Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

14 November 2008

Southern Baptist Convention: For the Separation of Church and State, But...

By Gina Liggett

The next in my series of profiles of the Religious Right is the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The Southern Baptist Convention, with a yearly revenue over $200 million dollars, represents over 42,000 Baptist churches in the U.S., holds an annual convention, and sponsors missionary campaigns all over the world to spread their gospel and build more Baptist churches. The Southern Baptists explicitly lay out their basic beliefs, such as the Bible being written by divinely-inspired men, that those who accept Christ as their savior will go to Heaven and those who don't will go to Hell, and that a "wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband," etc, etc.

The Southern Baptist stance on "Religious Liberty" is this: "Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal."

Even Richard Land, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, speaks like a strong advocate of church-state separation -- but not because he's a man of reason, but because it would ultimately threaten religious belief: "I do not want state-sponsored religion, because state-sponsored religion destroys religion. And it interferes with what I call, and Pope John Paul II called, the 'sacred sanctuary of the soul.' No government has a right to interfere with a person’s relationship with God."

That ideal would be compatible with what the Founding Fathers wrote in the freedom-of-religion clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. But actions speak louder than words. And Richard Land and his Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have been on the front lines of the religious invasion of Republican Party politics for years.

Joining other Religious Right activists' frustration with getting the Republicans to advance their public policy agenda, Richard Land said in 1998: "The go-along, get-along strategy is dead. No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

It was time for the Religious Right to consolidate their forces and push the Republican party to impose Christian morals on society by outlawing abortion, censoring pornography, prohibiting marriage between homosexual adults, reintroducing prayer in the schools, obtaining tax deferrals for tuition at religious and private schools, and eliminating financial support for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Looking to the 2000 election, Land said, "It's time for candidates who will not only work with us, but for candidates who are us." Well, they got their man, George W. Bush, and Richard Land couldn't be happier with the results: "There's no question this is the most receptive White House to our concerns and to our perspective of any White House that I've dealt with, and I've dealt with every White House from Reagan on." The Bush administration has been right in step with what the Southern Baptists claim the bible says about their most significant social issues of "abortion,.. homosexuality,.. [and] anti-obscenity enforcement."

Much to their dismay, the Bush administration is over. The fact remains that the Southern Baptists are blatant hypocrites when comes to their dogma about religious freedom. Despite their self-interested credo supporting the separation of church and state, they nonetheless have deeply entrenched themselves within the Republican political machinery to impose a religious morality on all Americans. Consider Land's own words about the Religious Right's fight against gay marriage:

We believe that marriage is a divinely ordained institution... In a representative democracy like the United States, if we believe that certain lifestyles should be affirmed and other lifestyles should be merely tolerated, we have a right to have that made into law. And that's not called a theocracy... We want a federal marriage amendment to keep the judiciary from forcing a secularist agenda on this country that this country does not want in the area of marriage. The only way to protect ourselves from that, given the current power of the judiciary, is to trump the judiciary by passing an amendment to the Constitution, which is aimed like a rifle -- not a shotgun, but a rifle -- at same-sex union.
What could better exemplify not only this hypocrisy but what Ayn Rand calls the corollaries of faith and force? The Southern Baptists have lost their poster-boy, but they haven't lost the will to fight. And neither should we.

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