Why Aren’t All Baptist Leaders This Moderate?

Have you ever seen an elephant lie?

J. Brent Walker is Executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee. He is a regular contributor to the On Faith column at Newsweek/Washingon Post. This week’s article is titled “Secularism, Properly Understood, Is Not a Bad Word”. He writes:

Has this year’s presidential campaign become too religious?

I would say yes. All we hear about is Romney’s Mormonism and Obama’s alleged Muslimness. I do think that somebody vowing to never vote for Mitt Romney because he is Mormon is a bigot. (And somebody vowing to not vote for Obama because of an internet rumor that he’s a closet Muslim would be downright retarded.)

What counts is how the candidate acts on that faith. Vowing to never vote for Mike Huckabee is not bigotry; it’s self preservation. Huckabee has vowed to amend the Constitution to make it look more like the Bible. It’s what the candidate says that counts.

Talking about Romney’s religion to the huge extent that the media has is ridiculous. The media might be reflecting the public’s prejudice. If that’s the case, it just illustrates how bigoted many Christians are, and it belies the claim of the Christians about how tolerant their religion is.

Talking about Huckabee’s religion is mostly Huckabee’s own fault. The guy is a dangerous theocrat. Fortunately, he is not smart enough to keep his mouth shut about it until after he’s elected.

Walker’s article continues:

Separation of church and state does not require a segregation of religion from politics nor does it strip the public square of talk about religion.

That is true, but I wish we were a more advanced civilization (like Europe), where the constant need to inject God into politics is considered unseemly.

The institutional and functional separation between church and state does not prevent public officials’ religious convictions from playing a part in the formation of public policy (as long as the law has a primary purpose and effect that does not advance religion).

That’s a fair statement. You can’t separate the person from his religion in many cases. You can be opposed to capital punishment, for example, for all sorts of philosophical and legal reasons, or you can be opposed for religious reasons. It’s just that when it is time to make a decision about this as a lawmaker, the decision should be based on the philosophical and legal arguments.

That’s what is so bad about George Bush. He made his decision to ban stem cell research solely on his warped religious views. There are a (very) few legal and philosophical arguments against stem cell research, but Bush didn’t make the decision based on them. He prayed. This self-identified “decider” asked God to decide for him.

Nor does it mean that candidates for office cannot discuss their religious beliefs and other values and, specifically, how these would inform the candidates’ leadership style and policy positions.

This is actually something I would want to know, because I don’t want us to elect another Bush.

One of the reasons candidates are eager to talk about their religion is that 85-90 percent of the electorate claims to be religious themselves. Broad religious claims, if used as a generic substitute for descriptive policies, can both harm religion and political debate.

We’ve seen that to some extent in this current campaign.

[A]theists and agnostics should enjoy full rights of American citizenship and are as moral, if not more so, than many people of faith.

Some theists get it!

Their patriotism and dedication to democracy belie the myth that Gov. Romney peddled in his speech on his Mormonism that freedom can thrive only when supported by faith.

And some theists don’t.

The First Amendment’s religion clauses — no establishment and free exercise — require the government to be neutral toward religion, not taking sides in matters of faith, but leaving it to voluntary, individual decisions and private religious associations. Many of the candidates for president, including candidates of deep personal faith, believe in this vision for our body politic and understand it is part of the mainstream of our constitutional scheme.

But at least one candidate (hmmmm… I wonder who that would be?) doesn’t.

Secularism, properly understood, is not a bad word. Our government should not be hostile to religion, but it must remain religiously neutral.

Question for all the Baptists out there: Why do you keep elevating the extremists among you (Falwell, Robertson, et al) when you have rational moderates like J. Brent Walker among your ranks?

15 Responses to “Why Aren’t All Baptist Leaders This Moderate?”

  1. ParrotLover77 Says:

    Your last question is a grand one. I have Baptist relatives. I have never, ever, met one this moderate. Where did this guy come from?!?! He’s one of the awesomest most sane Christian columnists I’ve read in like forever!

  2. RayCeeYa Says:

    I do think that somebody vowing to never vote for Mitt Romney because he is Mormon is a bigot.

    I won’t vote for Romney because he’s a Republican. I think that’s much more important than the fact that he’s a Mormon. However, if he were a Democrat I probably wouldn’t vote for him because of his religious beliefs so I guess I’m a bigot anyway.

  3. speedzzter Says:

    WHAT IS BIGOTRY AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO FAITH?
    “Bigot, n. [F., Bigot, hypocrite (in OF. A name once given to the Normans in France.).] One obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own church, party, belief or opinion.”

    Certainly, an advocate can be so irrationally wedded to an opinion to the point of being unable to consider any evidence or reasoning to the contrary. When such opinions are held without any reasonable, objective justification, then a proper charge of bigotry will often lie. But to immediately reach for the sword of “bigotry” at the first hint of disagreement over matters of thought purposefully chills the exchange of ideas and the pursuit of truth. It inhibits the search for common ground by poisoning future discourse.

    Of course, matters of faith have objective and subjective components. And as the skeptics accurately point out, no matter how historical, scholarly and reasoned one’s faith in supernatural systems becomes, faith inherently involves at some level . . . well . . . FAITH — a BELIEF in something. Obviously, to suggest that all “belief” is bigotry grossly devalues both concepts without justification.
    Thus, the true tests of bigotry are:

    (1) whether the basis, reasonability and intellectual viability of the belief is outweighed by generally-accepted facts or universally-held values;
    (2) whether the conduct flowing from the belief lacks objective value for others or for one’s own self-regulation;
    (3) whether the conduct flowing from the belief degrades social composition;
    (4) whether the the conduct flowing from the belief places others in a false light or at a disadvantage unreasonably related to the task, privileges or immunities at hand.

    IS RELIGION “FAIR GAME” IN POLITICS?

    Romney and the secularists have grossly distorted the “no religious test” provision of the Constitution. The “no religious test” provision of Article VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution clearly does not prohibit individual voters evaluating a candidate’s intellect, personal moral values and even religious beliefs in the private calculus on whom to vote for. Nor does it prevent any candidate from responding in candor and honesty as to questions on matters of faith. It simply prohibits the government from establishing a formal “religious test.

    Given, however, the poor state of civics education in this country and the constant anti-debate paeans to a lazy, empty-headed, politically-correct “tolerance,” Romney’s message undoubtedly resonates with many in the electorate.

    To the extent that a candidate’s religion and personal piety (e.g. “applied religion”) provide windows into the intellect, public and personal values, motivations, philosophy, opinions and beliefs of a candidate, they are clearly relevant in the private calculus on whom to vote for.

    Although the law does have a didactic (“teaching”) function –which is a timeless, fundamental principle wholly lost on generations of social libertarians– the secularists and “toleration fascists” derive the wrong lessons from the Constitution. Freedom of conscience is firmly enshrined in the FREE EXERCISE CLAUSE of the First Amendment. Read properly in its historic context, this fundamental liberty contemplates a robust, public discussion and consideration of “faith-based” questions, even in political campaigns. That such discussions apparently offend some self-appointed elites is of no matter.

    The view of some is that religion can have a token presence in the public square so long as it is marginalized to the background. While slightly better than the politicially-correct “fascism” of those who demand total privatization of religious expression and strict separation under some squishy, intellectually lazy concept of “tolerance,” it forces persons of genuine, sincerely-held faith to enter the public discourse as second-class citizens–disarmed of much that they hold materially critical in life. The great moral policy movements of American history would have been hamstrung in such a hostile environment.

    Candidates must always remain free to be themselves in their quest to persuade the electorate. And voters must always retain the liberty to exercise the civic responsibility of selecting candidates on criteria consistent with their personal values. Consistent adherence to these fundamental principles of liberty inherently implicate the consideration of religious values, opinions and beliefs. Far from the rigid, formal, sectarian, government-directed “religious test” banned in the Constitution, this free market of ideas is at the heart of what the Constitution protects.

    Thus, it is a manifest disservice to our civil discourse and our individual liberty to suggest that all legitimate, factual discussions of theology, even in the context of a political campaign, are “bigotry.”

    The secularists and the “toleration fascists” are right insofar as they point out that building an electoral coalition requires attracting voters from many different (and conflicting) faiths (including a few voters who reject all faiths). Thus, the successful candidate will focus on common ground RELEVANT TO WHAT GOVERNMENT DOES (i.e. specific policies based on moral values). Thus candidates are better served by comparing and contrasting what each of them would do as president, rather than battling over their respective theological motivations. And certainly Governor Huckabee has gone out of his way to avoid the odd specifics of the Mormon cult.

    The whining protests of Romney and the Romney-ites on this issue demonstrate both panic and intellectual softness. Neither are attractive in a president.
    Romney is no Reagan.

    Romney’s over-blown “religion” speech last month was calculated to evade and mislead. Romney’s non-answers and buzz-word double-speak communicate more loudly than his carefully-crafted, focus-grouped, photo-op “religion” speech ever could.

    Romney is seeking to have it both ways.

    He wants to talk just enough “Jesus talk” to lure some of the voters who sincerely believe that what’s in a candidate’s “heart” profoundly affects governance, but he doesn’t want to answer any of the questions that logically flow from this same topic. He also wants to pander to his fellow LDS cohorts by claiming to be “proud” of his particular religion, yet he shrinks from any meaningful discussion of its essential tenets.

  4. Jr. Says:

    If Fuckabee gets elected, god forbid, I’m moving to Canada. It’s illegal to arbitrarily stone sinners there.

    And bravo, speedzzter! That was well-said.

  5. Ruprect Says:

    You’d be more than welcome Jr. Religion is only ever an issue during elections here when the candidates make it so, and when they do it is almost always followed by a sharp drop in the polls. That is not to say that there are no “values voters” north of the border, it just seems that it is not as big a deal here. Canadians generally look to policy as a gauge of whom to vote for. Our current Prime Minister is a born again christian. In the 2 years he and his party have been in power no initiatives have come down the pipe that could in any way be linked solely to that. (There was a half-hearted anti-gay marriage vote right away just to placate the fundies. It was defeated, of course) Granted he does not have a majority in parliament but I suspect that even if he did he would not be able to take us down the Huckabee Theocracy road without that road being blocked by tons of super-pissed people (wielding hockey sticks, natch) coming to storm Parliament Hill.

    Come to Canada, folks. The land where the words “liberal” and “intellectual” and “progressive” are not used as putdowns. Plus the beer is GREAT!

    Ruprect

  6. Ron Britton Says:

    Speedzzter:

    You’ve given us a lot to chew on. I think you have accurately characterized Mitt Romney.

    One thing you wrote confuses me. I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying and how it relates to this discussion:

    The view of some is that religion can have a token presence in the public square so long as it is marginalized to the background. While slightly better than the politically-correct “fascism” of those who demand total privatization of religious expression and strict separation under some squishy, intellectually lazy concept of “tolerance,” it forces persons of genuine, sincerely-held faith to enter the public discourse as second-class citizens–disarmed of much that they hold materially critical in life.

    I’m also unclear on this paragraph:

    Thus, it is a manifest disservice to our civil discourse and our individual liberty to suggest that all legitimate, factual discussions of theology, even in the context of a political campaign, are “bigotry.”

    I don’t really want to respond until I understand what you really meant by these. To clarify the bigotry statement I made in my article, I am saying that if the sole criterion somebody uses to exclude a candidate is his religion, then that is bigotry.

  7. Ron Britton Says:

    RayCeeYa:

    Are you saying that a candidate’s Mormonism is sufficient to deny him your vote? That seems extreme. Yes, the Mormons believe some crazy stuff, but it actually isn’t half as crazy as what the young-Earth creationists believe (Adam & Eve riding on dinosaurs, etc.). I also don’t see how those beliefs in and of themselves disqualify a candidate. It does raise some serious questions. A candidate who thinks the Earth is only 6000 years old is probably not going to approach scientific matters properly. Considering how important issues such as education and global warming are, I would want to know that candidates positions there. That’s the key.

    Remember that Jimmy Carter was a crazy Baptist, but he never let that intrude on important policies (that’s why the fundies turned on him). The fact that he wasn’t a very good president was caused by other issues, not his religion.

  8. RayCeeYa Says:

    Are you saying that a candidate’s Mormonism is sufficient to deny him your vote?

    Yes I am.

    That seems extreme.

    Yes it probably is, but I really don’t want to go too far into this because it means debating someone else’s religion. But in short I don’t like the way Mormons in general treat women, minorities and children. I can’t accept anyone who is willing to turn a blind eye toward the way their faith has traditionally mistreated and encouraged the mistreatment of people.

    Yes, the Mormons believe some crazy stuff, but it actually isn’t half as crazy as what the young-Earth creationists believe (Adam & Eve riding on dinosaurs, etc.).

    No argument here. Young earthers may not be the most misguided people on earth but they are probably in the top three. Right after suicide bombers and and Mormons who still practice polygamy. But only barely so because the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide back in ’97.

    Look I already admitted I was biased. My issue with Mormons is my own. I’ve seen how they work, how they infiltrate a community and how they work together to exclude the rest of us. What makes you think Romney would be any different from the rest? If he was ever elected how many cabinet positions would go to fellow Mormons?

  9. Beefcake.NL Says:

    That is true, but I wish we were a more advanced civilization (like Europe), where the constant need to inject God into politics is considered unseemly.

    Wow, you give some of us Europeans way too much credit, though thanks for the compliment! I come from the Netherlands, which has been one of the more liberal and secular countries in Europe, until now that is…

    You see, the Netherlands has always been extremely tolerant of everything, and as a result, we are now suffering of the consequences. The muslims who have settled here over the last thirty years, are now demanding that we build more mosques for them, as well as more muslim schools, which are both usually funded by Saudi-Arabia, and thus quite fundamentalist in nature. Our government has not stood up to this, and instead made even more concessions to the muslims, which makes one wonder who’s ruling who.

    Also, our government pretends to be secular, but since Balkenende IV, a coalition of CDA (Christian democratic appeal), CU (Christian Union) and PVDA (Labour party) is installed as our cabinet, we have seen the rise of Christian fundamentalism, something which has not happened since the 50’s, almost 60 years ago. Especially the CU is constantly trying to forbid things like violent games, drugs, prostitution, or everything else that is not compatible with the bible.

    The things that are happening here, are also happening (or already have happened) under your government, so basically we’re both in the same boat here. However, it’s also happening in the rest of Europe. In England, the situation is even worse. France, the most secular country in all of Europe, is suffering under the demands of her minorities, while the secular republic of Turkey recently lifted the ban on the headscarf, under a conservative Islamic party. Germany too, suffers from the demands of both extremist muslims, and fundamentalist christians.

    If your president opens his mouth, even if it’s just because he has to yawn, it’s immediately published in every major newspaper in Europe, but the situations that I described above, usually aren’t mentioned in your newspapers. However, we too are facing the same troubles you are facing, unfortunately.

    I have read the rest of your entry as well of course, which was very interesting as well, though a lot of things you describe in your entry all sound very foreign to me. Luckily for us we don’t have to deal with mormons, as 600.000 fundamentalist christians are already causing enough trouble as it is for us. It would sure be nice for all of us if all those christians were as moderate as J. Brent Walker, but once they are in power, they usually change for the worst, which is exactly what happened to us, and what probably will happen to you (again), if another republican becomes president…

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment, and sorry if I made any grammar mistakes, English isn’t my mother tongue after all!

    Beefcake.NL

  10. Ron Britton Says:

    Beefcake:

    I am aware of the Muslim problem facing Europe. You guys need to figure out what to do about that. It shows the dangers of unbridled faux-liberalism. These are the “politically correct” types who won’t allow anything that they decide is offensive to be said or done.

    There’s nothing wrong with immigrants (as long as you have room for them), but they have to integrate into your society. You can’t allow them to come in and change your values. That’s what’s happening with the Muslims in Europe. Maybe your Christian fundamentalist problem is a reaction to that.

  11. Beefcake.NL Says:

    Ron:

    What you are saying is absolutely true. Of course not all immigrants are bad, but it’s always the rotten apples that make up most of the troubles we’re facing. It is this kind of people who are giving Muslims all over the world a bad name, and only because they so vehemently believe in what they preach, that they are willing to use violence or aggressive tactics, to accomplish their goals.

    I am aware of the Muslim problem facing Europe. You guys need to figure out what to do about that. It shows the dangers of unbridled faux-liberalism. These are the “politically correct” types who won’t allow anything that they decide is offensive to be said or done.

    You’re right about the politically correct types. Perhaps you are also aware of a certain Geert Wilders. Though he is not at all very representative for the dutch people in general (He hates the quran, and his leadership methods are dubious at best), he is by far one of the few in the cabinet who isn’t politically correct. The politically correct types have dominated the Dutch government for a long time, perhaps as far back as the post-Hitler years. It is very hard for a right wing party, or a left wing party for that matter, to talk about Muslims or immigration without being viewed as a populist, or a fascist party, so we will have to change people’s mindsets about that first. Of course, this will probably become a slow and tedious process, because the people are just as divided, or perhaps even more so, than the government itself.

    Maybe your Christian fundamentalist problem is a reaction to that.

    You know, I never looked at it that way, though they are also always talking about bringing back “morality and modesty” in the Netherlands, which is something you will probably be very familiar with in the US. In the eyes of these christians, the Dutch community is a godless and immoral society, which should be brought back to the Christian values of old, so I think it’s a bit of both. However, it still is a very unpleasant development, as more than half of the country is either atheist, or agnostic. (quite a difference in comparison to the US, eh?)

    However, Christian fundamentalism is also a very large problem in your country, while the Muslim community there is very small, so the reasons for Christian fundamentalism in your country must be very different. Of course, there is a far larger Christian community in the US, but besides that, is there another reason for this?

    BTW, I have been reading a bit on your website, especially about that insanely large family, the Dugalls or something like that, which was good for a laugh or two. It’s all very interesting, so I’ll go back to reading now, and maybe I’ll find some answers for myself.

  12. Parrotlover77 Says:

    This European perspective on fundementalism is fascinating. Thanks for the contribution, Beefcake.NL. I’m starting to notice a trend now between the Christians and Muslims. Not that they haven’t been warring for like… forever, but it seems more wide-spread than I thought it was. I was not aware of the degree of Muslim fundamentalist immigration and Christian Fundamentalism reaction in Europe.

    It’s damn sad.

    I’m actually somewhat optimistic (unlike some here on this blog) about the future of American politics. The neocon influence on the Republican party seems to be self-destructing. You wouldn’t know it on the surface yet necessarily, but NONE of the neocons like John McCain. Even if he wins (which would still be terrible for the country and the world), it will be VERY different from a Bush-style presidency. If he loses, the Republican party will be in serious trouble of becoming irrelevant for a while. After which, a take-over from a “new republican” movement (probably libertarian under the branding of being a ‘return to Reagan’ whether or not it is) or maybe we’ll see a new party emerge (not likely). My prediction… But you never know. The fundies always seem to find a way. Maybe they’ll inflitrate the Democratic party *shiver*.

    Well, I certainly hope the European countries facing fundamentalism gets it under control BEFORE getting their own George W. Bush and their own version of the AWFUL SCOTUS justices we got during the Bush regime. Us liberals in the USA tend to always fantasize about the USA progressing to Eureopean liberalism and secularism. I don’t want you guys to lose what you have and start wishing you had it like us! 😉

  13. Beefcake.NL Says:

    @Parrotlover77

    Thanks, you’re absolutely welcome.

    I’m actually somewhat optimistic (unlike some here on this blog) about the future of American politics. The neocon influence on the Republican party seems to be self-destructing.

    I think you’re right about that. The Netherlands used to be under the absolute control of the Calvinist branch of protestantism, and things were going quite like now in the United States. You had the Calvinists and Lutheran protestants, and the Catholics, who fiercely hated each other, and tended to form communities of their own, which were called “zuilen” (Pillars). Each of these pillars belonged to a different group of peoples, who only befriended people from the same pillar, while all others were excluded.

    After a while however, people began to tire of this, and started doing things their own way. This led to a process called “ontzuiling” or depillarisation, which effectively brought the stranglehold of religion over the government to an end, and under several progressive politicians, the Netherlands was transformed to a secular and very liberal state, in which drugs was partially legalised, as well as same sex marriages and abortion.

    In regards to what you have said, this may very well become a reality for you as well, as there is already much more debate between atheists and theists, which was probably unthinkable 20 years ago, especially because every atheist back then was immediately suspected of being a “pinko”, and a degenerate. I can only hope that this will one day happen to the US as well, because your country is still the most powerful in the world, and whatever happens there, also has its consequences here, and indeed, much of the world. Until that time you will have to keep your chins up, but as long as blogs like these are still not outlawed, you should be fine 🙂

  14. Paradox Says:

    I’m not only a moderate baptist, but a liberal one. And the answer is, lots of baptists, especially southern baptists, are very conservative. I’m nost sure why. I certainly agree that the government must be totally netural to religion in order to be fair to everyone. That means such steps as removing religious references from our courts, coins, and pledges.

  15. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Thank you, Paradox, for using the brain that your God gave you. A liberal Baptist… that’s so awesome. Next thing you know, pigs really will be flying…