THE BLOG

Open Letter to Tony Perkins

05/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dear Mr. Perkins:

I was initially delighted to see that you had joined so many other American Christians in responding to the Born Again American campaign. But your recent "Last Word" column makes it clear that you have misunderstood the campaign, and I'd like to give you a better sense of our goals.

In your column, you say that our theme song, "Born Again American" by songwriter Keith Carradine, misuses themes of God and country to "lure" people into a "big government, anti-family agenda." You seem to be particularly disturbed by the line, "My country 'tis of me." You even call it "humanist dogma." I think of it another way entirely. I hear and feel "My country 'tis of me" as an assertion of the responsibilities of citizenship. It's a patriotic anthem, like "This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land," which so many Americans joined in singing during the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial in January.

I'm glad that you find the refrain hopeful and instructive: "I'm a Born Again American, conceived in liberty. My Bible and the Bill of Rights. My creed's equality." I'm just sorry that you cannot overcome your unwillingness to believe that someone you disagree with politically might just be motivated by genuine patriotism, or your cynical insistence that we view the Bible and the Bill of Rights as mere props.

The Born Again American campaign encourages Americans to recommit to the principles in the Declaration of Independence, to commit themselves to staying engaged in our civic life. If you go to our website, www.bornagainamerican.org, you will see the pledge that we have asked Americans to sign:

I am a Born Again American
I am my Country's Keeper
My President and My Congress report to me
And so -
I will stay informed and involved
I will make my voice heard
And not just at election time
I can make a difference
I matter
I am an American, Born Again

Could not members of the Family Research Council sign that pledge in good faith as easily as members of People For the American Way?

The Born Again American campaign grows from the same impulse that led me to send an original printing of the Declaration of Independence around the country so that people in small communities could thrill to this piece of history in which our founders risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to declare a free nation. I disagree with your assertion that America's greatness has never been from the will of man. I believe our greatness derives from many factors, including the will of generations of men and women to stand up for the principles in our founding documents and help our country live up to them. I believe that is still our work as Americans.

Millions of people have viewed the Born Again American video, and many thousands have signed the pledge. We've heard from many Christians who don't necessarily share all my ideas about politics and policy, but who sent the video to their friends because it tapped into their love for this country, their faith in its future, and their desire to be part of building our shared home.

Sincerely,

Norman Lear

P.S.

For the record, Born Again American is a project of Declare Yourself, a nonpartisan civic engagement organization that has registered millions of young voters without interrogating them about their political or religious views.

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