Do you really think you can say that?

I don’t get religious very often in this space. In fact, religion is probably my least favorite subject to write about. But I’ll make an exception in order to directly address the self-professed “Man of God” making the speech above.

You don’t understand what America is about.

This man–Pastor Dennis Terry– says that if someone doesn’t like the way “we” do things in America, that person should “get out.” And the people listening to him cheered and applauded. Whoever those people are, who cheered like mindless sheep when their pastor said something so patently ridiculous, need a bit of a lesson about America, too. I haven’t been in the classroom for over a decade now, but I’m going to dust off my teaching persona just long enough to get this point across:

“We” means all Americans, regardless of whether they believe in God, Allah, Susan Sarandon, or nothing at all. Believe in Jesus if you want to–it’s certainly your right–but that alone doesn’t make you into “we.” And, more importantly, it doesn’t make anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus into something other than “we.” They are “we” too, whether you like that or not.

I’m part of “we,” simply by virtue of being born here. The 14th Amendment to our Constitution says that everyone born in this country is automatically part of “we.” Or if you come here and pass a citizenship test, you can become part of “we” too. And no divinity–Jesus or otherwise–has anything to do with this process.

Abraham Lincoln used to quote Shakespeare by saying “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,” but he didn’t name that divinity. Thomas Jefferson refers to a “creator” in the Declaration of Independence, but again, he didn’t put that creator into any particular religious faith. In this nation, you can have any religion you like, Mr. Terry, or you can have none at all. And you still get to call yourself part of “we.”

And this “get out” thing troubles me, too. Giving a direction like that  implies ownership, which in turn confers the sovereignty to decide who can stay and who can go. If someone comes to my house and insults me, I can tell him to leave because, well, it’s my house. But is the United States of America, all 50 states of it, your own domain, Mr. Terry? Can you decide whether I, or anyone else, can stay in this country? I’m going to say, as emphatically as possible, that no, you can’t do that.

You can put me out of your church, if you feel like it (but that would be unlikely, since I wouldn’t ever go into it in the first place). But your authority–or that of any person who sees this country the way that you do–does not extend beyond that narrow little piece of property. It doesn’t extend to the coffee shop on the corner, or the city hall in the place that you live, or any other place in the U.S. of A. And all of your blustering from the pulpit can’t change that fact.

If Rick Santorum wants to accept this pastor’s support, he’s certainly free to do that. However, that means he also embraces this pastor’s flawed understanding of what America is, and if that’s not a disqualifier for any elective office in this nation–let alone the presidency–then we’re all in much worse trouble than I had imagined.

 As Sean Connery’s character said in the Untouchables, Here endeth the lesson.