Entry from August 5, 2010

On the same day that The New York Times reports on, analyses and strongly editorializes (“Marriage Is a Constitutional Right”) in favor of a U.S. district judge’s decision that a democratically-passed (state) constitutional amendment in favor of traditional marriage is (federally) unconstitutional, the paper is also running an op ed column by one Amy Greene, a novelist, lamenting the politicization of religion. I wonder if it occurred to anybody at the Times that there might be some connection between these two things? Somehow I doubt it. But does Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion that “moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and women” not suggest that the moral disapprovers might have something to say in reply, not only about morality but about a “right” that no one ever heard of or even dreamed of up until a decade or two ago and which has now been arbitrarily deemed to be guaranteed by no less an authority than the U.S. Constitution?

Titled “Campaigning to the Choir,” Ms Greene’s piece is by-lined “Russellville, Tennessee,” and is designed to establish her bona fides as a church-going Southern lady.

As the daughter and granddaughter of preachers, and as someone who has lived in the hills of East Tennessee all my life, I know what a driving force faith is here, as necessary as food and water. Appalachia, don’t forget, is a land where homes were once miles apart and church was the only gathering place. Some of my first memories are of sitting in my grandfather’s church, a little cinder-block building tucked in a thicket, listening to his voice ringing in the rafters. After my grandfather died, my dad took over as pastor. I never heard either of them mention politics from the pulpit, even though at home, in a family that has been divided between Democrats and Republicans going all the way back to the Civil War, there were some heated discussions. My dad always said that it was biblical to pray for our leaders, but not to campaign for them in a house of worship.

Those were the days! I wonder what happened to them? She goes on to hymn the idyllic little church she used to attend there — where she knew all the hymns — until one dark day in 2008 when the preacher allegedly told his flock (or perhaps, to stay on the windy side of the law, hinted) that it was their Christian duty to vote Republican.

This is the opposite of what my grandfather and my dad and Appalachian preachers of their ilk tried to teach — a devotion that is as much a part of our mountain heritage as the land, that can’t be reduced to campaign propaganda, that shouldn’t be exploited for one vote or one issue. It’s way too big for that. I just wish politicians and pastors would stop making it so small.

Gee, Amy, can you think of any reason why things might have changed since the days of your father and grandfather? If they never mentioned politics from the pulpit, could that have been connected in any way with the fact that political leaders of the day and the judges they appointed never tried to tell them that the moral and religious teachings that they proclaimed from the pulpit every Sunday were unconstitutional? Did those politicians, moreover, ally themselves with a minority of moral and political “progressives” who would have had no hesitation to accuse your daddy and grand-daddy of “bigotry” for preaching what their daddies and grand-daddies had preached for many generations past? I don’t think so. Judge Walker’s airy dismissal of “moral disapproval alone,” said the Times editorial “could someday help change history.” But history has already changed in ways that require traditional moralists who are under political and legal assault to fight back with the same weapons. If religion has been politicized, it’s the politicians — nearly all of them Democrats, by the way — who have done it.

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