Disturbing minority backs a state religion

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Thirty-four percent of Americans wouldn't mind if Christianity were the official state religion of their individual state, according to a poll conducted by The Huffington Post last week. Forty-seven percent considered the notion wrong.

When asked in the same survey if they favored a constitutional amendment making Christianity the official religion of the United States, 52 percent of those polled said they couldn't pledge allegiance to such a concept. But 32 percent said, essentially, "Bring it on."

If there's any consolation in those numbers, it is that only 11 percent of those who think their individual state could use a good dunk in the baptismal fount are stupid enough to think there's any constitutional protection for it. Anyone who believes that the imposition of a state religion would be tolerated anywhere in this country isn't smart enough to know that the prohibition against the federal government's establishment of an official religion applies to statehouses, too.

Cynical politicians usually settle for symbolic gestures designed to assuage a dull-witted but religiously motivated base that keeps track of such things. Remember the "Year of the Bible" flap in the Pennsylvania Legislature not too long ago? It was a way for the state's most religious and fiscally conservative politicians to throw red meat to their base without spending a dime.

Even as the news came that one-third of Americans would be comfortable with Christianity as the official religion of their individual states, House Joint Resolution 494 was being presented before the North Carolina General Assembly.

Introduced by Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, the bill declared that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the establishment of a state religion at the state level, but only at the federal level. "Each state in the Union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion," Resolution 494 states.

Fortunately, North Carolina's Republican Speaker of the House pulled the bill before President Barack Obama was forced to deploy federal troops to Raleigh-Durham. There was no point in risking national embarrassment by having the majority of the General Assembly vote to pass what would have amounted to a writ of secession.

Mr. Warren and Mr. Ford, both Tea Party Republicans, believed they could enact legislation that gave North Carolina permission to ignore federal law. Under their scheme, North Carolina would've become an island of Christian jurisprudence exempt from federal oversight without a shot being fired in anger.

Recently, Pastor Joe Morecraft of the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming, Ga., declared a definitive break with what he calls "godless conservatism" -- a political philosophy he insists is "just as devastating to this country as liberal humanism."

Mr. Morecraft extols Christians to "act like Christians" and proclaim Christ's lordship over politics. There's nothing particularly unique about this until you wade into the high grass of Mr. Morecraft's very dark theology. In an excerpt from a sermon posted on YouTube by the church, Mr. Morecraft proclaimed chattel slavery a legitimate way to punish "fools" who reject Christ.

The pastor, who is not a white supremacist, said slavery is a God-given institution that should be used to bring arrogant men into conformity with God's law. A man who doesn't worship God can expect to "lose his family, his property, and his freedom." In the end, such a man will find himself and his family at the mercy of somebody who is godly and wise.

"Put him in somebody's service where they can watch over him," Mr. Morecraft said, "and make him do right even though he doesn't want to do it."

There is some truly scary stuff in his sermon that I haven't bothered to quote because it is so over the top. What's scariest is that this pastor isn't some lone snake-handler running around the backwoods of Georgia. He's a much-respected pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, a mainstream denomination. He's part of a movement of like-minded extremists who believe with all of their hearts that there truly is a place for slavery in "godly cultures" and that we have no right to judge it an abomination.

Fortunately, America isn't a "godly culture" that tolerates slavery or religious coercion anymore. Any sentiment -- even among an unthinking minority -- that moves us in that direction is a threat to us all.

Correction, posted April 9, 2013: Pastor Joe Morecraft's denomination affiliation has been corrected.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.


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