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Religion Belongs in the Public Square

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
I love my wife.  Maryann is a remarkable and substantive person, elegant and astute; an artist by profession.  On Wednesday, she was quietly engrossed in developing a painting for an upcoming gallery showing when our five-year-old granddaughter stepped up with her own paintbrush loaded with red acrylic and added a blob of scarlet to the snowy landscape.

The response at a moment like that from the mature artist will remain a lasting memory to the impulsive apprentice.

I had a similar moment myself last weekend when I had the honor of meeting philosopher and author Os Guinness for the first time after decades of listening to his recorded lectures.  Dr. Guinness was the featured speaker at a gathering of about 75 admirers last Sunday.  I had arrived with an image of civilization all developed in my mind when Os Guinness unexpectedly stepped up to it with a paintbrush loaded with red acrylic.

Near the end of his speech, Dr. Guinness pronounced that, “the religious right has unfortunately politicized Christianity.”  The offense that I felt was validated by the enthusiastic applause by a left-thinking friend of mine who was sitting nearby.  As a right-leaning Christian, it suddenly seemed that my political involvements, or at least my methods, were being called into question by someone whom I had assumed would be on my side of the dialogue.  As the evening progressed, the discussion dwindled from 75 people to 8 to finally a meaningful one-to-one walk to the exit with Os Guinness.

Three days later, over an early morning cup of coffee with my own spiritual mentor, I recounted the exchange.  Dr. Howard Whaley chuckled, “I bet you lost that debate.”  I suppose that I did.  And, I came out the better for it.

While I don’t perceive that those of us on the right have a goal of politicizing Christian beliefs, I do think that Dr. Guinness delivers a very worthy caution.  The left attacks from their battlefield.  And the temptation for the right is to respond on that very ground, where we engage from a position of disadvantage, and the higher ground is overlooked.

A clear example is when the left claims public education as their province to proselytize America’s youth for their religion of environmentalism.  The right can respond with an emotional altercation that insults their god.  Or, the right can present a First Amendment rationalization while advancing the remedy of choice in education.  The latter approach leaves open the possibility of winning over the hearts and minds of those who have lived an isolated life within leftist ideology.

Where I hope that Os Guinness benefited from our conversation is gaining an appreciation that those on the right are usually the responders and rarely the instigators.  Folks on the right want simple freedom.  Those on the left wish to manage the people on the right.

An intriguing aspect of the left’s desire to control the citizens is one of coercing acceptance of leftist beliefs.  The greatest offense to folks on the left, it seems, is to feel that they are being judged by American conservatives.  Contemporary examples are the legalization of gay marriage and marijuana use.  The liberals who control California have not gone so far as to force the members of traditional churches to accept same-sex marriage.  But they have forced the residents of the State of California, against their expressed will, to recognize same-sex marriages.  In your face, pious zealot.

I will likely always struggle with the notion of defending attacks on tradition with a strategy of winning the hearts and minds of the aggressors.  The social obstacles that our liberal friends impose on our lives are irritating at best and at times atrocious.  But, I will give persuasion a try.  I will attempt to account for the internal conflicts that our leftist opponents struggle with -- while respectfully and vigorously defending our national inheritance. 

Maryann’s painting is done now, and it stands out richly.  She smartly blended Molly’s contribution into a cardinal patch of earth and balanced the scene with even more red on a distant shoreline.  She explained, “I had not thought of red.  Molly’s addition really opened my eyes.”

Happy 34th Anniversary, Maryann.

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