Will "Justice Sunday" turn out to be a political and religious mistake? I think so. The scheduled April 24 rally and national telecast, sponsored by conservative Christian groups, advertises people I respect, including James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Chuck Colson, the born-again Watergate figure and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries. But the decision to hold the event is a woeful tactic based on a false premise.
The premise is that Senate Democrats, by threatening to filibuster several of President Bush's judicial choices, have attacked religious believers.
"Stop the filibuster against people of faith" is the slogan. The nominees "are being blocked because they are people of faith and moral conviction," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a sponsor of Justice Sunday. Pardon me, but this is clearly untrue. The Democrats would be delighted to approve fervently religious nominees, so long as they endorse Roe v. Wade and the party's general strategy of using the courts as an end run around the legislative process. The obvious is true: The filibuster threat is about abortion politics and left-right polarization, not religion.
Since this column is being written before Justice Sunday, there is no way for me to know how incendiary the rhetoric will be. But I am apprehensive.
Consider just the damaging fallout from an event that is meant as a strenuous effort to identify religion with one political party. The sponsors invited individual churches to show the telecast to their congregations, a big mistake. Churches should not be directly involved in politics. As a purely practical matter, churches that endorse a clearly political event (this one was to feature Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist) play into the hands of those who like to toss around the word theocrats and who would like to change the subject from filibusters to issues of church and state.
Accusing the Democrats of running a jihad against believers clearly implies that people who vote Democratic are either terribly ignorant or simply not good Christians, Jews, or Muslims. This is a surefire recipe for increasing polarization within the churches. One Baptist website complained caustically about "Injustice Sunday," quoting one minister who said: "There are people of faith on both sides; neither has God in their hip pocket on this issue."