On July 12 of this year, Hindu Chaplain Rajan Zed of Nevada gave the opening prayer in the U.S. Senate. The prayer was disrupted by Christian activists who called prayer in the Senate by a non-Christian an "abomination." The live protest had been preceded by virulent opposition to the invitation to a non-Christian by the Reverend Donald Wildmon, leader of the American Family Association, and David Barton, a "Christian nation" activist. (1)
This type of intolerance is not new to the Religious Right in the United States. Indeed, a sizeable segment of the Religious Right, Christian Reconstructionists, also called Dominionists, hopes to supplant democracy based on the separation of Church and State with theocracy. The laws, policies, and customs in this theocracy will be grounded in the Bible, including parts of the Old Testament that moderate Christians long ago repudiated, which require "the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, witches, incorrigible juvenile delinquents and those who spread false religions." (2)
In May of this year Christian Reconstructionists gathered for a four-day conference in Asheville, North Carolina, hosted by a large, wealthy group called American Vision which is based in Powder Springs, Georgia. It is a mistake to view American Vision as an isolated, fringe voice in the Religious Right because it has close ties with the Alliance Defense Fund, which promotes the agenda of the Religious Right in the courts, the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Liberty University School of Law, World magazine, the Traditional Values Coalition, the Southern Baptist Convention, and other influential groups. (3).
Speakers at the May conference were bold and clear about their hopes and wishes:
American Vision President Gary DeMar told the audience that it was time to restore "the sovereignty of God" at home and abroad.
Gary Cass called for Americans to proclaim that America "was and is a Christian nation..." with a mandate from God to Christianize the world.
The Reverend Voddie Baucham, Jr., and Doug Phillips called on all Christians to withdraw their children from public schools and to immerse them in a Bible-based worldview at home.
Jeff Ventrella and Ken Fletcher of the American Defense Fund assured the assembly that efforts to restore America's Christian heritage are being redoubled in the courts and that authentic Christians have a directive from God to "win the world for Christ."
Finally, Janet Folger, a lobbyist for fundamentalists, urged stronger efforts by Christian fundamentalists against gays and for a "values" candidate for President whose Supreme Court appointees will overturn Roe v. Wade. (3)
Christian Reconstructionists see America and the world at a critical point where the forces of good - the followers of Jesus, are arrayed against the forces of evil - seculars, lukewarm Christians, and non-Christians, and they promise salvation to all Christians who join the fray in the name of Jesus. All this sounds painfully familiar, doesn't it? It is time that all of us who are committed to Constitutional democracy, mutual respect and toleration, and the value of public schools learn that religious zealots in distant corners of our planet are not our only threat.
1. Press Release, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, July 12, 2007.
2. Jeremy Leaming, "Fringe Festival," Church & State, July/August 2007, Vol. 60., No. 7, p. 10.
3. Leaming, p. 10.
4. Leaming., pp. 11-13.
Copyright © 2007 Tom Shipka