By Rob Boston
Are you Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or a non-believer? If so, Louisiana preacher Dennis Terry has some advice for you: Accept that America is a “Christian nation” or leave the county. Now. You’re not wanted here.
“I don’t care what the liberals say, I don’t care what the nay-sayers say, this nation was founded as a Christian nation. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – there’s only one God. There’s only one God, and his name is Jesus,” thundered Terry during a Sunday rally for Rick Santorum at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church.
“I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words,” he continued. “I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or that we can no longer pray in public. Listen to me, if you don’t love America, if you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say: GET OUT! We don’t worship Buddha, I said we don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammad, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”
The New York Times reported that Santorum applauded the March 18 remarks and that at the end of the sermon, Terry “held his hand over Mr. Santorum and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and asked God to ‘have favor’ on him, to ‘watch over him, bless him and keep him safe.’” (Perkins is a member of the church.)
Santorum was asked by reporters about Terry’s comments and did some quick verbal fencing, insisting that he believes “very much in the freedom of religion and folks should be able to worship whoever they want to worship and bring their thoughts in the public square.”
Santorum also stated that he wasn’t clapping to support those portions of Terry’s remarks and even said he “wasn’t quite listening” to that passage. (Really? How could you help but listen when Terry was shouting at the top of his lungs?)
For his part, Terry is being defiant. He told The Christian Post that the clip of him fulminating, which is circulating on the web, is somehow being distorted. He stands by his insistence that America is a “Christian nation.”
Let’s get a few things straight: As a nation, “we” don’t worship any god. But individuals are free to worship (or not) as they see fit. Some do indeed worship Jesus Christ. Others worship Allah. Jews worship the God of the Old Testament. Buddhists and Hindus worship according to the tenets of their faith.
All are Americans. All are welcome here. All enjoy equal rights under the Constitution. No one has to “get out” or do one blessed thing to make Pastor Terry happy. As much as he proclaims to love America, Pastor Terry is the one who is behaving in an un-American manner because he doesn’t respect or appreciate one of the best things about this nation: freedom of conscience.
As bad as Terry’s rant is, in a way it’s very helpful. People like Perkins have spent years trying to paste a pleasant and moderate face on the Religious Right. “Values voters” merely want their place at the table, Perkins has argued. They don’t want to run anyone else’s lives. They’re just a bunch of people who love God. What’s wrong with that?
We at Americans United have spent years pointing out why that’s not the case, and we’ve labored to expose the extremism and the hardcore religious-political agenda that undergirds the Religious Right.
It can be tough to get that message out. But along comes Pastor Terry, and he rips that mask of moderation right off. All of America can now see the ugliness lying beneath – the same old “my-way-or-the-highway” intolerance that has fueled political fundamentalism for decades. It’s the same old insistence by some preacher that his narrow interpretation of the Bible gives him the right to run your life. It’s the same old bogus history and twisted interpretation of the Constitution.
Don’t like what you see? You don’t have to “get out” as Terry suggests. But you can get a little angry. Get a little worked up over the people who dare to pose as patriots while they mock the very values of our Constitution.
But don’t stop there. Get to work, too. Work to defend the one thing that keeps people like Terry and all those who think like him from running your life: the wall of separation between church and state.
P.S. Several people have asked if this activity violates federal law, which prohibits tax-exempt charities and houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates. It’s unclear. Organizers of the event claim they invited all of the candidates but that only Santorum showed up. Also, Terry’s sermon, as vile as it was, does not appear to contain an endorsement of Santorum. Americans United is continuing to investigate.