Christians (spoiler alert: those citizens aren’t singing your praises).
If you want more evidence just roll a tape of the election’s first gathering of GOP hopefuls, held by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2011. The proceedings opened up with one of your own mocking “weird and kinky” lifestyles. As the evening progressed Ralph Reed was alluding to “replacing the government by force.”
Those of us was who are not “in Christ,” you might be surprised to learn, often find things about Christ that we admire. Jesus’ teachings about love, peace, mercy, non-violence (those aren’t his only teachings, obviously, but you get my point) seem like what being a Christian is all about. So how do we go from Sermon on the Mount to the relentless vitriol spewed at gays, liberals, Muslims, feminists, Mormons, artists, or America itself in the aftermath of any natural disaster?
I’ve given you an earful and surely overstayed my welcome. But let me leave you with a final thought. I know the slogan “we get our rights from God not government” was your mantra in 2012. But how does that all square with Romans 13:1-3, among other passages (e.g., 1 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:1) which stresses a Christian’s peaceful acquiescence to the powers that be?
What Scripture enjoins you to be so obsessed with politics? Where was it again that Paul talked about ruling “the culture”? What ever happened to turning the other cheek and am I wrong to assume, with John Locke, that toleration is a Christian virtue?
Secularism, as you may know, was born of Christian political philosophy. Martin Luther was one of its architects. He held that too much mixing between the government of the prince and true Christians did irrevocable damage to the souls of the latter. Perhaps, that is something for you to consider as we all groan together in the coming difficult months.
Jacques Berlinerblau is an associate professor and director of theProgram for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.” Follow him on Twitter at @berlinerblau.
More On Faith and 2012:
Mason: ‘Mormon Moment’ RIP
Elizabeth Tenety: God after 2012: How did election change religion and politics landscape?
David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?
Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers
Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?
Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won
Berlinerblau: An open letter to conservatives