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August 12, 2011

Contrasting MLK's faith with that of religious bullies

Martin-Luther-King Andrew Sullivan responds to those who suggest that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Christianist comparable to the right-wing religious bullies currently roiling American politics:

King's Christianism was crucially leavened by his manifest Christianity. I'd argue that it was his and his movement's moral example of Christian non-violence that truly changed America's heart and broke the politicized Christianist deadlock between the two camps. He didn't just preach his faith as politics, but he practised it in a way very close to Christ's, seeking punishment, enduring imprisonment, and risking death, to bear witness to a deep moral truth about the dignity of every person. This submission to violence, rather than its gun-totin' celebration, is what distinguishes King's Christianism from so much of today's. It embraced its powerlessness, as a paradoxical way to change the world. And that, truly, is Christianity more than Christianism. It is an indirect approach to power.

The way I have put it is that King's religion motivated him to liberate people, whereas the intolerant Christianists of today use their faith as a pretext to oppress those who disagree with them. The contrast is pretty hard for an honest person to miss. The problem is not with the presence of faith in the public square, but with the notion that there is one and only one faith and that its dictates must be imposed on the entire population.

The Christian right routinely claims that things like marriage equality are being imposed on them and that they are thus being victimized. But what that essentially says is that they have a monopoly on religious freedom — that their freedom entitles them to deny equal protection of the law to people they don't like. The fact is that no one is trying to force right-wing Christians to enter into gay marriages or approve of them or bless them in their places of worship. What gives them a veto over the choices and actions of their fellow citizens?

What the Christianists are really unhappy about is that their own views are not allowed to trump everyone else's rights and beliefs. They just cannot accept the reality of a pluralistic society. But there is a reason why the very first amendment to the United States Constitution begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." If you don't understand that, you don't understand America.

Sullivan follows up here.

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