… you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men … when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. Matthew 6:5-6
Annual remembrances, memorial dedications, and the ongoing national sojourn to find closure on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 are upon us. I didn’t intend to add another voice to the many being heard in articles, editorials, commentaries, chat rooms, blog entries, television programs, and radio talk shows. Did I miss anything? I’m not sure that what we’re doing on such a large scale is cathartic for the nation’s soul, that it transcends the tragedy, or I need to add something that is likely to be said or written by someone else.
Yet spiritually and especially intellectually I feel compelled to write after reading a New York Times article quoting among others Richard D. Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy wing, who criticized Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for excluding religious leaders from speaking at the City’s event.
Perhaps most perplexing is Land’s comment that describes New York City, where every major and minor religion in the world has found respect, a home, and can freely thrive, as the “epicenter of secularism.” It’s an odd accusation considering the widespread and documented hostility found in parts of the South toward non-Baptists, Christian or otherwise.
In 2010, Land was a founding member of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM). The ADL sub-group fights religious bigotry and prejudice against the faith of Muslim Americans. As a matter of disclosure I’m a member.
According to his letter of resignation, “While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is ‘a bridge too far.’” How does protecting someone’s right to practice their faith, a corner stone of America, make it a “bridge too far?”
By the way, the U.S. Census reports that states with the lowest divorce rates are in the Northeast and those with the highest are in the South. It’s worth pointing out that Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, have adopted either civil unions or same-sex marriage laws. Critics call these laws a threat to the sanctity of traditional marriage.
States with the highest divorce rates include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. All of these states amended their constitutions to either ban civil unions, same-sex marriages or both. If such standards are to be used to measure secularism or America’s moral decline then other statistics from the South on social issues are just as eye-opening.
Gretchen Carlson of “Fox and Friends,” based in New York City, had one of her apoplectic meltdowns because Buddhist nuns “which we didn’t even know existed” would participate at the Washington National Cathedral memorial event. She complained that not one Baptist was included. There are over 1,500 Christian denominations in the United States. Worldwide there are over 30,000.
Although Ms. Carlson appears not to know that Buddhism pre-dates Christianity, or more specifically, that there are Buddhist nuns, doesn’t mean the rest of us weren’t aware of it. Nor does it mean that many didn’t know of Buddhism’s contributions to the social and religious fabric of America.
Although Christians will be represented at the Washington event, apparently one group is either better than another or in the spirit of a new kind of political and religious correctness Baptists, especially Southern, must always have a role, ignoring time limitations, despite the presence of other Protestants.
According to Jesus “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Apparently, this foundation of the Christian faith that should apply to every denomination doesn’t. Christians can’t agree among themselves as to what it means to be one. Is New York City really the “epicenter of secularism” or are the Christians who fight among themselves the real champions of secularism?
Mayor Bloomberg made a wise decision to exclude religious speakers. The solemnity of the event should not be marred by religious silliness or denominational vanity which also does more to secularize the nation than anything else. The Holy Author doesn’t need to be made into a public spectacle.
© Paul Peter Jesep 2011