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Point/Counterpoint: “Taking a Wary Look at the Religious Right”

(Commentary by Rev. Dr. Ron Sparks and Kirk T. Wood)

Taking a Wary Look at the Religious Right
By Rev. Dr. Ron Sparks, Community Church of California City, UCC

Have you been listening to the rhetoric of our country’s current crop of political candidates?  I have – with great interest, even greater concern and a growing conviction that the constitutional mandate “there will be no religious litmus test for political office in these United States”1 is utterly foreign to them and that the basic concepts of freedom of religion AND freedom from religion elude them.  The  members of the so-called Religious Right, having proclaimed themselves the moral, ethical and spiritual guardians of our “Great Society,”  would have us believe that the rest of us – persons or groups not agreeing 100% with their dogma – are unchristian, amoral, unethical and anti-religious, not to mention unpatriotic and un-American.  Employing exaggeration and innuendo (with a generous smattering of fear-driven political polemics and convoluted conspiracy theories), they target those outside their fold as “liberal” or “socialist.”  Neo-McCarthyism?  Sure sounds like it to me!   And, I deduce, a darn good way to establish and expand control.

As moral, ethical and spiritual as they proclaim themselves to be, I believe they have lost sight of Christ’s true call, turning it, in fact, inside out and upside down, with their “our way or the highway” thinking and the pat formulas and easy answers they espouse.  By confining faith to neat – and restrictive – little boxes, I believe they misinterpret and miss out on the expansiveness of Christ’s call to “love God first and your neighbor as yourself.”   In so doing, I believe they sin, by making themselves God (determiner of moral, ethical and spiritual truth) and by neither loving nor accepting others, even those “within the fold” who dare to differ with them.  A little insight into what Christ’s great commands call us to seems badly needed.

Think about it.  How can people be immoral, unethical or unspiritual when surrendering as much of themselves as they can to as much of God as they can understand?  How does daring to interpret scripture differently or voting one’s conscience (and not as prescribed by another) render one devoid of values?

Gary Potter, leader of Catholics for Christian Political Action, hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “If the Religious Right takes control, then pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil and the state won’t allow anyone the right to practice evil.”   And, I ask, what if “good and evil” were both defined and imposed by those in power?

I believe that if you are committed to God, if you view sacred writings as having unique and ultimate value, if you can reason and if your religious tradition has provided you with moral, ethical and spiritual foundations, you should take a wary look at the Religious Right, whose views I hold to be as dangerous as those of Jim Jones.2  I urge you examine your moral, ethical and spiritual belief systems and your commitment to God and to challenge concepts you find dogmatic, self-righteous, vindictive and/or, inflexible.  Resist attacks on our moral, ethical, religious and political freedom.  Resist those who would make religion and faith matters of legalism and ritual rather than of commitment and conscience.  Resist as rigorously as did Jesus in his time.

1 Article VI, paragraph 3 (paraphrased)
2 Founder and leader of the Peoples Temple in Guyana, where he and 908 of his followers committed mass suicide

Counterpoint to “Taking A Wary Look at the Religious Right”
By Kirk T. Wood, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

Don’t panic!  It’s not the end of the world, no matter how strenuously the loudmouths on the Religious Right claim to be eagerly awaiting the judgment day.  While I agree with Rev. Dr. Sparks’ assessment that the rhetoric of this new crop of Religious Right candidates and pundits appears to be out of control, I remain confident that sane heads will prevail.  Given the chance to establish an American theocracy and begin burning books and locking up dissenters, I’m sure a few of the more radical candidates of the Religious Right would do so – but I seriously doubt they will get that chance.

Let’s look at my Republican brother-in-law, for example (Michael Moore pointed out, “every family has at least one right-wing reactionary,”(1)  and for our sister’s sake we’ve got to get along with him).  His motto is: I must take care of me and mine – everyone else can fend for themselves.  A very logical, and dare I say, Darwinian, sort of attitude toward survival which he shares with conservatives of many varieties.  My Republican brother-in-law also holds very strong anti-institutionalized religion views, which make him just as, if not more angry and suspicious of these new Religious Right candidates usurping the conservative mantle in U.S. politics today, than we Progressive Christians.  Though he voted for George W. Bush, twice, and McCain once, he also voted NO on California’s Proposition 8 in the 2008 election.  He did so for two reasons: 1) a lot of loudmouths from the Religious Right told him he ought to vote yes, and he had to contradict them on principle, and 2) he has a very good friend who happens to be gay.

It is my belief that when one is confronted with a person representative of The Other, whatever that Other may be, and must work side by side with the Other person on a daily basis, as part of one’s requirement for survival, the other person gradually becomes part of one’s community – or me and mine.  In this case, my brother-in-law and his friend were both auto mechanics working at the same car dealership.  Each quickly discovered that the other was highly skilled in his profession, and therefore afforded one another respect on a professional level.  Professional respect led to friendship, and friendship led to mutual sharing and understanding of the other’s personal relationships, fears and goals in life. When Prop. 8 roared its ugly head, and his friend said, “Hey Bro, you got my back on this, right?” my brother-in-law said, “Absolutely.”  This example may not seem apropos considering that Prop. 8 passed with voter approval, and has been in legal limbo ever since, but I see it as an inter-personal triumph.  And I see the fact that “No on 8” legal teams have kept this issue in the court system, as proof that the checks and balances established in the U.S. government are still at work.

I have a few good friends who are card carrying members of Fundamentalist, or Evangelical Churches.  They literally have one of those pledge cards stating, “I,(name), accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my personal Savior, on this date, at this time, in the Year of our Lord (date),” like you can find taped to the inside cover of Bibles distributed by the Gideon Society.  They believe that all the events and stories which make up the Bible are historically accurate, and are also the divinely inspired [or directly dictated, depending (usually) on their Pastor’s interpretation] Word of God.  And they know with all their heart and soul, that their faith community’s theological interpretation, and black and white world view, is the only correct view.  I for one, envy, and am in awe of, their certainty and their very sincere and unwavering commitment to their faith.  I also think their theology is wrong-headed, their world view is narrow-minded, and their closely held doctrines are far too often full of thinly veiled bigotry, and other entrenched human fears and prejudice.  And yet, knowing these Others, engaging in mutual sharing and understanding of their lives and mine, I can see the measurable transformative power of their faith, characterized by their personal relationship with Jesus.  Some have been rescued from addiction to drugs or alcohol through their faith, some have been able to break the cycle of entering abusive relationships and found stable, loving partners, through their faith.  These miraculous changes wrought in their lives are proof that God is alive and at work in all our lives, in ways none of us can fully understand or appreciate – no matter our particular theological interpretation.

Let the loudmouths of the Religious Right and the Religious Left, and the completely anti-religious, rage on.  We can do more than answer a call to arms to one side of the political conflict or another.  We can forge inter-personal relationships with people who represent The Other in our lives.  And in so doing, we can meet Jesus in unexpected places, and join with him to, “love God first and your neighbor as yourself.”

We will shout from the mountain tops, “We are Progressive Christians, Praise God!”  Then we will get down in the trenches of life and work side by side with those we most fear and misunderstand.  In this manner we will save our communities, we will save our country, we will save our planet, and we will save our souls.  In this manner we will show that I and mine, you and yours, and 5 billion others, most of whom we will never be in personal contact with, are all sisters and brothers(-in-law).  In this manner, we shall overcome.

(1)Moore, Michael. Dude, Where’s My Country? 2003.


One Response to “Point/Counterpoint: “Taking a Wary Look at the Religious Right””
  1. Ron Sparks says:

    Excellent counterpoint article Kirk. It is my sincere desire that your vision and not mine will become the living reality for our future.

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