In 1980 I had what I look back on now as a born-again-as-an-American moment. I heard a TV evangelical ask his viewers to pray for the “removal” of a member of the Supreme Court and it shook me to my core.
What I did as a result was to produce a 60-second public service announcement, take it to South Bend, Ind., show it to the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh at Notre Dame, secure his approval and ask him for the names of other mainline church leaders who might join his endorsement. It was a handful of such leaders, along with the late Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan, who joined in what became People For the American Way.
The title came from the PSA, in which a blue-collar worker says that “No one, not even a preacher, can tell us we’re good Christians or bad ones depending on our political points of view. … That’s not the American way.” With a small purchase of time on a single Washington, D.C., station, that TV ad was picked up nationally, discussed on the evening news on all three networks and, almost like an act of spontaneous combustion, turned into a national organization.
One year later, People For the American Way produced a two-hour TV special, “I Love Liberty,” on ABC, to make the point that, while religion had a place in the hearts of politicians, it had no place in the heart of politics.
The honorary co-chairs of this broadcast were President Gerald Ford and Lady Bird Johnson. On the same stage were Barry Goldwater and Jane Fonda. I look back at it as a born-again American moment for some 20,000 people in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
All of which brings me to news of the Pentagon’s 2003 “Worldwide Intelligence Updates” and the need I am feeling for a born-again-as-Americans moment for Americans who care everywhere. As a people, as Christians and Jews and Muslims, as people of every faith and belief, we must denounce this blasphemous use of religion to support – if not endorse – not simply war-like policies but war itself. The cover of one of these documents, purportedly handed to President George W. Bush personally by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, shows three soldiers in battle gear, tanks in battle, and bombers overhead. Above the photos and underneath the words Secretary of Defense, is this quote from Joshua: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
How senseless do we have to be not to see the proximity in this thinking to the words and images that inflame in exactly the same way the insurgent forces we battle across the Middle East today?
I did not write this so you would listen to the song composed for People For the American Way by Keith Carradine at bornagainamerican.org, but I hope you do, and that you take the pledge you will find there. And then be in touch with us at the organization. We are at our wits’ end. Tell us how do we, as a people, as Americans, retroactively denounce the placing of everything deep and profound in us, everything that makes us human, our individual compacts with God, in the service of such unbridled, ignominious, self-righteous, not to mention constitutionally inappropriate behavior? And at the very top of our government? I don’t have the answer. Do you?
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