Lifestyles Left and Right

Men of Action

Religious conservatives shouldn't settle for words.

By 5.8.09

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In one of the many great lines in the movie The Princess Bride, Wesley stands before Prince Humperdinks' six-fingered military guru -- his shoulder mangled and bloody from the Fire Swamp -- and quips with a smirk before he's whisked to the dungeon: "We are men of action. Lies do not become us."

If only that could be said of religious activists shuffling around Washington today. While they're certainly not known for lies, they could do well by being more action-oriented when it comes to lobbying their conservative causes. Yesterday on the National Day of Prayer, several legislators along with prominent religious leaders like Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer, helped reintroduce a resolution that names the first week of May "Religious History Week." The "Spiritual Heritage Resolution" was first introduced in 2007 and describes how politics and religion have intersected since America's birth and throughout her short history.

The timing is significant. The country now has a socially liberal president who prefers golfing to church on Sundays and may ignore America's religious heritage. Indeed, in a news release by bill co-sponsor Rep. Randy Forbes' (R-VA) office, the bill was brought back to life for that reason. "Recently, President Barack Obama claimed while in Turkey that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation...," Newsweek stated that this is "The End of Christian America," and a Pew study reported that the percentage of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith has doubled in recent years."

Still, a resolution that seeks to confirm America's religious heritage or our love of apple pie does little to spur results for the causes conservative Christians hold dear. Even its very format -- a resolution, not a bill -- is like admitting you've struck out before going up to bat. By definition, resolutions are "often statements of policy, belief or appreciation, and not always enactments of statutes or ordinances."

Translation: they're more talk than action. While such resolutions are far from the most harmful things are government is doing right now, it's not exactly helpful either. The country's religious heritage can best be affirmed by deeds, not words.

Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce sponsored legislation that went far beyond words. The man of faith and activism repeatedly offered his fellow members of Parliament a chance to vote on his bill and abolish the profitable, commonplace, but inhumane slave trade. After twenty years, they finally took him up on it. Wilberforce's body has long turned to dust but his example remains relevant even today. It may have been easier to just sponsor a resolution encouraging his fellow legislators to admit slavery was cruel -- but not nearly as effective in the long run.

The late Congressman Henry Hyde followed in Wilberforce's footsteps and lived like a man of action. He sponsored the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976 and again revised in 1993, which bans public funding of abortions through Medicaid. The National Right to Life Committee estimated that the Hyde Amendment has prevented at least one million abortions. When Hyde's son accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on his father's behalf, President George W. Bush said Hyde "was a gallant champion of the weak and forgotten, and a fearless defender of life in all seasons." Such accolades don't come from sponsoring passive resolutions in light of the bolder alternative.

Some legislators today are carrying the torch towards more aggressive legislation. In January, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) introduced the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 -- which, if passed, would amend the Public Health Service Act to include a clause that a health entity can refuse to provide cover or pay for abortions on moral grounds without fear of discrimination from federal, state or local governments that financially support the institution.

Again, in January, fellow Rep. Clifford Stearns (R-FL) introduced the Informed Choice Act, which the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make grants to nonprofit community based pregnancy help medical clinics for the purchase of ultrasound equipment. It then describes a list of duties each grantee must perform such as informing the patient of the age of the fetus. Some sources say a pregnant woman who sees her baby via ultrasound is twice as likely to choose life for her child. Even this small piece of legislation could promote one of the many causes of religious conservatives in a tangible, more effective way than a resolution that does nothing but take up paper.

Given the liberal makeup up of Congress, most -- probably all -- of these bills will fail this session. But then, some bills, like Wilberforce's, take longer than others. Isn't one constructive piece every twenty years worth more than twenty resolutions annually?

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.