Have Laptop, Will Blog

Raking The Church-State Discussion Into Cyberspace

I like reading blogs; I like meeting bloggers and having them on my radio show.  But I never thought I’d be one. Sometimes I would search Google for what people were saying about Americans United on blogs and add a comment thanking them for their support or responding to nasty anti-separation or anti-Lynn rants. (I often got surprisingly pleasant responses even from those shell-shocked bloggers in the latter category.)

I have on occasion been asked to do guest posts for The Huffington Post and found the direct and immediate response exhilarating. So when I received an inquiry from Steven Waldman, editor of the extremely popular site beliefnet.com, about my possible interest in doing a “religion, politics, and the Constitution” blog with Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, I was primed to go.

Jay and I chatted with Steve and some of his colleagues and ultimately agreed to launch the project in time to comment on the Obama/McCain appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

My first post went up before the Saddleback forum took place. I opined that we don’t need yet another faith-focused forum in a campaign where we’d had two on that subject already and not one on science, public education, the Constitution or even the economy. I also thought it odd that Warren was the host, since he is hardly a disinterested observer when it comes to so many hot-button issues.

I even managed to figure out how to include a link to a Fortune magazine profile of Warren reporting that prior to the 2004 election, he sent a letter to supporters outlining several “non-negotiable” and “not even debatable” issues for Christians, including stem-cell research, abortion and same-sex marriage (“against” being the only answer). This is the “new evangelical,” post-Jerry Falwell TV preacher the media was already declaring the “next Billy Graham”? Sounded a lot like Jerry to me (although Warren does wear a lot of Hawaiian shirts, something Falwell never did, at least not in my presence in any of our dozens of debates).

Jay, of course, had a different take: He thought the Saddleback forum was a great idea and had no problem with its theological overtones. Almost immediately people began reacting to what we had written. We were off to the races.

I quickly learned that bloggers have to use their time creatively. I was at a folk festival in Philadelphia during the Saddleback event, so I listened to half of the forum on my car radio and caught the rest when it was rerun on CNN. A transcript prepared by an Americans United staff member was also helpful. With my laptop, I was able to compose posts even in the wee hours.

I suggested that the whole Saddleback thing was a huge set-up. The affable Pastor Warren asked questions that were front-loaded with Religious Right talking points spoken as if they were God’s own truth. He asserted that an unnamed “breakthrough” made embryonic stem cell research no longer necessary (not true). He alleged that the 1964 Civil Rights Act guaranteed that churches could hire people of their own faith even with taxpayer funds (again, not true).

Warren also listened with rapt attention to McCain’s account of a Vietnamese prison guard drawing a cross in the ground – a story I’ve heard McCain tell many times myself and one remarkably similar to an incident recounted by the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn. By his facial expression, you’d have thought Warren was listening to a first-hand account of the resurrection instead of an oft-told tale. The pastor took extremely serious issues like the nature of evil and invited (and sometimes got) bumper-sticker answers. I blogged about all this and more.

By Sunday night, dozens of responses were flowing in. It was hard to even read them all. I blogged next about the controversy over whether McCain had heard some of the questions during the Saddleback event when he was supposed to be in the “cone of silence.” I noted that the McCain campaign could eliminate any conspiratorial thinking if it just said: “We’ll tell you who the senator was with and what they talked about during the Obama portion of the program.” Jay had a clever (but meritless) rejoinder posting called “You Have the Right to Remain Silent.” And people started arguing with both of us on that point, although majority sentiment was on my side. 

Comments kept pouring in the next day. After I thought we had said everything useful in our minds on Saddleback, I urged Jay to support me (I knew he wouldn’t) in congratulating the California Supreme Court for ruling that a fertility clinic had to treat a lesbian who had been referred to it and who wanted to become pregnant, even though some of its physicians had religious objections. More back and forth with Jay, and more reader responses, too.

I now know how addicting (in a good sense) this blogging thing can be. Instant feedback for your instant analysis – it’s almost too good to be true. I actually must

stop writing this column now to go back to blogging at blog.beliefnet.com/lynnvsekulow. Join me. I’ll keep reading your stuff and linking good comments to my postings.

Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.