Sunday, August 7, 2011


Here’s a disturbing image: On Saturday, the governor of the second largest state in America stood on a stage with a group of ministers at an event sponsored by the American Family Association. If you are not familiar with this group, just know it is a Miss.-based organization that claims the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion only applies to Christians. The AFA is currently sponsoring a boycott of Home Depot, a company it has deemed too gay friendly. The group also opposes abortion and routinely releases rhetoric that makes it a borderline hate group. It is with this group that Texas Governor Rick Perry stood in solidarity at an event called “The Response” on Saturday.

The rally at which Perry spoke is one of the most high profile examples of what is becoming known as the “Teavangelical” movement. The inevitable collision of the religious right and neo-conservative politics is now a full-fledged movement. That it excludes so many segments of the population does not seem to bother potential presidential candidates like Rick Perry and candidate Michele Bachmann, and that should hotly bother the rest of us on so many levels. Chief among them is the American tradition separating church and state, a principle that dates back to the beginning of our nation. Here, for example is what President Thomas Jefferson said in 1808: “Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

Conversely, Rick Perry (left) has now aligned himself with a group that is unashamed of its commitment to white, ultra-conservative Christians, and to its belief that God alone should be guiding the political process. Nobody mentions free will. Nobody mentions civil rights. Nobody ever utters the word “democracy.” It has become clear that in Rick Perry’s world, if you are gay, Muslim, black, Jewish, a believer in freedom of choice or an atheist, you don’t really have a place in modern America.

In an increasingly crowded list of Republican presidential candidates, Perry is not alone in his assertion that the solution to our nation’s woes is a return to God. On the same day Perry stood alongside the AFA, former Minnesota Governor and current presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said this to a gathering in Iowa: “…we need to be a nation that turns toward God, not away from God.” Pawlenty also paraphrased the Old Testament: “If my people, who are called by name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I’ll hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land.” Pawlenty even has a website called, where the lead video is only about his Christian faith. In it, he says, “My faith is very important to me; it influences everything I do.” Watch:

Pawlenty and others who are blurring the line between religion and politics often refer to the founding fathers and emphasize their stated faith in God. No one disputes that they were men of faith. In fact, many of us respect that. But the founding fathers never made a move to emphasize one faith or one belief as that which should guide the American government. In 1823, James Madison wrote, “The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both.” The point is that just as Mrs. Pawlenty harkens to the founding fathers to support her narrow belief system, others can point to the founding fathers to support opposing views. Let’s instead rely on our collective intelligence and our ability to make strong decisions based on our intellect. Wouldn’t that put us all on more even ground? Wouldn’t that really reaffirm our belief in the democracy?

Saturday was a big day in conservative circles. In addition to Perry’s questionable decision to stand firm with the AFA, and Pawlenty’s teavangelistic rant in Iowa, Michele Bachman (right) found herself endorsed by 100 pastors and Christian leaders. Of course, each of them was careful to note that they were personally endorsing the tea party queen bee, and not endorsing her on behalf of their church. That’s because they don’t want to lose their tax-exempt status, which hangs in the balance whenever their church dives too deeply into the political arena. Since 1954, the IRS has prohibited churches from endorsing political candidates.

So what drives this burgeoning religiosity across the nation? Is it some sort of spiritual awakening? And if it is, what sort of spirituality would accommodate such exclusivity? Or is it possible the increasingly assertive religious right is due to the prolonged economic distress in the U.S.? Perry and others are making statements that seem to imply our economic and political future are in the hands of God. I, for one am not ready to concede that much of my free will, are you? When voting day comes, I’ll most respect the candidate who presents the clearest platform for progress – economic, social and political –and who respects everyone’s right to worship or not worship. I’m Jewish. In the Teavangelical’s version of America, there really isn’t a space for me, and my only reaction to that is that I’m not having it.

I don’t think Americans in majority are having it either. History shows we Americans rarely vote en masse for extremism of any kind. The teavangelical view of America is a closed set. The movement is discriminatory. That’s not who we are. If you want to know what I have faith in, it is the collective reasonableness of the American people not to allow us to be beamed back to the 1950s.

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