Ever since the Sali story broke last week, I've been wanting to say a few more well-considered words on the subject. So here goes.
Bill Sali is a victim. You might say that the real victims in this saga are Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman, or the man who first said the Hindu prayer in the U.S. Senate.
But Sali is is the real victim. He is a victim of his fundamentalist Christianity and its inflexible view of the world. (An aside here about the words "evangelical" and "fundamentalist." They are not interchangeable, and I believe it is critical that we use the word fundamentalist to describe Sali and other Christian zealots, because it helps explain that they share the same mindset as fundamentalists of other religions, including Islam.)
He is a victim of fast-changing U.S. and world demographics that leave Sali and other fundamentalist Christians feeling like events are spiraling out of their control. While many Christians see love and compassion as the roots of their religion, Sali's faith - though he may personally feel God's love - is driven by fear: fear of other religions, fear of women, fear of gays, fear of change, fear of foreigners - fear, period. And Sali may also be a victim of a life lived in southern Ohio and exurban Idaho - places where people just don't meet a lot of people who don't look and think pretty much as they do.
In trying to explain his recent remarks about what the Founding Fathers would think, Sali has dug himself an even deeper pit by voicing his concerns over multiculturalism. America has always been multicultural; it's just that at our nation's founding, white male property owners had rights, and no one else did. As David Neiwert wrote yesterday at Orcinus, "It's true, in fact, that the system devised by the Founding Fathers was, at its inception, the opposite of multiculturalism. They created a system of rule by white male Christians -- white-supremacist rule, if you will. The country, on the other hand, has been breaking away from that system and replacing it with a multicultural one that is consonant with its democratic and egalitarian values for the better part of a century now."
And, I will add, many, many Christians have played powerful roles in that multicultural evolution. Christians were strong abolitionists in the mid-19th century, and Christians were at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. In our day, many Christians - Will Rainford comes to mind here locally - are working hard to balance the need for immigration reform with the imperative that we treat people with dignity. They have done and are doing Christ's work, and their loving, muscular Christianity is the greatest antidote to the fear-mongering fundamentalism practiced by Sali, Bryan Fischer, Cal Thomas, et al. Please see a dialogue I had with Dennis Mansfield on his blog a few months ago for a bit more commentary on this topic.
The world will find peace when fundamentalists realize - and make peace with the idea - that there are many paths to the sacred in our world, and that each person should be free to pursue, serve, and glorify God (which I define as the highest common good) as he or she best sees fit. Will this ever happen? Probably not. But if the vast majority of people recognize religious zealotry for the cancer that it is - no matter what religion - we can isolate fundamentalists through cultural and economic forces ... and , most importantly, through the motive force of love.