An (Open and Courteous) Debate on Religious Freedom…

Here is the debate between Jon Stewart and David Barton on religious freedom. In three parts (1st was on air while others on Comedy Central’s website).

PART 1 – On the Daily Show

PART 2 – Off Air

PART 3 – Off Air

Here are some comments from Hilary Busis on EW:

“When is Comedy Central’s biggest fake news program not a fake news program? When host Jon Stewart engages in a serious, nearly joke-free debate with one of his guests. These discussions aren’t as rare as one might expect them to be, given The Daily Show‘s status as a comedy program — and that’s a good thing, since watching one sort of feels like eating a meaty entree after sampling some delicious but light appetizers.

Last night, The Daily Show welcomed controversial Christian advocate David Barton. Ostensibly, Barton was there to plug a new book about Thomas Jefferson. But after his guest explained the tome’s basic premise — contrary to one popular belief, our third president was a religious man rather than a secularist –the discussion soon veered off in a different direction. Stewart began asking Barton why modern Christians often feel as though they’re being persecuted, despite the fact that the U.S. is still an overwhelmingly Christian country.

From there, Barton began talking about the work he’s done with Christians who have been targeted for what he calls exercising their free speech — things like handing out bibles and, in the case of one five-year-old kid, praying over his lunch at school. Stewart was fascinated by Barton’s argument — so much so that when he realized the two of them were running out of time, he decided to speak with Barton for an extra 14 minutes and put the rest of the footage online.

And while the segment that aired was plenty interesting, the interview’s second and third parts are even better. In Part 2, Stewart challenges Barton’s points by asking whether he’d still advocate public prayer in a place like, say, the overwhelmingly Muslim city of Dearborn, Mich. (Barton’s answer there is a little convoluted: “If I’m in Dearborn and they ask an individual to pray, I’m going to expect that I’m going to get a Muslim prayer. But that’s not because they voted and they said that he has to pray a Muslim prayer. … If they vote to have a prayer, that’s fine, and then whoever prays is going to pray the prayer they pray.” It makes more sense when you hear it… but not a ton more.)

And in Part 3, the duo tackles the Blunt Amendment and religious protections in the workplace — both from the employers’ perspective and from the employees’ perspective.

The Stewart/Barton interview is a great antidote to the nastiness that often characterizes cable news. It’s wonderful to watch these two engage in a calm, respectful debate, even though they clearly hold very different positions.”

This was a great discussion and Barton came off better than I expected. For myself, I tend to argue that Jefferson was maybe religious but not necessarily ‘Christian’ in the way Barton et al would define Christian (see Barton’s quick assertion that a couple of recent presidents though they were Christian when they “didn’t act like it-” whoever does he mean?). It seems interesting to me that the same people who worry that Obama is Muslim Socialist are trying in vain to Christianize people like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Franklin (the same kind of people that they would vehemently oppose and often characterize as un-Christian and therefore un-American today).

Likewise I tend to see the whole “war on Christians” rhetoric as overblown as any on the other wars ongoing (Christmas, Women, Drugs, Gays, etc.). This rhetoric continues to be used by partisan operators because it kills two birds with one stone (or catchphrase): it serves up red-meat for the loyalists and gets the phones ringing with new money (do we use them for donations anymore- sorry more like paypals). Fear is a great motivator and works to bring out the voters and wallets. Yet it is a horrible way to govern and counterproductive in the long run. Wars have to get louder to be heard, and there is always the chance that the overblown rhetoric will cost lives and property when someone (or some group) stoked by fear over-reacts to a situation (as was the case with say- sen. Giffords, Trayvon Martin, the 1968 race riots, or the Occupy riots). Fear also builds walls between people and insulates us from each other. When my friends are afraid to attend a baseball game downt0wn because it’s scary in ‘those kind of neighborhoods,’ we are all losers. The occupants of  ‘those neighbors’ are alienated from society and left feeling hopeless and alone (and when they snap who’s to blame them, really). Meanwhile those of us safe in the suburbs are missing out on experiencing the blessings of God that come from bringing hope to hopeless, and perhaps we are even missing out on our ticket to the good life to come (after all there is a certain parable and saying of Jesus that seems to imply that those who get into heaven are those who put fear aside entering into the lives of the hungry, the imprisoned, and the unwell).

For me this kind of fear-mongering is Exhibit A for why we need a wall of separation between Church and State. However before anyone excusing me of being a traitor to my faith, let me say this,

“The reason for the separation is not to protect the State but the Church.”

People of any religion who desire to go into government should be encouraged to go there; and they should also be encouraged to argue for, and vote for laws and practices that are inspired by their religious convictions. This false compartmentalization between what I believe and how I speak, think, or act should be relegated to the trash bin of history as one of the stupidest ideas of modernism. However even as we are there trying to synthesize or religious framework with the governance of our land, we should do so with honesty, sympathy, empathy, openness, humilty, and the understanding that these beliefs cannot be forced upon, or legislated. We do not make Christians through the government (can I get an Amen!). We do not make disciples through the school system.  We do not enact our morality through the legal system (somebody tell me to keep preaching!). We do these things through the Church and the teaching that have been passed down to us through faithful men and women from our Christ. It is Father who adopts sons and daughters into the family of God. It is Christ who makes disciples of us all. It is the Spirit that writes His law upon our hearts. And all of this is done in and through the Church, and that is why we must fight it keep it pure of all outside interests that would pollute its means and message. And  the biggest pollutant out there is power (next  to money and sex- and of course the three interweave). The power of the sword entices everyone who holds it, and Christ nowhere showed his wisdom more than when he rejected Satan’s offer to hold onto it. Individuals with the Church’s prayers behind them fully attuned to the temptations may be lead to tread upon these paths, but the church as a whole or in parts must be careful to choose the narrow way (or endanger it all).

Does this mean we should run away? By no means. We should always be ready to take the light of God into the darkness (always prayerfully and intelligently). We should look diligently to our scriptures and attempt to vote our conscience.  That is not to say that I think everyone ought to vote Democratic (or Republican). We should all look to our conscience as our guide and vote as such (a point that Barton, Stewart, and I would all agree upon). What we should not do is name-call, and attempt to force some arbitrary choosing up of sides in which we seek to force the words of our ‘heroes’ into our camp, and demonize any current purveyor of the other camp’s message at the same time. And this is what Busis and I agree upon: it is refreshing to see an open, honest, and respectful dialogue between the two sides. We need more of this type of dialogue. Yet CNN, Fox, and MSNC continue to reward those who scream the loudest (an unfortunately at time it looked as if the GOP was following suit in the primary- though it is comforting that the moderate did end up winning). Let us contend for the faith; but let us do so with honor emulating the calm zen of sirs Stewart and Barton.

For Further reading:

Sider, Ron. The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Christians Are Missing the Chance to Change the World.


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