The sometimes heated discussion, which focused on abortion and gay marriage, played out on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority; the Rev. Al Sharpton, the minister-politician who ran in the Democratic primaries; Jim Wallis, editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine; and Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Commission.
On the Right: Falwell and Land
On the Left: Wallis and Sharpton
The question of a moral divide has come more sharply into focus since the presidential election earlier this month. In an Election Day poll 22 percent of voters named “moral values” as the issues most important to them, and 80 percent of those people voted for President Bush. Critics, however, have argued that the phrase “moral values” is too ambiguous, covering everything from abortion to sexually explicit material on television.
Mr. Wallis said that he had voted for Senator John Kerry in the presidential election and that the values debate should not further divide the United States or its political parties.
“God is not a Republican or a Democrat,” Mr. Wallis said. “That should be obvious.”
At the heart of this debate is the separation between church and state in America.
Mr. Sharpton, a former Democratic candidate for president, said: “We’re talking about whether we have the right to impose what we believe on people that may disagree with us. Even God gives you a choice of heaven and hell. We don’t have a right to tell people we’re going to force them to live in a way that we want them to live and, therefore, they’re going to heaven.”
My personal favorite moment was Richard Land trying to explain the Southern Baptist perspective on marriage…
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
We can try to find common ground, but there are differences, and I want to see just how profound they are. The Southern Baptist Convention in 1998 passed this statement on the family: “…A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband… She…has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household…”
And, Reverend Land, you went on to explain it this way: “If a husband does not want his wife to work outside the home, then she should not work outside the home.” Is that your vision of America?
DR. LAND: It’s my vision for Christian families. I don’t think that the law has anything to do with it. That was a statement about the theological belief of Southern Baptists. And, you know, George Will had a real great answer for that when somebody asked him, “Where’d they get this stuff?” And he pulled out the Bible and turned to Ephesians, chapter five: “He got–we got it from Ephesians, chapter five.” We almost needed to footnote the Apostle Paul when he said that “Husbands should love their wives the way Christ loves the church,” which means husbands will always put their wives’ needs above their own. And they are to be the head of their home, which means that they’re responsible. It’s a servant leadership role.
And my wife, who you met, has a PhD in marriage and family therapy and has worked outside the home since our youngest child was in kindergarten. That was our mutual choice. We’re not against women working outside the home unless the husband believes that it’s not the right choice. Now, remember, this is a husband who loves his wife the way Christ loves the church and is going to always put his wife’s needs above his own. But I would certainly not want to make that a matter of legislation when you– that’s about marriage. It’s about what goes on in a marriage and about what we believe is the ideal for the family.
MR. RUSSERT: But you understand that a good Christian woman could disagree with her husband and want to work outside the home?
DR. LAND: Sure.
REV. SHARPTON: Does your Bible have Esther and Ruth in it?
DR. LAND: Sure. Of course.
REV. SHARPTON: I mean, do you have the whole Bible?
DR. LAND: I do.
REV. WALLIS: My wife is an ordained…
DR. LAND: And I would vote for a woman as president.
REV. WALLIS: …minister, a priest.
REV. SHARPTON: As long as her husband said she could go to work.
DR. LAND: Especially if it were Margaret Thatcher.
Somehow, I don’t think women such as Margaret Thatcher would have ever risen to power if Richard Land had been her husband.
Oh, and Falwell was given the opportunity to retract his statement blaming gays and feminists for 9/11. Of course, he didn’t.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask Reverend Falwell about something and broaden the conversation. We talked about Iraq and the war on terrorism. Something that you said two days after September 11, when you were with Reverend Pat Robertson: “I fear… that [September 11th] is only the beginning. …If, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve … I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle … all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say `you helped this happen.'”
DR. FALWELL: And I went on to say in a sleeping church, a lethargic church likewise is responsible. I do believe, as Ben Franklin said, that God rules in the affairs of men and of nations. I believe that when God blesses a nation, as he’s blessed America for a lot of reasons, things happen that don’t happen other places. I believe when we defy the Lord, I think we pay a price for it. So I do believe in the sovereignty of God.