Monday, September 25, 2006

Pulpit Politics: Courtesy Your Tax Dollars

by Wanda Jo (Peltier) Stapleton,

I have just read Why the Christian Right Is Wrong, A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future. Regarding this book by minister Robin Meyers, Bill Moyers says, ". . . read it, and you will want to change the world." I did. I do.

For starters, I'll explain how the State Legislature funds "special projects" in such a secretive way. One "special project" in southeastern Oklahoma has recently triggered an FBI investigation and possible indictments.

This funding process is so clever that many of our most honorable representatives have no idea what their votes to fund "economic and community development," for example, end up financing. The twisting paper trail is hard to follow. The funding approval usually travels through the Departments of Commerce or Agriculture. Then it goes to one or more of the state's eleven sub-state planning districts before the money gets to "the special project."

For one example in Oklahoma County: since 2003, state tax dollars totaling $109,000.00 have gone to benefit "special projects" of churches. Even more money has possibly gone to other churches throughout the state.

Never mind that the Oklahoma Constitution says "No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."

State Representative Rebecca Hamilton got this "special projects" money for three "chosen" churches even though there are 61 churches in or bordering her district. Rep. Hamilton did the choosing and obviously selected churches best positioned to help her get re-elected.

Even though our beloved hymn says "All to Jesus I Surrender," to get that money, Rebecca became, as they say, a "team player." She surrendered her vote to the Speaker of the House and voted with him on bills which would seriously harm her working-class constituents -- two bills to raise gas tax through a vote of the people; bills to raise tons of money through seemingly insignificant amounts like raising fees for copies of medical records, buying used or re-treaded tires, car towing, filing court papers for child custody, child support, guardianship, and much more.

Even in 2005 when Republicans came to power in the State House, Rebecca’s voting record was such that she won the 2005 runner-up award as "A Democrat in Name Only" (DINO) from extremist Republicans of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. And her "church money" for special projects continued to flow.

This year when she got a credible, Christian opponent, Rebecca immediately appealed to church pastors with her "good versus evil" scenario. "I try, however poorly, to follow Jesus in all that I do" she declared; but those against me are "pro-abortion activists." Later, she wrote to voters saying that one man opposing her was president of a group which "opposes prayer in school." Finally, she told voters "my opponent . . . has been going up to every house with one of my signs and trashing me to the people in the house."

In other words, she used the language of faith to demonize her opponents with untruths. But as Robin Meyers says in his book, "Unfortunately, the Golden Rule and the commandment against bearing false witness don't apply when you really, really, really want to win."

One pastor heeded Rebecca's plea for political campaign help. He allowed his photo and endorsement to be used in her campaign. Regal in a black robe and with his words of praise made her sound like "Saint" Rebecca. After that, who would believe any documented fact about her record. Practically nobody, that's who!

Rebecca’s race is over. But before this election season ends, we will see more campaigners (than we already have) hijacking Jesus in their public displays of piety. They will again use the language of faith to falsely demonize opponents. And they will win unless rage brings us to our feet and into campaigns for candidates more interested in The Sermon on the Mount than in winning at all cost.

Wanda Jo was a state representative 1986-1996. She is also a Baptist minister’s widow who helped him establish one of the new churches during the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Thirty Thousand Movement” in the 1950s.

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