by Bill Moyers

This article was originally delivered on the occasion of Union Theological Seminary's 170th Convocation, September 7, 2005. Along with his wife, Judith Davidson Moyers, Mr. Moyers was the  recipient of the Union Medal.

To be in the company of so many friends, faculty, and students of Union—in the presence of so many kindred spirits—is to be reminded of the great conversation that has occurred at Union Theological Seminary for l70 years. I find it exhilarating and intimidating just to imagine the long train of witnesses who constitute this community of faith.

Just in my lifetime:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was studying here when he decided to return to his native Germany and join the resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. The choice cost him his life, but Bonhoeffer knew the threat to the church and to civilization of "replacing simple action by ambivalent thought;"

Henry Pitney Van Dusen taught here, challenging the faithful to beware of "Christian escapism" in the face of fascist aggression;"

Paul Tillich taught here, reminding his students that "being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt;"

Reinhold Niebuhr taught here, always seeking to apply Christian morality to public issues even as he warned against the "ironic tendency of virtues to turn into vices when too complacently relied upon." It was his profound insight into human nature and the nature of politics that enabled so many of us to understand that "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary;"

John Bennett taught here—the first holder of the Niebuhr chair in social ethics that is now to be filled by Gary Dorrien. Bennett went on to become Union's president, pioneered in the ecumenical movement, and courageously spoke out against those who charged that John F. Kennedy should not be president because he was a Roman Catholic;

Larry Rasmussen taught here. I heard him give a lecture some years ago on the environment and I left charged by his conviction that a living faith and a living ecology issue from the wonder that is our universe;

James Washington taught here. And Phyllis Trible. And James Forbes. So many talented and devoted teachers and administrators have been part of this community. Beyond the more public figures are all those men and women who have carried Union's influence out across the country and down through time. This community between Broadway and the Hudson became a vital intersection of religion and public life where people of faith threw themselves into the struggle for civil rights, for an end to the Vietnam war, for sanity in the nuclear age, and for the personal dignity of every person under the Constitution, including— especially including—those different from everyone else.

Listen quietly on such an occasion as this and you can hear that chorus of voices—the legions who have passed this way—calling us back to prophetic witness.

They are saying, "Union, the spirit of truth is under assault. Stand for truth."

They are saying, "Union, democracy is in peril. Stand for democracy."

They are saying, "Union, religion has bowed again to power and privilege. Stand for justice—and the faith that liberates God from partisan agendas."

They are saying, "Union, America is not the country it can be. We're troubled by fear and governed by deceit. Remind us of America's promise—and stand for the courage to fulfill it."

At the Central Baptist Church in Marshall, Texas, where I was baptized in the faith, we believed in a free church in a free state. I still do.

My spiritual forbears did not take kindly to living under theocrats who embraced religious liberty for themselves but denied it to others. "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils," thundered the dissenter Roger Williams as he was banished from Massachusetts for denying Puritan authority over his conscience. Baptists there were a "pitiful negligible minority" but they were agitators for freedom and therefore denounced as "incendiaries of the commonwealth" for holding to their belief in that great democracy of faith—the priesthood of all believers. For refusing to pay tribute to the state religion they were fined, flogged, and exiled. In l651 the Baptist Obadiah Holmes was given thirty stripes with a three-corded whip after he violated the law and took forbidden communion with another Baptist in Lynn, Massachusetts. His friends offered to pay his fine for his release but he refused. They offered him strong drink to anesthetize the pain of the flogging. Again he refused. It is the love of liberty, he said, "that must free the soul."

Such revolutionary ideas made the new nation with its Constitution and Bill of Rights "a haven for the cause of conscience." No longer could magistrates order citizens to support churches they did not attend and recite creeds that they did not believe. No longer would "the loathsome combination of church and state"—as Thomas Jefferson described it—be the settled order. Unlike the Old World that had been wracked with religious wars and persecution, the government of America would take no sides in the religious free-for-all that liberty would make possible and politics would make inevitable. The First Amendment neither inculcates religion nor inoculates against it. Americans could be loyal to the Constitution without being hostile to God, or they could pay no heed to God without fear of being mugged by an official God Squad. It has been a remarkable arrangement that guaranteed "soul freedom."

It is at risk now, and I want to talk about why it is.

This week four years ago, the poet's prophetic metaphor became real again and "the great dark birds of history" plunged into our lives.

In the name of God they came. They came bent on murder and martyrdom. It was as if they rode to earth on the fierce breath of Allah himself, for the sacred scriptures that had nurtured these murderous young men are steeped in images of a violent and vengeful God who wills life for the faithful and horrific torment for unbelievers.

Yes, it's true: the Koran speaks of mercy and compassion and calls for ethical living. But such passages are no match for the ferocity of instruction found there for waging war for God's sake. The scholar Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer carefully traces this trail of holy violence in his important book, Is Religion Killing Us? [Trinity Press International: 2003]. In it he highlights some of the many verses in the Koran that the Islamic terrorists could have had in their hearts and on their lips four years ago as they moved toward their gruesome rendezvous. As I read some of them, visualize in your mind the scenes you remember from the morning of 9/11:

Those who believe Fight in the cause of Allah, and Those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil. (4:76)

So We sent against them
A furious Wind through days of disaster, that
We might Give them a taste of a Penalty of humiliation In this Life; but
The Penalty of the Hereafter will be More Humiliating still: And they
Will find No help. (41:16)

Then watch thou For the Day
That the sky will Bring forth a kind
Of smoke (or mist)
Plainly visible, Enveloping the people: This will be a Penalty
Grievous. (44:10-11)

Did the people of the towns Feel Secure against the coming Of Our Wrath by night While they were asleep? Or else did they feel Secure against its coming in Broad daylight while they Played About (carefree)? Did they then feel secure Against the Plan of Allah?—But no one can feel Secure from the Plan of Allah, except those (Doomed) to ruin. (7:97-99)

In that spirit the holy warriors came—an airborne death cult, their sights on God's enemies: regular folks, starting the day's routine. One minute they're pulling off their jackets, shaking Sweet n' Low into their coffee, adjusting the height of their chair or a picture of a child or sweetheart or spouse in a frame on their desk, booting up their computer—and in the next, they are engulfed by a horrendous cataclysm. God's will. Poof!

But it is never only the number of dead by which terrorists measure their work. It is also the number of the living—the survivors—taken hostage to fear. The terrorists were after our psyche; they wanted to get inside our heads-deprive us of trust, faith, and peace of mind: keep us from ever again believing in a safe, just, and peaceful world, and from working to bring that world to pass. The writer Terry Tempest Williams has said "the human heart is the first home of democracy." Well, fill that heart with fear and people will give up the risks of democracy for the assurances of security; fill that heart with fear and you can shake the house to its foundations.

During that summer four years ago, our daughter and husband adopted their first baby. On the morning of September 11th, our son-in-law passed through the shadow of the World Trade Center toward his office a few blocks up the street. He arrived as the horrors erupted. He saw the flames, the falling bodies, the devastation. His building was evacuated, and for long awful moments he couldn't reach his wife—our daughter—to say he was okay. Even after they connected, it wasn't until the next morning that he was able to make it home. Throughout that fearful night, our daughter was alone with their new baby. Later she told us that for weeks thereafter she would lie awake at night, wondering where and when it might happen again, going to the computer at three in the morning to check out what she could about bioterrorism, germ warfare, anthrax, and the vulnerability of children. The terrorists had violated a mother's deepest space.

Who was not vulnerable? That morning Judith and I made it to our office at Channel Thirteen on West 33rd Street just after the second plane struck. Our building was evacuated although the two of us remained with other colleagues to do what we could to keep the station on the air. The next day it was evacuated again because of a bomb scare at the Empire State Building nearby. We had just ended a live broadcast for PBS when security officers swept through and ordered everyone out. This time we left. As we were making our way down the stairs, I took Judith's arm and was struck by the thought: Is this the last time I'll touch her? Could what we had begun together a half century ago end here on this dim, bare staircase? I forced the thought from my mind, willed it away, but in the early hours of morning, as I sat at the window of our apartment looking out at the sky, the sinister intruder crept back.

Terrorists hope for this. They plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.

They win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid.

Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God. They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what's in God's mind. Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.

So over the past four years I have kept reminding myself of not only the horror but the humanity that was revealed that day four years ago, when through the smoke and fire we glimpsed the heroism, compassion, and sacrifice of people who did the best of things in the worst of times. I keep telling myself that this beauty in us is real, that it makes life worthwhile and democracy work and that no terrorist can take it from us.

But I am not so sure. As a Christian realist I honor my inner skeptic. And as a journalist I always know the other side of the story. The historian Edward Gibbon once wrote of historians what could be said of journalists. He wrote: "The theologians may indulge the pleasing task of describing religion as she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the historian [read: journalist]: He must discover the inevitable mixture of error and corruption which she contracted in a long residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate race of beings."

The other side of the story:

Muslims have no monopoly on holy violence. As Jack Nelson-Pallmayer points out, God's violence in both sacred texts reflects a deep and troubling pathology "so pervasive, vindictive, and destructive" that it contradicts and subverts the collective weight of other passages that exhort ethical behavior or testify to a loving God.

Here's something else to visualize:

For days now we have watched those heart-breaking scenes on the Gulf Coast: the steaming, stinking, sweltering wreckage of cities and suburbs; the fleeing refugees; the floating corpses, hungry babies, and old people huddled together in death, the dogs gnawing at their feet; stranded children standing in water reeking of feces and garbage; families scattered; a mother holding her small child and an empty water jug, pleading for someone to fill it; a wife, pushing the body of her dead husband on a wooden plank down a flooded street; desperate people struggling desperately to survive.

Now transport those current scenes from our newspapers and television back to the first Book of the Bible—the Book of Genesis. They bring to life what we rarely imagine so graphically when we read of the great flood that devastated the known world. If you read the Bible as literally true, as fundamentalists do, this flood was ordered by God. For it is written in the sixth chapter of Genesis that God had enough of the earth and its corruptions. "And God said to Noah, 'I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will destroy them with the earth.'" (6:5-l3). "I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die." (6:l7-l9).

Noah and his family are the only humans spared—they are, after all, God's chosen. But for everyone else: ". . . the waters prevailed so mightily . . . that all the high mountains. .. .were covered. .. .And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, birds, cattle, beast. . . . and every man; everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life, died.. .." (7:17-23).

The flood is merely Act One. Read on: This God first "hardens the heart of Pharaoh" to make sure the Egyptian ruler will not be moved by the plea of Moses to let his people go. Then because Pharaoh's heart is hardened, God turns the Nile into blood so people cannot drink its water and will suffer from thirst. Not satisfied with the results, God sends swarms of locusts and flies to torture them; rains hail and fire and thunder on them destroys the trees and plants of the field until nothing green remains; orders every first-born child to be slaughtered, from the first-born of Pharaoh down to "the first-born of the maidservant behind the mill." The massacre continues until "there is not a house where one was not dead." While the Egyptian families mourn their dead, God orders Moses to loot from their houses all their gold and silver and clothing. Finally, God's thirst for blood is satisfied, God calls a halt to the slaughter—and boasts: "I have made sport of the Egyptians."

Violence: the sport of God. God, the progenitor of "Shock and Awe."

And that's just Act II. As the story unfolds women and children are hacked to death on God's order; unborn infants are ripped from their mother's wombs; cities are leveled—their women killed if they have had sex, the virgins taken at God's command for the pleasure of his holy warriors. God even sends Moses back to rebuke his soldiers for sparing the lives of 50,000 captives and tells them to finish the job. One tribe after another falls to God-ordered genocide: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites—names so ancient they have disappeared into the mists as fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren, infants in arms, shepherds, threshers, carpenters, merchants, housewives—living human beings, flesh and blood: "And when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them . . . (and) your eyes shall not pity them."

So it is written. Written in the Holy Bible.

Yes, I know: the early church fathers, trying to cover up the blood-soaked trail of God's sport, decreed that anything that disagrees with Christian dogma about the perfection of God is to be interpreted spiritually. Yes, I know: Edward Gibbon himself acknowledged that the literal Biblical sense of God "is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as reason" and that we must therefore read the scriptures through a veil of allegory. Yes, I know: we can go through the Bible and construct a God more pleasing to the better angels of our nature (as I have done). Yes, I know: Christians claim the Old Testament God of wrath was supplanted by the Gospel's God of love.

I know these things; all of us know these things. But we also know that what Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer calls the "violence-of-God" tradition remains embedded deep in the DNA of monotheistic faith. We also know that for fundamentalists the world over and at home the "sacred texts" remain the foundational texts of faith, considered to be literally God's word on all matters. Inside that logic you cannot believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection and the great judgment of the end times, without also believing that God is sadistic, brutal, vengeful, callow, cruel, and savage—a killer beyond reckoning.

As millions do.

Let's go back to 9/11 four years ago.

The ruins were still smoldering when the reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went on television to proclaim that the terrorist attacks were God's punishment of a corrupted America. They and the government had adopted the agenda "of the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians" not to mention the ACLU and People for the American Way. Just as God had sent the Great Flood to wipe out a corrupted world, now—disgusted with a decadent America—"God almighty is lifting his protection from us." Critics said such comments were deranged. But millions of Christian fundamentalists and conservatives didn't think so. They thought Robertson and Falwell were being perfectly consistent with the logic of the Bible as they read it: God withdraws favor from sinful nations—the terrorists were meant to be God's wake-up call: better get right with God. Not many people at the time seemed to notice that Osama bin Laden had also been reading his sacred book closely and literally, and had called on Muslims to resist what he described as a "fierce Judeo-Christian campaign" against Islam, praying to Allah for guidance "to exalt the people who obey Him and humiliate those who disobey Him."

Suddenly we were immersed in the pathology of a "holy war" as defined by fundamentalists on both sides. You could see this pathology play out in General William Boykin. A professional soldier, General Boykin had taken up with a small group called the Faith Force Multiplier whose members apply military principles to evangelism with a manifesto summoning warriors "to the spiritual warfare for souls." After Boykin had led Americans in a battle against a Somalian warlord he announced, "I know my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his God was an idol."

Now Boykin was going about evangelical revivals preaching that America was in a holy war as "a Christian nation" battling Satan and that America's Muslim adversaries will be defeated "only if we come against them in the name of Jesus." For such an hour, America surely needed a godly leader. So General Boykin explained how it was that the candidate who had lost the election in 2000 nonetheless wound up in the White House. President Bush, he said, "was not elected by a majority of the voters—he was appointed by God." Not surprising, instead of being reprimanded for evangelizing while in uniform, General Boykin is now the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. (Just as it isn't surprising that despite his public call for the assassination of a foreign head of state, Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing was one of the first groups to receive taxpayer funds from the President's Faith-Based Initiative for "relief work" on the Gulf Coast).

We can't wiggle out of this, folks. Alvin Hawkins states it frankly: [The Evil God: A Documented Study of the God of the Holy Book. Ex libris.] "This is not a problem that can be walked away from." We're talking about a convergence of religious and political forces that claim the right to decide the laws of the land according to biblical revelation as they interpret it and to enforce those laws on the nation as a whole. For the Bible is not just the foundational text of their faith; it has become the foundational text for a political movement.

Let me quickly acknowledge that people of faith have always tried to bring their interpretation of the Bible to bear on American laws and morals—this very seminary is part of that tradition; it's the American way, encouraged and protected by the First Amendment. But what is unique today is that the radical Religious Right has succeeded in taking over one of America's great political parties—the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is—and they are driving American politics. God is being used as a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, and so on.

What's also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their virulent intolerance—their loathing of other people's beliefs, of America's secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge—has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the sign of Christ on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind that the Emperor himself was never baptized into the faith; it served him well enough to make the God worshiped by Christians his most important ally and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial symbol most widely recognized and feared from east to west.

Let's take a brief detour to Ohio and I'll show you what I am talking about. In recent weeks a movement called the Ohio Restoration Project has been launched to identify and train thousands of "Patriot Pastors" to get out the conservative religious vote next year. According to press reports, the leader of the movement—the senior pastor of a large church in suburban Columbus—casts the 2006 elections as an apocalyptic clash between "the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell." The fear and loathing in his message is palpable: He denounces public schools that won't teach creationism, require teachers to read the Bible in class, or allow children to pray. He rails against the "secular jihadists" who have "hijacked" America and prevent school kids from learning that Hitler was "an avid evolutionist." He links abortion to children who murder their parents. He blasts the "pagan left" for trying to redefine marriage. He declares that "homosexual rights" will bring "a flood of demonic oppression." On his church website you read that "Reclaiming the teaching of our Christian heritage among America's youth is paramount to a sense of national destiny that God has invested into this nation."

One of the most prominent allies of the Ohio Restoration Project is a popular televangelist in Columbus who heads a $40 million-a-year ministry that is accessible worldwide via l,400 TV stations and cable affiliates. Although he describes himself as neither Republican nor Democrat but a "Christocrat"—a gladiator for God marching against "the very hordes of hell in our society"—he nonetheless has been spotted with so many Republican politicians in Washington and elsewhere that he has been publicly described as a "spiritual advisor" to the party. The journalist Marley Greiner has been following his ministry for the organization, FreePress. She writes that because he considers the separation of church and state to be "a lie perpetrated on Americans—especially believers in Jesus Christ"—he identifies himself as a "wall builder" and "wall buster." As a wall builder he will "restore Godly presence in government and culture"; as a wall buster he will "tear down the church-state wall." He sees the Christian church as a sleeping giant that has the ability and the anointing from God to transform America. And the giant is stirring. At a rally in July he proclaimed to a packed house: "Let the Revolution begin!" And the congregation roared back: "Let the Revolution begin!"

(The Revolution's first goal, by the way, is to elect as governor next year the current Republican secretary of state who oversaw the election process in 2004 when a surge in Christian voters narrowly carried George Bush to victory. As General Boykin suggested of President Bush's anointment, this fellow has acknowledged that "God wanted him as secretary of state during 2004" because it was such a critical election. Now he is criss-crossing Ohio meeting with Patriot Pastors and their congregations proclaiming that "America is at its best when God is at its center).1"

The Ohio Restoration Project is spreading. In one month alone last year in the President's home state, a single Baptist preacher added 2000 "Patriot Pastors" to the rolls. On his Web site he now encourages pastors to "speak out on the great moral issues of our day . . . to restore and reclaim America for Christ."

Alas, those "great moral issues" do not include building a moral economy. The Christian Right trumpets charity (as in Faith Based Initiatives) but is silent on social and economic justice. Inequality in America has reached scandalous proportions: a few weeks ago the government acknowledged that while incomes are growing smartly for the first time in years, the primary winners are the top earners—people who receive stocks, bonuses, and other income in addition to wages. The nearly 80 percent of Americans who rely mostly on hourly wages barely maintained their purchasing power. Even as Hurricane Katrina was hitting the Gulf Coast, giving us a stark reminder of how poverty can leave people on the edge of the abyss, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that last year one million people were added to 36 million already living in poverty. And since l999 the income of the poorest one fifth of Americans has dropped almost nine percent.

None of these harsh realities of ordinary life seem to bother the radical religious right. To the contrary, in the pursuit of political power they have cut a deal with America's richest class and their partisan allies in a law-of-the-jungle strategy to "starve" the government of resources needed for vital social services that benefit everyone while championing more and more spending on corporate subsidies and larger tax cuts for the rich.

How else to explain the silence from their pulpits on the plight of millions of Americans without health insurance? On the gross corruption of politics by campaign contributions that skew government policies toward the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers? (On the very day that oil and gas prices reached a record high, the President signed off on huge taxpayer subsidies for energy conglomerates already bloated with windfall profits plucked from the pockets of average Americans filling up at gas tanks across the country; yet the next Sunday you could pass a hundred church signboards with no mention of a sermon on crony capitalism).

This silence on economic and political morality is deafening but revealing. The radicals on the Christian right are the dominant force in the governing party. Without them the government would not be in the hands of people who don't believe in government. They are culpable in upholding a system of class and race in which, as we saw last week, the rich escape and the poor are left behind. And they are on their way to diminishing government "of, by, and for the people" in favor of one based on Biblical authority.

For this is the crux of the matter: These religious radicals are defining religion as a particular religion and then defining it further as a particular brand of that religion so as to exclude all other views and versions as irreligious, immoral, or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. They want judges on our courts to be held accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as they define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party—the GOP—has become God's Own Party, its ranks made up of God's Own People "marching as to war."

Go now to the Web site of an organization called America 2l http://www.america21.us/Home.cfm. There, on a red, white, and blue home page, you find praise for President Bush's agenda—including his effort to turn Social Security over to Wall Street and change tort laws to make it harder for citizens to sue large corporations. On the same home page is a reminder that "There are 7177 hours until our next National Election. .. .ENLIST NOW." Enlist in what? Just click again and you will read a summons to pastors "lead God's people in the turning that can save America from our enemies." Under the banner of "Remember—Repent—Return" you are told, in language reminiscent of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, that one of the unmistakable lessons of 9/11 is that America "has lost the full measure of God's hedge of protection. When we ask ourselves why, the scriptures remind us that ancient Israel was invaded by its foreign enemy, Babylon, in 586 B.C. ... (and) Jerusalem was destroyed by another invading foreign power in 70 A.D. ... Psalm l06:37 says that these judgments of God ... were because of Israel's idolatry. Israel, the apple of God's eye, was destroyed ... because the people failed ... to repent. "If America is to avoid a similar fate," the warning continues, we must "remember the legacy of our heritage under God and our covenant with Him and, in the words of II Chronicles 7:14: 'Turn from our wicked ways.'"

So what does this have to do with the political agenda praised on the home page? Well, squint and look at the small print at the bottom of the site. There the corporate, political, and religious convergence that dominates America today is revealed. The fine print reads: "America 21 is a 501(c) (4) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate, engage, and mobilize Christians to influence national policy at every level. Founded in l989 by a multi-denominational group of Pastors and Businessmen, it is dedicated to being a catalyst for revival and reform of the culture and the government." (emphasis added).

Consider the stakes:

In his last book, the late Marvin Harris, a prominent anthropologist of the time, wrote that "the attack against reason and objectivity is fast reaching the proportions of a crusade." To save the American Dream, "we desperately need to reaffirm the principle that it is possible to carry out an analysis of social life which rational human beings will recognize as being true, regardless of whether they happen to be women or men, whites or black, straights or gays, employers or employees, Jews, or born-again Christians. The alternative is to stand by helplessly as special interest groups tear the United States apart in the name of their 'separate realities' or to wait until one of them grows strong enough to force its irrational and subjective brand of reality on all the rest."

That was written 25 years ago, just as the radical Christian right was setting out on its political holy war. The forces he warned against have gained strength ever since and now control the United States government. While they call themselves "conservative," they are radical; they have profaned the meaning of "conservative." But it has to be said that their success has come because of our acquiescence and timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays. Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose the next election and what little power they have; trying to learn God-talk, they're talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them—the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America "a safe haven for the cause of conscience."

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson for democracy stands above all others. It is that bullies—political bullies, economic bullies, and religious bullies—cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front—freedom of conscience in particular—never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. Christian realism—the kind that took root here at Union—requires us to see the world as it is, without illusions, and then take it on. With love, of course. But a certain kind of love. Your own Reinhold Niebuhr put it this way: "When we talk about love we have to become mature or we will become sentimental. Basically love means ... being responsible, responsibility to our family, toward our civilization, and now by the pressures of history, toward the universe of humankind."

There it is, Union. America needs a new burst of Christian realism. We're waiting for you.

End Note:

1. For the complete stories from which this information has been extracted, see: "An evening with Rod Parsley, by Marley Greiner, FreePress, July 20, 2005; "Patriot Pastors," Marilyn Warfield, Cleveland Jewish News, July 29, 2005; "Ohio televangelist has plenty of influence, but he wants more," Ted Wendling, Religion News Service, Chicago Tribune, July 1, 2005; "Shaping Politics from the pulpits," Susan Page, USA TODAY, Aug. 3, 2005; "Religion and Politics Should Be Mixed Says Ohio Secretary of State," WTOL-TV Toledo, October 29, 2004.

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2005-06, Vol. 55,  No 4.