When John Kennedy was assassinated years ago, Dallas, Texas, was known as the most far-right city in America. In the wake of Kennedy’s killing, Dallas pastor William Holmes asked, “In the name of God, what kind of city have we become?”
But interviewed five decades later, Holmes insists that most Dallas residents were moderate conservatives. The folks who heckled, jeered and threatened Lyndon Johnson in 1960 and Adlai Stevenson just weeks before the Kennedy’s came to town were not representative of the community.
So, has Dallas got a bad rap?
Not really. Rev. Holmes identifies the key problem. Dallas was a “business-oriented, family-oriented, church- and synagogue-oriented and adamantly disinclined to engage, to confront, and to challenge anyone who held a more radically conservative point of view.” (emphasis added).
You can read all about the influence of men like the Rev. Billy James Hargis and retired Army Gen. Edwin Walker (the man who bank-rolled Hargis) in this Dallas Morning News article. The weakness of the piece is its conclusion. That’s the way we were fifty years ago–thank God things have changed.
But how much has changed?
Dallas may have lost its reputation for right wing extremism, but the State of Texas has not. And the key problem has not changed, moderate Republicans refuse to call out members of their tribe who cross the line. There is no effective boundary on the American Right, at least in Texas. As in Dallas circa 1963, right wing zealots are free to advance the most bizarre theories and denounce the President (and government in general) in the most extravagant terms without a flicker of dissent from more responsible conservatives. True, John McCain may called Ted Cruz a “wacko-bird”, but quickly backed down when criticized.
The same, tragically, is true in the evangelical world I inhabit.
Saddleback Church pastor, Rick Warren, famous for rediscovering the 2,000 Bible passages that refer to poverty and injustice, remains silent when the pastor of a “daughter church” preaches hate, ignorance and lunatic conspiracy theories from the pulpit. Olive Branch Community Church teaching pastor Greg Harris is a proponent of Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that biblical law, including the death penalty for homosexuals and disobedient children, should be incorporated into the American legal system.
If you think I’m exaggerating, check out the extended quotes in Bruce Wilson’s post on Talk to Action.
Not everyone who attends Olive Branch Community Church believes this stuff, and I pray Rick Warren doesn’t. But, in the interest of maintaining tribal harmony, they refuse to call out their colleague. And so the hate festers. Just as it did in Dallas in 1963 when school children cheered the news that John F. Kennedy had been gunned down.
Words can kill. So can silence.