The battle for public opinion continues. Tonight the television program will be cablecast that claims the filibuster is being used against “people of faith.”People for the American Way are countering with this ad.
It’s an interesting time to be working in communications. All forms of media have become more important as the charges and counter-charges escalate and as stories develop that involve the use of communication tools to influence the public dialogue. This raises so many interesting and important questions it boggles the mind.
The op-ed commentaries are alive with sharp critiques from all sides on nearly every significant public policy issue and many theological issues. The larger question that must be considered is how all of this will affect us going forward. It’s quite possible that the rhetoric will not merely turn off the great, silent middle, it may also have the effect of leaving more people feeling that religious faith is more divisive than helpful.
If this is the case, it will do more harm than good. I’ve wondered about the reaction of people who are coming to faith commitment for the first time, or who are genuinely seeking a deeper faith and hear this heated, polarizing language. Why identify with any group that is so divided and apparently unable to make peace among themselves? Better to go the mall than get involved in this.
It is energizing core groups who feel threatened by the claims and counter-claims. Already we’re seeing fundraising by both the left and right making claims that the threats require a stepped up effort to defeat the opposite side.
There isn’t much dialogue apparent in the current media environment. I continue to hope this will occur. However, if the blogs are an indication, the positions are becoming more hardened and less open to constructive interchange.
The harshness of the rhetoric has a desensitizing effect on us. The harshness escalates. Criticism of specific policies devolves to personal attack. When judges are equated with the Ku Klux Klan, that’s a step beyond irresponsible.
Martin Marty writes that the claims that the judiciary and Democrats are attacking “people of faith” and the participation of Sen. Bill Frist in the “Justice Sunday” telecast are an “outrageous, egregious, and dangerous affront.” He says Frist and Rep. Tom DeLay should be on their knees begging forgiveness for slandering others with their claims. Dr. Marty is far from a partisan extremist and his reaction should cause Frist and others to take notice. They should see that they are offending the sensibilities of those who are not partisans, and who are, in fact, responsible voices of moderation and faithfulness. But more, they are undermining the democracy that has protected our rights to free speech.
Perhaps it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the possibility of reconciliation between moderates and conservatives. It’s becoming harder to even define with precision what these terms mean. They don’t capture the subtleties or complexities of the many different voices speaking of faith today.
But it’s clear the seeds of division and exclusion are being sown widely and with great fanfare. Where this will end is anyone’s guess. There are those advocating schism in the Mainline denominations. Commentators reviewing Pope Benedict XVI’s record write that he may be satisfied with a smaller, “purer” church.
Beyond being an interesting time, it’s a dangerous time, a time when damaging words and intolerance threaten to divide us into opposing camps and tear apart faith communities. It’s hard to see this as witness to the Prince of Peace. It’s easier to see it leading to the prince of darkness.