An open letter to religious conservatives

Dear Christian Right: GETTY IMAGES Supporters of President Obama cheer as they wait for the president to appear on stage … Continued

Dear Christian Right:


Supporters of President Obama cheer as they wait for the president to appear on stage during the Obama Election Night watch party on Nov. 6, 2012 in Chicago.

In the aftermath of this Tuesday’s election, which CBN’s David Brody described as a “COLOSSAL DISASTER” –you might not be hankering for advice from a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, Jewish atheist. Nor might you be in the market for counsel from a person whose aim is to rejuvenate America’s woozy and staggering tradition of secularism.

Well, if it’s any consolation, my research indicates that you were the ones who concussed secularism in the first place! Why have the courts moved away from John F. Kennedy’s vision of an America “where separation of church and state is absolute?” How is it that even the IRS is afraid to mess with you when you annually break the law on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday?” By what authority could President Bush and then President Obama mandate federal “faith-based” offices of dubious constitutional sanction? Why do politicians talk so much about God on the campaign trail?

We owe those developments, in large part, to you guys! After Roe v. Wade conservative Christians reemerged in national politics—traditionalist Catholics first, and then evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants under the leadership of Rev. Jerry Falwell. And once you all got back in the scrum it was game on for you and game over for us. You brought secularism and its preferred judicial policy of separationism down to its knees. You changed the discourse. You changed the political culture.

I’d reach out and give you a bloodied boxer’s embrace. But at present my vision is blurry and I get headaches contemplating all you’ve done to our country. Then again, maybe we can commiserate: while secular America is currently enjoying a rare moment of triumph, you’re the ones about whom the obituaries are being written.

I, for one, would never count you out. Your demise was predicted at the end of the 1980s with the unraveling of the Moral Majority. It was forecast again by some of your own leaders as the 1990s wound down. You’ll be back, I’m sure. But if you want your movement to persevere please consider this friendly advice:

Make up Your Minds: Might I suggest that you folks select your preferred 2016 presidential candidate no later than, let’s say, 2014? For reasons that are not entirely clear, social conservatives have entered the last two presidential elections lined up behind, well, no one.

Why you waited nearly 11 months to take notice of Mike Huckabee in 2007 is anybody’s guess—did you really think Fred Thompson was your redeemer? As a result you got Arizona Sen. John McCain—whom you did not like (and who did not like you ).

Perhaps in response to the dearth of social conservative candidates in 2008, you loaded up the 2012 slate with what we could all agree was “an embarrassment of riches.” Yet while you were oohing and aahing over Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, an establishment type named Mitt Romney–how do you say “meh” in evangelical dialect?–grabbed your party’s nomination.

Conservative leader Richard Viguerie has referred to Mitt Romney’s loss as “ the death rattle of the establishment Republican Party.” “Far from signaling rejection of tea party or grass-roots conservatives,” Viguerie continued, “the disaster of 2012 signals the beginning of the battle to take over the Republican Party.” Fair enough. But the battle will be lost if your leadership can’t figure out who it supports until Super Tuesday. Anoint one chosen candidate and lay hands on him/her as soon as possible.

Less Santorum, More Bush: Which leads me to fret that, as of today, Rick Santorum or someone like him, is your man. I would urge you think that one through, lest the GOP get McGovernized in 2016.

Americans, by nature, are a serene and ecumenical lot. They don’t mind learning a little about a candidate’s faith. But–note this–they hate learning a little (or a lot) about how divisive a candidate’s faith can be.

I concede that the hardworking, brawling Santorum showed you a lot in the primaries. But at every turn he seemed hellbent on showing voters that he was—just as his critics alleged—“ultra.” Ultra- opposed to reproductive freedoms, he lamented that an abortion performed on a raped woman victimized her twice. Ultra-sure of his faith, he mocked president Obama’s “phony theology.” Ultra-dismayed by secularism, he said separation of church and state made him want to throw up.

Ownership of a large collection of sweater vests is not a license to anathematize half the country! The Christian Right will never expand beyond its own base unless it abandons the ultra- stuff. Say what you will about George W. Bush, he rarely, if ever, used his faith to pillory other types of Americans. Compassionate conservatism will get you a lot further than sanctimonious smackdowns.

Purge Hatefulness from Your Hearts: Many in this country view the Christian Right–I don’t think I am telling you anything you don’t know–as haters. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the current president of Focus on the Family, the candid Jim Daly. In an interview with Krista Tippett, Daly expresses his dismay and even contrition as he ponders what other citizens think of evangelical Christians (spoiler alert: those citizens aren’t singing your praises).

If you want more evidence just roll a tape of the election’s first gathering of GOP hopefuls, held by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition in 2011. The proceedings opened up with one of your own mocking “weird and kinky” lifestyles. As the evening progressed Ralph Reed was alluding to “replacing the government by force.”

Those of us was who are not “in Christ,” you might be surprised to learn, often find things about Christ that we admire. Jesus’ teachings about love, peace, mercy, non-violence (those aren’t his only teachings, obviously, but you get my point) seem like what being a Christian is all about. So how do we go from Sermon on the Mount to the relentless vitriol spewed at gays, liberals, Muslims, feminists, Mormons, artists, or America itself in the aftermath of any natural disaster?

I’ve given you an earful and surely overstayed my welcome. But let me leave you with a final thought. I know the slogan “we get our rights from God not government” was your mantra in 2012. But how does that all square with Romans 13:1-3, among other passages (e.g., 1 Peter 2:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:1) which stresses a Christian’s peaceful acquiescence to the powers that be?

What Scripture enjoins you to be so obsessed with politics? Where was it again that Paul talked about ruling “the culture”? What ever happened to turning the other cheek and am I wrong to assume, with John Locke, that toleration is a Christian virtue?

Secularism, as you may know, was born of Christian political philosophy. Martin Luther was one of its architects. He held that too much mixing between the government of the prince and true Christians did irrevocable damage to the souls of the latter. Perhaps, that is something for you to consider as we all groan together in the coming difficult months.

Your compatriot,

Jacques Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau is an associate professor and director of theProgram for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and author of “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.” Follow him on Twitter at @berlinerblau.

More On Faith and 2012:

Mason: ‘Mormon Moment’ RIP

Skaggs: Election results reveal God is winning

Elizabeth Tenety: God after 2012: How did election change religion and politics landscape?

David Gibson: What’s next for religious conservatives?

Lisa Miller: After huge Hispanic vote, plenty of reason to compromise on immigration reform

Figuring Faith: Faith in 2012 by the numbers

Otterson: What lies ahead for Mormons?

Thistlethwaite: Compassion in chief: Why Obama won

Berlinerblau: An open letter to conservatives

  • SimonTemplar

    Mr. Berlinerblau, your charmingly sarcastic meme reads like your terms for our surrender.

    I think you give us more credit than we deserve. This is, no doubt, because you believe everything you see and hear in the press (print, online and other media). If social conservatives were so powerful, we wouldn’t have ended up with gay marriage and 53 million children aborted since 1973 (what another post referred to as an American holocaust).

    We are not the king makers of the GOP. If you don’t like our selections, take it up with the real power brokers of the Republican Party. Then again, Obama didn’t win the popular vote by such a very wide margin so I’m not sure you have much reason to gloat.

    Being for heterosexual relationships (the kind even Darwinism would seem to favor) does not translate to hatred of gays. Being pro-life does not translate to a war on women. Protecting a baby in the womb is not attacking the mother of that baby. You call that hatred? Why is protecting the unborn considered hatred but hating evangelical is NOT considered hatred? Your logic is paradoxical.

    This quote is attributed to Richard Land, “Since Roe v. Wade, the womb has been the most dangerous place that an American has even been. There is a one-third fatality rate between conception and birth. We didn’t have a one-third fatality rate at Iwo Jima. We didn’t have a one-third fatality rate at Omaha Beach. We didn’t have a one-third fatality rate at the battle of Gettysburg, even if you count the deaths on both sides.”

    Some wars are worth fighting even if doing so makes us unpopular. I’m not so concerned with what you think of me. I think the real reason you want us to surrender our ideals is that in doing so, we would be allowing you and your ilk to pursue your agendas without having your conscience pricked or your ideas challenged.

    Terms of surrender rejected.

  • quiensabe

    Ask yourself a question Jacques: “Why would any Christian give up his salvation for political gain or your approval?

  • Mens_sana_corpore_sano

    By all means, stick to your self-righteous and outdated ideals, we liberals will just be over here winning national elections.

  • leibowde84

    So, I guess that’s why you guys are always going to lose out in elections. There are fewer and fewer of you by the day, and all this guy is suggesting is to compromise. I’m distressed every day by the direction of my church. Most see themselves as preaching the word of God, but in reality it seems more like self-reighteous dribble. This country will never elect a demonizing, confused, hater like Santorum, and if your group isn’t willing to change their ways of hatred and unacceptance, you won’t be able to get anyone elected. Look at Mourdock and Akin, the whole country (besides a few weirdos) saw their “ultra-ness” as a negative and it cost them both the election. This is America, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when you consider your opinion divine and publicly affirm that belief, you are going to get embarrassed, guaranteed. America should never stand for divisive politics based on faith. It just isn’t that important anymore … which most would argue is a great thing.

  • SimonTemplar

    “Self-righteous dribble, demonizing, hatred, ultra-ness.” All YOUR words. You and your friends are just as self-righteous, demonizing and full of hatred as the folks you criticize and you don’t even see it.

    You have your very strong convictions and we have ours. You claim the higher ground because you seem to have greater numbers. Maybe you do have greater numbers (probably a debatable point). However, your majority seem to believe that killing 53 million babies since 1973 is good for women’s rights or that a sexual lifestyle that runs contrary even to supposed norms of evolution makes sense. That is a majority I will happily NOT join, whether or not they win elections.

    If the majority is always right (which seems to be your argument) then I guess all of the monsters of history who had the majority on their side were also right. And those poor simpletons in the minority who opposed them were just following their outdated faith-based beliefs.

  • SimonTemplar

    Which ideals do you consider outdated? The ideal that killing unborn babies is wrong or the ideal that evolution has relegated homosexual relationships to a very small percentage of the population.

  • leibowde84

    I am in no way talking about personal beliefs. All I am saying is that with “holy” attitudes like Mourdock, Akin, and Santorum, you will never win the country back. All it takes is a little understanding. Being agains abortion is fine, but claiming that it is fact that abortion is murder is not correct. It is a debatable point and should be treated as such. Until the evangelicals do this and stop stating that their movement is the will of their God, people won’t take them seriously. Abortion, gay marriage, etc. should be discussed on real terms not divine.

    And I don’t hate anyone, btw. The best part of America is that debates such as this actually happen. As Obama stated in his last speech, argumentation is what makes America work and stand out as the greatest country on earth.

  • jay2drummer

    See, that whole “unborn” thing usually catches me, since if something isn’t born, it’s not killing. As for homosexuals, just because it’s a small portion of the population doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.

  • dalailama420

    The “American holocaust” ended when the indiscriminate killing of native americans and blacks ended.

  • jay2drummer

    If a fetus is a person, then I ate 3 chickens for breakfast this morning.

  • mstephan

    So, if the difference between life and death is a matter of location, why don’t the doctors have to “jump start” infants hearts after they leave the womb? I mean, since they weren’t alive in the womb.

    Really, “…since if something isn’t born, it’s not killing.” That is your foundational argument? I think biologists would say that a child “in utero” is alive and therefore can be killed. Wow. If taking life isn’t “killing” what would you call it? How would you define it? I would be interested in knowing since I am trying to follow your logic here.

  • jay2drummer

    Cells are living creatures also. Doesn’t mean they’re people. A fetus, unlike a person, can’t survive outside the womb, can’t survive without living off the mother’s body. It has the potential to be a human life, but it’s not yet one, just like an egg has the potential to be a chicken, but is not yet a chicken until it hatches. If you disagree, that’s fine, and you don’t have to have abortions, perform abortions, and can even teach your children that you think it’s wrong. Just like those of us who don’t believe life begins until birth (hence the distinction between conception and birth) shouldn’t be forced to live by your beliefs.

  • THCR

    Simon, there is no more ‘Darwinism’ than there is ‘Newtonism’, the science you seem to refer to is called evolutionary biology. And in reply to mtstephan, actual biologists would call the fetus a part of the mother’s living body. Jay’s last post is spot on.

  • SimonTemplar

    jay2drummer, a full term baby can not survive outside the womb either, not without the mother’s care. All your point proves is that motherhood begins at conception.

    THCR, I have not use for your semantic games.

    I’m not talking about forcing anyone to live by my beliefs. I’m not talking about legislation. And if you look back at my points, I didn’t even mention God.

    As far as chickens are concerned, you only ate a chicken if the egg you ate was fertilized. This isn’t rocket science.

    My anti-abortion argument:

    Life begins at conception.

    Human life is dependent on the mother from the point of conception (and this is the case for some considerable time after birth as well) therefore motherhood begins at conception.

    Scientists can come up with sterile names for pre-born children and these clinical terms can make it easier for us to believe that unborn children are anything other than human. This technique was quite useful to the Nazis when dealing with those they did not consider to be human. However, changing something’s name does not change it’s nature.

    Science can not say definitively when life becomes human and so we are faced with a moral problem. Logically, it makes more sense to err on the side of protecting life.

  • mstephan

    Jay and THCR, When would you say “life” actually begins? WHen the heart beats? When the child can hear in utero? If life is a matter of location, then any child in the womb, at any time, up until they are completely out of the womb, may be terminated as simply “a collection of cells?” Is that a correct understanding of what you are presenting?

    Lastly, how would you define “personhood?”

  • jay2drummer

    It has nothing to do with de-linking marriage and child-rearing. An educated woman is also more likely o partake in protected sex, have access to and use birth control, and take advantage of various family planning methods, whereas an uneducated women is less likely to take advantage or have access to these things.

  • Catken1

    Actually, if you look at history, a great many poorer, less educated folks have never bothered with marriage at all, or never saw it (or were permitted to see it, in the case of slaves) as a valid alternative.

    If we want to improve marriage rates among parents, we need to boost EVERYONE’s educational and economic level. It’s the only thing that’s ever really worked for that…

  • Catken1

    Well, if you’re willing to grab your salvation by kissing the rear of the god who burns most of your brothers and sisters in agony forever and ever because they didn’t believe as you did (even if they were taught the “wrong” faith from childhood by everyone they knew and loved and trusted), then go for it. But it doesn’t make you moral, decent, humane or compassionate.

    And no, you still don’t get to declare pregnant women to be subhuman property to be used because your religion says that losing one’s human status is the proper punishment for being female and not a lifelong celibate, nor do you get to call it “murder” when a woman refuses a nine-month commitment to have someone live inside her and use her resources, while it’s simply your “right” to refuse the minor commitment of an hour’s blood donation every eight weeks to save someone else’s life. Live by your own faith – allow others to live by theirs. (And remember – if you deem it “murder” for a woman not to give over her body and body parts to another as punishment for having sex or being raped, someone else might declare it “murder” for you not to have your body parts harvested for someone else’s good as punishment for following an “inferior” religion or for being male. Why not? Do unto others…)

  • SursumCorda

    yes.. the secular law is suited to this temporal world. still – perhaps you might re-read the preamble of the constitution and (at least) try to understand the meaning and purpose..


    although you may not believe the truth in scriptures – you must understand some of us live by them.. and it has always independently been the strength of our nation.

    words from another devout believer:

    “My friend has said to me that I am a poor hand to quote Scripture. I will try it again, however. It is said in one of the admonitions of the Lord, “As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.” The Savior, I suppose, did not expect that any human creature could be perfect as the Father in Heaven; but He said, “As your Father in Heaven is perfect, be ye also perfect.” He set that up as a standard, and he who did most towards reaching that standard, attained the highest degree of moral perfection. So I say in relation to the principle that all men are created equal, let it be as nearly reached as we can.”

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I’m sure Mr. Berlinerblau is only concerned with helping conservatives win more elections. Only, by the time he gets his wish, conservatives will look just like liberals.

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