Two of my favorite bumper stickers relate to the intersection of religion and politics: from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, "Separation of Church & State is Good for Both;" from the Interfaith Alliance, "Worship your faith, not your politics."
In Oklahoma these days, religion and politics don't just intersect -- they're wedded. Tightly.
This unholy alliance produces bad public policy, institutionalizes discrimination, and costs taxpayers dearly.
There's no better case in point, currently, than the legal showdown over the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol.
Once again, taxpayers will end up footing the legal bill to defend the indefensible -- in this case, the erection of a religious monument on public property.
Why did state officials approve the Ten Commandments monument near the Capitol's north entrance? They knew it would result in a legal fight that -- even if supporters prevailed -- would cost far more than the symbolism is worth. Think about it: Is there any doubt that Christianity is the dominant religion in Oklahoma? What's located on just about every other corner in every town across the state? It's not a temple.
The sad fact is our political leaders frequently pander to the noisiest elements. In Oklahoma today, it's simply easier to wear your Christianity on your sleeve than to attempt to silence those who believe that America was founded as a Christian nation, a rewriting of history all too often perpetuated from the pulpit or stand up to the fanatical teachings of TV and radio blowhards who insist an around-the-clock War on Christianity is dooming our nation to God's eternal wrath.
I don't presume to speak for God, but I can tell you this: If you study real sober history -- not the poppycock of pseudo-historians like David Barton -- you'll remember that America not only was to be a land that embraced freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion.
Moreover, many of our Founders were deists, believing a higher power created the world and established natural laws but -- in Noah Webster's words -- "takes no further part in its functioning."
And a War on Christianity? Silly. Those constantly on the lookout for reasons to be aggrieved fail to consider that the real threat to organized religion in America is the all-too-common marriage of religion and politics.
Certain denominations are losing members at a time when the overall population is increasing. Could it be because too many religious leaders and denominations are too focused on imposing their political and moral worldviews rather than encouraging members to seek spiritual enlightenment through study, prayer and worship?
Even Southern Baptists, long the nation's largest Protestant denomination, recognize the damage their brand has suffered in recent decades, even toying with the idea of a name change -- a way to help create a fresh start, public relations-wise.
Those who support the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn will no doubt cheer Attorney General Scott Pruitt and his ilk who'll portray this as the latest skirmish in the War on Christianity.
Sadly, the voices of others -- both religions and non-religious -- aren't getting much attention in the Oklahoma mainstream media, where any perceived attack on religion can be packaged to attract viewers and sell subscriptions.
Naturally, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma is the villain for fighting to uphold the separation of church and state principle.
But it's at least worth pondering what led a longtime Baptist pastor to serve as the lead plaintiff in the case.
In a letter last year to the ACLU, Dr. Bruce Prescott noted that he visits the Capitol in his role as leader of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and as a member and official of such groups as Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, and the Sierra Club.
The monument, he says, is "an affront to every person who affirms that the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing religion.
"I am a Baptist minister. I am not opposed to the Ten Commandments. In fact, I exhort people to obey them. I am not opposed to monuments to the Ten Commandments that are placed on private property and/or on the grounds of religious institutions.
"I am opposed to erecting Ten Commandments monuments on public property and particularly on the grounds of the state Capitol where people of different faiths and of no faith go to exercise their rights as citizens."
(Disclosure I: Prescott sits on the advisory board of The Oklahoma Observer, the monthly journal of commentary that I own and edit.)
Prescott correctly notes that Baptists -- his "spiritual ancestors," as he put it -- were instrumental in helping pass the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because they were "determined to ensure that every citizen had 'liberty of conscience,' i.e., the freedom to worship or not worship....
"That is why they were adamant in denying support for the Constitution until it separated church and state and protected the equal rights of citizenship for all religious minorities....
"And that is why we find the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol so offensive. In effect, it sends a signal that certain faith traditions are endorsed and sanctioned by the government while those who adhere to other faith traditions are second-class citizens in their own society."
(Disclosure II: I am a member of and regularly attend a Baptist church that is dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.)
While roads and bridges crumble and schools and prisons burst at the seams, our political leaders insist on picking moral and religious fights that have no business in the public policy arena.
Sharia Law, reproductive rights, religious monuments -- all legal battles that squander precious taxpayer dollars that could be deployed to help solve real -- not manufactured -- problems.
If I thought for a minute the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds would somehow ensure all elected leaders and special interest lobbyists acted honestly, morally and ethically, I might be persuaded it's good thing.
As it is, it's simply another sideshow we can't afford.
Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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