A More Excellent Way

Changing the law isn't enough.

I was recently reminded of the old adage that only your best friends tell you when your breath smells.

Shortly after President Bush announced Samuel Alito's nomination, a senior U.S. senator sympathetic to Christian causes called me. "I know this will sound strange," he began, "but could you get some of your conservative religious friends to downplay their support for Judge Alito?" Their opposition to Harriet Miers, he explained, had actually aided her political prospects. But the day Alito was announced, a pro-life leader boasted, "We are now on the fast track to derailing Roe v. Wade." This kind of talk could kill Alito's chances, the senator warned.

We're seen as doing more harm than good when backing judicial nominees, which tells us that media-driven stereotypes about the Religious Right have stuck. How often have you heard the press talk about the Religious Right wanting to "impose" its views on Americans, even comparing it to the Taliban? It's an outrageous charge, because no private group in a democracy can "impose" views. We Christians simply contend for our position in the open market.

Whether the stereotypes are fair or not, though, it's time to take some of the criticism to heart. I shudder every time I hear triumphalistic statements by Christian leaders, because they feed such fears—and understandably so, when a Christian leader predicts God's wrath on the people of Dover, Pennsylvania, for rejecting alternatives to evolution in their school curriculum. If we are honest, we must admit that we often act as if we're powerful because we have—or say we have—big constituencies. For example, after President Bush's 2004 reelection, Christian leaders argued they deserved payback for delivering the votes ...

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