Jaweed Kaleem contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON -- Religious leaders in Missouri are calling on Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) to apologize for claiming a "hatred of God" informs liberal beliefs and to reconsider his moral priorities.
"Such insulting pronouncements degrade our nation’s political dialogue and are unworthy of a public servant who claims to represent the interests of all of his constituents," wrote religious leaders in a statement. "We call on you to apologize, and we pray that you are moved to act in a spirit of civility, compassion and justice in the future."
They also took issue with his support for a House GOP budget proposal authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which calls for dramatic cuts to state Medicaid programs and contains other provisions that they said would hurt the poorest Americans.
“Loving or hating God has nothing to do with political affiliation. But, Jesus did tell his followers that best way to tell if someone loves or hates God is to find out how they treat the poor," said Tim King, a spokesman for Christian progressive organization Sojourners. "As a member of the House budget committee that is something Rep. Akin should remember.”
During a radio interview with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last week, Akin said he believes that "at the heart of liberalism, really, is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God.”
The comments, which came during a discussion about NBC's redaction of “under God” from its broadcast of the pledge of allegiance during the U.S. Open, have enraged local religious leaders, who called Akin's statement an attack on liberal and progressive people of faith.
Akin has sought to contextualize his comments and, in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, apologized for any misunderstandings:
People, who know me and my family, know that we take our faith and beliefs very seriously. As Christians, we would never question the sincerity of anyone’s personal relationship with God. My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism, not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies.
My point was to object to the systematic assault that attempts to remove any reference to God from the public square.
NBC’s recent action only highlighted the continuing battle for those of us who believe that removing references to God go contrary to the Judeo-Christian heritage our nation was founded on -- the belief that our inalienable rights come from God himself, and the freedom to live our lives and worship as we see fit.
A statement signed by Rev. Kevin Cameron, senior pastor of the Parkway United Church of Christ in St. Louis, Mo.; Rev. Dale Bartels, senior pastor of the St. John’s United Church of Christ in Chesterfield, Mo.; and Rev. Krista Taves, minister of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel in Ellisville, Mo.; among others, will be delivered to Akin's St. Louis office on Wednesday.
Read the full text of their statement below:
As Missourians of faith, we found your statement that "at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred of God and a belief that government should replace God" to be ignorant and offensive. Scripture clearly warns us to “judge not, lest ye be judged,” yet you condemn in disrespectful, stereotypical terms those with whom you disagree. Such insulting pronouncements degrade our nation’s political dialogue and are unworthy of a public servant who claims to represent the interests of all of his constituents.
And in light of your support for a federal budget that mainstream faith leaders have overwhelmingly condemned as punitive toward the poorest among us, we call on you to reconsider not only your words, but also your moral priorities as a political leader. Accusing others of being inspired by hatred of God while you vote to deprive the weakest and most vulnerable of medicine and basic sustenance is the antithesis of moral leadership. We call on you to apologize, and we pray that you are moved to act in a spirit of civility, compassion and justice in the future.