With all the horrors continuing to occur in the world, notably including the massacres perpetrated by Boko Haram in Africa and ISIS in the Middle East, the evangelist Franklin Graham has not exactly overlooked them. But it’s to some other crisis that he has been devoting most of his public preaching lately.
He’s been praying for the United States Supreme Court to interpret Scripture rather than the Constitution in deciding the same-sex marriage case.
Graham, the not-as-charming son of Billy, devoted a series of Facebook posts to prayers aimed at individual justices of the court.
They didn’t get much attention until he turned to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the senior of the three Jewish members of the court.
“(L)et’s pray that Justice Ginsburg’s eyes would be opened to the truth of Scripture and that she would not be deceived by the arguments of those who seek to impose their ‘new morality’ on our nation,” he wrote.
What he meant, obviously, was his fundamentalist Christian interpretation of Scripture. Although some critics sensed anti-Semitic undertones in applying them to Ginsburg, possible disrespect for her faith isn’t the only worrisome aspect of his remarks.
It’s his flagrant disrespect for the Constitution.
Interestingly, the Ginsburg reference was absent from Graham’s Facebook page when I looked for it Saturday, although a less loaded reference to Justice Elena Kagan remained.
But Graham isn’t backing away from his belief that the Constitution should be read in the light of Scripture.
The notion that the United States should be governed in even the slightest degree by religious doctrine is no different than the demand of ISIS to govern the world by Sharia law.
That’s where a small but intensely vocal subset of the Republican Party wants to take this country, proposing to amend the Constitution to declare this to be a “Christian nation.” Even if it’s only a cynical play for votes, it is subversive. It would encourage religious lobbies to legislate their beliefs even more than they do now – the increasing obstacles to abortion being the most obvious example.
Had the Founders intended for the United States to be governed in such a way, they would have said so in the Constitution. To the contrary, they mentioned religion only in the negative, by providing in Article VI that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” When the First Congress proposed the Bill of Rights, it prohibited any legal “establishment of religion” to insure that no one sect would work its will over others.
There’s a huge debate to be had over origins of marriage, which were actually in the nature of property transactions before they became sacramental, and whether there is any modern relevance to the sexual shibboleths conceived by people who didn’t know the world was round. But those questions have nothing to do with whether the denial of marriage to same-sex couples denies them their constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.
It is hard to understand why so many people, not just Graham, feel so threatened. How can anyone’s heterosexual marriage be impaired by the legal union of two men or two women? How will a straight couple’s life be affected in any way?
It has to do in part – an unfortunate part – I think, in how clergy of many faiths have profited from attempting to control the basic human sexual instinct. It has to do also with the power of tradition and fears of the unknown.
Yet for an increasing majority of Americans – and a surprisingly huge majority of the citizens of Ireland – a new and healthier perspective is taking hold: The right of people to live their own lives as they wish, not hurting others.
Regrettably, few issues separate our two political parties as much as that one.
It’s said that his party would not nominate even Ronald Reagan today, but I doubt that. Once a liberal Democrat, Reagan set his later career to the prevailing winds – most notably the South’s resentment over civil rights. It was Reagan, in fact, who encouraged the Religious Right takeover of the Republican Party.
Not long after that began, there was an eloquent outcry from a true conservative whom the Republicans definitely would not nominate today: Barry Goldwater. In extensive remarks in the Congressional Record, he warned against a force that “could succeed in dividing our country…the specter of single-issue religious groups…
“The use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing in our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their positions 100 percent.”
Goldwater emphasized that he shared many of their values.
But not their methods.
“I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A’,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
“And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate…
“We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”
So spoke a true conservative. Where have the others gone?
Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in western North Carolina. Column Courtesy of Context Florida.