Sanctimony is the province of politicians, pastors and editorial writers. A collision of the secular and the sectarian often sparks recrimination, especially if sermonizing hits a nerve.
On Monday, a GOP-coalition-led state Senate was consecrated by a fundamentalist preacher. Pastor Jon Sanne of Olympia’s Calvary Chapel prayed that God encourage lawmakers to strengthen marriage, “as you ordained it for our good.”
No Talmudic review is needed to tease out the subtext. According to the Seattle Times, Sanne’s church contributed $5,000 to the anti-marriage equality campaign. Sen. Ed Murray, who shepherded the landmark bill and served as the state’s marriage-equality Moses, stood in the well of the Senate, a quiet witness.
For the first day of the 2013 session, legislators might have benefited from rabbinic wisdom, a Lutheran entreaty on Original Sin, even a Buddhist koan (What is the sound of one party clapping?) Sanne’s ill-timed jab won’t diminish the impressive interfaith coalition that bolstered the triumphant marriage-equality effort. Washington remains a Walt Whitman-esque capital “D” democracy, with opening prayers in the state House and Senate from scholars to Catholic priests to soapbox preachers.
Fundamentalist Christianity, belief that the Holy Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God, has been interwoven into America’s political and religious culture for 200 years.
In 1922, theologian Harry Emerson Fosdick gave a sermon at New York’s First Presbyterian Church that breathed life into liberal Protestantism. Entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists win?” its message resonates still.
“The first element that is necessary is a spirit of tolerance and Christian liberty,” Fosdick said. “When will the world learn that intolerance solves no problems? This is not a lesson which the Fundamentalists alone need to learn; the liberals also need to learn it.”
Pastor Sanne feigned surprise — think Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca — that his words might be construed, well, literally. He deserves not intolerance, but the gift of Christian charity. To prosper, for example, strong marriages require healthy communities. A marriage benefits from affordable and accessible health care (in sickness and in health, after all.) And what about marriages battered by economic hardship?
You cannot serve God and mammon, the Gospel of Matthew reads. Since that doesn’t appear to extend to campaign donations, it also shouldn’t preclude agitating for social justice and programs that elevate marriage. Why not full Medicaid expansion? Why not full-day Kindergarten to strengthen early learning and, by extension, married couples who need a hand up?
Politics is politics, religion is religion, and never the twain shall meet? In Olympia, as in life, those lines blur.