I came. I saw. And, last Wednesday night, June 30, I left, still not one of the Believers.
I hope I never am. But still . . .
The event was called "America's Call to Honor God," and my attendance was something of a setup. One of the two featured speakers was former Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Alabaman who was removed from his state's highest judicial post by a federal court late last year after he refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he'd had installed in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court.
Moore was a repeat offender. He'd been elected chief justice because of the popularity of his earlier stand as a state circuit judge in Gadsden, Ala., when he defied a lawsuit against posting the same Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. After his latest legal loss in November, there has been talk that the politically ambitious Moore might run for governor.
And there he was, in Renton, along with Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Anthony Peroutka. (The Constitution Party, in case you're not up on your right-wing fringe parties, was born a few years ago as Howard Phillips' U.S. Taxpayers Party, accused of some unsavory links to militias and bigots and the like.)
The whole event was billed as "America's Call to Honor God," and while it drew 500 the previous night in Spokane, only about 100 of the faithful came on a sunny Seattle evening.
At this point, I suspect editors and readers would expect that I'd launch into some sort of a "Geov in the Wilderness" narrative, wherein I relay how horrified I was to be in the midst of a bunch of people who were nuttier than fruitcakes.
Except that I can't. Because I wasn't, and they weren't.
Granted, I found plenty to disagree with, some of it hair-curling. Both Moore and Peroutka inveighed against America's secular enemies in a worldview that came at times perilously close to confusing devout with paranoid. As when we learned that virtually all government programs designed for the greater good, from social works to environmentalism to health care to seat belts, came straight out of The Communist Manifesto.
The evening went on like that, its political content filled with some observations I found abhorrent, some (e.g., criticism of out-of-control federal spending) I completely agree with. But in both the speeches and in conversation, I found Moore and Peroutka to be men worth giving a respectful, if skeptical, hearing. Here's why: They have given up good, comfortable, powerful jobs because they refused to compromise their moral beliefs. And I respect that.
Granted, alarm bells tend to go off whenever I hear anyone inveigh, as Moore did, The Truth, as something he has and his critics don't. I find that a lot easier to take when people aren't trying to impose their version of The Truth on others, which is exactly what got Moore in trouble in Alabama.
But I couldn't help but wonder, as I listened, how our political and social world might differ if more people made moral values the center of everything they did.
For example, how different would our political world look if everyone who saw Fahrenheit 9/11 did so not simply to feel good about hating George Bush but as part of a lifestyle where professional and leisure choices were devoted to learning how each of us could make the world better?
Plenty of people, of course, do make those kind of choices—the teachers and nurses and social workers who get paid a relative pittance but justify it as valuable work, for example, or those who volunteer their off hours for worthy causes. But far more of us just do whatever we need to do to get by and feel better. We don't think much about, let alone take guidance from, those larger issues.
Roy Moore did. He took a stand I disagree with, but I find it far more valuable, all in all, that he took a stand in the first place. He risked something for his beliefs.
Good for him.
And I hope he never becomes governor of Alabama.