The Pulpit Forum and Church and State

By Anthony | February 26th, 2008 | 8:42 am

The Pulpit Forum, a group of local, predominantly black ministers, is having a press conference today. Joe Guarino is attepting to paint it as a violation of the separation of Church and State, despite the fact that there has been no religious content to anything they’ve presented yet.

The gist of Joe’s argument (but be sure to read his post and the comments) seems to be that since religious right groups get criticized for trying to entangle church and state, the Pulpit Forum should be criticized here in this case. In the comments, Joel Gillespie reiterates one of Joe’s claims, that liberal religious groups are not held to the same standard as conservative groups with regard to the separation of church and state.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this is true, and that “religious left” groups don’t get as much scrutiny on church/state issues as religious right groups. That still doesn’t make this an issue where there *should be* scrutiny on church/state grounds.

At this point, all we know is that the group is presenting a claim about how certain records were destroyed. As of right now, this has nothing to do with a religious viewpoint at all.

Compare this to some of the things the religious right has done – rallies calling for mandating prayer in schools, the teaching of creationism, and openly talking about putting God in our government. In what way does that compare to presenting a claim about the destruction of evidence in an investigation? The first group of items is entirely based on religious doctrine. The second has no relation to any religious doctrine.

If the Pulpit Forum petitioned the government to put a traffic light up at a dangerous intersection, would that be asking for a violation of church and state? Certainly not (though Joe might try to convince us that it was), but this issue has far more in common with that situation than with some of the actions of the religious right.

Guarino’s argument essentially is that if any religious group has ever received criticism on a church/state issue, then no religious group should escape criticism in that area, regardless of the nature of their actions. My point is that it’s ridiculous to not look at the actual actions involved. Taking his stance to an extreme, but logical conclusion, we should be criticizing liberal pastors for voting in elections because some religious right pastors have received criticism for calling for gays, adulterers and blasphemers to be executed. Not all actions are equivalent, as much as he seems to want to lump them together.

Joe keeps insisting that the situations are similar and has claimed that this is a “major breach”. The problem for his argument is that he hasn’t shown any similarities or demonstrated that it’s a major breach, let alone any breach at all.

54 Responses to “The Pulpit Forum and Church and State”

  1. Sue Says:

    Your problem, Anthony, is applying logic to a now-crazed situation. The comparison is illegitimate; a pastor who preaches “vote republican” or “vote democratic” in a church service is one thing. A civic-active group of pastors presenting “evidence” about a local city matter that Dr. Joe and all his minions are writing about incessantly is another. Conflating the two makes noisy blog posts but does not touch truth, which for Greensboro, now, is simply unimportant. What matters is the pastors implied this MIGHT be related to Chief Wray – and that’s simply not acceptable to some – so shooting the messenger is the easy way out (rather than even wait to hear what they say).

    When Dr. Joe and his commenters denounce calling women presidential candidates (and all other women) “cunts,” then I’ll be able to re-respect what he says. Not until then. Goose. Gander.

  2. Beau D. Jackson Says:

    My point is that it’s ridiculous to not look at the actual actions involved. Taking his stance to an extreme, but logical conclusion, we should be criticizing liberal pastors for voting in elections because some religious right pastors have received criticism for calling for gays, adulterers and blasphemers to be executed. Not all actions are equivalent, as much as he seems to want to lump them together.

    Its most apparent that the point here is that local government officals are giving a presentation within the confinds and forum of a church. Therefore it suggests that those involved have received the Papal blessing. This presentation can be given at numerous other locations in non-religious facilities, ahhhhh but would it have the same impact! The Pulpit Forum aka Communist Workers Party are prostituting the church as a religious domain in an effort to give the presentation more bang for thier buck, and bleeding heart Liberals, seemingly like you, let this happen.

  3. Anthony Says:

    Sorry Beau, help me out here – which “local government officials” are giving the presentation?

  4. Brenda Bowers Says:

    Anthony, No one would deny these people whether ministers or drunkards the right to what they are doing. The problem arises with the name they have chosen to represent themselves. By using the word “pulpit” they themselves have brought religion into the issue. They are in effect implying that their actions are condoned by and supported by not only themselves but the entire congregations of their respective churches, and even religion or God himself. They themselves have chosen to mix church and state and therefore they and their actions should rightly be judged by the separation of church state criteria. They could have as easily called themselves The Good Guys Forum and not exposed themselves to this same scrutiny. Sorry ’bout that Hon. BB

  5. Sue Says:

    Using the word “pulpit” in the organization’s disqualifies it from nothing – it has always been a civic/social action organization made up of clergy from all faiths. Incessant harping that a word in a group’s title violates the separation clause neither makes it so nor makes anyone listen to you, Hon.

  6. Joel Gillespie Says:

    Um, excuse me, I am nobody’s minion, thank you very much Sue, and I did denounce the Cunt tee shirt deal – on your web site. Shall I stand out on Battleground with a “Ban Cunt Tee Shirt” sign? Or maybe “Cunt Tee Shirts Kill” or something like that?

    And, while I am at it, and no disrespect to Joe, just because I agree on one point in a thread, don’t put words or thoughts into my mouth.

    Black liberal clergy and white conservative clergy are treated differently by the media, period. That’s the only point I was making. If you aren’t aware of this you’ve been asleep. What this has to do with the question at hand regarding destroyed police files I have not the slightest idea.

    Regarding the different media treatment, I don’t really care; I am not whining about it; but the media double standard or difference in treatment is there.

    The double standard is there also as far as churches being used to promote candidates. That’s a no no that is way tolerated in left leaning churches. It is less a church/state issue as much as an IRS issue (maybe those are the same issues, maybe not). At our church we won’t come close to even seeming to endorse anyone, but not because we’re afraid of “jack booted IRS agents” :-) knocking down the door; we just don’t think that is the job of the church to tell or manipulate people as to how how they should vote.

    I will say as a Reverend, that being a Reverend (in my personal opinion based on observation and not documentary evidence or scientific research) is much less a political obstacle for a more politically liberal black clergyman than for a conservative white clergyman. I don’t think this is a racial thing so much as a political one, and maybe a little bit a theological one.

    The funny thing is for me, as a theological conservative, I don’t like wrapping up God and flag and think the church would be better off if it did less of it.

    But I do wonder, and you can do an Einsteinian mind game on this, would a bunch of conservative white “reverends” get as much press for political issues of concern to them if they held a press conference?

    Sue, no, the pulpit forum is not made up of clergy from all faiths. And use of the word “pulpit” along with lots of “reverends” or whatever hanging around does lend a churchy/religious aspect to the matter even if they’re talking about the price of eggs. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do – just means it does carry a religious “prophetic” nuance.

    I just paused and read Joe’s piece again. These issues being discussed are important and interesting but I am just not not sure you guys are reading him right. In my field we would say a little isogesis rather than exegesis is going on. But I’ve had a long day and it may all look different in the morning, as things often do.

  7. Bubba Says:

    “Incessant harping that a word in a group’s title violates the separation clause neither makes it so nor makes anyone listen to you, Hon.”

    Well, Hon, the title of “Jesus” underneath a portrait of a 17th century author’s false rendition of what a first century Semitic carpenter looked like doesn’t violate the separation clause either, regardless of WHO ordered such portrait placed.

    But don’t tell that to the proprietor of this blog. He doesn’t believe it.

  8. Brenda Bowers Says:

    “Sorry ’bout that Hon” was my personal note to a friend with whom I often disagree, but don’t like it when I do. Anthony and I have a special relationship and understanding. I think he is a beautiful person with a huge golden heart. BUT, he sometimes has some really screwy ideas about some things! and I feel beholden to set him straight. Of course he doesn’t listen to me, but that’s okay too. BB

  9. Anthony Says:

    Brenda: I always listen – but don’t always agree. :) I appreciate you trying to set me straight of course, and appreciate the kind words even more.

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