Christians, to the closets!
The other day, Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition announced that the powerful
advocacy group would be launching a $2,000,000 campaign to promote the Religious
Freedom Amendment, a proposal introduced in congress by Rep. Ernest Istook of Illinois.
It's a disarmingly simply, and disingenuous piece of legislation; and unlike most of the
convoluted legalese which you encounter in the Congressional Record, it is brief.
"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of
conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage
or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The
government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity,
initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access
to a benefit on account of religion."
There are all sorts of good reasons to oppose the Religious Freedom Amendment, but
one seems to have eluded the different groups squabbling over school prayer, and
especially Ralph Reed, the guy who's always talking about this country needing to return to its religious roots.
|"There are all sorts of good reasons to oppose the Religious Freedom Amendment, but one seems to have eluded the different groups squabbling over school prayer, and especially Ralph Reed, the guy who's always talking about this country needing to return to its religious roots..."|
The whole purpose of the Religious Freedom Amendment is against god's law.
Yeah, you're reading that right. It's against god's law. And I'll be
specific about the god I'm talking about, so that Judge Roy Moore down in Alabama does not think that this reference is to Buddha, or Krishna, or Allah or some other deity.
The God of the Old and New Testament wouldn't like the Religious Freedom
Amendment, and neither would his anointed son, Jesus. It's right there in the Bible.
Mr. Reed has become a loquacious spokesman for those who insist that religious
expression needs to be taken out of the nation's churches, synagogues and temples, and dragged into the public square. That includes public schools, courthouses, meetings of government bodies and public land in general. Not all religious groups agree with this
proposal, of course, and those of us who profess no belief perceive this as more legalized
rough-stuff from "prayer bullies" who want to transform secular institutions into pulpits.
But someone should go up to Mr. Reed, his boss Pat Robertson, and all of those
religious and political leaders clamoring for public prayer and passage of the Religious
Freedom Amendment, and inform them that if they wish to be true, consistent Christian,
they should head for the nearest closet.
Don't hit that delete button!
This isn't some ad hominem cheap shot. It's well-intentioned advice right from the
"good book" itself.
See, the Bible doesn't say anything about the need for a law like the Religious Freedom
Amendment. The Old Testament especially is filled with some pretty scary stuff, such as
stoning transgressors to death, or bringing havoc and suffering upon sinners in order to
avoid the more wrathful judgment of Jehovah, but the Bible is also very explicit on how,
and when the faithful -- like Ralph Reed and members of the Christian Coalition -- should
pray. They shouldn't be doing it in school classrooms, or graduation ceremonies, or
football games (does god take sides? Is he betting on the Bulls?). Prayer, if it is to obey
the requirements of the good book, should not be taking place at the opening of the U.S.
Congress, or the President's Prayer Breakfast, or in front of city hall buildings and state
capitols during the National Day of Prayer. It should not be taking place when a bunch of
Promise Keepers do a wave for Jesus in a stadium, or when the Pope holds some outdoor
mass in Central Park. Nope.
Prayer belongs in the closet, and with the door shut, please. If you don't believe me, just
grab the nearest Bible, and check out Matthew, 6:5-5. It's right there, in dry ink. Some
believed that it is the incontrovertible, literal, inspired and revealed word of a deity.
"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to
pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets that they may be
seen of men... But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has
shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret..."
It seems to me that from a Christian believer point of view (which Ralph Reed and Rep.
Ernest Istook insist they have), Matthew was a fellow in the know. He was identified as a
customs collector, a job which does leave open the possibility of not always being on the
up-and-up, but his own memoirs as well as the writings of Mark and Luke, claim that he
was inspired to follow Jesus as one of the Twelve Apostles. Even more important, his is
given the status of being the First Gospel.
Matthew lived long before the era of television evangelism, political conventions and
back-room lobbying though, but the early Christian movement was imbued with some of
the enthusiasm and rhetorical fire that you witness in our era at a Promise Keepers rally,
or a Benny Hinnn or Billy Graham salvation infomercial. It was also a bit of a problem.
The "truth" as taught by Jesus Christ was usually relayed through oral tradition or hurried
scribblings, or traveling apostles and missionaries. It would take nearly three centuries
before any standardized creed and doctrine could be sorted out at the First Council of
Nicea in Asia Minor in 325. Emperor Constantine, in his era as perceptive a political
operator as Ralph Reed is today, ordered the Bishops of the church to gather and devise a
test of faith. Not all religious opinions made the first cut, of course. Heretical writings
were disposed of, and sects like Arianism were driven out. But Matthews writings
survived, which suggests that the long-dead customs official-turned-apostle had an inside
track on "truth."
Over the centuries, of course, the institutionalized church established at Nicea has split
over doctrinal points to where the goal of "ecumenism" remains as elusive as a balanced
budget, or a winning year for the Cubs. But just about all of the sects and denominations
which describe themselves as "Christian" include Matthew in their set of theopolitically
So why don't they bother reading his words?
There are plenty of good reasons for not stampeding the Religious Freedom
Amendment through congress and making it the law of the land, overturning the
Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and a considerable body of reasoned
jurisprudence in the process. When Ralph Reed talks about the "hostility" of government
for organized religion, he's really confusing belligerence with neutrality. When Pat
Robertson conjures a dark and menacing vision of a world where "people of faith" aren't
permitted to worship, he ignores the fact that just about every yellow pages directory in
the country is filled with listings under the heading of CHURCHES. There are plenty of
places where the faithful can go in order to pray, sing, chant, genuflect, burn incense and
do whatever else they consider necessary to propitiate the god or gods of their choice. If
they can't find a congregation, they are free to form one of their own; they get a tax break
for doing so, which is more than be said for the undercapitalized dreamer trying to start
his or her own small business.
In fact, there are more churches in this country than there are pizza parlors!
I sincerely doubt that Ralph Reed, Billy Graham and the Pope are going to follow this
advice, or pay much heed to what Matthew had to say nearly 20 centuries ago, even if
they opine in public that the writings are inspired by the very deity they claim to
worship. Prayer in public feels so good and self-righteous, and when closely linked to the
symbols and institutions of government authority, resonates with a kind of "official seal of
approval." That's why so many prayer advocates, when compelled to fess up, admit that
they support a specific kind of prayer to a specific deity. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of
the Mormon Church and a poster-boy for the Christian Coalition did flirt with ecumenism
several years ago in sponsoring a Muslim clergyman to give the opening invocation for
the Senate. But how would he feel if a Hindu guru wanted the same privilege? Or a
minister with the Church of Scientology? What if the lead singer for the Marilyn Manson
rock band wanted to bless the legislative solons? He's reportedly a member of the Church
No, that wouldn't do at all, and deep down Ralph Reed and Mr. Istook know that.
Public prayer is politically sexy, and a winning issue at the ballot box come November.
The advice, or inspired word from Matthew gets subsumed beneath a pile of political
speeches, focus-group studies, and slick campaign proposals. The Bible may say
otherwise, but religious leaders, and their political groupies, are pretty emphatic. The
public square is definitely for prayer and other religious display.
The only items for closets are sex acts and Ellen DeGeneres, and people like her.
And some kook named Matthew.
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