Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Jimmy Carter Takes on the Christian Right

"Blurring the line between church and state threatens civil liberties and privacy, says former President Jimmy Carter. That's the case he makes in his new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, which draws on Carter's experiences as a president and a Christian."

The above is a blurb promoting an interview on Fresh Air, with Terry Gross, on the web site of National Public Radio.

In the book he writes:
Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact.

Fortunately, this degree of rigidity and confrontation has not yet taken hold among the general public.

Carter is right. But it will take some effort to learn how to engage in constructive conversation, and to learn with whom it is worth having such conversations and with whom it is not. I am not going to try to lay out a plan on this short essay. But rather to stake out the ground that it is not only possible, but necessary.

That's why is wrong to write off, as some do, all conservative Christians as beyond all conversation and all reason. I find the routine derisive language used by many against those with whom they disagree on matters of religion to be incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality to which progressives have historically been all about. It borders on religious bigotry -- and all too often falls well over the line.

Jimmy Carter is a conservative Democrat. He is also an evangelical Christian. His faith is an important to his identity. He is also hero of civil and human rights. He supports the separation of church and state. And he opposes the fundamentalist enforcers who have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention. He left the SBC out of principle. He opposes, among other things, their insistence on the subordination of women, and the banning of women from positions of leadership in the denomination.

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates, has been a leader among progressives in articulating why the demonization of evangelicals and religious conservatives is politically ineffective at best; stupidly counterproductive at worst.
"Most Christian evangelicals," he wrote at Talk to Action recently, "are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac."

Crossposted at Political Cortex. Check it out for a sense of what the new Scoop-based Talk to Action will be like. The sites will look different, but function very similarly.


Blogger Sunfell said...

That was an excellent interview. He goes into detail about how his creedless sect was taken over by the fundementalists in 2000, and made to follow a very strict and binding creed.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Syrinx said...

I'm proud of Jimmy for saying anything against the radical right, in an environment where anyone who disagrees with the controlling factions are vilified and abused and cut out of the loop. I'm personally so sick of the toxic partisanship and evangelical fervor I've begun to actively work against organized religion in all forms of government. They claim religious bigotry, and they have it in me. I'll not rest easy until we all outgrow this childish need for a big Daddy in the sky to make it all better. Time for us to take our destiny in our hands and make logical decisions based on the greatest good for the largest number of people possible. Politicians need to start realizing that there are millions of us who don't go to church and aren't believers in anything but science and humanity, and we'll grow larger not smaller as science expands and organized religion declines as it has in Europe and many other countries. I long for the day when all mankind says "God who?" Maybe then we can get on with finally treating each other with respect, compassion and understanding. Check out my blog on the subject at


3:09 PM  
Blogger Dee Reded said...

Great comment Syrinx. I agree 100 per cent. I'm not a USA citizen. I'm Canadian, but the same troublesome issues exist up here. It manifests itself mostly in the form of legislation that belies anti-Muslim sentiment and a deep hostility towards anything non-white and non-Christian.

I will defintely check out you blog.

4:02 PM  
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