In the book Carter writes:
Nowadays, the Washington scene is completely different, with almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact.
Fortunately, this degree of rigidity and confrontation has not yet taken hold among the general public.
Carter is right. And all I know about the book is what I saw from the excerpt, and in listening to the Fresh Air interview just now.
But it will take some effort to learn how to engage in constructive conversation, and to learn with whom it is worth having such conversations, and with whom it is not. I am not going to try to lay out a plan in this short essay. But rather to stake out the ground that it is not only possible, but necessary.
That's why is wrong to write off all conservative Christians as beyond all conversation and all reason. I find the routine derisive language used by many against those with whom they disagree on matters of religion incompatible with the values of tolerance and equality to which progressives have historically been all about. It borders on religious bigotry -- and all too often falls well over the line. Suffice to say that being routinely offensive to large numbers of people because of political disagreements with some, is not smart politics.
Jimmy Carter is a conservative Democrat. He is also an evangelical Christian. He is proud of his faith. It is integral to who he is. He is also a hero of civil and human rights. He fiercly supports the separation of church and state. And he opposes the fundamentalist enforcers who have taken over the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact he left the SBC out of principle. Among other things, he opposes the SBC insistence on the subordination of women, and the banning of women from positions of leadership in the denomination.
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates has been a leader among progressives in articulating why the demonization of evangelicals and religious conservatives is politically ineffective, at best; stupidly counterproductive at worst.
"Most Christian evangelicals," he wrote at Talk to Action recently, "are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.
I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”
I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac."
KEYWORDS: Jimmy Carter, Chip Berlet, Christian Right
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