After Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal (R – Hutchinson) forwarded around an email using the Bible to pray for President Obama’s death, Faithful America members quickly responded with a petition calling for his resignation. In just over a week, the petition has amassed over 30,000 signatures nationwide.
Today, two Kansas pastors, Rev. Tobias Schlingensiepen and Rev. Jim McCullough, gathered at the State Capitol to deliver the petitions and reiterate the signers’ demand. Rev. Schlingensiepen explained his motivation for signing:
Speaker O’Neal’s behavior is an affront to the Christian faith and unworthy of his office. It’s unpatriotic and offensive for an elected representative to wish harm upon the President of the United States. His refusal to show remorse shows that it’s time for him to resign, and to reflect upon the true foundations of his faith.
Robert Wright at the Atlantic has an important reflection on the message pop culture humor about Tim Tebow’s faith sends to religious conservatives:
When secular liberals who shape the culture fulfill the religious conservatives’ stereotype of them as threatening–by, say, seeming to ridicule Jesus, or seeming to ridicule Tebow’s faith–conservatives will be more inclined to stay within their walls, avoiding engagement with the secular world. So they’ll find it easier to reject the entire liberal agenda, ranging from gay rights to uncensored science education in the public schools. (Don’t get me started on the damage that I fear Richard Dawkins is doing to science education in the heartland by embodying a false equation between Darwinism and a militant, contemptuous atheism.) In short, when liberals are seen as ridiculing Christianity, they’re energizing their adversaries and making it harder to turn adversaries into allies, or at least neutral parties, on particular issues.
Wright is exactly right. Churches across the country are filled with proud people of faith who often have progressive or sympathetic views on a host of issues including economic justice, immigration and environmental stewardship.
By emphasizing the religious foundation for their views on a few divisive social issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, the religious right seeks to broadly paint progressives (and subsequently their issue agenda) as hostile to faith itself.
To further bolster the claim that Christians are a persecuted minority, conservative leaders point to liberal “elites” in cultural channels who they see as mocking religion and traditional family values. As the preponderance of Christian alternatives to everything from radio stations to dating sites shows, many Christians very much desire their own spaces outside of the “mainstream” outlets they presume have little interest in or tolerance for them.
Unfortunately, cheap humor at the strangeness or “backwardness” of religious belief only confirms these anxious stereotypes in ways that empower the narrative religious right leaders want to tell and shuts doors to broader coalition building. Progressives don’t have to compromise their values in their attempts to combat this frame, but it’s probably not a good idea to unnecessarily shoot themselves in the foot for a quick laugh.
Religious Right darling and disgraced former lobbyist Ralph Reed is back on the scene in the 2012 election cycle as head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
This past weekend, Reed organized an event across from the South Carolina debate site, featuring conservative religious voters, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and a number of the GOP contenders. Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jim Galloway described the event as a “tent revival” with some questionable political and theological references:
Prosperity gospel was in vogue. With a few loud – perhaps accidental — bars of “Money, Money, Money,” the revival opened with a video address from Donald Trump, who declared that the world “is laughing at the stupidity of our leaders. They’re absolutely taking us to the cleaners.”
Reed’s Religious Right confab back inJune attracted few participants but a number of political heavyweights, like Representative Paul Ryan and presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. At that event, there was an obvious schism between the Tea Party, small-government side of the conservative movement and the Christian Right, social-issues contingent.
This division within the GOP ranks is continuing to crop up and it seems like Reed unsuccessfully hoped to alleviate the tension between the two camps at his South Carolina event. Galloway writes:
The Faith and Freedom Coalition is an attempt to unite evangelicals with tea partyists, but religiosity had the upper hand on Monday afternoon. When Reed asked tea party adherents to raise their hands, only a quarter of the audience did so.
Particularly with Religious Right leaders deciding at a meeting last weekend to back Santorum over Romney and facing unanswered questions about their ability to actually influence the nomination or derail Romney’s momentum, Reed’s ability to deliver millions of evangelical votes for the GOP candidate is still unclear. Given that the reports out of the meeting varied widely (some participants, like Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, said the decision hinged on “Obamacare” but Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention claimed social issues were paramount to the group’s decision), the Tea Party- Religious Right schism looks far from resolved.
Last year there was a lot of focus on the stark incompatibility between the radical individualism of the Ayn Rand-inspired Tea Party ideology and the calls for selflessness and the common good found in the Christian Gospel.
After Kansas Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal forwarded an email invoking Scripture to pray for President Obama’s death, people of faith across the country quickly condemned this reprehensible exploitation of faith.
Over 25,000 people have now signed Faithful America’s petition calling on Speaker O’Neal to resign, and Kansas media outlets are asking O’Neal about his comments.
In an Associated Press story, Speaker O’Neal finally responded to the controversy with a classic non-apology apology.
“I understand the debate over the verse interpretation, about which I have explained and for which I have repeatedly apologized to the extent anyone misconstrued my intent or was otherwise offended”
Unfortunately for Speaker O’Neal, there’s no real debate about the verse. His email asked readers to go look up Psalm 109:8, so surely he opened the Bible and saw that the “may his days be few in number” verse is followed immediately by “may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”
That Speaker O’Neal knowingly sent around and endorsed a verse that is obviously about the death of a political leader shows a tremendous lack of judgment that his evasive half-hearted apology only further confirms.