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Judge Not: Leaders of the Christian Right Have Injected Into America's Political Debate Some Divisive Religious Questions

By Jimmy Carter

This article appeared in the Feb. 27, 1996, edition of The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

It is perfectly legitimate and even admirable for Americans to promote their personal beliefs through either religious or political processes. But when we attempt to use our government to force others to worship as we do, or treat those who differ as secondary citizens, then we violate the basic tenets of a democracy.

As a conservative Baptist, I am deeply concerned about arguments that have driven wedges between people. I don't mean our disputes with religious connotations: the priesthood of believers, autonomy of churches, servanthood of pastors, the role of women in churches, Calvinism, millennialism, inerrantism, creationism or academic freedom in seminaries. I have in mind more emotional issues: abortion and homosexuality.

We Christians can buttress our arguments on almost any subject by careful emphasis of certain Bible Scriptures, and then claim that our conclusions should be applied universally. Almost invariably, one group's preeminence over others is presumed: "God and I are right, and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong."

Beginning about 20 years ago, such Christian leaders formed a union with the more conservative wing of the Republican Party. Even if the political marriage of fundamentalist Christians had been with Democrats, this would have been a conflict with my belief in separation of church and state.

Now leaders of the highly organized Christian right have injected into America's political debate some divisive religious questions. The most vivid examples involve sexual preferences, which obviously have highly personal and emotional overtones.

Since almost all Protestants now condone divorce as an acceptable fact of life, and rarely mention fornication or adultery -- even though these acts were repeatedly condemned by Jesus -- it is much easier and more convenient for heterosexual Christians to focus on homosexuality, refusing to acknowledge that this is a sin never mentioned by Jesus.

From the New Testament, it is clear that leaders of the early church treated homosexual acts the same as fornication, prostitution, adultery, selfishness, slander, drunkenness and many other transgressions.

The apostle Paul makes it plain that homosexual tendencies, along with other temptations, should have been resisted: "Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6: 9,10). Then he immediately goes on to say that all these acts had been forgiven.

The driving issues in the Republican primary campaign have made a strange and disturbing shift from economic and budget items to divisive social issues. Pressures from the more extreme religious activists have pushed almost every candidate to demagoguery, emphasizing vicious attacks on gay men and women, ostensibly based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

An even more disquieting claim is that AIDS is God's punishment on someone who has sinned and that the sufferers should be treated accordingly. Jesus had similar encounters with lepers, who were also looked upon as condemned by God and capable of contaminating their neighbors. Christ set an example for us by reaching out to them, loving and healing them.

Other Christians and the general public must not condone, even by silence, these obnoxious attitudes. We must make it clear that a platform of "I hate gay men and women" is not a way to become president of the United States of America.

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