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President Plays the Christian Trump Card

Op/Ed on Bush's Use of Religious Language:
President Plays the Christian Trump Card


President Bush often reminds me of a first year seminary student who, after one course in theology, thinks his particular view of faith answers all of life's most complex problems. As a Baptist minister for over 40 years, I hold sacred the beliefs and moral principals inherent in my faith, yet as a Christian I can tell you the President does not always speak for me, nor can he claim to speak for all Christians in America. Christians like all other people of faith are incredibly diverse in their thoughts and political ideas.

Just as religious leaders must refrain from trying to dictate the political beliefs of their congregants, political leaders must disdain the misguided illusion that they speak as prophets of God's will. It is not remotely within the realm of the President's executive duties to voice and advance particular sectarian priorities.

Yet at this week's National Religious Broadcasters convention, the President sat by and listened approvingly to himself being described as God's chosen man for this hour in our nation. He then made one statement that I find deeply disturbing: he linked an imminent American attack on Iraq to his understanding of Christian morality, saying that this attack would be, "in the highest moral traditions of our country". How can he say that when for four centuries Christians refused to serve in the military?

The President of the United States is the political leader of the nation, not the religious leader. Just as religion should not be a test for any political candidate for public office, religion should not be a tool of any political leader in a public office. In no way should the President of the United States politicize religion, or by the use of religious language from one particular religious tradition, alienate citizens from other traditions or no tradition.

The distinction that I see between the language in President Bush's statements and the kind of historic civil religion that had previously existed in America, is that President Bush is drawing from a very particular faith tradition, Evangelical Christianity, and is using that language to advance policies and to make arguments for the support of his various initiatives.

That language, whether used in statements to comfort, challenge, or guide the nation, leaves out whole segments of Americans who don't understand its meaning and who don't identify with, or in many instances even agree with, its substance.

Using this language, the President has escalated every issue to a kind of transcendent religiously-morally substantive subject. Through this language, the President is telling people who disagree with or question his public policies that these are not just political issues, these are moral issues. That's akin to playing the Christian trump card.

Democracy has been crippled. No longer can Americans practice healthy debate. By employing this language, the President has succeeded in framing every American who questions his policies as opposing good, good that ought to triumph over evil. When everything is absolutized in this way, debate stops: the moment there is a difference of opinion it's not just another idea, it's an expression of evil.

How dare any politician, including the President, even implicitly suggest that God is a kind of mascot for the nation. Affirmation of a particular faith tradition must never be made a litmus test for measuring patriotism.

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Founded in 1994 in opposition to the Religious Right, The Interfaith Alliance (TIA) strives to demonstrate that there are more voices in the religious community than those of extremists, and challenges those who manipulate religion to promote a narrow, divisive agenda. TIA is a non-partisan, clergy-led grassroots organization that, with more than 150,000 members drawn from over 65 faith traditions, local Alliances in 38 states and a national network of religious leaders, promotes compassion, civility and mutual respect for human dignity in our increasingly diverse society.

Melissa Schwartz, Media Relations Director
(202) 639-6370, ext. 106

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