01/06/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2014

Duck Dynasty vs. Francis

No, I am not a follower of Duck Dynasty and no, I am not Catholic. I will neither change my viewing habits nor convert.

Rather I am a non-believing, once-upon-a-time Minnesota Lutheran.

So, how, you will ask, dare I comment on, much less compare the Pope, and Phil what's-his-name on an American reality show particularly now that Phil has been renewed on A&E?

Answer: Both claim to know truths. But one has acknowledged that he cannot judge others. Phil and his followers believe he has spoken truth and that they can judge anyone for their lifestyles, behaviors and implicitly race. Francis is into forgiving. Phil is into condemnation.

Apparently, so too are Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz and a whole host of people who want to run for the presidency and are linked to the tea-partyist variety in Congress, state offices or on Fox. They want to condemn, although they know neither history, philosophy nor in some cases English grammar. Put together, Palin and Michelle Bachman have a hard time understanding their geographic or logical constructs. Yes, there are very savvy reactionaries who know more. But they, as with other tea-partyists, defend the "right" of bigotry on the bases of whatever they think they know and usually recite out of context Biblical passages and the First Amendment as rationales.

I am also no theologian, but I grasp that Francis, who is only in his first year as the Bishop of Rome, has accomplished extraordinary things -- not changing core doctrine about the priesthood or marriage per se, but creating a new Catholic ambiance. With Francis, the Vatican does not repel but replies, reaching out not pushing away. By doing so, he is righting the wrongs of years -- no much longer -- where the Vatican distanced itself from its followers. He is closing that gap. Yes, I know his history during the years of the junta in Argentina. But, let us look at what Francis is doing now.

Phil Robertson -- ah, there I remembered his last name (is he related to The Reverend Pat?) -- epitomizes an unlearning intolerance of others. His kind would never touch the homeless, kiss the deformed, apparently believes that African-Americans were once a happy, singing albeit enslaved population, and as "patriarch" thinks that women should cook and meet the needs of a man, and marry at 16. He said as much in his now widely cited GQ interview and in an earlier video recording. He equated homosexuality with bestiality. But, as his clan and political supporters later intoned, Phil was simply stating Biblical truths -- oh, and his First Amendment rights.

Judge not that ye may not be judged, I seem to recall from Sunday school decades ago. Tea-partyists seem to believe that only they can judge, and that their judgments are Biblical in form, shape and substance. There is no acknowledgement that others may see things differently, that those "others" could be good people, law abiding citizens, taxpayers, and patriots. They deny that, incrementally after the Constitution was written, we have become a society where demeaning others' core identities is unjust in part because we are far more diverse than when Washington was inaugurated. Tolerance and equal rights are core principles of American democracy embodied in the Constitution, its amendments, legislative enactments, and Supreme Court decisions.

Fundamentalist Christian beliefs are not at issue as long as there is a hard red line between personal belief vis-à-vis an effort to universally impose on society by law or force those same beliefs. For example, invasive tests during pregnancy. Within their own "dynasty" or church, god bless them. There is no danger of alternative gender identities or lifestyles overwhelming Christian fundamentalism in the USA. But there is a danger that tea-partyists -- as seen in this Congress -- want to grind to a halt all laws made by or supported through a democratic process that elected Barack Obama twice and condemn peoples of color and gender diversity to social ostracism or worse.

Who am I to judge, questioned Francis. The Duck Dynasty and their entourage of right-wing politicians and wannabe presidential candidates have judged and believe that God is on their side and implicitly challenge the individual liberties they purport to represent. As a fallen Lutheran, I'll vote with Francis.

Daniel Nelson leads a consulting firm in Virginia.