Yesterday, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum was introduced by Dennis Terry, pastor of the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. As part of his introduction the pastor blasted non-Christians and others, essentially inviting them to leave America if they didn’t agree with him. Throughout this election cycle we’ve seen a few of the other candidates introduced or endorsed by those who use inflammatory or derogatory language in regards to those who don’t share their religious beliefs. The use of divisive rhetoric and its acceptance by candidates, while not new to American politics, is not helpful and should be denounced.
America was founded by a group of people who were largely Christian. Our values and ethics have been shaped by those Christian values. In turn, I believe it was a correct understanding and application of these Christian values that caused us to create a form of national government that protects religious thought and worship. Many of our state governments do the same. In Virginia, following victory in the Revolutionary War, Baptists were persecuted legally for not adhering to the tenets of the Anglican Church. Men of character and value, such as James Madison put their reputations on the line to insure that the Baptists would no longer face arrest, incarcerations and persecution for their beliefs. Efforts to protect these newer religious groups contributed to the inclusion of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights.
I would like to make two points that I feel are important to this discussion. First, many of those who vigorously wave the First Amendment at what they see as an encroaching government, are often quick to deny the same right to those who believe differently. For instance, Pastor Terry invites the non-Christians to leave the United States while claiming that they should have the right to pray wherever they may want. What’s good for the goose must not be good for the gander? Second, while the rhetoric of some these figures doesn’t equate to government intervention in the exercise of religion, they attempt to accomplish the same thing through social pressure. Often bigotry is exercised purposefully in an attempt to discredit another viewpoint or person in order to shape the dialogue and its outcome. While it may not be illegal, it doesn’t mean it’s right. If many of these groups were to look back in their history, they would see where they faced similar threats.
With that said, I believe that, short of calling for violence or the loss of equal rights, these groups have every right to say what they think about those of different religious persuasions. The protection of the freedom of conscience must be preserved. People should be allowed to debate their beliefs. Unfortunately, many feel that their faith can only be strengthened and preserved by attacking those of others. They fail to realize that we can disagree on a variety of issues in a way that maintains respect for the individual. I can remain firm in my own convictions and let people know of those convictions without condemning them as social pariahs. In my experience, we tend to be more convincing in our religious dialogue when we focus on shared values and beliefs while pointing to the advantages of the beliefs we don’t share.
Returning to the political side of this issue, I’m truly disappointed that so many of our political candidates will pander for votes to the point that they are willing to allow the use of hate, bigotry, and intolerance to work in their favor. Rick Santorum and the others, who have allowed this to happen, are running for the office of President of the United States. The President is charged to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” When a candidate shows he is willing to sell out to hatred and bigotry, I lose my faith that they will be able to be a President to Americans of all religious persuasions.
“We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.”
- Joseph Smith
- Jarad Van Wagoner