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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Patriot pastors gather power to restrict rights

By Kenneth W. Chalker, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 16, 2006

In the popular musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," an alien creature with an insatiable appetite for human flesh lives as a rapidly growing, carnivorous plant in Gravis Mushnik's skid row florist shop. As the plant grows after each feeding, it sings a warning to its nerdy, human caretaker, Seymour: "You don't know what you're messin' with. You have no idea."

When it comes to the very real Ohio Restoration Project and its "patriot pastors," many of Ohio's voters are a lot like Seymour. We have no idea what a pernicious force we are messin' with.

The goal of the Ohio Restoration Project is a "Christian" theocracy or, certainly as bad, the election of local and state officials who are politically obligated to Ohio Restoration Project leaders such as Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson

The Plain Dealer's Kevin O'Brien in his recent column, "Religious left doesn't know Ohio voters," suggests that our concern about an emerging Christian theocracy is nothing more than an out-of-touch choir of rather laughable liberal clergy singing from a hymnal of wacky conspiracy theories. He would prefer the well-financed, political praise music bellowed by the self-sanctified right?

O'Brien wrote that those of us representing We Believe Cleveland are raising "political tofu" concerns about creeping Christian theocracy and Ohio's method of funding public education. On the same day, The Plain Dealer reported that Johnson was advocating the approval of House Bill 228, which would ban most abortions in Ohio, before a committee of the Ohio Legislature. As Johnson preached to the legislators, he cited the authority on medical practice as the "Christian" scriptures.

While this should be frightening enough, what is even more troublesome is that more and more legislators are accepting the same scriptural authority Johnson would advocate. Further, as the "patriot pastors" continue their political efforts, more and more public officials are obligated politically to the position Johnson advocates.

The "patriot pastors" of the Ohio Restoration Project led by Parsley and Johnson are nothing more than a bunch of theological thugs. They are working relentlessly to acquire the political keys to gain access and control of the classrooms, the boardrooms, the bedrooms, the medical examining rooms, the critical care hospital rooms and the courtrooms of this state. On the basis of their sectarian theology of repression, they want to take from all of us the often enormously complex and private responsibility of personal decision. O'Brien may laugh at those of us whom he labels liberal. He ought to be terrified by those conservative clergy he describes as having caught the wave of Ohio voter sentiment.

The Ohio Restoration Project would have Ohioans believe that their "patriot pastors" are the moral heirs and new incarnation of faith-based initiatives such as the civil rights movement. The Restoration Project fashions itself as the new freedom riders as it seeks to restore to public life the Christian, family values that it preaches have been eroded or destroyed by the inclusive, evil minions of Satan. Of course, this is absolute nonsense.

The truth is that Ohio Restoration Project advocates are working to restrict even further the civil rights and privileges of citizens who do not fit their definition of representing moral clarity. And, the "rewards" for their march are far different from those earned by the activists who marched for inclusion and freedom in places like Selma, Ala.

The freedom riders and the marchers of the civil rights era - men and women of many faith traditions linking arms and joining hands - were jailed, beaten, doused with tear gas and bitten by police dogs. Some were killed for advancing the cause of liberty and justice for all. Now come these "patriot pastors" thumping and waving their horribly misinterpreted Bibles while advocating liberty and justice for a sanctified some.

This "some" receive promised Statehouse access, live in million-dollar homes frequently paid for with cash, drive luxury cars and justify personal seven-figure compensation packages. These are the new freedom riders? These are the new social prophets? These are those who are raising the true moral voice of our time?

They are, instead, the new generation of snake handlers and religious charlatans. O'Brien confirms for me that we do not seem to know what we are messin' with. We have no idea.

Chalker is senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Cleveland.

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