Well, I’m back.
Thirteen weeks of rest and recreation, worship and travel, time with kids and grandkids. What an experience.
The best part was the time I spent doing nothing. No deadlines, no sermons due, no meetings, no pastoral care responsibilities. It is the longest period in nearly 35 years that I was not on call.
Ironically, one of the hardest parts was the time I spent doing nothing. It felt strange not having a deadline, especially for this column.
I realized while I was gone how much this outlet has come to mean to me. Every time a provocative news story appeared, or someone in religious life did something bizarre or peculiar, I would grab my laptop and start a column about it. When that happened, my wife would gently pull the computer out of my hands and remind me, “You are supposed to be taking time off from all this.”
Fair enough. But now I’m back, and several things have accumulated over the summer months that really need addressing.
First, please stop saying that President Obama is a Muslim. He is not. Of course, even if he was that would not disqualify him from being president. There is no religious test for public office according to our Constitution. The fact is, he is a Christian and those who keep insisting otherwise need to step up and confess what it is they really want to call him.
Second, who elected Glenn Beck to be Moses or Martin Luther King Jr. or whatever other historical icon he is trying to channel? There are few people in public life more irresponsible in their use of language and more patently wrong in their view of history than Beck.
One of the most troubling aspects of Beck’s twisted worldview is his effort to promote civil religion. The U.S. Constitution did not establish America as a Christian nation. The founders sought to create a secular state, but one that protected religious freedom.
When Beck and others fold some generic idea of God into the fabric of our national life, all the particularities of the various religions that exist are trimmed away. It is good for America and for religion that Baptists are different from Methodists, and Episcopalians are different from Quakers. As a Mormon, a religious movement that has had more than its share of persecution, Beck ought to understand this better than most.
And Beck’s notion that social justice is not a legitimate manifestation of Christian discipline reveals either the breadth of his duplicity or the depth of his ignorance. His suggestion that church members should leave any church where the pastor promotes social justice would be comical if it were not so insidious.
Beck needs to leave the preaching to real preachers and focus on what he does best – make-believe news.
And while we are thinking about Beck, his effort to hijack the civil rights movement borders on the absurd. He would have more credibility with his rants if he actually wore a clown suit while he spoke.
I don’t know what is sadder: that Beck has the gall to say these things or that there are people out there who take him seriously.
This much is clear. Every time he opens his mouth and offers up his distorted vision of faith and history, he diminishes both the American experience and authentic faith.
Thank God for the mute button.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala. This is his first column after a three-month sabbatical. He returns to the pulpit Sept. 12.