Whether you are religious or not the fiery words of several pastors have impacted our world politically this year. I personally think that the heightened discussion of faith and values is a good thing. Interestingly, American culture seems to be growing more secular and more religiously inspired at the same time. Like many other aspects of our culture, there seems to be a polarization of religious beliefs. There are best selling books espousing atheism, every stripe of Christianity, and alternative religions. Many Americans are currently describing themselves as spiritual while rejecting organized religion.
Despite the changing religious belief systems, America’s pulpit has never been so prominent. Four years ago, only the religious right seemed to have a voice. Today, however, persons of faith from both the feft and the right of the political spectrum are lifting their voices more than ever before.
This trend has been chronicled by our cable news networks. Fox News broke the tabooed barrier of playing church messages on secular television. Critics complained that only sound bites of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons were presented. Conservatives gleefully repeated the extreme remarks of Presidential candidate Barak Obama’s pastor. Recently the tables have shifted, CNN and other media outlets have vilified the character and messages of Pastor Rod Parsley and Pastor John Hagee. Ironically John McCain’s rejection of the endorsement he sought from these two preachers, undeservingly labeled these evangelical ministers as right wing extremists.
People on different sides of the cultural divide read different things into the politics of these ministers. The sermons we have heard were a new kind of Rorschach “inkblot test.” They tell us more about the viewer than the artist. The question that Americans are asking is, “What shall we do with faith? Should we ignore it or embrace it?”
I am thankful for the freedom of speech and freedom of religion we enjoy in this land. Earlier this year, Chuck Colson and I debated Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State along with Dr. Berlinerbau of Georgetown University about the role of the Church in politics. This took place in the UVA Miller Center and the debate aired nationally on PBS. Our opponents’ position was that the Church was an unwelcome interloper in the public square.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.