Sally Kern, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, says she has been called by God to be a cultural warrior.
Kern, a Religious Right favorite known for her strident attacks on gay people and insistence that her version of Christianity is the only true faith, told the Cleveland County Republican Luncheon Club recently that God urged her to run for office.
"I started praying about whether or not the Lord wanted me to run," Kern said, according to a report in the Norman Transcript. "And the more I prayed, the more I felt He did...And so here I am, and I'm not the typical legislator. The Lord showed me right off the bat that I'm not supposed to be. As a matter of fact, my Lord made it very clear to me that I am a cultural warrior. And you know I tried to say 'no' to that, too, 'cause that's pretty hard. But, anyway, that's where I am."
When Religious Right types say "God told me to do this or that," I immediately get wary. Usually the thing God told them to do is take away someone else's rights. But in this case, it seems God's judgment is just plain poor. Why did He tap Kern – a woman who is, I must be kind here, rather ill-informed?
Consider what Kern told her audience: According to the Transcript, she asserted that John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson believed there was a "true" religion that formed the basis for our country and it was her fundamentalist version of Christianity.
"When we have teachers and professors say to our students that our founding fathers were atheists or deists, how can we answer that when we don't even know who they were?" Kern asked. "When you study them and read what they had to say, approximately 95 percent of them were Christian, of the Christian religion, professing Jesus Christ as their savior. True freedom comes from knowing God your creator."
Kern could not be more wrong. Jefferson, Adams and Madison believed in a broad interpretation of religious freedom. They knew that the separation of church and state was the best way to guarantee that freedom. The three would have supported Kern's right to hold rigid beliefs, but there's no way they would have advocated a government based on them.
On a more personal level, none of these men embraced the form of fundamentalist Christianity Kern favors. Jefferson's deistic views are well known. In a famous 1819 letter to William Short, Jefferson stated that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection and the trinity, among other concepts.
Adams' views were similar. He was a Unitarian who rejected belief in Hell, insisting that a loving God would not subject people to eternal damnation. Both Jefferson and Adams admired the moral teachings of Jesus but believed his doctrines had been perverted by church leaders.
Madison was reluctant to speak about his personal religious beliefs. Nominally an Episcopalian, Madison seemed to believe in religion as a private affair. He was appalled by instances of state-sponsored religious persecution that he witnessed as a youth and, along with Jefferson, served as the architect of religious freedom in America through the separation of church and state.
The sad thing is, there is no excuse for Kern's ignorance. It's not as though the views of these men are hidden. Several books discuss them. I recommend Kern begin her education by reading some of them. She might start with Robert S. Alley's James Madison on Religious Liberty, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore's The Godless Constitution and Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn's Piety & Politics.
Pick up these books, Ms. Kern. You just might learn something.