April 18, 2005
Furious with Frist
Martin E. Marty
Consult the Sightings archive and you will find few columns that display a preoccupation with the Christian right. Many do discuss the evangelical cohort -- fundamentalist, evangelical, Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, conservative Protestant -- because more than one fourth of Americans are adherents thereto. However, our mission, to help frame issues rather than to spew ideology, has us keeping doors open, lines fluid, witnesses on all sides heard, poles depolarized, etc. Predictability is an enemy of good journalism, and we don't want to be about the business of knee jerking. Something has to be really egregious, outrageous, and dangerous to the republic before we venture forth. This week something is.
I was moved to write this column because I received an email this week asking why progressives, liberals, and moderates in religion don't fire back when something offensive gets lobbed from the right, and had to confess, "I don't know." Yes, there is Jim Wallis, an evangelical himself, best-selling as a counter-attacker. Yes, there is the Interfaith Alliance, steadfast and steady. The budget of all such individuals and groups, however, is exceeded by two minutes of fundraising yield on, say, one Pat Robertson TV program. Why not counterattack? While the politically far right minority in the camp mis-dubbed "evangelical" is mobilizable because their churches and movements make a virtual creed out of certain political commitments, "mainline" Catholics, Protestants, and Jews include people from a spectrum of political commitments, and don't want to march lockstep.
So to the point: The outrageous, egregious, and dangerous affront was an attack by Senator Bill Frist, the Family Research Council, advocates of "Justice Sunday," and some evangelical and Southern Baptist notables who know better and usually do better. Tom DeLay is in this camp, having pioneered this kind of blunderbuss attack on fellow believers with whom they disagree politically. They have assaulted and are mobilizing slanderers against millions upon tens of millions of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews (and fellow evangelicals?) who politically support efforts not to "go nuclear" and hence kill the filibuster potential in the Senate. In Frist's language, "Democrats" is the term that covers all these enemies of people of faith, but many Republicans also firmly oppose his efforts and name calling. An advertisement running in newspapers poses their political viewpoint alone as being on the side of the Bible.
Fortunately, Senator McCain and other Republicans and numbers of responsible and civil evangelicals are speaking up, trying to cool the fury and quench the fires. They worry about the increasing triumphalist and theocratic expressions from the Fristian and DeLayan right. They point out that one can disagree with many court decisions, even on some basic issues, without relegating all political opponents to the "against-faith" camp.
Most of the international religion stories these days have to do with theocratic suppressors of freedom, would-be monopolizers of religious expressions. We've been spared such holy wars here. But Frist and company, in the name of their interpretation of American freedom, sound more like jihadists than winsome believers. It would be healing to see them on their knees apologizing to the larger public of believers.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.