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DAVID DALLAS: The culture wars and the cross we bear

David Dallas

David Dallas

As the nation comes to terms with the Religious Freedom Laws being promulgated, reconsidered and revised in states like Arkansas and Indiana, I am reminded of the Sanford and Son episode where Fred tries to avoid paying taxes by purchasing a mail-order clergy ordination. When he realizes the mail-order scam is a con to steal what little he owns, Fred figures out a way to break the contract by creating a new religion, the Seventh Day Junkists. “We are all junkists, who practice Junkism.”

America’s culture war turned into a load of junk years ago. All sides just keep piling it on with little thought for our fellow citizens and the future of our nation. We need to start thinking and caring for one another now. Opponents of the Religious Freedom Laws should be supporting liberty for all Americans, even those of faith. When state, local or federal government try to compel our fellow citizens to participate in activities that violate their religious beliefs, we should all be concerned.

Those in favor of these Religious Freedom Laws need to reflect on how such laws could aid and abet the hateful lunatic fringe of our nation’s religious communities. In some states, Christians might be a discriminating majority but the door would be open for them to be discriminated against by the other groups, sects, atheists — Junkists even. Imagine your favorite Indian or Moroccan restaurant refusing to serve Christians. Or your favorite Italian restaurant refusing to serve a Presbyterian.

Honestly, other than a customer behaving like an absolute jerk, why would any business want to deny service to anyone? Particularly a Christian-run business. Jesus was a carpenter. If a gay Samaritan or transsexual Roman Administrator or Egyptian Lesbian or an absolute jerk from Samaria wanted Jesus to make a chair for them, don’t you think Jesus would do it?

Jesus might have preached to his customers a little bit, but mostly he showed his love and compassion for them. If they didn’t like his preaching or his craftsmanship, they could go to the carpenter down the street or in the next town.

After all, it’s all about the money. Indiana and Arkansas proved that last month with their quick revisions to their discriminatory laws. Christians on the far right were just about ready to proclaim a New Jerusalem, then the Great God of Commerce revealed itself.

Businesses threatened to boycott Indiana. Wal-Mart reminded the political leaders of Arkansas just who owns the state. While politicians have long given lip service to religious groups because they need their votes and their impassioned workers, they know better than to tempt the Wrath of the Almighty Dollar.

So for those of us who fear these Religious Freedom Laws or some impending theocracy in America, we can relax for the moment. We are in no danger, unless it turns out to be one of those prosperity gospel theocracies with Joel Osteen as President.

Big money trumps not only religious liberty but our other liberties as well. Consider the money poured into political campaigns. Such unrestrained spending takes power from individual citizens, perpetuates our culture war, and will be the ultimate destroyer of the American experiment.

Of course, the cultural war battle continued last week in Mississippi as a nearly $200,000 worth of steel was welded in the form of a 110-foot tall crucifix and hoisted over Berry’s Seafood in Florence. As many of the disciples were fisherman, the location makes perfect sense.

When Christians in Mississippi start erecting large crosses, folks rightfully get nervous. We all want to believe that these believers’ hearts are in the right place. At least, we should want to believe that. Sadly, however, it was evident last week that a few are more interested in political and theological grandstanding than living and sharing the gospel of Christ.

Take our Lt. Governor…, please. He found himself at the foot of the cross during its grand opening. Casting lots for Christ’s voters, he told the crowd, “Let those who drive past experience God’s grace.” WTH?

Reverend Tater may believe this is how Christians should share God’s grace with the world, but it’s not biblical. Peter writes that in order to share God’s grace we must love each other deeply and serve without grumbling. The apostle Paul mentions faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love, and exhorts us to excel in the grace of giving. Paul tells Christians to do good to all people. That’s “all” people.

In this age of self righteousness and idols, most of us tend to worship at our electronic device of choice, pointing and clicking on the latest indignation in our culture war. Each new indignation becoming ever more egregious while we become more and more isolated and entrenched in our own bigotry. But before it’s too late, all of us should reach out to those that have experienced and, therefore, view life differently. Jesus gave a perfect example of honest engagement, true understanding and love.

In a recent editorial, Steve Prothero, author of The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation, suggested that, in order to preserve liberty for both sides of the culture war, a grand bargain is needed, “in which the left would agree not to impose its secular morality on religious individuals while the right would agree not to impose its religious rules on society at large.” But where and how do we begin?

Fred Sanford’s Junkist church made plans for a Bigot Beer Bash. Fred told his congregation to “Bring a bigot, and some beer, and we’ll bash ‘em.”

Let us work to bash our own bigotry. Christ referred to it as “the beam in our own eyes.” Then we can share a beer together, or wine, perhaps… unless you’re a Baptist, in which case, you could share a sweet tea and that, too, would be just fine.

» David Dallas is a political writer for the Mississippi Business Journal. He worked for former U.S. Sen. John Stennis and authored Barking Dawgs and A Gentleman from Mississippi.


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One comment

  1. “So for those of us who fear these Religious Freedom Laws or some impending theocracy in America, we can relax for the moment. We are in no danger…”

    That depends on what you mean by “theocracy” I suppose. However, there are plenty of reasons for non-fundamentalist Christians to be concerned.

    1. Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said with a straight face that the First Amendment (1A) only applies to Christians. While it is easy for people up north to make fun of him, folks in Alabama have to take him seriously.

    2. Moore is not alone. Fifty-seven percent of the GOP wants a constitutional amendment establishing Christianity as the national religion. (Can you guess why I left the party?) Given that many these folks tend to be evangelical Protestants who don’t consider Catholics or Mormons to be true Christians, those folks should sweat as much as Muslims and atheists.


    3. Justice Scalia doesn’t go quite that far. He only believes the 1A allows the government to promote religion over non-religion. So he’d strike down a law requiring us all to become Baptists, but presumably would uphold a law requiring us all attend a church of our choice.

    As an Episcopal-turned-Lutheran-turned-apatheist-turned-Catholic-turned-atheist, this seems like as good a time as any to be worried.

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