There was a lot of rhetoric at and around both political conventions that was steeped in the language of faith. So what about the large number of Americans for whom religious faith is not a factor? Or the much larger number of Americans with religious convictions, but who are sick of substantive issues being hijacked by religious rhetoric? Welton talks to Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, to find out what the coalition is doing to remind both the campaigns and voters that this November, we’re heading to the polls to elect the President of the United States – not a preacher-in-chief.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Edwina Rogers[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Welcome back to State of Belief Radio, everyone. I’m Welton Gaddy.
So much of the rhetoric at the recent national political Conventions was steeped in the language of faith. What wasn’t – seemed to be reported in that context, even though it wasn’t about faith. So what about the large number of Americans for whom religious faith is not a factor? And the much larger number of Americans who do hold religious convictions, but are sick and tired of substantive issues being hijacked by religious rhetoric? Who’s speaking to them?
Well, speaking for them is the Secular Coalition for America, a national organization comprised of 11 member groups including the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Inc., and the Society for Humanistic Judaism. As the Secular Coalition for America expands to launch a number of new state chapters, I’m very pleased to have its new executive director, Edwina Rogers, join us here in-studio. Welcome, Edwina![EDWINA ROGERS, GUEST]: Thank you very much for having me. [WG]: Let’s start with the organization’s mission. What are the goals of The Secular Coalition for America? [ER]: Well, our major goal and mission would be to promote separation of religion and government, of course, Church and State – and we think that’s the best guarantee for freedom for all, for religious freedom for all. And then we have another goal, where we promote and look after the non-theistic community and working hard to get them at the decision-making table with everybody else, and included in the political process. [WG]: You know, I’ve either had on the show or spoken with people from almost all of your coalition partners’ members, in your organization, and I find a stunning awareness of the importance of religious freedom and Church-State separation. And I also find it interesting that they look to see what’s happening to religion and to religious freedom, because they have a great stake in that – because what happens to religion in terms of constitutional issues is good for the Secular Coalition and people of that mindset. [ER]: That is true. [WG]: Well, talk a little bit about the aggressive expansion plans that you have at the Coalition; I know that they’re underway. [ER]: Yes, they are, and they are very aggressive. We’re representing somewhere between twenty and thirty percent of the US population now. The Pew polls are right at nineteen, twenty percent, where people say they are non-religious; and Gallup-WIN poll just came out at thirty percent – you know, it can always be manipulated a little bit. So what we’re doing, we’re setting up shop in all fifty states, coalitions like the Secular Coalition for Virginia, Secular Coalition for Maryland; in May we had two states organized, and as of last week we had twenty-nine states organized; and by the end of the year we’ll have fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. [WG]: My goodness. That’s very impressive. You must be a busy person. [ER]: We are very busy, yes. [WG]: I’m curious, are you finding, in communities, welcome for the organization? [ER]: As a matter of fact, we have been surprised at how welcomed we have been – even by religious groups. I mean, there’s been a one-off situation, you know, something in Kentucky with a minister in the press he was going to disrupt of all our phone calls and meetings, and then he took it back; and there was an elected official in Virginia who said he’s going bring us to our knees in prayer – but other than that, it’s been very receptive, organizing calls have been flooded with affiliates of member organizations in the state, but then also individuals that haven’t been involved politically, or involved in the secular movement or the non-theistic movement. Just calling in – they feel like it’s gone too far, some of the actions by the religious right and others. [WG]: I’d like to ask you a question that I’m not sure how to frame it to get a mutual understanding and an answer, but – you know how difficult it is sometimes, I mean – what you’ve just said is measurable: you’ve got new chapters here and there, and you know what they’re doing. But how will you tell – what kind of benchmarks are there for you to tell – whether or not this is working. For example, let’s say you turn on C-span and you see something and that makes you say: “Our work is benefiting people” – or what is the benchmark? [ER]: Yes, as a matter of fact we have all kind of measures in place. And every Thursday morning we send out a newsletter to everybody that’s interested in the movement, and we all get on the phone at noon every Thursday – it’s open to everybody, even opposing groups call in – and we go through all of our measures. Like, for example, we talk about the number of conferences and meetings that are happening within the movement; we talk about the national press that we’ve gotten over the last week, if it was positive or not positive; and how many tweets and Facebook, social networking-type articles have happened. So all that can be tracked. Then we go down to the Judiciary, and we talk about the number of court cases that have been filed by either any of the partners or affiliates like ACLU, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Humanists Association, Americans United. We talk about international issues, what’s going on before the UN. We talk about how many meetings we have on Capitol Hill, Congressional briefings – we’re having our first ever Capitol Hill Congressional briefing on October the 1st. So it’s very easy to measure and show success. More endorsing organizations, more allies, more state chapters… [WG]: Great. I mean, that’s terrific – and I need to call in to that meeting sometime, and learn, too. [ER]: Yes. [WG]: Edwina, it’s terribly frustrating to me and to many others how polarized the very issue of secular politics has become. If you watch the news, you quickly get the idea that on one side good, God-fearing Americans are desperately trying to save the Christian principles of this country, while on the other, liberal devil-worshipers are restlessly channeling Satan and Stalin and Marx – and that’s why I think it’s so important to have someone like you – in particular like you – in the position that you now hold. You were an economic advisor to George W. Bush; you’ve also served as General Counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee – and I have to ask you: is it frustrating to you that more Republicans don’t seem to see that a secular approach to public policy and governance is the true American way? [ER]: Yeah, it is disappointing for me that the majority of the problem, the current problem, is more so in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party – or some of the minor problems – so that means I have my work cut out for me, doesn’t it? [WG]: Well how do you, I’m curious because my background is a very conservative religious background, and so I know how my conversations go with former colleagues. How do your conversations go with former colleagues? [ER]: Well, I have a conservative background too. I’m from rural Alabama so I’m, you know, very much from the Bible belt and I understand the situation perfectly. But it wasn’t always like this. You know, think about the early 80’s: when I first got involved in the Republican Party and Ronald Regan was sweeping through, he had some really good things to say, Ronald Regan did, about the separation of Church and State. And it was all about free enterprise, and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, and individual rights in the Republican Party. But things have changed; and we do scorecards on all elected officials, House and Senate, and the majority of the F’s – yes, by far, are going to Republicans and not to members of the Democratic Party. [WG]: I’d really love to hear your thoughts on the rhetoric that came out of the two national parties’ recent Conventions. I heard pandering from both sides to a particular type of Christian voter. What did you hear? [ER]: I heard the same – and I was disappointed by both parties. I was at the Republican Convention, I was right on the floor, I listened to every speech. There was only one situation where I was really kind of alarmed and concerned, and that was Sen. Rubio from Florida: and I heard him speak back in June, and he actually said in June: “If you do not have faith, you do not deserve freedom.” And I was shocked that he said that in June with the cameras rolling. So some of the comments that he said when he introduced Mitt Romney were minor compared to what I heard in June when he was speaking before the Faith and Freedom Foundation. Everyone else, I think, did a good job.
Now, on the Democratic side, of course, we were very disappointed with what happened with the platform, with the omission of the word “God” and then, of course, president Obama having to call because they were being labeled the godless party and, you know, trying to get that back in. And on the Republican side, “God” is now in there ten times, where it used to not be in neither platform mentioned. The platforms used to be quite secular; but it’s sort of like, you know, who can be the most religious. And that’s only a certain type of religion, the sort of evangelistic Christian right type of religion.[WG]: Well, you know, a reported asked me about the number of times each party used the word “God,” and I said it’s very clear how important that is: we’ve got “In God we trust” on our coins, and that has not necessarily made our coins or our dollar bills sacred instruments of our faith. [ER]: Yes. [WG]: If you had a chance to talk with the organizers of the Conventions, or even with the campaign strategists now, what could both parties do to more responsibly address the concerns of all Americans? [ER]: Well, they would do just what we’re talking about here today. They would try to keep religion out of politics and out of government; and we do talk to both campaigns, and we do talk to both political parties. I’ve met with people at the RNC and with Romney’s campaign and the coalition folks, and we constantly are talking to the Obama campaign; and they come on to our calls, their officials do. And they are both courting people there in the secular movement. You know twenty to thirty percent of the population – you don’t want to write them off. And we have a meeting with the staff of Sen. Rubio’s next week. So we’re there, we’re educating people, we’re doing briefings, we’re calling them out, we’re trying to get things back to the center, so we could have a have the forward march of humanity moving on, and try to keep religion free and sort of an individual right. [WG]: You’re the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. Tell our listeners how they can get involved in your work of they want to. [ER]: Well, we have the fifty state chapters coming on quickly – certainly by the end of October we’ll have all fifty of them up and running; secular.org, our website, they can go and just sign up for our action alerts and get all of our information; the weekly newsletter; and we give plenty of opportunities for people to get involved at a state level, local level and the national level. [WG]: Edwina Rogers is the executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. It is very important work; I have to say that the secular citizens in America were a major part of the coalition that argued for the First Amendment to the Constitution and the freedom of religion clauses that we have there. So it’s important work today just as it was then, and Edwina, I want to thank you for taking time to be with us, and thank you also for lending your talent and leadership to the Secular Coalition. And I hope that we’ll have a change to get back together on State of Belief Radio. [ER]: Yes, we appreciate what you do, thank you. [WG]: Thank you.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.