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March 26, 2012

Religion and Principles

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is undoubtedly a man of faith. Everything he has said and done throughout the Republican presidential primary season affirms that fact.


History may suggest that the senator's faith focus became a liability for him during the grueling process of introducing himself to GOP voters in places where he wasn't so well known.


If that's true, and his focus on faith eventually drags down his attempt to obtain the nomination, pundits might look to the remarks of a couple of preachers in the Deep South last week.


It's not like there aren't plenty of real issues for presidential candidates and their surrogates to focus on. While it seems that the national economy may be slowly emerging from the dark basement of recession and worry, aspects of our national economic structure still seem dangerously fragile.


Housing continues to lag, pending foreclosures present further worry, gas prices will definitely impact any recovery, and foreign entanglements in the Middle East heighten the overall unease.


Instead of these things, the Santorum campaign effort got an assist from Revs. O'Neal Dozier, of Florida, and Dennis Terry, of Louisiana.


The Reverend Dozier started the faith circus with the following observation. In an effort to attack GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, Rev. Dozier referred to the Mormon Church as a "racist religion."


In the Reverend Dozier's world, Mormons are "prejudiced against blacks, Jews and Native Americans." Even if you disregard the aggressive missionary outreach of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in all parts of the world, a peak into their Sunday services locally shows Spanish-language worship and a diverse membership including African-American church-goers.


The church was quick to respond with the impressive statistics on the growing diversity of their followers, highlighting membership in categories that the Reverend Dozier felt important to include.


The Romney campaign has handled these attacks before. Texas Gov. Rick Perry's failed campaign hit a desperate low and lashed out at Romney's religion, using faith surrogates to spew religious intolerance. How well did that work?


The Reverend Dozier isn't just the leader of a large evangelical movement in Florida (he leads the Worldwide Christian Center), he is also listed by the Santorum campaign as one of their campaign faith leaders in the Sunshine State.


As the feathers were being unruffled over the Reverend Dozier's comments, an even more distasteful message of Christian intolerance came pouring forth from the pulpit of the Greenwell Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.


The Reverend Terry set a new low for mixing politics and religion in a Sunday evening rant at his mega-church. His words say it much better (or worse) than any pundit's assessment:


"I don't care what liberals say. I don't care what the naysayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. There is only one God, and His name is Jesus. I'm tired people telling me that I can't say those words. I'm tired of people telling us as Christians that we can't voice our beliefs or we can no longer pray in public. Listen to me. If you don't love America, and you don't like the way we do things, I've got one thing to say, GET OUT. We don't worship Buddha, we don't worship Mohammed, we don't worship Allah. We worship God, and we worship God's son Jesus Christ."


Unless the Reverend Terry has a pre-production copy of the Declaration reflecting some alternative view of our founding, he's either a hate-filled religious bigot, an idiot, or some combination thereof.


Whatever he is, he is not a teacher in the mold of his proclaimed Savior. In fact, he's not even fit to teach Sunday School in most churches.


Senator Santorum professes himself a man of principle. Men of principle stand up when it's the right thing to do, even when others remain sitting. President Barack Obama sat during Rev. Jeremiah Wright's rants in a Chicago church.


Rick Santorum had the chance to distinguish himself and confront the hateful bigotry of O'Neal Dozier and Dennis Terry. The fact that he remained seated says more about him than all of his slick television commercials about principle.


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