This column also ran on UPI’s religion and Spirituality Forum.
It’s ten minutes before worship on a Sunday morning. I’m fussing with my Geneva tabs, zipping my robe, double-, no, triple-checking to make sure my reading glasses are in my breast pocket, and the phone on my office desk rings. I know I shouldn’t—for years now my wife’s been trying to train me to ignore ringing phones—but I pick it up anyway.
“Foothill Presbyterian Church,” says I.
“Daniel! Did you get this crazy mailer?” It’s my friend, John, the pastor over at the neighborhood Methodist church, who should be getting ready for worship himself.
He doesn’t have to describe the envelope in question. The same packet—testimony to the weirdness of this election’s waning days—arrived in the Saturday afternoon post and was waiting on my desk when I arrived at church.
The words on the outside are sensational: “Same-Sex Unions and Child Sacrifice: Obama, McCain, Jihad, & the Judeo-Christian View.” Plus, the envelope promises a couple of freebie DVD’s: one of the 28 million circulating copies of the virulently anti-Islamic movie “Obsession”, and a DVD with resources for preaching against same sex unions and “child sacrifice,” which evidently is a new way of talking about third-trimester abortion.
OK, it’s a little odd to couple same-sex unions and abortion, and what either one has to do with “jihad” is anyone’s guess, but it gets more bizarre. Inside, sandwiched between the free DVD’s, is a newsletter that would be funny if the wellbeing of my country (and perhaps that of the whole world) were not at stake in this election.
John and I take turns reading the opening paragraph of the newsletter.
“Dear Congregational Leader,” the newsletter begins, “Our nation faces a fork, a divergence between the high road and the low road…” (A sappy song about getting to Scotland is suddenly stuck in my head while I should be getting ready to sing the doxology). “The high road upholds America’s peaceful tradition of Judeo-Christian tolerance” (Ha! I’ve met a few intolerant Christians in my day). “The low road marches us toward militant secular-paganism, militant Islam, or both.” (As if! If there’s one thing with which militant Islam is incompatible it is secular-paganism, which, by the way, is a logical impossibility, but never mind).
“What a load of horse apples” says one of us—but I’m pretty sure “apples” isn’t really the word that was used.
“Duck’s sake,” says the other, except I’m positive no water fowl’s cause was invoked.
Content in our ecumenical accord, we hang up and I go pray with the choir. Church goes well, but it can’t distract me from the heinous tomfoolery of the mailer.
* * *
According to the website of the organization that sent it out, 325,000 pastors received the same envelope that John and I received last Sunday. I have no problem with folks spending money to promote a point of view, even if disagree with what is being said. I know full well that democracies thrive on the opposition of ideologies, so I welcome words that come to me from elsewhere on the political and ideological map.
But this mailer is different because it’s not just spreading an ideology or promoting a candidate. It is stirring up paranoia and stoking the embers of fear.
This has got to stop. Things are hard enough without religious activists sending out mailers intended to freak out people enough so that they won’t vote for Barack Obama.
There are valid reasons to support the Republican ticket, and I know and respect a lot of people who will not be voting, as I am, for Barack Obama. The obscenity of alarmist fear mongering, however, should have no place in America’s political discourse. Hope is too scarce a commodity.