Dear Rick Perry: “Learning to Love Liberalism and Religion”

Texas Governor Rick Perry released a new thirty-second presidential campaign ad yesterday titled, “Strong.” Here’s the transcript:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian. But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m not ashamed to be a Christian either, but I celebrate that gays can serve openly in the military, and — while the Perry campaign spent the past few days preparing and promoting a bigoted ad — the Obama Administration was announcing to the world that “the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote gay rights around the world.” Amen.

As a Christian minister, I am also opposed to prayer in public schools. I learned this stance from Jesus, who said:

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-6)

By all means, please do pray if you are so inclined. Pray in your heart (even at school), pray at home, pray in your religious community, and pray, at all these times, for the emergence of statesmanship and honest political discourse in our country.

In response to Perry’s ad, the Associated Press admirably pointed out that

Perry’s suggestion that Obama has led the way in banning prayer in public school is factually wrong.The Supreme Court prohibited school prayer in two landmark decisions in 1962 and 1963, calling it an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The court has repeatedly reaffirmed restrictions on religious expression in public schools, including a decision banning the posting of the Ten Commandments in school and another prohibiting students from using a school loudspeaker to offer a prayer before football games.

Bravo, Associated Press! We need quick and constant fact-checking given the upsurge in duplicity that has already marred the current campaign season. (See, for example, Columbia professor of journalism Thomas B. Edsall’s important recent article in The New York Times on “The Reinvention of Political Morality.”)

As to the so-called “War on Christmas” that Fox News and others disingenuously trot out each holiday season, I can do no better than to point you to The Daily Show‘s recent evisceration of this annual false outrage.

Finally, regarding “Obama’s war on religion” and “liberal attacks on our religious heritage,” liberalism and conservatism are both deeply part our nation’s religious heritage, as the copy of The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition that arrived in my mailbox a few days ago attests. Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s founders, while he was still in the White House as President of the United States (the high office to which Perry aspires), began his Jesus Seminar-style cut-and-paste job on the Gospels to separate the ‘chaff’ of superstition and mythology from the ‘wheat’ that is the authentic core of Jesus’ life and teaching.

Moreover, theological historian Gary Dorrien, in his magisterial, three-volume work, The Making of American Liberal Theology defines liberal theology as “based on reason and critically interpreted religious experience, not external authority” (1). In the twenty-first century, as Christianity enters its third millennium, what’s wrong with having reason and experience as vital criterions of authority in addition to tradition? Jefferson helped show us the way in the early nineteenth-century. So, Governor Perry, I invite you to stop worrying, and learn to love liberalism and religion.

For Further Study

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

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About Carl Gregg

The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook facebook.com/carlgregg and Twitter @carlgregg.


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