Don't Take Perry's Faith Bait

We all know the age-old philosophical question: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Here's an updated one: If a floundering and desperate politician tries to pick a fight but no one takes his bait, does it do him any good?

Perry is waving a red cape in front of the Left with his new ad attacking Obama's "war on religion." Yes, he is trying to appeal to conservatives, but the ad is so over-the-top that it will turn off a lot of traditional faith voters, even conservative ones. The point of the ad isn't to move the dial. The point of the ad is to pick a fight and make Perry relevant again. And because so much of the Christian Right is built on the myth of persecution, this ad is set up to make Perry the guy the left is coming after.

Perry wants liberals, preferably the separation of church and state crowd, to blast him. He wants the left to spend a ton of time talking about religious bigotry toward gays and why prayer in school and not being respectful of other religions during the holidays is bad. He wants Democrats to start trying to defend Obama's faith, as if it needs defending...and as if many of the traditional talking heads on the left are best equipped to defend it.

Perry has framed this debate, set the trap, and is hoping we'll walk right into it and attack him within the confines of the argument he picked. Democrats have a long history of not doing so hot when--filled with rage and righteous indignation--we blindly charge the fortified rhetorical positions the GOP has built. The current GOP frontrunners don't fit the culture war narratives. That is why we're not hearing much about it. If you want to keep it that way, let's not fuel Perry's piddly attempt to start a fire.

Now a legitimate strategic case could be made that a response that helps Perry actually is a wise strategic decision because Perry has so many problems as a candidate that he'd be great to face in November. But the cost to our country of reinforcing the narrative in this ad and fueling this faith fight he is trying to start probably is not worth the political benefits.

Let's remember, the guy trying to claim the Christian mantle only gives 1/100th of a tithe to his church. And the main point of his ad is that he's willing to talk about being a Christian. Jesus had a few things to say about people who spent their energies trying to look faithful to others (Matthew 6:5, Matthew 23:22-28, etc), and the Book of James is even more direct about how simply talking about God and believing in Him aren't that much to brag about: "You believe there is one God. Good. Even the demons believe in God--and they shudder" (James 2:15-19).

Most Americans know that real faith is about more than talk. Most people will see Perry's ad for what it is: a desperate attempt to become relevant. Those who don't won't be convinced by anything we say.

As a Christian, I'm sorry for the ad. It's not what we're about and rather pitiful. If anyone was actually hurt, instead of just astounded by it, I and many other Christians are truly sorry. It doesn't reflect the Jesus I know and follow.

But let's not reinforce Perry's cry-for-attention by picking a fight. That will only give Perry what he wants and raise the risk folks on the Left will say things that push more conservative Christians--who are now choosing between (in their view) an adulterer and a cult member--to the guy "being attacked because he said he was a Christian." There are a lot better uses for our time than trying to argue with a political has-been.