16 October 2011

The right side of the religious right

It's only right that Cal Thomas, a former Moral Majority leader who's still considered a spokesman for the religious right, should have the last word on the dispute within the movement over some members' hostility to Mormonism. Thomas remains an unrepentant right-winger but long ago repudiated the Moral Majority upon being convinced that people's souls could not be saved through political action. He wrote a strong column last week on the firestorm that broke when one of Gov. Perry's spiritual advisers condemned Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman for being Mormons. Thomas knows Rev. Robert Jeffress, or his work, well enough to write a blurb for the pastor's newest book. But that doesn't stop him from calling Jeffress out for going too far, even for the religious right, in insisting that born-agains should vote exclusively for Perry.

As Thomas notes, even if you resolved, as you should not, only to vote for born-agains, you'd still have Rep. Bachmann and Herman Cain as alternatives to Perry. Thomas has a broader point to make, which is, quite simply and admirably, that born-agains and Christians in general should not impose religious tests on politicians. Former Sen. Santorum and former Speaker Gingrich should not be out of bounds for evangelicals because they happen to be Catholics, for instance. And in case you're wondering where Thomas draws the line, here's his answer: "The 2012 election, in fact every election, ought not to be about if, how, or what a candidate worships, but on his (or her) ability to do the job. If I am in need of surgery, it may be of some interest to me what religion, if any, the surgeon happens to believe in, but I am far more interested in how many of his former patients are still among the living [emphasis added]."

Thomas states unequivocally that pastors and ministers have no business telling anyone that God favors one candidate or another. Apart from the questionable theology involved in such endorsements, Thomas has a more practical point: "What makes conservative pastors think their church members are so ignorant that they need to hear from them before deciding for whom to vote?"

This may be the one topic on which Thomas is comfortable quoting Ted Kennedy, who addressed the subject during a visit to Jerry Falwell's school back in 1983. On that occasion, the Massachusetts liberal said: “We must never judge the fitness of individuals to govern on the basis of where they worship, whether they follow Christ or Moses, whether they are called ‘born again’ or ‘ungodly.’ Where it is right to apply moral values to public life, let all of us avoid the temptation to be self-righteous and absolutely certain of ourselves.” If anything, Thomas's statement is more inclusive than Kennedy's.

Cal Thomas comes in for a lot of criticism on this blog, if only because his column runs in one of my local newspapers. In fact, a lot of his political opinions are atrocious, but that doesn't stop me from crediting him when he earns it. In fact, this column should serve to clarify our perceptions of the rest of his thought. He's said that he doesn't see politics as a way to Christianize the country. It should be clear, then, whether he sees this as clearly or not, that when he comments on politics, when he insists that the rest of us emulate rather than criticize the wealthy, when he spews ill-disguised hatred for Muslims and Arabs, when he condemns multitudes of fellow citizens for being "addicted" to government -- Thomas is not writing as a Christian.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Any religious leader who uses his pulpit for political purposes should have their tax exempt status immediately revoked.