The fight over faith in politics: Which faith? Whose values?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a Colorado church early this summer, one of that state’s Republican representatives, House member Lauren Boebert, spoke, as she always does, with definitive conviction: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. … I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.”

While many would and have disagreed, pointing to that document’s First Amendment — which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — Boebert was speaking for many Americans for whom that separating line has always been, if not invisible, at least fuzzy.

Boebert remains strong in her belief that faith and politics are inextricably entwined, as evidenced by brief, fiery remarks on Friday at the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Salt & Light Conference in Charlotte. There were warnings (“how far have we come when the word of God is not a part of our regular speech?”), bragging (“I am a professional RINO hunter,” when recounting her defeat of a longtime incumbent) and a prescription (“we need men and women of God to rise up”). In her words, she is someone who has been called by God, who “told me to go forward.”

At the gathering, which drew, according to organizers, about 1,500 over its two days, there was much talk of God, rivaled only by the many references to fighting and marching into battle, with the very future of America at stake. Though prayer was the primary weapon on display, and a voter registration table showing the way, there was also a raffle for a 17.76 LVOA rifle, only 500 tickets available, $20 each, six for $100.

America has heard similar exhortations before, including from the former head of the Christian Coalition, the founder of the national Faith & Freedom Coalition, Ralph Reed. Despite Reed’s tight relationship with Republican Party politics — as senior adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaigns in both 2000 and 2004, onetime chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, a GOP candidate himself, and more — the ambassador for the North Carolina organization insists his group is independent.

Paul Brintley, a North Carolina pastor who leads on minority engagement, told me, “Our forefathers made choices in laws from a foundation of the Bible” and “we don’t want to lose our saltiness” in continuing that charge, hence the “salt” in the conference name. Jesse Hailey, a Baptist pastor from Elk Point, S.D., said he, too, longed for a country that elevated biblical traditions, and he said he was very pleased with the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

But, “we don’t endorse candidates; we just educate people,” said Jason Williams, the executive director of the N.C. Faith & Freedom Coalition.

Was that a wink?

It was hard to miss the issue-oriented voter guides or the theme of the vendors’ room with tables for the Patriotic Students of America, which promotes clubs and believes “today’s education system has growing anti-American sentiments,” and Moms for Liberty, which has led the charge against what it labels critical race theory but in practice seems to be about banning books on LGBTQ families, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges integrating New Orleans schools, and girls who aspire to a career in tech.

Valerie Miller, 40, a member of the Cabarrus County Republican Party executive committee, touted “Blexit” — Black Americans leaving the Democratic Party — and her story of finding a home in the GOP. You could also learn about Patriot Mobile, advertising itself as “America’s Only Christian, conservative wireless provider,” and pick up a “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker.

All the while, a who’s who of conservative politicians, media stars and firebrands took the stage.

When it comes to what faith in action — political action — should look like, opinions have always varied in stark ways. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” after all, was a generous yet robust rebuke to fellow faith leaders who urged patience not action in pursuit of justice. Not even the Scripture they all preached could settle the argument.

It’s no different today, with people of faith preaching far different versions of how God’s vision is and should be reflected in the country’s policies. In Washington, D.C., last week, a diverse group of national, state and local faith leaders prioritized voting rights, the living wage and the lack of health care as they joined the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival in a briefing to urge Congress to act on issues that affect millions of vulnerable Americans.

“We’re in a moral crisis. Fifty million people are going to experience some sort of voter suppression because we’ve not restored the Voting Rights Act and passed the original John Lewis bill that the guy who amended the original John Lewis bill didn’t vote for it himself,” said co-chair William J. Barber II, who is also president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, in remarks I watched on video. “And 50 million people will experience continual poverty because we’ve not raised the minimum wage in 13 years. Thirteen years.”

You can’t ‘pivot away’ from sick stunts and cruelty

It’s called the “pivot.” It’s that moment when a politician who has been playing at the fringes for primary purposes tacks to the center, just in time for the general election, the better to appeal to independents and moderates who might be turned off by red-meat rhetoric.

A particularly clumsy execution of what should be a deft move could be observed after New Hampshire Republican Don Bolduc won his primary fight and the right to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan.

After running as a true Trump devotee, swallower of the election lie that Donald Trump was denied the presidency because of fraud, and signing a letter saying Trump won, Bolduc had a come-to-truth conversion as soon as the primary votes were counted. “I’ve done a lot of research on this,” he said to explain his about-face. “The election was not stolen.”

Did he forget that videotape exists and social media is forever?

In politics, there are actually all kinds of pivots.

One that erases the lived experiences of human beings is underway right now, as buses and planes crisscross the United States, courtesy of governors competing to see who can score the most political points on the backs of brown people.

Who are these men, women and children? Where exactly are they from? Are many in the country legally, stuck in an immigration system that is overloaded, unwieldy and in need of reform? What’s going to happen to them now? Who is paying for this stunt?

Before all these questions are deeply explored, notice how quickly conversation about GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida transporting asylum-seekers northward segued from the details about the people on those buses and planes to analysis of how these politicians’ cynical moves will play among voters.

Eventually, those details dangerously lose their power to shock, the names and faces blurring.

Consider how little has been reported on the fate of a 1-month-old baby dropped off in front of the Washington, D.C., residence of Vice President Kamala Harris, courtesy of Abbott.

Put yourself in the place of desperate parents trying to give your infant a better life; wonder what kind of despair and hope would lead to a trek into the unknown.

Oh, that’s right. In Donald Trump’s recent ominous and threatening Ohio speech, the one in which he labeled anyone opposing the MAGA movement as “thugs and tyrants” with “no idea of the sleeping giant they have awoken,” he could not pass up the chance to refer to some immigrants as “murderers” and “rapists.”

The clear message was that “these” people are not like you, smoothing the way for a pivot from people to threats to political pawns, good only for the opportunity to “own the libs” and bank a few votes.

When taken to task for not giving social services in Martha’s Vineyard advance notice, the better to make preparations, DeSantis press person Jeremy Redfern embraced the oversight, tweeting, “Do the cartels that smuggle humans call Florida or Texas before illegal immigrants wash up on our shores or cross over the border? No.”

Anyone who invites a comparison to human-smuggling, lawbreaking coyotes might want to examine his life choices.

It’s not even an original tactic.

Fighting unwinnable battles in an American culture war

As usual, Michelle Obama stole the show. The former first lady returned to the White House to unveil the official Obama portraits that will forever hang on its walls, and she used the special occasion to deliver remarks that hit the perfect tone.

“For me, this day is not just about what has happened,” she said last week. “It’s also about what could happen because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to serve as first lady.”

All over the world, you could hear young girls and women, particularly those of color, cheering.

She referenced the sentiments of her “hope and change” spouse in saying, “if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then, again, it is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves to believe that they can, too.”

Now, whenever the former first lady speaks simple truths, a few trolls find fault with her words, seeing in them victimization, not the obvious celebration intended by the speaker. But then, those naysayers were the ones who never appreciated the style and class the Obamas brought to the people’s house while navigating the uncharted role of “the first.”

Michelle Obama’s speech was not about how bad we were but how far we’ve come, and isn’t that something Americans can point to with pride?

Apparently not.

The first Black president and first lady — an inspiration for so many who had felt left out — are merely ammunition for those who insist on fighting a “culture war” they feel they’re losing.

Two systems of justice? Bet on it

You can be sure the FBI and the Department of Justice dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” on the search warrant before they went looking for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the home of the former president of the United States, and hit the jackpot. Though I wasn’t there, I’m confident that no agent busted down doors or shot around corners.

According to reports, though not to the hysterical hyperbole employed by Donald Trump on the campaign trail, this was a professional operation, approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the federal judiciary.

Still, thanks to Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a special master must sort through and review 13,000 documents and items seized from Mar-a Lago before the investigation can continue. The ruling came after even Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr — who judged Cannon’s ruling “deeply flawed” — eventually came to the conclusion that the federal government had no choice but to act in the face of Trump’s defiance.

More delay, more court review, it seems, before the public gets any closer to finding out why a private citizen who used to be president took classified government documents to his private club or what national, perhaps damaging secrets Trump and company held on to despite entreaties to do the right thing.

I get it, though. I understand why the former president and his followers — the crowd current President Joe Biden accurately labels “MAGA Republicans” — believe that the rules apply only to some, while others get to make them up as they go along. Just look at the excuses they make for his behavior, and the twists and turns of spine and morality necessary to turn violent Capitol rioters into “patriots.”

To realize there really are different and inequitable systems of justice in a country that swears it isn’t so, look no further than the case of a woman who was given none of the protections or attention that those with wealth and power take for granted.

Breonna Taylor was defenseless. In fact, as we’ve found out from a guilty plea by someone tasked with enforcing the law, the search that ended in Taylor’s death was based on lies.

Former Louisville detective Kelly Goodlett late last month pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, admitting she helped falsify the warrant and conspired with another officer to concoct a cover story when the March 2020 killing of this young Black woman belatedly made national news.

I relate much more to Taylor’s plight than Trump’s, having been seen more than once during my growing-up years as more perp than citizen minding my own business by law enforcement patrolling my working-class Black neighborhood. Then again, I would think that most Americans struggling to get through each day would find more similarities with the emergency room technician who wanted to be a nurse than a former president who refuses to accept defeat in a presidential election.

Yet, one search garners the headlines and boiling outrage, while the other earns little more than a mention, unless you’re a friend or family member or anyone interested in an American system of justice that works fairly.

Progress? Certainly. But has the Americans with Disabilities Act changed the country enough?

Marking its 32nd anniversary this year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has inspired the world to see disability through the lens of equity, opening opportunities for persons with disabilities to contribute to our global progress. But, from creating more consistency for academic accommodations to providing additional employment opportunities, what needs to be done in the next 32 years and beyond?

Equal Time host Mary C. Curtis talks with Nicole Patton, the manager of state government relations at the National Down Syndrome Society, and Charlotte Woodward, an education program associate at NDSS. Woodward, who was born with Down syndrome and a heart condition, is one of the few people with that disability to receive a life-saving heart transplant. She went on to graduate summa cum laude from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a concentration in inequality and social change.

When it’s staring you in the face, it just might be the truth

“Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

The phrase has morphed from hackneyed joke to cliche to words to live by.

When I saw the street scene from the familiar city of Tucson, Ariz., it looked like a creation of Claes Oldenburg. But this tableau of a port-a-potty sliding into a plastic heap in the Southwestern heat was reality, not art object, something I doubt the artist, who recently died at 93 after a career of creativity, could ever have imagined.

When I lived in Tucson 30-plus years ago, we certainly had our hot days, ones where the sun seemed to be sitting on your shoulders with no relief in the weather report. But I don’t remember witnessing anything like that.

Yet, that image and so many more — wildfires all over the world, buckling airport runways and Texas roadways “bleeding” the binder that holds them together — have resulted in solutions that could only be described as temporary. Wrapping London’s Hammersmith Bridge in foil or coating Phoenix streets with a gray emulsion might work, but for how long?

And what’s to become of the iconic Tour de France? The first yellow jersey donned by the bicycle race leader in 1919 was made of wool, the thought of which is more than scary in 2022, when riders and spectators risked their lives while navigating twisty routes throughout that broiling country.

What are leaders doing about a long-term threat we feel in our cities, our homes and our bodies?

Hedging, dissembling and putting it off on our children and grandchildren, who must be thrilled at yet another problem left by the grown-ups.

Examining post-Roe concerns over data privacy and health care inequities

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade raised many questions on the future of abortion rights in the United States. With search histories and health apps possibly used for tracking, how can data be protected and kept private? Will the health care outcomes of African-American women, who are already three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, worsen?

To shed some light on life in this post-Roe world, Equal Time host Mary C. Curtis talks with Amie Stepanovich, vice president for U.S. policy at the Future of Privacy Forum and a nationally recognized expert in domestic surveillance, cybersecurity and privacy law, as well as Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center, a nonprofit reproductive health, rights and justice organization based in Atlanta.

How do you make a 10-year-old disappear? It’s easier than it should be

I prayed for that 10-year-old child, raped and impregnated by a man who has confessed to the monstrous crime, a young girl who then had to travel from her home state to end that pregnancy.

Then, I prayed for America.

Just when you think things can’t get worse, that human nature couldn’t sink any lower, something happens to prove you wrong, to make you realize that the country is truly broken in ways that each day make the path to healing more difficult to imagine.

It is the case of the girl child who was quickly transformed from flesh and blood human being, used and abused by adults tasked to take care of her, to political cudgel, used and abused by a country that says it cares about its children most of all — and obviously doesn’t mean it.

If you cheered the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the constitutional protection for those seeking and providing abortions, this is the ultimate nightmare. It’s not the vision of a post-Roe world you want to present to the world, this story of a 10-year-old abandoned by the courts and the country’s health care system, a child many would have forced to bear a child conceived in violence, no matter the physical and emotional costs.

So, does that mean the most extreme foes of abortion rights have started to rethink the wisdom of their plans to enact ever harsher and stricter abortion bans in the states?

Of course not.

Instead, the narrative quickly shifted from stories of the indecisive giving birth and feeling vindicated by the choice forced upon them — to be sure, an occurrence that does happen — to a harsher alternative: Erase a 10-year-old, or worse, turn her into a weapon dreamed up by abortion rights activists and the party whose members overwhelmingly support that right.

For those with blinders on, softening an anti-abortion stance might require compromise, which equals hypocrisy if you sincerely believe life begins at conception — no exceptions allowed. But that kind of compromise simply makes room for the complexity that is real life.

What it means to be ‘surprised’ by the massacre in Highland Park

Why do I know that Highland Park, Ill., was the backdrop for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” a 1986 John Hughes movie starring a young Matthew Broderick as a cheeky teenage suburbanite who misbehaves? It’s because so many articles recounting the horrific Fourth of July shooting at the town’s annual holiday parade mentioned it.

The reference was used as an emblematic totem, shorthand that tracked the comments sprinkled through the articles and tweets launched that day: “probably the last place we would expect this” or “just inconceivable in a community like Highland Park.”

I mourned along with the country at the heartbreaking details, the child left without parents, the grandfather in an extended family, now left without its patriarch, the mother hit as she ran with the daughter who saw her go down but who kept running to save her own life.

Will this country ever be rid of the senseless gun violence that stains a quintessential Independence Day celebration, with marching bands, floats and children toted in strollers and wagons? Will there ever be a consensus that pushes politicians to change laws that allowed a 21-year-old suspect to obtain authorization to purchase weapons at an even younger age, with a co-sign by dad, even after incidents that drew law enforcement to the home?

Apparently not until America decides enough is enough and makes elected leaders pay a political price, which has not yet happened.

But while I mourned, I also realized, and not for the first time, that Americans mark tragedies in different ways, with wide-ranging levels of empathy, that deeply felt emotion that allows you to look into the faces of those whose lives are forever changed by violence and feel the same pain, maybe because those people remind you of you.

 

‘Equal Time’ podcast: For Pride Month, reflecting on progress and the road ahead

As Pride Month ends, celebration is tempered by setbacks across the country, from laws that ban transgender athletes from competing in school sports to efforts to remove books on the LGBTQ experience from library shelves. And with a Supreme Court willing to overturn precedent, many wonder if LGBTQ rights will be next. What is needed, culturally and legally, to ensure forward movement on the path to equality for all Americans? What can organizations and corporations do to be more intentional in supporting the LGBTQ community?

“Equal Time” host Mary C. Curtis explores what comes next with guests Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of Lambda Legal, and Kendra R. Johnson, executive director at Equality North Carolina.