Monday, October 09, 2006

Remarks by Barry Lynn in Columbus

I bring you greetings from the forces of darkness. (Laughter.) See, everybody can agree with that.!

Of course people and institutions of faith have made tremendous contributions to American history and American progress from the beginning of our history. But as with any other institution, some of these contributions have been good, as in the abolition of slavery. Some have been bad, as in claiming that the verse from the book of Genesis "and God separated the light from the darkness" justified schools segregated by race. And some very silly interventions, such as opposing daylight savings time because it was an interference with "God's time". (Laughter) It's true!

But at their best, these institutions have done two very important things. One, they have regularly alerted the public to vitally important moral and ethical issues that we need to deal with as a nation. And second, like the prophets in the Christian Old Testament, they have called upon leaders to work for justice, from Columbus, Ohio to Darfur.

Those interventions, though, do not come without risk, because some actions can dilute the very independence of our religious institutions or the integrity of our political system. A secular political process undergirded by our secular constitution. Throughout today's conversation, I hope we can separate and keep in mind the idea that the political process in America really has two parts. One is a debate over values and issues. And the second part of the political process is direct partisan battling over who ought to be elected to one public office or another. And in general, it is that electoral phase that gets people into more contentious problems.

Ralph Reed was once one of the most powerful citizens in America, as he comandeered the organization of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Once when he was asked why he was not more critical of the administration of the first George Bush, he responded that when you are sitting in the dining car of a train, you don't blow up the railroad. In other words, retaining power and privilege might be used to justify silence in the midst of a world where you would otherwise have criticized or condemned even the most powerful leaders.

And I think that there's already evidence that some of the religious groups receiving federal funding through this administration's so-called faith-based initiatives have softened or terminated their criticism of *this* Bush White House. When Cesaer pays for your microphone, the tendency is for you to praise, not condemn Cesaer. This is to say that when religious organizations today get too cozy with kings or presidents, or the resources of those kings and presidents, there's an accomodationist tendency. When a church receives something from the government, it is more likely to give something back in return--one thing is the endorsement of that candidate who helps them. This can turn a church into a cog in a party's political machine, ending the very independence of the church and the integrity of secular governance.

A peculiar thing happened in North Carolina about a year and a half ago. The pastor of the East Waynesville Baptist Church had told his parishioners before the 2004 election to vote for George Bush. But then he later learned that 7 congregants--you might call them "backsliders" had actually voted for John Kerry. And the pastor orchestrated their ousting from the church. When that story became national news, the congregation decided to hold a meeting to reconsider the situation. The congregation voted to invite back the 7 evictees, and then on the same night, voted to fire the pastor.

See, that's just a more extreme example of what happens to the body of the church when political partisanship becomes a touchstone of righteousness. I happen to believe that Martin Luther King had it right. He spoke in churches, temples, and synogogues almost every day of his adult life about justice, but never once did he endorse a candidate from the pulpit, because he thought other institutions were those appropriate for that task.

And that's the division our tax code has today. It is a good one. I'd like to see it retained for the sake of the church *and* the integrity of the state.

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