Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh attacked a Baptist Center for Ethics' board member in his January 2007 newsletter, calling him "a wacko."
In an article titled "In Sheep's Clothing," Limbaugh identified Joe Phelps as one of his five examples of Democrats appealing to religious voters.
Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, was featured in a December TV advertisement that challenged viewers to think about their faith when they went shopping. Phelps asked, "Can we continue to shop at Wal-Mart without insulting God?" and "Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart?"
The TV ad was sponsored by the Wake Up Wal-Mart campaign, which Limbaugh charged was a "paid subsidiary of the Democrat Party." He alleged that the group "hired" Phelps, referring to him as a "leftwing minister."
Citing a column that Phelps wrote on Christian environmentalism, Limbaugh derisively implied that the moral imperative to love one's neighbor did not extend to the non-human world.
"So, Wake Up Wal-Mart, which has had zero success in its core mission to get the corporation to unionize, is cynically using the name of Christ as Plan B," he charged.
Limbaugh also attacked the Baptist Center for Ethics' pastoral letter calling Wal-Mart to be a Golden Rule company. He alleged that the letter's reference to "reflecting the best of Christian values" was "exactly the same as liberal values, having to do with health care and living wages and such."
The controversial talk-show host rejected the time-honored civic concept of the separation of church and state.
"The phrase 'separation of church and state' has led to some damaging, unconstitutional notions: 1) that religious people have no business in government because separation of church and state means separation of religion and state; 2) that there can't be any public displays of Christianity, even on national holidays like Christmas," Limbaugh claimed.
Accusing several religious activists of being deceptive, Limbaugh said, "I am doing my best to alert you."
He closed his article with a dire warning: "They're coming after you, my believing friends. Don't fall for these wolves in sheep's clothing. Like the Wal-Mart hate group, they stalk … in God's name."
Limbaugh's rant is not new.
Explicitly attacking Christians appears to be a new target for him. Attacking them discloses how little Limbaugh knows about authentic Christianity and that truth appears not to matter for him.
When he defines Christianity in terms of gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, he ignores the much larger Christian community that is concerned about these and other issues. He overlooks the growing consensus that faith calls Christians to care for the environment, to advocate for an accessible and affordable health-care system for all, to ensure that the working poor have a living wage, to work for the end of war in Iraq and to treat immigrants kindly.
He apparently is unfamiliar with the Hebrew prophets and with Jesus, who kept their distance from political power and kept their prophetic voice. Similarly, he offers no appreciation for the needed wall of separation that protects both the church and the state. Instead he distorts the facts about Christian faith in the public square.
He certainly doesn't know the Ninth Commandment in the Ten Commandments that speaks against bearing false witness. He bore false witness on a number of counts, including these: Phelps was hired by Wake Up Wal-Mart; Phelps' involvement was part of an effort by Democrats to use faith for political gain; and claiming Wake Up Wal-Mart was a subsidiary of the Democratic Party.
Limbaugh appears outside the Christian community. Involvement in an authentic faith community would feed his moral conscience, nurture a character of kindness and water a passion for the poor and powerless.
Until Rush demonstrates a discernible faith, is listening to him an edifying activity for conservative Christians? For any Christians?
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.