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Two Visions Of Faith: Competing For The Allegiance Of A Nation

What people like Tony Perkins don't understand -- or choose to ignore -- is that his ability to practice his religion as he sees fit is a direct result of the hands-off approach that government has taken toward religion for the last 200 plus years
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I am a cultural terrorist, at least that's what Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council implied in a recent interview with the American Family Association's daily radio podcast.

What have I done to deserve to be associated with a term normally reserved for people like Timothy McVeigh and Osama Bin Laden?

I support the separation of church and state.

According to Tony Perkins, I should be cast out from society as an unpatriotic American because I support the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom, including the prohibition against government establishing a religion or prohibiting me from practicing my faith.

Perkins considers me godless -- no doubt a great shock to my congregation -- because I don't believe our public schools are an appropriate venue for organized Christian prayer, or any imposed prayer for that matter.

To be fair, Perkins was not talking specifically about me, but about all of us who believe in protecting the boundaries between religion and government. It's possible, by his standard, you may be a cultural terrorist too.

Here is a shocker: Tony Perkins and I differ. Perkins demands the right to pray however he wants, to whomever he wants, wherever and whenever he wants. He does not care how his prayer impacts those around him or what his insensitivity conveys about the nature of the God to whom he prays, and he shows no evidence of wanting to extend the right he enjoys to those outside his particular version of the Christian faith. Make no mistake, Perkins is not fighting for more prayer in public life, he is fighting for more Christian prayer (as he prescribes Christian) in public life.

Earlier this month, this man who seems to consider himself the arbiter of all that is moral and right called the "It Gets Better" campaign "disgusting." He said it is "appalling" to let young people who are targeted by bullying know that they are supported and that they will get through hard times. Apparently, the worst sin, from Perkins' perspective, is that this message of hope was supported by President Obama. Perkins characterized it as the president "telling school children that it's okay to be immoral."

I already have indicated that we differ. The worst sin, from my perspective, is ever to tell a human being, especially a child, that his or her life is not precious. I understand that Perkins' religious convictions do not align with the LGBT community. However, that is no excuse for him or anyone else to support the continuation of the crisis of bullying that is plaguing our schools. Where is his religious conscience? Perkins is implicitly blessing the abuse of young people driven to suicide because of the relentless harassment they faced in their schools. No child should ever feel that suicide is his or her only option and no religious leader or any sane adult should ever even think of endorsing such an option.

Mr. Perkins, I know what you think of me. Now let me tell you what I think of you: You are a bully of the worst kind. You wrap your hateful, venomous rhetoric in the American flag and claim it rests on the word of God.

I have committed my life to God. I have been a Christian pastor for more than 50 years. I have seen the positive and healing role religion can play in people's lives. I also understand and accept the fact that there are patriotic Americans who choose a spiritual path different from mine.

I think I know a thing or two about faith. And what I know to be true is that the vitriolic rhetoric coming from Tony Perkins and those like him strikes me as inconsistent with the Christian faith as I understand it or with the teachings of Jesus Christ as I read them.

I also know a thing or two about patriotism and American history. As I understand my label as a "cultural terrorist" to be defined by Mr. Perkins, I am proud to share the honor of his label with people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington -- cultural and political heroes that neither I nor most Americans consider terrorists of any kind.

Ultimately, what Tony Perkins thinks of me and what I think of Tony Perkins is of little consequence. The implications of both of our views for this nation, however, are different. I honestly believe my view supports democracy and leads to peace while Perkins' view subverts the democratic process and leads to hurtful divisions. All of us have a stake in which of these visions prevails in this land.

What people like Tony Perkins don't understand -- or choose to ignore -- is that his ability to practice his religion as he sees fit is a direct result of the hands-off approach that government has taken toward religion for the last 200 plus years. Tony Perkins has the right to advocate for belief in the singular correctness of his own faith only because all of us have the right to choose a form of religion or no religion as we see fit. But, from the perspective of our present form of government, Perkins enjoys no greater preference or rights than anyone else -- not me and certainly not the young people being bullied in our schools.

Two visions are competing for the allegiance of our nation. Both Tony Perkins and I will have to trust the American people to make the right choice of vision for our future.

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