Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reining in the Christian right

The Christian right, which is neither Christian or right, is becoming a danger to our American democracy. It’s one thing to adhere to a set of beliefs; it’s quite another to try to impose those beliefs on others. This is especially so when the beliefs are extremist in nature, held by a small minority of the public, and, quite frankly, wrong.

Can you get any more wrong than claiming that the Hurricane Katrina disaster was the wrath of a God angry about New Orleans’ noted debauchery? That’s what Repent America says, claiming that it was no coincidence that Katrina hit just days before New Orleans’ annual Southern Decadence gay pride celebration.

“Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city,” stated Repent America director Michael Marcavage. “From 'Girls Gone Wild' to Southern Decadence, New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge.”

Equally deplorable was the rejoicing by Rev. Bill Shanks, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans, who was ecstatic that Katrina shut down the area’s abortion clinics – thus, to his way of thinking, becoming a disaster that actually saved lives.

“New Orleans now is abortion free,” Shanks said. “New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again.”

This just goes to show how similar fundamentalists are across all religions, as Islamic extremists are also praising Katrina as Allah’s revenge on evil Western society. And just as Islamic fundamentalists are a danger to our American way of life, so are these Christian fundamentalists.

This country was founded on individual liberty, freedom of speech, and religious tolerance, and any movement that seeks to suppress any or all of these tenents is a potential danger to the republic. Today’s Christian right, those activist fundamentalists represented by James Dobson and his ilk, want to remake the country in their own image. These are not harmless kooks; these are extremists who are well-organized and well on their way to achieving their goals.

Let us take, as another example, the Christian Exodus movement, as highlighted in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. This is a movement of politically active Christian extremists who want to establish a government based upon a specific set of fundamentalist Christian principles. If these activists have their way, they will live in a county where abortion is illegal, homosexuality is outlawed, school prayer is mandatory, and all manner of so-called immoral behavior is banned. They want to live in a Christian nation of their own very specific design, one where non-Christian beliefs and behavior are simply not tolerated.

Those in the Christian Exodus movement are starting small. Realizing they might not be able to take over the entire United States in a day, they’re instead concentrating on taking control of local governments across the country. They’re putting their people on city councils and school boards, in local sheriff’s offices and planning boards, just about anywhere they can get a foothold. They plan to pass what they deem as godly legislation, openly defying Supreme Court rulings on the separation of church and state. As one of the group said:

“We’re going to force a constitutional crisis. If necessary, we will secede from the union.”

Now, I ask you, is this the voice of a true American? Do loyal citizens openly defy established law, with the goal of overthrowing the national government or seceding from the union?

I think not. This kind of thinking is every bit as dangerous as what we face from Islamic terrorists. Just like the Islamic terrorists, these Christian extremists want to topple the United States of America. If they have their way, you and I and anyone else who thinks differently from them will be either detained or banished. Their ideal world doesn’t allow for opposing views.

What can we do to stop these Christian fanatics? Our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech allows them to say what they want to say, think what they want to think, and believe what they want to believe. We are forced to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of us. Outlawing their particular beliefs would make us no better than them.

We do not, however, have to fund their anti-American activities. Religious organizations today enjoy tax-exempt status from the Federal government; in essence, since we don’t tax them on their income, we are helping to pay for these Christian extremist organizations. This can – and should – change.

What I recommend is simple. Any religious organization that engages in political activities should have their tax-exempt status revoked. Whether we’re talking Repent America, Christian Exodus, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, or Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, as soon as politics and religion merge, the religion loses its government support and starts paying taxes. I can assure you, with many of these organizations, that could be a killing blow. (And a great boon to Federal tax coffers.)

We have to tolerate even the most extreme among us. We don’t have to financially support them. No loyal American would knowingly write a check to Al Queda; we must stop our similar funding of these anti-American Christian extremists.

But that’s just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

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