Perry’s Pastor Problem

Posted on the Corner yesterday.

Kathryn, I agree with you that Rick Perry would be well-advised to put some distance between himself and Rev. Jeffress, but William Donohue, a man who once said that “radical atheists” should “apologize” for Hitler (almost certainly not an atheist, incidentally) is perhaps not the individual best placed to object to those who would “demonize” theological difference. That said, Mr. Donohue is, of course, perfectly entitled to his views about atheists or anyone or anything else, just as others are entitled to rebut them. We are too nervous about robust religious debate in this country. If someone happens to believe that another’s religion (or irreligion) is “false” or, for that matter, the work of Old Nick, what of it? What matters is not what people believe, but what they do, and if they can agree to differ in a reasonably civilized manner that ought to be enough. Tolerance is the acceptance, however pained, of difference, not its denial.

So what should Perry do? These rituals of apology/distancing (call it what you will) have become an unpleasant part of today’s PC circus (and that’s PC of all political persuasions). That’s a shame. Nevertheless, we are where we are and the governor should explain that when it comes to matters of faith, Jeffress speaks for Jeffress, not Perry, and leave it at that. If Perry is then asked more questions about what he thinks about such questions, he should explain.

On the wider topic of whether a presidential candidate’s religious affiliations should be something that should be immune from comment and criticism, the answer is no. If a candidate insists that his or her God is central to who they are and what they believe, that’s a fair enough thing to say, but, under those circumstances, it’s no less fair for voters (or political rivals) to ask what that might mean for how that candidate might act as president, and, if they don’t like the answer, to say so or vote so.

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7 Responses to Perry’s Pastor Problem

  1. Clark says:

    Is this really a new PC phenomena? It seems to be basic to politics. You have to speak in generalities so as not to alienate voters. People with very specific strong views dislike any politician who doesn’t hold them. In times of stress like now that’s doubly true. So we have politicians who try, as much as possible, to be all things to all people. The limits on being able to do that mean that politicians differ and pick a different spot to place their “center.” So Republicans will be generic to as many conservatives as possible and Democrats to as many liberals as possible. Both try and capture a significant part of the center.

    That’s not working as well right now as in times past for various reasons. But I don’t think Perry (and Cain’s) attempts to have it both ways is somehow unique to our PC era. It’s just characteristic of politics in general – especially on the national level where people pay more attention. Both Cain and Perry have screwed up because they haven’t done that well in the past. (Cain’s egregious comments about Muslims in the spring being an example) The problem is that if you are too much of a politician then you end up like Romney who is seen as a flip flopper with no core. (Probably true, mind you)

    Right now the Republican party is different only due to the big difference from those who bother to vote in primaries versus those who vote in the national election. It’s hard to appeal to both groups since activists are kind of enraged right now.

  2. Acilius says:

    Perfectly reasonable. Most Sundays, my wife and I can be found in a Quaker meeting. Many Quakers, including my wife, are thoroughgoing pacifists. I myself am not a pacifist, or a Quaker, or a believer in any religious doctrine whatever, but I do find much to admire and learn from in the meeting. So if she, or I, were ever to run for public office,* we would expect voters to ask how the Quaker tradition of pacifism would inform our conduct if elected. Indeed, it would be troubling to me if voters did not ask such questions. My wife is serious about her faith and the commitment to nonviolence that goes along with it. That faith and that commitment influence me, even if I don’t exactly share them. So voters who were denied an opportunity to learn about what Quakerism and pacifism mean to us would be in no position to predict our likely behavior as elected officials.

    *An extremely unlikely event, I hasten to assure you.

  3. Polichinello says:

    Dick Nixon and Whittaker Chambers were Quakers, though not pacifists.

  4. J. says:

    If someone happens to believe that another’s religion (or irreligion) is “false” or, for that matter, the work of Old Nick, what of it?

    The pastor’s comment may have been a bit…raw or uncivil, but an unbiased examination of the creation of the LDS does strongly suggest that it was the product of one person, Joseph Smith. Most have heard the story of the Golden Plates, the outlandish archaeology, etc so we needn’t repeat it but…. insofar as the pastor claimed that LDS is not part of christian tradition, he was correct (and with many masonic elements). Unlike the Bible ,whatever one thinks of it, the Book of Mormon has no relation to human history, or dare we say ordinary reality.

    Now, we might agree some mormons are pleasant people, hardworking citizens, (and they are–often superior to the baptist wingnuts, IMHO–better Harry Reid than the Sharie Angle freak), but…nevertheless the early LDS church does appear to be ..a species of “Enthusiasm”–religious hysteria, charismatic,etc–, which the Founding fathers (Madison in particular) had vehemently argued against. And the 19th century history of the LDS –Young–not so great, normatively speaking (as Mark Twain understood after an uneasy day or two in Utah Territory). It’s interesting the LDS took off right after most of the “Leading Lights” (Jeff. Mad, Adams) had perished. JQ Adams also was not supportive (somewhere suggesting it was another species of freemasonry, IIRC). Had Jefferson been around another decade probably wouldn’t have happened.

  5. Eric says:

    The whole business of comparing public officials (or people you just plain cannot stand) to the likes of Hitler has spread like a plague. (Of course, one cannot help but be reminded of Hank Williams’ recent comparison of the meeting between Obama and Boehner.) Also, the whole idea that Hitler was an atheist has become increasingly popular as well…even with historical evidence suggesting otherwise.

  6. D says:

    J, the only difference between early Momonism and early Christianity is the century in which they occurred.

    It used to be that God did all kinds of breathtaking miracles like creating the universe, parting the Red Sea and making a woman from Adam’s rib. These days we’re lucky if he puts a picture of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich.

    As you might guess, I’m an atheist. But I generally prefer Mormons over the Southern Baptist counterparts. (Perhaps because I grew up among the latter.)

  7. Narr says:

    To the True Beleiver, all other faiths are cults. To the True Disbeleiver (present) all faiths are cults. (I happen also to think that all politics is gangs.)

    I am not in the least troubled by Governor P’s or Pastor J’s comments, or lack thereof. Like D,though, I’d rate the Mormons I know personally higher than the Southern Baptists I know personally.

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