Monday, March 05, 2007



Before I write anything else, I want to give the atheist activist I referred to in my last post a chance to clarify his statement to me regarding the recent Supreme Court case on President Bush’s Faith Based Initiative programs.

I mentioned to you that I ran into this man last week as he returned from staging a protest against public funding of faith-based programs in front of the US Supreme Court. I also noted that when I asked him how he felt the case would go, he conceded it would likely be a winner for our side. In response to my report, the same activist wrote me a blistering E-mail saying, among other things, “When you approached me on the street, I had just come from our demonstration on the steps of SCOTUS(Supreme Court of the United States). I was not privy to the proceedings inside and I certainly was not expressing a legal opinion. My one-liner was nothing more than humorous, self-effacing cordiality. It doesn't seem possible the (sic) it could have been mistaken for anything beyond that.”

I attempted to respond to him, but his E-mail address was rejected twice. So, hoping you’re still reading Rick, here’s what I tried to send to you:

Hi Rick! Thanks for taking time to read my blog and respond. I plan to reflect on your comments in my next posting, but I need to get something straight: Did you or did you not give me your honest opinion in that remark? If it was not honest, but simply a cordiality to placate me, should I say that? I took you to be a straight-forward guy who would give me your true opinion.

I also respect you as a savvy player in this consequential high-stakes game. You guys are sharp, determined, articulate, shrewd and committed to your cause. You know what you’re after and you’re (to quote Hillary) “in it to win!” I don’t know about you, but I see this as a struggle for the very soul of our American—and even broader human civilization. That’s no small thing. Let’s not be na├»ve. This is bigger than the Civil War and even more bloody—if you consider every human life to be as valuable as another.

So, pardon me for making more of your conciliatory statement than you wanted me to, but I am neither your apologist nor your publicist. If you mean to be sure to be taken in a certain way, only say so and I will respect that. I will now report your taking umbrage at my interpretation of your comment, but I must wonder if you’re being honest with yourself. Again, if you didn’t mean what you said, just say so.

Incidentally, I’m grateful to God that we’re now doing battle with you guys and not the old guard who spit on us, punched, scratched and kicked us. (Back in ’92, they even urinated on us!) For your civility, I say thank you. While we will always have very sharp disagreements and different interpretations of one another, we can—and I am determined to—remain civil.

Thank you again for sharing your feelings with me. Be assured of my constant prayers for you.


Rob Schenck

That being said, let me say I still believe what I heard in Rick’s words, his tone of voice and our eye contact, was a concession. But, he can speak for himself and is invited to do so by posting at this blog.

Speaking of speaking, last week I attended CPAC—the Conservative Political Action Conference. These are the hard-core conservative activists and (according to even the liberal Washington Post) a very important constituency within the Republican Party. That’s why leading presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Sam Brownback and Rudy Giuliani appeared there. I had a great time spending most of the hours with our colleagues and friends, Pat Mahoney and Jay Sekulow, among others--including Sean Hannity. (Jay was busy talking up Mitt Romney, whom he is supporting.)

I have said all along that Sam Brownback is—and remains—the gold standard on our three key principles of the Sanctity of Life, the Sanctity of Marriage and the Family and the Public Acknowledgement of God. But, I must also say the most impressive campaign organization at the conference was Mitt Romney’s—and that extends nationally. Perhaps that’s why Romney won First Place in the straw poll (mock election) held during the event. The pro-abort, anti-family values, not-much-on-religion Giuliani came in Second (Egad!) and Sam, the champion of all that is good, came in Third. It’s clear if moral conservatives are looking for someone with a capacity to win, Mitt comes out on top.

On the other side, it appears Hillary is staging a no-holds-barred campaign against formidable challenger Barack Obama. You probably saw on the news both attended recent Civil Rights commemorations in Selma, Alabama. Pat Mahoney and I visited there not long ago and marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the one made so infamous by the brutal attacks against marchers on "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965. I was only seven years old, but I can remember the television coverage of that awful event. I believe it contributed to my formation as an activist. The odd thing is neither Barack Obama nor his family experienced any of that. He was born to a highly educated white mother and African father. He was raised by white grandparents in Hawaii and later graduated from Harvard where he served in the prestigious post of editor to the Law Review. I must wonder if the senior leaders of the civil rights movement have any attitudes about that.

In any case, the big feature of this campaign stop for both the Clinton and Obama camps was the unseemly quoting of Scripture and singing of hymns as jousting weapons. This competition for the prize of “most religious” is degrading to the candidates and to the rich history of the black church. Any charges by the Democrats that Republicans politicize faith (and too many of them do) is nullified by their own Elmer Gantryism on the campaign trail.

While I'm in a critical mood (a constructive one, I hope), let me say in summary that I'm very concerned our conservative movement maintains a Christian conscience. I'm deeply troubled by signs it's slipping. Without a Christian conscience there will be no morally qualitative difference between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. I, for one, am not interested in investing in a morally banckrupt movement.

This is all I have time for now, be back later . . .


believerthinker said...

Rob, I agree with you that Brownback is the gold standard but Romney has the better "machine." It is frustrating that evangelical leaders have chosen to put their energies--and cash--behind Romney. Do you have any suggestions for how we can help move them?

SimonSays said...

Reverand Rob, for those of us that are new to the area-and the issue, could you please expand on the "old guard" that urinated on you in 1992?

Rick Wingrove said...

Quite an enthusiastic protest, Rob. Perhaps, me thinketh, too much.

The reason you were called to task was for taking a casual comment, ignoring context, and passing it off as something other than what it was. We both agree on the verbiage and the setting, but you seem intent on enlarging it into a statement reflecting the official position of the Atheist community. It is anything but. As I pointed out in my initial email, what you took away from that exchange and reported to your contributors was certainly not reflective of the opinions or policies of the Atheist community. It was grip 'n grin and nothing more.

It was as if you asked if I like your haircut. You would certainly receive a cordial, even complimentary response, one that may or may not reflect an official position. It would be a mistake to blog it as an endorsement of your barber.

I should caution any readers that if you want to get a true and factual picture of the thinking of the Atheist community, you should ask an Atheist, or visit the websites of any number of national Atheist organizations. You may be surprised to learn that the many in the religion business have little respect for our viewpoints, or even our right to hold those views, and (shockingly) occasionally "misrepresents" our viewpoints to their contributors.

But distortions from the right are what we have come to expect. Take for example your reporting on the nature of the letter you received from DC regarding the decalogue you constructed . You characterized that letter as a threat to seize your property. But, you left some stuff out. What the letter actually did was warn you of the range of possible consequences if you did not begin the process of permit application within 30 days. Just apply. You cast it as if you were singled out for special oppression because of your religion. But, as you are aware, those sanctions are the same laws that apply to sidewalk cafes, homeowners, your neighbor with the cat statue, or anyone else in DC who illegally builds (without permits) in the city-controlled property which, as you know, extends to the facade of your building. Of course, the facts are not near as sexy and certainly don't support you claim of religious discrimination. Neither would the contributions be as high nor your supporters as outraged if it were revealed that you were more scofflaw than martyr.

But to boil it down, presenting a picture which was somewhat different than the actual state of affairs, even as you were receiving some rather preferential treatment from DC government. One has to ask, if the truth isn't good enough to support your position, does your position deserve to be supported. One has to ask ones self if one acted in the most moral fashion possible by shaping the 'truth' to the needs of the moment. And one has to ask how one can be a champion for 'truth' when facts become negotiable.

Be all that as it may, you now seem to be in seige mode. And , as we frequently see from the right, even when they are dead wrong, it's "attack, attack, attack!" (Do you know Karl Rove?) It seems that truth is an area where a certain amount of flexibility is acceptible if it contributes to a larger TRUTH. The "truth" has become less about the facts and more about a consistent message of outrage for your contributors. It's all so Cheney-esque.

Rick Wingrove
Beltway Atheists