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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Get Those Prejudices Out in Plain Sight

By Bob Ray Sanders

Many of my students at Texas Christian University eagerly raise their hands when I ask how many of them are religious. Most are proud to proclaim their faiths. Then I watch them bristle — some becoming noticeably angry — when I suggest that most religions, on their face, are bigoted.

"Especially Christianity," I quickly add, further inflaming the mostly Christian students who are now so aroused that their shyness gives way to utter disdain for their instructor.

"Besides," I'll say, "what can be more bigoted than saying if you don't believe what I believe, you're going to hell?"

Needless to say, what follows is a passionate discussion about the role of religion in our lives and how that plays into our relationships with people of different faiths, races, nationalities and genders.

In a class called "Race, Gender and the Media," open debate about subjects that most Americans don't like to talk about is exactly what I'm seeking.

I think it is better to talk about those issues than to ignore them — something I haven't been able to get across to many readers who chastise me daily for bringing up matters that make them uncomfortable.

Too bad.

I also wish I could get more Americans talking about these touchy issues, especially faith.

This presidential campaign has made religion (and race) part of the political dialogue this year, although I'm not sure we are discussing it openly and honestly.

Frankly, I don't think one's religion should matter in a political campaign unless candidates make their own faith an issue. In that case, it is fair game, and we've seen that happen in local, state and national elections.

But to question someone's devotion to country, the Constitution or the nation's mores because of his or her religion ought to be out of the question. Of course, it is not — especially these days, when more and more individuals are eager to put their religion in your face and dare you to denounce it.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign had a lot of problems, but the truth is that many people simply would not or could not vote for him because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some said it out loud; many others simply said under their breath, "I can't vote for a Mormon to be president of the United States."

Republican Mike Huckabee's candidacy still has wheels (though very wobbly ones at this point) because evangelical Christians love his ministerial campaign approach and would love to see another born-again president in the White House.

And of course there's Barack Obama, the Democrat with a Kansan mother and a Kenyan father. Although he has long been a Christian, for months the Internet has been swamped with messages about his being Muslim who was trained in an Indonesian school where he was taught to hate America.

That's all a lie, of course, but plenty of people are ready and willing to believe it. He actually has to spend time addressing that issue while on the campaign trail.

But what if he were a Muslim? Should that make a difference?

It certainly would to far too many Americans.

And even when people realize that they've been wrong about his faith, many then look for something wrong with the United Church of Christ he attends in Chicago. It's too liberal, they say, and its pastor borders on radicalism.

Again, religion shouldn't have anything to do with this presidential campaign.

I simply want someone who is intelligent, moral and principled, who possesses good leadership qualities and has vision and compassion — no matter his or her faith.

But if we're going to discuss religion during this election year, or any year, let's do it honestly and openly rather than murmuring rumors under our breaths.

Just let your bigotry show rather than trying to disguise it.

  • Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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