I took a peek at my friend’s Facebook last week. I have known this person for decades. He is one of my dearest friends, although we are separated by several moves, many years, and—most importantly—politics. That alone currently limits our relationship. He wrote:
“It has becoming increasingly clear that the Tea Party is just the ultra-conservative Christian Right Wing of the Rep. Party. Nothing wrong with holding those views, but I for one still prefer to have a separation of church and state. They have caused enormous harm economically over the past couple of months. Perhaps they should keep their religion in their churches, and not force it into our government.”
This Facebook entry took me back a couple of years to a restaurant in Rome next to the Pantheon. My husband and I sat next to an English mother with her two home-schooled children who were there on an educational experience. When the little girl—about 9—found out that we lived in Texas, she spewed forth her knowledge of the place: Everyone carried a gun and lived in a shantytown. It didn’t seem to matter that I actually lived there when I told her she was mistaken. Her knowledge was so certain that it precluded allowing actual experience to influence it. Although polite, she remained firm in her beliefs.
The mother obviously was not providing her children with the wonder of the internet to establish facts. I am positive that the same cannot be said for my friend. I just wonder what the source of information was upon which he formed his opinion of this composition of the tea party.
If he had gone to the source (or even Wikipedia) of the Tea Party for their agenda, he would have realized that their agenda has simply to do with fiscal responsibility and adherence to the document which founded our system of government—i.e., the Constitution. That doesn’t top the list of issues for the “ultra-conservative Christian Right Wing.” Even better, if he had attended a Tea Party Rally, he would have realized that they aren’t talking about abortion, capital punishment, or same sex marriage. Those “right wing Christian” issues are simply not part of the Tea Party agenda. Yes, some Tea Party candidates hold those views, but the Tea Party is united around a single issue: fiscal responsibility in government. This is the current burning issue on top of the root agenda, which is adherence to the Constitution.
My friend’s main problem is primarily not with the Tea Party, but with what he calls the “ultra-conservative Christian right wing of the Republican Party.” It was simply convenient to aim his shot at the entire Tea Party. I’m not exactly sure who constitutes this right wing group in his mind. Baptists? Mormons? Fundamentalists? Born again Christians? Non-unitarian Christians? Certainly, some tea partiers are ultra-conservative right wingers by any definition. Many are not. There is a large contigent of Ron Paulites in the Tea Party, who believe, as the far left believes, that anything socially possible is acceptable and should be legal. All drugs should be legalized. Anyone can have a relationship with anything that moves (not only same gender or not, but same species or not, underage or not) and that relationship should be sanctified. These people are part of the Tea Party because social issues are not part of the Tea Party agenda. When the Occupy Wall Street crowd says they have Tea Partiers present, they are referring to these stoned individuals that see Ron Paul as their best hope for legalized drugs. Also, don’t confuse the Christian right wingers with the Democrat Tea Partiers who are simply fed up with the spending and remain unchanged in their support for social change; I’ve met quite a few of them. You simply can’t pigeonhole the Tea Party the way that my friend has if you have actually been to a Tea Party.
I was rather disappointed in my friend for not checking the facts. He has always had some pretty far left opinions, but it’s the first time that I have known him to confuse the distinction between opinion and facts. Why did he do this? I suppose that it’s comfortable to misrepresent the Tea Party as “right wing Christians” (or, more frequently, as racists), because then they can be dismissed easily in this day and age without looking at what they are truly saying. The left wing and its captive (or captor) media don’t have to argue issues when they assassinate the character up front. It shuts down discussion to say, “They are right wing Christians.” Saying “They want to balance the budget.” would invite an honest discussion on a real issue that the Tea Party stands for.
It is easier to understand where my friend’s position came from on “separation of church and state.” That is a matter of opinion, not of fact, but it is an opinion I vehemently disagree with. It is what he has been taught from his childhood, what I was taught, and what all of our children are taught today. It’s not in the Constitution. The phrase comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to a Baptist church:
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience . . .” (emphasis mine).
In one of the classic “taken out of context” examples of all time, did you catch why the religion clause was placed in the Constitution? Individuals have a “right” of conscience, a right to believe what they choose to believe, and the government cannot dictate what is or is not the proper belief. The “separation” was a restriction on the government, not on any individual. It was not to keep individuals from expressing their religious convictions in government forums. On the contrary, the founders’ writings and actions make clear that it was expected that every individual would bring his personal religious convictions to his work in the government. This says it all: It’s in the Bill of Rights.
However, the Supreme Court dredged this letter up in the late 1800s and the catch phrase “separation of Church and State” subsequently found a life of its own, severed from the idea in the source letter that it was one of our rights to have a conscience and to use it. The interpretation replaced the actual intention of the religious clause of the Constitution. Educators and atheists eagerly picked it as a tool to transform freedom of religion into freedom from religion.
Our founders prayed as government officials, openly spoke of “Divine Providence” and the role of God in the formation of our nation, and memorialized for all time that we are endowed with unalienable rights by our Creator (although Barack’s teleprompter seems to lack the letters to spell this out). It is the supreme irony that the clause which guarantees our religious freedom as individuals in the Bill of Rights has been twisted in an attempt to suppress those rights. Even in Jefferson’s letter, he speaks of separation between “Church and State” (note Church—i.e., organized religion) not “Individuals who belong to a Church and State.”
If you follow my friend’s logic in saying “Nothing wrong with holding those views, but I for one still prefer to have a separation of church and state,” then you end up in Alice’s Wonderland. What he is saying is that the views are only valid if they spring from some motivation other than religious conviction. If you are a Christian who is not right wing, or an atheist, or a member of some religion that is not Christian, or a Wiccan, you can drag any conviction into government. Why are “right wing” Christians not allowed to do what everyone else can do? That would fly in the face of Jefferson’s “separation of Church & State” letter because he claimed that the Constitution included the religion clause as an “expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience.” In some denominations, a key tenet is that they are supposed to bring their convictions into their public life. How is it that something providing for the “rights of conscience” is used as a tool to suppress those rights?
Look at the logical implications of this. Nancy Pelosi can vote for abortion rights because her views conflict with her church, and therefore she is not forcing church into government. However, a person who is against abortion cannot vote against it because his or her views are based on their religious belief. Does the Christian not have the right to drag his belief in the sanctity of life into politics? My Facebook friend is against capital punishment. He is allowed that view because it is not founded in a religious belief. Is Nancy Pelosi precluded this position because she openly states that it is based on her religious convictions? What about the Quakers and their strong position against slavery and their agitation for its abolition? Should they have kept it in their churches and not “forced” it into the government?
As far as the economic harm caused by the Tea Party, I’m not sure what he is referring to. There are individuals with Tea Party connections who have been elected to Congress that are doing their job of representing their constituents. If their positions have caused economic harm (which is not an established fact, but an opinion), then it would pale in comparison to the economic harm done by a President and Democratic controlled Congress who have racked up more debt in less than 3 years than all of the Congresses and Presidents since the country was formed over 200 years ago.
I slunk away from my friend’s Facebook page. I know better than to waste my time reacting to him because his political views are as much a part of him as his gray-green eyes and his dark brown hair. He, like the English girl, has some preconceived notions that are entrenched at this point. For him, his politics are a part of his core being. The problem is that I miss my friend. I miss his quirky smile (which I can see sometimes when I read his words) and his ready wit. But I, like most in the Tea Party, are sick of the misrepresentations. It gets us no further along to solving the deep crisis we are in. And the fact is—it hurts when a friend strikes the blow.