THE BLOG
10/16/2006 01:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Church, State and a whole and Lot of Pandering

Though not explicitly stated in the Constitution, most Americans accept the notion that there is a wall that separates church and state. The phrase "separation of church and state is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist.

Because it has been a notion rather than unambiguous law, the concept has been challenged over the years. The president's public expressions of faith, along with the expansion of the faith-based-initiative polices have solidified an evangelical base for which assumed destiny trumps facts, reason, and self-reflection.

But recent disclosures by notable conservatives suggest that just below the surface of pious rhetoric lies perhaps political pandering at its worst.

Consider this recent exchange between conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews on the "Chris Matthews Show" as to how the GOP views it evangelical base:

Carlson: The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power.

Matthews: How do you know that?

Carlson: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

Matthews: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

Carlson: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.

There also David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003 and self described conservative Christian, has authored a book entitled "Tempting Faith," scheduled for release until Oct. 16.

Kuo contends that evangelical leaders were known in the office of the president's political strategist Karl Rove as "the nuts." "National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,'" Kuo writes.

None of this should come as a surprise, pandering is as germane to politics as balls and strikes are to baseball. I suspect that Democrats would not be as outraged if conservative evangelicals were as loyal to them.

There are an overwhelming number of conservative evangelical Christians whose support for conservative social issues is earnest. Though I may disagree on a number of issues, I have respect for the manner in which they reach their conclusions.

While I have long held that theology must have a role in the public conversation, the church cannot be aligned too closely with any political party. History reminds us that whenever the church marries the empire they produce children of hatred, bigotry, and megalomania. Moreover, the price for such Faustian bargains has been the church's moral compass.

From the crusades to South African Apartheid, a portion of the church has played a role in providing the empire with moral justification for grossly immoral acts. The church has been at its best when it has maintained some distance from the empire so that it does not relinquish its ability to speak to truth to power.

Surely, the conservative evangelical leadership realizes that for all of its unwavering support it has received little in return. Does failed attempts to get a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage or the unprecedented Palm Sunday House session debating the Terri Schiavo tragedy warrant silence on our torture policies, a misguided war, or the mishandling of Katrina relief?

This, unfortunately, is nothing new. There have always been religious leaders, be they allegedly liberal or conservative, who have exchanged the people's trust for personal aggrandizement.

The Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. in his latest book, "Speak Until Justice Wakes, writes how Martin Luther King, Jr. lead a modest, simple life, more concerned with the needs of the poor than personal wealth.

Maybe that explains, in part, why there are so few Martin Luther Kings, Mohandas K. Gandhis, and Mother Teresas; and so many imposters.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or leave a message at (510) 208-6417. Send a letter to the editor to soundoff@angnewspapers.com.