Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.
Civility 'Key to our Political Salvation'
Sojourners president Jim Wallis thinks everyone—particularly Christians—need a more civil political engagement.
"Civility may not be sexy, but it is now key to our political salvation," said Wallis.
Wallis put his call for civility to the test when Fox News host Glenn Beck (once again) compared Wallis to a Nazi. Wallis responded by asking readers to petition the cable news channel to consider dropping Beck "for the sake of truth and civility."
In April, Wallis was one of about one hundred religious leaders to sign a covenant for civility even though they disagree on matters of faith or politics. Sojourners is now framing all of its election coverage as its "Truth and Civility Election Watch."
But not all political disputes take place on the campaign trail or on cable news. Some occur between activists.
Case in point: Buster Wilson, networks general manager for American Family Radio, said that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was promoting Islam.
Land is a member of the Anti-Defamation League's new Interfaith Coalition on Mosques. The coalition states that it believes "the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America. They deserve nothing less than to have a place of worship like everyone else." The coalition does, however, recognize that the building of mosques and other places of worship is not an absolute right; groups must adhere to all laws and zoning ordinances.
In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Land said, "[Baptists] believe that people have the freedom to worship and to express their faith and to have houses of worship in the places where they live."
But Wilson said Land had gone too far. He criticized Land's involvement with the "Jewish Anti Defamation League" program which "has the sole purpose of making the way clear for Muslims to advance their religion in America with the building of mosques without harassment."
Wilson also attacked Land for supporting the building of a specific mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The mosque is constructing a new building, but faces local opposition and their construction site has been the target of vandalism and arson.
"At this present moment, it's Muslims who are victims. We have a case right here in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for instance, where there's been vandalism and arson in an attempt to stop a mosque from being built," Land said. "They've crossed all the 'T's' and dotted all the 'I's'. They've gotten through all of the zoning requests and people have resorted to violence to keep them from having a place of worship where they live. And we believe that's un-American."
Wilson disagreed. "Yes, we too uphold the religious freedoms for all Americans. BUT, we do not JOIN up with an organization to encourage the building of Mosques, Free Thinker's Societies, Mormon Temples, etc, etc, etc. just because they had that RIGHT as Americans … I will fight for their right to worship as they please, as long as their worship doesn't involve blowing me up."
Wilson went on to say that only a small percentage of Muslims are non-violent, and that all terrorists from the last forty years have been Muslims.
Dan Nejfelt of Faith in Public Life said this type of argument is the definition of bigotry. "Collective guilt is behind much of the rising anti-Muslim sentiment in this America. The actions of Muslim group A is cited as a basis for hostility toward Muslims in general," said Nejfelt. "This form of argument is not only fundamentally illogical, it is considered beyond the pale of civil discourse when applied to any other group."
Wilson's comments were posted on the AFA blog at 11:25 a.m. on October 5. At noon, the ERLC tweeted "Land supports Muslims' rights to build mosques in US, but opposes the Ground Zero mosque," including a link to its August 17 article, "Ground Zero mosque too close for comfort, SBC's Land says." In the article, Land is quoted as saying "The right to religious freedom doesn't include the right to have a religious worship place wherever you 'want it.'"
Heaping Burning Coals on Your Neighbor?
Bryan Fischer of the AFA went nearly invisible this week. The controversial blogger and radio host has argued for expelling all Muslim immigrants, stopping the building of all mosques, kicking all Muslims out the military, blaming the holocaust on homosexuality, and criminalizing all homosexual acts. The AFA has already added a disclaimer on his blog posts that his opinions may not reflect those of the AFA or American Family Radio. This week, however, all of Fischer's posts were blacked out, literally. The AFA blog, which features a black background and white font, kept Fischer's posts black, making them appear blank.
Earlier this week, Fischer wrote about how a private fire department did not respond to a burning home that failed to pay the $75 subscription fee. Fischer said the fire department did "the right and Christian thing."
"Critics of the fire department are confused both about right and wrong and about Christianity," said Fischer. "And it is because they have fallen prey to a weakened, feminized version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability."
Faith in Public Life's Nick Sementelli quickly disagreed. "The absurdity of this claim should be self-evident to anyone who's heard of the Bible. But Fischer isn't someone to let Christian truth get in the way of extreme political ideology," said Sementelli.
But the harshest criticism came from within the AFA. Elijah Friedeman said supporters of the fire department may make a logical legal argument, but that it was not "Christlike."
"Some people, including Christians and a blogger on this site, have said the … fire fighters did the right thing, the moral thing, and the Christian thing by letting Cranick's house and possessions go up in flames," said Friedeman. "I don't blame the firefighters for not responding. After all, they were under orders. But I do blame people for calling an action Christlike when it is so obviously the complete opposite of what Jesus taught. Furthermore, I find it utterly wrong when Christians try to defend their idea of what government should be like without actually stopping to think about whether their views line up with what Jesus taught."
The Underside of Cultural Politics
Two recent news items showed the underside of cultural politics. In one story, the Supreme Court considered whether a church organized around hating gays could protest funerals of veterans. In another, a gay student at Rutgers University committed suicide after being outed and harassed.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of family members of a deceased marine whose funeral was protested by the Westboro Baptist Church. The church holds signs saying "God hates fags" and members suggest that service personnel are dying because God is judging America.
Activists were torn between religious liberty and free speech, on one hand, and outrage over the protests and the need to protect privacy.
Chuck Colson of BreakPoint said the Constitution "does protect a family's right to bury their son in peace." But Colson worried that "at a time when religious freedom is indeed under pressure from all sides, Westboro's hurtful behavior will make protecting our religious freedoms all the more difficult."
Richard Land was also torn. "My heart tells me they should be outlawed from doing this; however, my head tells me that anytime we allow the government to restrict religious speech and activity for any reason, we are setting a very dangerous precedent and we are embarking on a steep and slippery slope to dark and dangerous places," Land said in a statement.
A Rutgers student killed himself after video secretly recording him having sex with another man was posted online. News reports raised concern for the links between bullying, harassment, sexuality, and suicide. Activists who strongly oppose gay rights are on the defensive because they see groups as using the suicide for political points.
Colson said, "I fear that the gay lobby may well use this tragedy to try to further its agenda and silence those who oppose them. Remember, Katie Couric blamed Jim Dobson and the religious right for the Shepard murder."
Colson said there were two ways Christians should respond to the suicide. "First, we must absolutely, positively condemn harassment and bullying in all of their ugly forms," said Colson. "Second, we must absolutely, positively defend biblical morality in a way that rejects condemnation—and invites conversation and conversion."
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins said that some activists are exploiting personal tragedies to promote a political agenda. "The intense media coverage of these events has led some people to lay the blame for these tragedies not on the actual bullies, but on Christian churches, conservative politicians, and public policies such as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and Proposition 8," said Perkins.
Perkins said FRC condemns all types of abuse and bullying, but he rejected the claim that FRC's policy advocacy or "society's disapproval of homosexuality" harms gays.
"It's not 'bullying' to tell the truth in love—which is that homosexual conduct is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large," said Perkins. "The most compassionate thing we can do for people struggling with this lifestyle is to debunk the lie that they're born 'gay' and can never change. Instead we should assure them that change is possible for those who seek it."
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