The following ran on the Dallas Morning News' Texas Faith blog on Jan. 12, 2012. Dean and Theology Professor William Lawrence provided expertise for this story.
January 18, 2012
By William McKenzie
The Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater and Texas Faith moderator Wayne Slater reported last week that a group of prominent conservative evangelical leaders are
gathering at a Texas ranch this weekend to decide about a candidate they could
unite behind as an alternative to Mitt Romney.
The invited include James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Richard Land of the
Southern Baptist Convention, Christian Zionist pastor John Hagee, Kelly
Shackelford of the Liberty Institute and Don Wildmon of the American Family
Association. Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler is hosting them.
With that as the background, here is this week's question:
If you were invited to join other religious leaders in coalescing behind a
candidate, would you attend?
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
I would be delighted to meet with other religious leaders about coalescing behind a candidate. My commitment to a religious tradition and my credentials as an ordained minister in a church do not limit or restrict my constitutional rights as a citizen. So I am as free as any other American to develop, utter, and express political views. And those with whom I might disagree politically have the same freedom.
However, in exercising that political (and constitutionally protected) liberty, I would remind any religious leaders with whom I gathered for such a cooperative effort that neither our religion nor our citizenship gives us the mandate to impose our own religious views on the rest of the nation.
Thus, for example, I may have a religious conviction that the use of artificial means of contraception is morally wrong. While I am free politically to support only candidates who share that view and while I am free religiously to try persuading others that they should share my view, I am not politically permitted to demand that my religious views on the matter should be imposed on the rest of America's citizens. In my judgment, that would be a constitutional denial of religious freedom for other spiritual traditions whose adherents have reached different conclusions on the matter.
That is one of the key considerations regarding the gathering of a select group in Texas. Given the published reports naming those religious leaders who were invited to attend a meeting in Brenham where they might coalesce around a single Republican candidate, I think it is certainly very possible that they will favor not just supporting a specific person but also imposing their own views regarding religious matters on the nation. And that would be constitutional wrong and theologically heretical.
It is important for religious leaders to participate in the political process. It is also important for them to remember that their doing so is a political act, not a religious one. There may be no limits on this side of eternity to what we might say or do in the name of God. But there are constitutional limits that must be respected, so that others retain their political freedom as well....