Social conservatives should elevate other concerns - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Social conservatives should elevate other concerns

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Posted: Saturday, March 7, 2009 8:13 pm | Updated: 1:57 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Hill: I care, therefore I visit ...That’s the best way I can describe a particular habit of mine.

I care, therefore I visit ...That’s the best way I can describe a particular habit of mine.

For about 17 years, I have made it a habit to periodically visit a house of worship to which I don’t belong. I do this simply because religious ideas and beliefs impact the ways in which people view the world, which in turn impacts our entire culture.

And because I care about our culture, I occasionally visit … just to sit, listen, and observe.

I've had some interesting experiences with this. There was the time when I visited an Islamic mosque in California, where the audience began chanting “Long live Khomeini ...” presumably referring to Ayatollah Khomeini, the former theocratic dictator of Iran. I was puzzled why “Khomeini” would have legitimate relevance to current-day American Muslims, but regardless, it was creepy — and I was eager to leave.

And there was the time I visited the Mormon chapel by my house in Gilbert, and was the only guy in the room without a white shirt and dark colored necktie (I might as well have worn a sign that said “Hi, I don’t belong here”). Folks were nonetheless friendly, and years later when I attended a child’s baptism at another Mormon chapel, I had the good sense to wear something other than “business casual.”

In this spirit of curiosity, I recently visited Mesa’s Central Christian Church of the East Valley. CCEV qualifies as one of America’s nondenominational, Evangelical “mega-churches,” and makes a “mega” footprint across the Valley and around the world. And on this particular Sunday, Pastor Cal Jernigan made a “mega” impression on me, as he kicked off a series of sermons he entitled “Repulsed: Confronting the sins of the church.”

It’s rare when a clergyman has the guts to critically examine his own faith tradition and say “we’ve got problems,” yet that’s what Jernigan is doing. Noting that he was inspired by “unChristian,” a new book that critically analyzes American Christianity (co-author David Kinnaman, interestingly, has roots in Mesa), Jernigan cited some of the book’s findings, two of which jumped out at me: Christians in America are perceived as being “too political” and “anti-homosexual.”

I’m not sure how the book’s authors define “too political.” And adhering to a definition of marriage that’s been around for about 5,000 years of civilization does not necessarily make one “anti-homosexual.”

Yet, when it comes to politics and elections, the only things that religious Americans seem to be motivated by, en masse, are issues of abortion and the definition of marriage.

America’s “social conservative” movement — which as a voter block comprises most Evangelical Christians, most Mormons, many Catholics, and some Jews and Protestant denominational Christians — has done a good job at defining marriage and the life of the unborn child, as “moral issues.” But what about “moral issues” that have no immediate connection with marriage or abortion?

Our president and Congress, under the guise of “economic stimulus,” just passed a law that takes money out of workers’ paychecks (taxes) and spends it on, among other things, other people’s tattoo removal, condoms and golf carts. I’d like to think that religious Americans still care about the moral virtues of thrift and personal responsibility, yet they seem to be ambivalent about the “moral issues” entailed in economic policy, even when it leads to waste and irresponsibility.

Additionally, our president just proposed changes to federal tax code that would dramatically reduce contributions to charitable groups, which means less money for churches. Do people of faith care?

Pastor Jernigan is calling his church members to re-examine their faith journeys. I’m calling on all who read this to re-examine what’s happening to our country, and our government, and then ask yourself this question: How do you define a “moral issue”?

Austin Hill of Gilbert comments on political and social issues every Sunday. He hosts talk radio around the country, and frequently is a guest host for Arizona’s Newstalk KTAR (92.3FM). He is the author of “White House: Confidential — The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History.” and is a national columnist at Contact him at

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