Magazine article The Christian Century

Challenging the Religious Right

Magazine article The Christian Century

Challenging the Religious Right

Article excerpt

Throughout the Reagan, Bush and Clinton presidencies, conservative religious groups have captured the headlines in the religion and politics department. But if a newly formed interfaith coalition has its way, religious discussion of public policy is about to become more diverse. In a recent press conference of the Interfaith Alliance, Joan Brown Campbell, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, remarked, "Our concern is that the radical right ... claim[s] ... that they uniquely speak for the people of faith in this country." Campbell said that the new organization announces that "there is an alternative religious voice."

At the ecumenical group's July 14 press conference, Herbert D. Valentine, a Presbyterian minister and Interfaith's chairman, criticized the religious "radical right" for using "spiritual intimidation" in pursuing its political agenda. "Religious extremism is being used as a weapon to attack politicians, to censor classroom textbooks, to cut back school breakfast programs, to promote discrimination and to mislead voters," Valentine said. "The message of the Radical Right is that there is only one way to think and live to be a good Christian."

Valentine's views of the Religious Right were supported by other press conference participants, which included Jews and Roman Catholics. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg chided Pat Robertson, founder and president of the Christian Coalition for calling Jews "spiritually deaf" and "spiritually blind." He also took issue with the Christian Coalition's director Ralph Reed's statement that his organization "intends to have Christians take their country back one precinct at a time." Hertzberg said, "For those of us who call America home and yet who are not Christian, these words are far from innocuous references to the nation's majority religion." Instead, said Hertzberg, such comments raise disturbing questions about the Religious Right's views of religious freedom.

Hertzberg also quoted from a 1986 interview with Robertson in which the televangelist compared non-Christians to termites who are "destroying institutions that have been built by Christians." Hertzberg said that to "equate human beings who are not like you, and with whom you disagree, with termites to be destroyed is to use language frighteningly similar to that used by the Nazis as they exterminated my brothers and sisters

Frederick James, presiding bishop of the Washington area ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, commented that the' agenda and message of the radical Religious Right "sets people against each other by manipulation and 'put-down.' We have had too much of that," he said. According to Francis Murphy, auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, "the radical right is creating divisiveness and narrowness of view on many complex religious and moral truths, rather than enlightenment and understanding. It is adding to the pervasive sense of despair and cynicism that works against any reaffirmation of community, and against respect for persons of good will and intelligence who may wish to dissent with civility and respect for each other."

Ironically, such statements by Alliance leaders echo those of leading Republicans, the political party with which the Christian Coalition has aligned itself. "I am a conservative Republican but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state," former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater recently said in the Washington Post. "The radical right has nearly ruined our party. Its members do not care enough about the Constitution." Republican Senator Arlan Specter of Pennsylvania has warned that the political divisiveness within the GOP caused by the Religious Right "will cost us many votes by driving mainstream conservatives out of the party."

In its statement of principles the Interfaith Alliance describes itself as "a coalition of concerned religious leaders and other citizens who have joined together to articulate and promote the unifying principles of all faiths - compassion, tolerance and justice. …

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