US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Rick Perry's new faith campaign: 'Strong,' or just plain wrong?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

In a new campaign ad designed to bring some buzz back to his sagging bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Perry is going to take a stand for religion in America. Or at least, that's what he's hoping some voters will believe.

Perry's campaign plans to bombard Iowa voters with the new ad, which shows the Texas governor making a promise to "end Obama's war on religion." The ad is targeted toward strongly conservative Christian voters, but its content may not be for everyone.

"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," Perry starts off saying. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

Whoa, hang on there Rick. Are you saying that people, regardless of their faith practices, should be offended by homosexuals serving openly in the military? Or that children from all faith backgrounds should be subjected to prayer in schools?

And who, exactly, is telling kids they can't openly celebrate Christmas? Are we forcing people to put their Christmas trees and decorations in secret bunkers so no one will know they are celebrating Jesus' birth? If so, there are plenty of people with eight-foot-tall inflatable Santas on their lawn that didn't get the memo.

He then goes on to make the promise about ending the war on religion and fighting "against liberal attacks on our religious heritage." Perry closes by saying, "Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again."

There's no doubt some voters will be inspired by this message and may even take a renewed interest in Perry. Ben Smith at Politico says the ad is designed to capture a segment of the Iowa electorate that is still undecided, even if these comments are unpopular at the national level.

Perry is trying to capitalize on the fact that freedom of religious expression has been a growing concern for some religious groups, but he seems to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, saying that faith should be central to the American life. For starters, that's overlooking the fact that freedom of religion allows some people to choose no religion at all (and many do), so Perry's idea of a faith-focused America is actually an infringement on secularists' rights.

Then, there's the characterization that America's government is at "war" with Christians. Though it may seem that way to some, it is a hard argument to make when comparing the plight of American Christians to their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who face real persecution in the form of being arrested, jailed, and even subject to physical violence for their faith.

But most of all, Perry seems to be overlooking one of the key components of his own faith--Christ's commandment to love one another.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, either. And you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that Christianity always has taught not merely a tolerance, but love, for those who are different from us. That includes people who are openly gay, parents who don't want their kids praying in school, and even people who don't like Christmas.

That's not an easy commandment; in fact, it is often the hardest one of all. But following it may be the one thing that does make America strong again.