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Rev. Tom Davis

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Santorum's Attack on My Church: A Clergy Response From the 'Shambles'

Posted: 02/24/2012 12:50 pm

It's hard to imagine what goes through a campaign manager's head when his candidate says to him, "Harry, tomorrow, I'm going to tell the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopalians, and the American Baptists that they aren't real Christians -- about 25 million people." Does the manager reach for the Tylenol or the Jim Beam? That is essentially what the Senator said in 2008 when he was campaigning at Ave Maria University in Florida. Here are his words.

"We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

It sounds politically suicidal, but I guess it makes perfect sense from a certain strategic point of view. What he was doing was making an exclusive claim of the sacred. He was implying that only the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical churches like the Southern Baptists can claim the sacred. The enemy of these groups has to be the secularists. In America any conflict between the side with all the sacred symbols vs. people with only secular ideals will favor the former.

But if mainstream Protestants also represent the sacred and they are on the side of gay rights, marriage equality and pro-choice positions, then they must be discredited. President Obama's church, my church, the United Church of Christ, cannot be a "real" church. It has to be "gone from the world of Christianity." Their most important concern is to keep any vestige of sacredness from President Obama. They refuse to see him as a Christian in a traditional Protestant Church, a person who is no more Christian than other people, but no less Christian either.

At the risk of sounding as judgmental as the Senator, it might be he who has gone astray. He has a theology of purity, a concern never to be involved with anything that is condemned as impure by his religion, things like homosexuality and birth control. But the central value of biblical Christianity is not purity. Nor is it things like a literal six-day creation, or being born again. It is love and justice. Focus on that those values and you find yourself not worrying about purity, but actually trying to make society better. It is the dreaded affliction of us mainline Protestants: social justice.

But maybe the Senator is right about us. We don't seem to have the important qualities of a real religion. We are too soft. We don't ex-communicate people. We don't deny them communion. And there is another of our bad qualities: We try to be tolerant. We don't think we have a corner on the truth. And finally, we have yet another drawback. We don't listen. We don't listen to Glenn Beck, to Rush Limbaugh, to Sean Hannity, or any of the flood of conservatives who think social justice is for the birds. We ordain women to the ministry, we ordain gays to the ministry. We -- many of us, at least -- support the work of Planned Parenthood and think it that when it furnishes compassionate care for poor women and other women, it is in accord with that commandment to love the neighbor.

So, from Senator Santorum' s standpoint, I guess we are lost. We are so far gone that we are actually not ashamed of who we are.

But thanks for trying to save us, Senator. We won't forget it.