I received my religious training in the late 50's and early 60's in the First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Florida, a small liberal Southern college town. We were taught that love and tolerance for, and forgiveness of ourselves and our fellow man, were at the top of the teachings of Christ. I remain a Southern Baptist and my views have changed little since then.
My membership remained in Gainesville for nearly 20 years after I had left the community. I had never found a Southern Baptist church to match the compassion of my first church. Yes, I am sure that there were things going on that I didn't know about or understand, and Gainesville at that time was a homogeneous community. We were far removed from the racial strife of the times. There were no blacks in my school, only one Jewish boy, and just a handful of Catholics. It's easy to get along when you all have the same heritage.
The 2000 Republican Presidential primary was like a return of a nightmare for me. My personal conflict with-? religious bigotry" came at the height of the political power of the "Religious Right" in 1985 when I finally decided to move my membership to the largest Baptist Church in Orlando. I chose it because my then fiancTe was a member and the pastor was a great speaker, a moderate, and he was slated for the presidency of the powerful Southern Baptist Convention and would bring some sense to them.
My first conflict came when I presented myself for membership in that church and learned that I would have to go through a series of indoctrination classes designed to weed out undesirables. Everyone was aghast when I refused. Silly me... here I thought there was only one criteria for becoming a member of Christ's Church.
I continued to attend the church, and they continued to accept my tithes, but I always squirmed in my seat when the traditional call to receive salvation came at the end of the Sunday service or the vote was made to accept new members; an old Southern tradition, I might add, designed to keep out Blacks and other "undesirables". There are Black families in the church now but they are merely dots in a sea of white faces. My guess is that Black candidates need to be a close relative of Ole' Uncle Tom to survive the process.
My second run in with the church came several years later when my wife (now my ex-wife) lobbied for an annulment of our marriage by accusing me of being a homosexual. If you remember this was at the time of the most intense AIDS scare, and the fact that I had an "alleged homosexual" working for me, and that I was refusing to fire him on that grounds, was enough "proof" (for my ex-wife and the First Baptist Church) that I was a homosexual.-?
I was called before the church management to repent my sins. Mind you, it didn't seem to matter to them that the allegations weren't true. I admit that I had plenty to repent for, but being a homosexual wasn't one of them. Furthermore, I'm not at all sure that homosexuality is something one must repent for in the first place.
I continued to attend and tithe and remained on their mailing list. The final blow came to my continued participation in this church came when I received a letter from the pastor that admonished a lesser minister in the church for having an affair and announcing his dismissal. Mind you, I was not even a member of the church, didn't know about the affair, and did not want to know about the affair. I saw no reason for the pastor to publicly humiliate the man.
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Senator Warren Rudman, in his book, said that he had met many fine people in the "religious right" but he had also met-? religious zealots, homophobes, etc. For that Pat Robertson called Senator Warren Rudman a "vicious bigot". Pat Robertson's manipulation of the truth and his character assassination of John McCain in the South Carolina primary is typical of religious zealots that gave us the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pillaging of the American Indian under guise of Manifest Destiny, lynching of "niggers" by "Good Christians", and the out and out theft of the state of Hawaii. Name your own example, for history is replete with examples of-? discrimination, death, destruction, and injustice in the name of religious conviction.
Religious intolerance and disrespect for the spirituality of others is an ugly, ugly inheritance and harms us all. In the US, we can't even have spirituality in our public schools because the "Extreme Religious Right" can not be trusted to respect the religion of others. I, for one, have no problem with evangelical efforts as long as people are free to accept or reject the message without adverse consequences.
George W. Bush went to the corner in his bid for the presidency. His appeal to Bob Jones University, Pat Robertson, and the "Extreme Religious Right" to save him in South Carolina is one of the biggest blunders in American politics and the quest for separation of church and state. It was somewhat expected, as George Bush had tried everything possible -- from exaggerating a poor record in a weak executive state, copying John McCain's campaign messages, and blanketing us with negatives.-?
Quite frankly I have a problem with the proven character of many politicians in general. Gore's and Bush's apparent willingness to say and do what is necessary to win the most votes seems cut from the same bolt of cloth.-? I would love to have Bill Bradley as President, but I don't think we will get that chance.-? While one can disagree with his stance on issues, no one can question that this man has made good choices with his personal life.
I am sure of one thing. If George W. Bush is elected and runs the country like he ran his campaign so far, then we are in a heap of trouble.
After the primaries, InnerSelf will endorse a candidate from either the Republican, Democratic, Reform, or Green Party. We will do so on our upcoming Holistic Politics site-? http://www.HolisticPolitics.com where we will study the issues and where the candidates stand. But in my mind, George W. Bush or any other candidate who plays to weakness of mankind for personal gain will be eliminated from the our list of possibilities, after all, a leopard can't change his spots just because he's president.
The era of "politics as usual" is on its last leg in the US.-? But this era is not going out without the normal kicking and screaming -- as witnessed in South Carolina. But rest assured that the dawn of the age of government by the people, for the people, and of the people is upon us.-?
About the Author
Robert Jennings is co-publisher of InnerSelf.com with his wife Marie T Russell. InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as InnerSelf.com. Please support our work.
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