Newsweek's Andrew Sullivan got a much-needed education about religion and politics from not one but two evangelical leaders Sunday.
The first came from Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention who in the midst of a heated debate on CBS's Face the Nation told Sullivan, "Any fusion between evangelicalism and Republicanism pales in comparison to the point of anemia compared to the black church and the Democratic Party" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST: Andrew Sullivan, you wrote this piece in Newsweek, an extraordinary piece, called crisis in Christianity. What did you take away from what you just heard the cardinal say?
ANDREW SULLIVAN, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, I -- my view is very similar to what Rabbi Wolpe said, which is I think our ability to be reasonable in politics and faithful in religion and to keep those two things separate have atrophied to the great disadvantage of religion. And what has happened since 1960 is that organized groups like Southern Baptist Council and other religious groups have, in fact, become selfconsciously political, they have become fused with one political party, the Republican Party, a party who is now having the majority and defined by a particular religious faith, evangelicalism or far right Catholic hierarchy, and that is making many people feel, faith in Jesus is about politics and power and partisanship, in ways of turning offer an entire generation.
The biggest growth in any belief sector in this country in the last ten years has been atheism. And the younger generation can see these religious people wielding political power, endorsing essentially political candidates and fusing themselves with one political party, and picking fights.
Deliberately, the cardinal prepared for this fight with Obama on a political grounds.
They see, and I think they are muddying the real radical truth of Jesus, which is that we will gain power by giving it up, that we do not seek in the public sphere to have any power, but to be powerless. And Jesus was absolutely apolitical, anti-political. Given the chance to be political, he is only on the cross, because he refused politics.
SCHIEFFER: I am going let Dr. Land respond to that in a minute. But I want to get around the table first.
After Schieffer went around the table to get opinions from his other guests, Land finally had a chance to respond leading to the first round of fireworks:
SCHIEFFER: Andrew Sullivan said a couple of things you may want to respond to.
DR. RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Yes. First of all, I don`t think we are a Christian nation. To me the idea of a Christian nation is odd, as an evangelical Christian because a country can`t be redeemed. I think we are a country that was founded on Judeo Christian values in an attempt to meld those with enlightenment ideas of self-government. And we have a nation that is based upon Judeo Christian values, but it`s not a Christian nation, and it shouldn`t be a Christian nation.
And concerning what Andrew said, you know, most of the involvement of evangelicals in the public realm has been defensive, it wasn`t offensive. We didn`t make abortion on demand legal in every state in the country and strike down the laws against abortion in all 50 states. We didn`t seek to erode the expression of the public square by people of faith, and the Republican Party is not the only party that tries to claim God for themselves. I was at the National Prayer Breakfast when President Obama said that god was for universal healthcare, and was for his program, and Nancy Pelosi said Jesus supported her program in the House.
And Bill Clinton mentions god and Jesus Christ more every year he was president than George W. Bush did any year he was president. And his references to god and Jesus went up three times during election years.
So, please, let`s stop the hypocrisy of one party being welded to one -- the religious left is the Democratic Party at prayer.
SULLIVAN: Oh, please.
First of all, my piece criticizes President Obama for precisely that thing. I am as opposed to the religious left using Jesus to advance their politics as I am opposed.
LAND: Criticized the program. You criticized the religious right.
SULLIVAN: Well, because, in fact, the religious right is infinitely more powerful and controls the Republican Party in a way the religious left has nothing like the power. And as you know, religious churches are key parts of political campaigns. You can`t win the South Carolina primary without churches actually running the Republican candidate. The fusion of evangelical religion...
LAND: There`s no -- there`s no...
SULLIVAN: ... with Republicanism is real.
LAND: The -- any fusion between evangelicalism and Republicanism pales in comparison to the point of anemia compared to the black church and the Democratic Party.
A few minutes later, Reverend Luis Cortes Jr., the CEO of the largest Hispanic faith-based community-development corporation in the country, also took on Sullivan leading to even more fireworks:
REVEREND LUIS CORTES JR, PRESIDENT AND CEO ESPERANZA USA: And one of the conversations that we are having is, Andrew stated that the right -- the religious evangelicals are part of only one denomination, of one of the Republican Party. And that is not true, not totally true, because we have folks, Hispanic people, who will probably not vote for Republican leadership this year over the issue of immigration.
If Romney gets 40 percent or 30 percent of the Hispanic evangelical vote, I`d be shocked, given what he has been doing and what he`s been saying on the issue of immigration.
Hispanic people are starting to look at the issue of the environment in a different way, Hispanic evangelicals.
So -- so what Andrew is doing is he`s focusing on a 20 or 30 or 40- year period and saying this is what religion in the public sphere is and what it should not be.
But I think you really need to look at the broader range and look at the entire history of this country. Were black ministers wrong to lead the civil rights? Were black ministers wrong, or African- American ministers wrong to get on their pulpits and say don`t vote for this individual because they`re opposed to us? I don`t think so. I think they had that right.
SULLIVAN: They didn`t say that. They did what Jesus did, which is they put Christianity in the public square by their personal example, just by living the life of Jesus. They marshaled a moral movement. They sought not to seek power. They wanted to show their powerlessness when they were attacked; they stayed nonviolent. And that is how Jesus transforms the world, not by getting involved in political parties.
LAND: ... emphasis on getting registered to vote, on the right to vote. The right to vote empowered them so that now the majority of sheriffs in Alabama and Mississippi are African-American.
SULLIVAN: But that was Lyndon Johnson`s role, to legislate, not the churches`. LAND: No, Martin Luther King was marching for the right to register to vote. The march was a right -- the Selma march was to vote. It was the right to register to vote because they had been disenfranchised...
SULLIVAN: But that is not associating with one political party. It is...
LAND: But it`s about power. And Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. And one of the ways you`re salt and light is to seek to influence government. The abolitionists...
SULLIVAN: Jesus never sought to control anyone and said to leave to Caesar what is Caesar`s.
LAND: And to render to God that which is God`s...
LAND: ... which...
SULLIVAN: Which is not what the religious right is doing.
LAND: Romans 13 says God is supposed -- that the government is supposed to...
LAND: ... that which is right.
You get the feeling Sullivan should stick to MSNBC and programs like The Chris Matthews Show where he's surrounded by people of like minds and will never be challenged on anything he says?