There are two stories in the news today that I think are related, even though at first glance they don’t appear to be.
Here’s the first story from Reuters:
CHICAGO, Nov 12 – Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year’s election.
Those tax breaks are reportedly “worth $145 billion in the past decade.” There was no comment from a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but a spokesman for Billy Graham, who actually signed his ad, said that it did not mention any candidate or political party. Hmm.
On Sunday, November 4—two days before the election—this very expensive full-page ad appeared in the Joplin Globe:
In the corner it says, “Paid Advertisement By The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association,” and it is obvious the ad, which appeared in numerous publications, was a call to vote for Romney-Ryan and the Republican Party.
But the first thing I thought about when I saw that ad was how much money my late mother donated to Billy Graham and how disappointed she, as a life-long Democrat, would be to see what Graham had done.
I also thought about something else. When I was a kid, several of Billy Graham’s books were in the house, including a book that scared me to death, “World Aflame.” If nothing else, it was the cover that frightened me:
I was seven years old when that book came out. The earth engulfed in flames, and the threat of eternal damnation awaiting those who didn’t surrender to Jesus, tends to make a kid a little fearful, the kind of fear that never quite disappears, no matter how old one gets or how far one gets from the source.
In any case, the basis of Graham’s pro-Romney, pro-Republican political ad, and his ministry in general, is the kind of fear I felt profoundly as a kid, when I understood what that book was about. The line in the political ad about it being “vitally important” that “we” vote for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel” is telling.
In “World Aflame,” Graham wrote:
The Bible teaches that God is indeed a God of judgment, wrath, and anger.
And he speculated in the book that God will ultimately use “the elemental and creative form of fire” to destroy this earth and “bring into being” a new one, “a fire of judgment upon the wicked world.” He continued:
I believe the earth will be consumed by fire, not only because God said it, but because science has created weapons that can do it.
Consumed by fire. That’s the price to be paid for not following biblical principles, for not supporting the nation of Israel, which folks like Graham believe is the key to the End Times.
Consumed by fire. Presumably, that’s the price to be paid for not supporting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and the Republicans. What else can “vitally important” mean in the context of Billy Graham’s consumed-by-fire ministry, the same ministry that paid for that ad?
I mention all that to make the point that some of the people who would be moved by a Billy Graham ad, moved by a theological appeal to vote for Republicans, moved by a Bible-based fear, see themselves as living in an entirely different country than the one I live in. These folks were genuinely shocked that Barack Obama won a second term. They, like Mitt Romney himself, honestly could not believe it. Why didn’t the Bible-based fear work this time?
What kind of country is this? they asked. What happened to our America? The last line in Graham’s ad was this:
Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.
Translation: If you don’t vote for Republicans then “one nation under God” is in jeopardy.
Yes, in jeopardy. And that leads me to the second story that came out today:
Just a week after President Barack Obama was re-elected, a petition by Texans for the right to secede from the rest of the country has garnered some 64,000 signatures, many more than the 25,000 signature threshold needed to get a response from the Obama administration.
The petition was made on the government’s “We the People” petitioning web site, along with secession petitions from at least 18 other states.
As I write, Texas now has more than 72,000 signatures. Locally, the Missouri secession petition has over 10,000 signatures. Oklahoma has over 11,000, Arkansas has almost 15,000, and Kansas is way behind at around 3,000.
So, what happened to “one nation under God“? These folks, many of whom I can safely assume are conservative Christians, don’t have a problem with the “under God” part of it, just the “one nation” part, particularly if they don’t get their way in a “vitally important” election, particularly if the nation doesn’t embrace the Republican Party.
Perhaps it is that Billy Graham and other Christian extremists, who claim to want us to be “one nation,” mean that we can only be so under their conception of God, which is a very Republican one. Otherwise, some of them want to take their states, and presumably their God, and go their own way.
Thus it is that those groups that are asking the government to investigate Graham and the Catholic bishops for their partisan advocacy are exactly right. If religious zealots want to put the fear of a Republicanized God into voters, and argue for one nation under that God, then the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay for it.
By the way, a counter-petition has been offered against the secessionists, one that suggests we should,
Deport Everyone That Signed A Petition To Withdraw Their State From The United States Of America.
So far, it has only about 2,400 votes.