Bringing Northern Ireland to America

  Strange things happen in national political campaigns, as I know better than most, having engineered a couple myself. But the holy war that started with George Bush's speech at Bob Jones University goes far beyond partisan politics. As I have written in an editorial in today's New York Times, this controversy has the potential to create serious, long-term damage, if politicians and the media continue to exploit religious issues merely to stir up sectarian passions. The most immediate risk is the threat to constitutional order. Take Democrat Robert Torricelli's Senate resolution condemning Bob Jones University for its bigotry. I happen to believe that Bob Jones' policies on race and Protestant-Catholic relations are wrong and out of the mainstream of evangelical thought. But since when does Congress have the right to issue official denunciations of anyone's theology? Is the Senate now going to rule on which religious opinions are bigoted and which aren't? This is precisely what the religion clauses of the First Amendment were designed to prevent—federal action condemning particular churches or doctrines.
And if the Senate denounces Bob Jones University today, who will it take on tomorrow? Will they rebuke Catholic colleges for teaching that same-sex relationships are wrong? Or Jewish Yeshivas that insist on the separation of the sexes in worship? When an official body begins to decide on acceptable codes of belief, we have instituted and ordained thought police in America. The situation would be humorous if it were not so tragic, watching partisans on Capitol Hill tying Bush to Bob Jones University and then angrily denouncing them for anti-Catholic bigotry. Take, for example, Representative Anna Eshoo, who calls herself a Catholic, yet voted against over-riding the veto on the partial-birth abortion ban, and Henry Waxman, a vocal proponent of fetal tissue research. These are the same people who have been throwing sand in the face of the Catholic Church for years. No, what's really at issue here is that liberals are alarmed at the growing Evagelical-Catholic alliance. Over the last two decades, Catholics and Evangelicals have found themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder outside abortion clinics and in defending a biblical worldview so viciously under assault by the forces of irreligion in America today. It is this need to stand together that first prompted Father Richard Neuhaus and me to assemble the group called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," to defend the Christian worldview that we hold in common. It reflects what theologian Timothy George calls the "new ecumenism of the trenches." Make no mistake, this is the most important religious and social alliance in American life today—and one that is a serious threat to liberal orthodoxy. What is really behind the raging controversy is not so much some new-found sympathy for Catholics on Capitol Hill and in the media. Rather, it's a shameless attempt to create sectarian strife, and to divide this alliance. There are those who would gladly drive a wedge into the emerging conservative religious bloc in American life, turning moral conservatives against each other, and thus blocking our efforts to renew the culture. These tactics must not succeed, for the turmoil of Northern Ireland has no place in American life.


Chuck Colson



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