Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Curren's Statement on Faith

Erik Curren released his Statement on Religion and Politics in Virginia's 20th District House Race on July 22. I started to post it then, but thought the "controversy" would go away. But, for whatever reason, some folks are trying to keep it alive (complete with misinformation) through letters to the editor and blogs. It is one of the most insightful and inspiring statements on faith and politics that I've had the pleasure of reading. Erik, in his own words:
"Almighty God hath created the mind free." So Thomas Jefferson opened his Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. In that founding document of our Commonwealth, Jefferson went on to decry fallible religious or political leaders who would try to influence freedom of conscience through social or political pressure, begetting "habits of hypocrisy and meanness."
"Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,"Jefferson continued.
When Jefferson's statute was passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, it became state law that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities."
From this noble statute derives the freedom of all Virginians to follow the faith of their choice, or no faith at all, and to enjoy absolute protection under the law. Those who hold or seek public office in Virginia are likewise free from any religious test.
It is my belief that faith is an issue between a person and his or her own heart. We should respect the rights of all citizens to approach this issue of conscience as a private matter, unless they choose to share their convictions with others.
I have always been happy to talk with people who have a genuine interest in faith. In my life, I draw inspiration from many sources. These days, my weekly routine is filled with practices that come mostly from Christianity and Buddhism. I am moved by stories from the New Testament and by the revered music of the church, from rousing hymns to haunting spirituals.
And for the last decade or more, like millions of Americans, I have practiced meditation. Sometimes I walk and sometimes I sit. But always, taking a break from daily activity helps me think about my life and connect with a deeper truth. With increasing scientific evidence for the benefits of meditation to calm the stress of today's busy world, it's no wonder that this simple practice has spread to corporate boardrooms, hospitals, schools, and even churches across the United States.
It is understandable that people are curious about and may even fear things that they do not understand. So it is a service to civil discourse for people of different faiths to share their beliefs and practices in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. Recognizing that all major religions teach the same basic ideas --to seek truth, promote love, and care for God's creation -- faith can be a way to bring us all together on a higher plane.
But all too often religion is used by misguided leaders to pull our communities apart and to sow the seeds of discord. This is a misuse of religious faith in my opinion, and I feel compelled to speak out against religious prejudice and bigotry.
So, to those who would court intolerance for political gain, I say: in America, you will lose. In Virginia, you will lose. And in the Shenandoah Valley and Highland County, you will lose.
This accords with my own two decades of experience in this area. People here are independent thinkers who don't want government or anyone else telling them what to believe. And I know from history that our mountains and valleys have long put out a warm welcome to people of many faiths, from Mennonites and Brethren to Roman Catholics, Jews, and even deists in the style of Jefferson. Now we continue to welcome neighbors from even more religions, whether Hindus, Muslims, or those who follow traditional African faiths.
Over the last four months of my campaign, I have met thousands of voters across the 20th District. They have asked me many questions about the issues that matter to them: jobs, schools, transportation, and quality of life. Very occasionally someone has asked me about my faith and we have had a candid discussion about it, including my belief that to draw from multiple traditions strengthens my faith life. These voters have seemed to care about the quality of the candidate, regardless of spiritual affiliation.
My faith teaches that a worthwhile life is a life of service. For this reason, I feel akin to all those of faith who strive daily to serve their families and communities in many different ways. Our area is blessed with countless selfless people who give up their free time to sit on volunteer boards, who donate generously to food banks, and who serve the public as teachers, social workers, and healthcare professionals.
My campaign will be inspired by these citizens who open their hearts in compassion to their neighbors regardless of faith, race, or political affiliation. And if elected to represent the 20th District, I promise to follow the example of my many selfless neighbors. At the same time, I will always stand against bigotry and prejudice. And I pray that I will never fail to speak out for freedom, tolerance, and mutual understanding.


unionman said...

I must admit I have responded to two or three of Tracey's belchings, in the WNV and SNL. I'd be happy to let it die if he would stop bringing the subject up. I'd like to think that if we all ignored him he'd stop, but that doesn't seem to be in his plans. What would you recommend?

Belle Rose said...

For me, his and others' similar comments do not deserve a direct response as it only brings attention to them. I prefer uplifting commentary like Erik's. As for them: Ignore when possible. Enlighten when able. Confront when necessary.

Truth-teller said...

On the other hand, I think it's useful for Tracy to understand that he's [way] outside the mainstream of the Party on this. I sounded off in SNL, too.

Belle Rose said...

I think he relishes being outside the Democratic Party, and indeed outside Valley common sense mainstream. Whenever we call him out by name, he gets publicity and loves it.

Anonymous said...

I believe this blog entry and the following series of comments to be totally misguided and all together missing the point of Mr. Pyle's commentary.

Mr. Pyles offered a political assessment, not a legal analysis concerning religion and the qualifications to run for office nor the role of religion in governance. The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom has precious little relevance.

As to whether his predictions hold water in VA's 20th district only the next 100 days will determine. What is not in question is that he has as much right to prognosticate about the influence of religion on an election as Mr. Curren does to run while practicing one or more forms of religion. In fact both have every right to do so.

If you want to criticize him for not being a loyal Democrat in the public domain that is one thing, but the path that has been taken-- launching into cries for religious freedom and making direct and indirect allegations of bigotry is pure nonsense.

Truth-teller said...

Anonymous, while Pyles couched his comment initially as an assessment of what Valley voters would or would not tolerate, his additional comments about not "endorsing" Curren, and defending his own faith, reveal that something else was at work that I believe certainly does justify the criticism. Some have chalked Pyles's remarks up to "clumsiness" but I see a bigger problem in what he did NOT say. It's one thing to point out that Valley voters probably won't vote for a non-Christian, but Pyles himself should have pointed out that this is absurd--that being a Christian is no qualification for office and that voters should look at issues, not church membership, which, after all, tells us nothing about underlying values.

So I'm sorry you don't see it, but I think a fair reading of Pyles's comments is that he is indeed bigoted. And, like most bigots, he can't see it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Pyles’ analysis of the political ramifications of religion in this election is merely that and nothing more. It does not depend on his persuading the electorate to do or not do anything in regard to changing that predicted outcome.

Mr. Pyles' commentary related to his personal vote and endorsement was presumably necessitated due to media inquiry stemming from the fact that he is a current public office holder. I personally find his explanation in that area a bit troubling. He suggests that he will vote for Mr. Curren to help soon-to-be Governor Deeds with his legislative agenda.

He suggests that Mr. Curren's stating in some written forum that he attends a Methodist Church but neglecting to mention his connection to Buddhism and adherence to its beliefs is possibly being deceptive. He is hesitant to endorse Mr. Curren based on this deception and/or Mr. Curren's being less than forthcoming in providing relevant information.

Is Mr. Curren's suggested biographical lapse a matter of “telling the truth but not the whole truth” about a religious matter or merely mentioning one of life’s activities (e.g., attending the Methodist Church) akin to "I buy groceries at Kroger." Or “I work out at the YMCA.” I am not prepared to say.

But I find Mr. Pyles’ actions based on his own analysis a bit troubling. Why would he vote for one he believes to have (possibly?) engaged in deception? And to publicly suggest that he would do so, again in view of his own analysis, for the stated purpose of obtaining Mr. Curran's assistance in promulgating a desired legislative agenda, suggests an ethical and/or intellectual lapse on Mr. Pyle's part.

All of this being said, I see no evidence of bigotry on Mr. Pyle's part.