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Nearly thirty years ago, I was kicked off television for exercising my First Amendment right: freedom of speech. The local ABC affiliate received some angry phone calls after, as a minister, I dared to say that the Bible called homosexuality a sin.
I had taken a few minutes to, in their estimation, put them "in a bad light," expressing my opinion that gay sex is unnatural, destructive to society and potentially dangerous to one's health (and this was before the AIDS epidemic!). At the time, the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" prescribed equal time for opposing views. The station determined that forty seconds of my opinion needed "balancing." Therefore, my entire half-hour time slot was forfeited and given to promote homosexuality. Half an hour to balance 40 seconds -- government "fairness" at work!
With the help of strong public outcry, decision was overturned and we were put back on the air. Within a short time, the "Fairness Doctrine" was also discarded as it was found to actually be unfair to broadcast and station owners.
A quarter of a century later, religious leaders and institutions continue to operate under a virtual gag order. While faithful ministries work to build the family, strengthen marriages, rebuild lives, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, provide shelter to the homeless and engage in other activities contributing to a functional society, many work under intense scrutiny of the IRS. As soon as spiritual leaders speak out too much on issues we believe are important -- issues that may have a "political" impact, such as gay marriage, abortion, judicial activism, mercy killing, and other matters rooted in morality -- they face potential tax ramifications that would gut their humanitarian relief efforts and effective ministry outreaches by revoking the non-profit status.
There has been much hand-wringing in the press and on Capitol Hill regarding last week's "Justice Sunday," organized by James Dobson's Family Research Council. Clearly, the event was a partisan Republican effort to mobilize people of faith to impact the political process, in this case to pressure Congress to actually vote for or against Bush's judicial nominees.
Some people do not like this.
It reminds me of the early '60s when those meddling preachers wouldn't shut up about racism. The Southern Democrats fought hard to keep the religious activists in their place, but to no avail. Those church rallies eventually got completely out of hand and led to an entire political movement called Civil Rights. (It is interesting to note that in the South, Democrat senators voted 21-1 against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of the few Republicans voting against the act was senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who asserted, "You can't legislate morality.")
This week, Paul Greenberg, editorial editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, defended Christians' right to engage in political dialogue. "The moral imagination of Americans, which is so much a part of our national character, is inseparable from our religious roots," he wrote.
The church and people of faith must continue to stand up for moral issues. We should not become "kingmakers" or the pawns of political parties, but we must remain active in the political process. We must use our voice to engage in social debate and our vote to impact the political process. To refrain from doing so would not only be un-American, but also, in fact, be un-Christian.