The Christian Coalition, the political group founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, used to meet in Washington, D.C., every year. I never missed a meeting.
These days the Coalition only gets together during election years. Instead of meeting in a large downtown hotel this year, attendees gathered in a room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. Most speakers were members of Congress.
I like to spend time with the Coalition members and really see the group from the inside, so I rode a bus with them over to Dirksen from the hotel where most attendees stayed.
A young man sat down next to me, did a double take and said, “Wait, aren’t you Barry Lynn?”
I ’fessed up, and he pulled out a small camera. Before he could even ask, I said, “And yes, you can have somebody take our picture together.” He handed the camera to a journalist across the aisle and loudly proclaimed to the other bus riders, “I’m having my picture taken with Barry Lynn!”
My seatmate explained that he was a student at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and was interested in a political career. We chatted about my views of Falwell and a couple of church-state issues. As we departed the bus about 15 minutes later he said, “You know, you’re a much nicer guy than I had been led to believe.” I thanked him and told him not to believe everything he heard.
Another fellow reminded me that he had intervened some years ago when an Oregon Christian Coalition official had gotten in my face in a rather aggressive way. This gentleman had defused the matter with the suggestion that “Christ-like” behavior was called for.
Then came the speeches. Coalition President Roberta Combs made it clear before most of the members of Congress arrived for their presentations that “we are the ones who put them here...,” which sounded somewhat ominous. Each member had clearly been invited for the purpose of speaking specifically about some pet project as well as to effusively sing the praises of the Coalition, President George W. Bush and God, usually in that order.
U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado talked about the need to pass the Federal Marriage Amendment to outlaw same-gender unions. During a question-and-answer period, she seemed perturbed when one attendee asked whether “our leaders” understood that the main reason to pass this amendment to the Constitution was to heed the words of Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind.”
Musgrave explained that she was not elected as a preacher and opined that arguments against same-sex marriage should be framed in non-religious terms. This is a common Religious Right strategy: pretending that their proposals, which are obviously designed to write religious views into law, aren’t really religious.
Missouri’s Todd Aiken plugged the “Pledge Protection Act,” a measure he had successfully moved through the House the previous day. This misguided vehicle removes the possibility of any federal court review of challenges involving the Pledge of Allegiance. No such challenges are pending now, but Aiken insisted that five members of the Supreme Court would strike “under God” if another case came up and that taking God out would leave “a nuclear-sized crater” in our nation. Just for good measure, he also blamed “activist judges” for the Civil War.
Walter B. Jones of North Carolina was there to push for his ill-advised bill to let churches promote partisan political candidacies from the pulpit. When I walked in after lunch, I noticed him standing near the back. One of his staff members recognized me and blurted out – as if she had just seen a rat in her kitchen – “Barry Lynn is here.”
Since Jones had just days earlier referred to me as an “evil person,” he may have wanted to avoid any unpleasantness like having to tell me that to my face. He quickly left for a less public spot. I later enjoyed watching him attack me, albeit more civilly, from my seat in the second row center of the audience.
And this went on and on. Ironically, for all the talk of liberty and freedom from these politicians, most of things proposed would curtail rights: They either want to make moral decisions for others and impose them on the public through law or cut off access to redress through the courts for people who believe their freedom has been curtailed. The whole thing was more than a tad hypocritical.
Let me end on a personal note. I ran into the fellow from Oregon who had been in my face three years ago. At that time, he was clearly agitated and challenged my right to attend Coalition meetings. He vowed menacingly that he would see to it that I did not attend future gatherings.
Wouldn’t you know it, there he was behind me in the lunch line Friday afternoon. He asked if I remembered him. Who could forget? Then he apologetically conceded that some of his remarks back then went “over the top.” I said I understood and there were no hard feelings.
It takes a lot to admit it when you’re wrong, and I appreciated that gentleman’s spirit. Who knows? Maybe Walter Jones will end up behind me in a movie line and do the same.
But I’m just not holding my breath for that one.
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.