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ERLC’s Land: ‘Meet the Press’ panel reflects debate on whose values should prevail

WASHINGTON (BP)–Many pundits would say the debate began the night of the election when exit polls revealed more than one in five voters identifying “moral values” as the primary determinant in their choice for president.

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, who was a panelist on “Meet the Press” Nov. 28, disagrees.

“Election results don’t cause social change; they reflect it,” he told Baptist Press after joining Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., Al Sharpton, an ordained minister and civil rights activist, and Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and the head of Call to Renewal, a faith-based anti-poverty program, in a spirited debate on the long-running NBC News program.

“For at least 25 years now, the majority of the people who live in the so-called ‘red’ counties that predominate overwhelmingly between the Hudson River and the California border have been in the process of rejecting the 1960s counterculture, relativist values worldview,” Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.

Land said the talk among the four notables on Meet the Press was “pleasant and cordial on a surface level” before the program, but as soon as the Sunday morning panel went on the air, the gloves came off and moderator Tim Russert stepped back as the four squared off on religion, politics and moral values.

The question centers on whether traditional religious values are going to have an impact on the culture and on the culture’s public policy. “People of little or no religious faith are almost always going to be opposed to that,” Land said. “People who have religious faith are going to be supportive of that. Then the debate turns to what kind of religious faith should inform the culture.

“At least three of the four individuals on that panel believe that religious values have a very proper and right place in public policy,” Land said. “The question is what kind of religious values and their hierarchy of importance.”

While the four may have agreed that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, they failed to agree on how one’s religious faith should manifest itself in the public square, Land said.

“Democrats are often uncomfortable talking about faith values,” Wallis admitted during the broadcast, adding, “The Republicans want to narrow or restrict the values to one or two issues.” He called on Democrats to “recover their heart and soul” and Republicans to have a “broader and deeper agenda about values.”

“The separation of church and state does not mean the separation of values from our public life,” Wallis acknowledged. “Faith and values should not be a wedge or weapon that destroys and divides, but the bridge that brings us together and finds some new common ground.”

When host Tim Russert made mention of Falwell’s headline-grabbing endorsement of President Bush and his exhortation for Christians to vote for Bush, Falwell said he “can’t command anybody” to support one candidate over another. He said he “can only take the Bible seriously” in determining which policies and politicians to support.

Sharpton said that while he might agree with Falwell on “many issues,” he is concerned that conservatives are denying individuals the right “to make decisions where God gave people the right to make decisions.”

“The issue at hand,” continued Sharpton, who made an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for president this year, “is not whether or not people share particular values, but whether we have the right to impose what we believe on people that may disagree with us.”

He lamented that many of the values-based discussions have been limited to “sex-based arguments,” asking, “Can you imagine in the 21st century we’re debating whether we should give women the right to choose over their bodies?” Sharpton said that while he would not advise his own daughters to have an abortion, he doesn’t want the state to make that decision for them. And Sharpton said he wants people to “come together on real, broad, moral issues — Sudan, poverty, things like that.”

The civil rights activist’s assertion drew a swift reaction from Land: “With all we know about life in the womb now, that it’s not the mother’s body, that it’s a human life — I believe my grandchildren will look back and say, ‘I can’t believe in the early 21st century we were killing an unborn baby every 20 seconds.’”

Sharpton’s position on abortion is illustrative of those on the left, Land said in the BP interview. Sharpton and Wallis are concerned about how best to eliminate poverty, which is a noble and desirable goal, but a secondary ethical issue to the primary issue of defending unborn human life in the womb, Land said.

“While he may be personally opposed to abortion on demand, Sharpton believes he doesn’t have the right to impose his moral values on a pregnant woman,” Land said.

Sharpton expressed a desire to “protect American values” during the Meet the Press program, but then went on to say, “I don’t think you can put aside that we do not have the right, given personal conviction, to make that law. I think that’s un-Christian. Jesus didn’t do it.”

Land told Russert that was the same reasoning slave owners used in the 1800s to justify their ownership of other humans, a point quickly disputed by Sharpton, who said slave owners argued for “states’ rights.”

But just as quickly, Land interjected, “No, no, no. People who supported slavery said, ‘I wouldn’t own a slave, but I don’t have the right to tell somebody else whether they can own slaves. That’s imposing my values.’

“They forgot slaves were people and unborn babies are people,” Land continued. “In this society, no human being should have an absolute right of life and death over another human being. When a mother has an abortion, she is imposing her values on an unborn child. And it is always a fatal imposition.”

Yet Sharpton persisted, saying slave owners wanted “each state to decide people’s rights rather than have a federal government protect the rights of people.” The “right wing” is seeking to bring issues back to the states, thereby threatening the civil rights of many people, he asserted.

Sharpton’s assertion that the slave owners argued states’ rights is “palpably wrong,” Land told BP. “It is 180 degrees wrong. They didn’t argue states’ rights. Segregationists argued states’ rights. Al Sharpton needs to go back and study his American history because they didn’t want states’ rights.

“He was trying to shift the argument away from the exact analogy I had just drawn between slavery and civil rights and abortion,” Land said.

“If Al Sharpton’s arguments were to be taken to their logical conclusion, then we would still have segregation in this country,” Land said. “We did seek to impose the moral values of the country for racial equality on bigots and racists, and thank God we did. As a country, we imposed our moral values on Lester Maddox and George Wallace, and thank God we did. As a country, we imposed our moral values on those who felt they had a legal right to own other human beings, and thank God we did.

“I don’t blame the Rev. Sharpton for trying to change the subject. If I [were] in his position, I would too. I just wasn’t going to let him get away with it,” Land said.

Commenting on the debate over values reflected during the Meet the Press debate, Land noted the 1960s counterculture worldview has been dominant for the last 30 years because the various secular elites have “disproportionate power” within the media, the judiciary, academia and the federal government.

“As the resurgence of traditional religious values has come to dominate in the ‘red’ counties, counties that Bush won in the election, the 60s countercultural elite have attempted to perpetuate their dominance through the federal court system,” he said.

“In the 2004 election, a majority of the American people [Bush carried 80 percent of the nation’s counties containing 60 percent of the nation’s population] rose up and rejected the continued hegemony of the ’60s counterculture by rejecting John Kerry, a veritable poster boy of the ’60s counterculture and enthusiastically re-electing a very traditional values, 1950s kind of guy, George W. Bush,” Land said.

A large percentage of Americans are religious, Land said in citing a recent survey showing that 61 percent saying religion is very important in their lives.

“We are witnessing a reassertion of more traditional religious values in the expression of that religious faith,” Land observed. “This election was a triumph for people of traditional religious faith,” he continued, citing a report in the British magazine, The Economist, which noted that voters who attended religious services at least once a week voted overwhelmingly for the president.

“The implications of these findings is that Mr. Bush’s moral majority is not, as is often thought, just a bunch of right-wing evangelical Christians. Rather, it consists of traditionalist and observant churchgoers of every kind: Catholic and mainline Protestants, as well as evangelicals, Mormons…,” Land said, reading from the Nov. 13 issue of the magazine.

The clearest loser in this election cycle was the radical secular left, Land noted, saying even some Democrats now realize that until they liberate themselves from their bondage to the secular left, they will continue to fare poorly at the polls.

Land cited a report in the Nov. 21 New York Times Magazine in which Steve Rosenthal, the chief executive officer of America Coming Together, a 527 group that worked to mobilize voters for John Kerry, said his group’s effort fell short because of a “values wall” between Democrats and many voters. “The Democratic Party has built this values wall between itself and a lot of voters out there and the Republicans took advantage of it,” Rosenthal was quoted as saying in the article, titled “Who lost Ohio?”

Land doesn’t expect much to happen in terms of constructive dialogue until the “Democrats rid themselves of their bondage to the radical, secular fundamentalists of the left.”

“As long as they are carrying Barry Lynn, the ACLU and Michael Moore on their backs, they are not going to be all that successful at the ballot box,” Land said.

“The secular fundamentalist left is clearly seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution. All four members of the [Meet the Press] panel made it clear that we have to foster a way to have discussions where religion is part of the issue and not artificially segregated from public policy discussions,” Land said.

Barry Lynn would more than likely believe everyone on the Meet the Press panel was off-base, Land said.

Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, along with activists in People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union, don’t think religious values should have any bearing on public policy, he said. “They would consider that to be a violation of their perverted understanding of separation of church and state,” Land concluded.

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  • Dwayne Hastings