A Georgia Baptist newspaper editor widely criticized for questioning whether Islam qualifies as a religion protected under the First Amendment wondered in the days leading up to July 4 if America’s independence is about to slip away.
Gerald Harris, editor of the Christian Index, said in his June 24 editorial that while future generations are better off economically than his parents coming out of the Great Depression, today’s children and grandchildren “cannot possibly understand the spiritual bounty and blessings of life in America 50 years ago.”
“Faith was alive, revival was a reality, and most churches were filled with excited Christians,” Harris wrote.
Today, the editor said, the nation has drifted far away from the Founders’ “original intentions” that America would be a Christian nation.
“Today the Bible is denigrated in many public schools and institutions of higher learning,” Harris said. “In fact, we have systematically removed prayer from our schools and as a result of the Schempp decision in 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court declared that school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools in the United States was unconstitutional.”
“We have systematically removed God and His Word from public life in America,” he continued. “Undoubtedly, there is a causal relationship between taking prayer and Bible reading out of our schools and the downward trend spiritually and morally in this nation.”
Harris said when he was assigned to read George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in college, he thought the author’s dystopian scenario “was bordering on lunacy.” Today, he believes in “a very practical sense” that Orwell was a prophet.
“He imagined a future where speech was greatly restricted,” Harris said. “To Orwell the language of the totalitarian state he imagined was called ‘Newspeak,’ and it bears an amazing likeness to the political correctness we are seeing in America in 2016.”
“Maybe our speech is not restricted so much as of yet, but I think it is often ridiculed and maligned,” Harris said. “If you don’t agree with current leadership or whoever has the platform you are marginalized and discredited.”
Harris, a former pastor and past president of the Georgia Baptist Convention elected editor of the Christian Index in 2003, made headlines with his June 6 editorial headlined “Do Muslims really qualify for religious freedom benefits?”
In that editorial Harris suggested that “Islam may be more of a geo-political movement than a religion” and questioned the wisdom of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and International Mission Board joining an amicus brief defending Muslims trying to build a mosque in New Jersey.
The editorial generated rebuke both outside and within the Southern Baptist Convention. Three professors penned a rebuttal letter describing Harris’ view as “foreign to the historic Baptist understanding of biblical faith and practice.” ERLC head Russell Moore alluded to the editorial as “honestly surprising,” because “it would represent a direct contradiction of our confessional document and all of its predecessors.”
In his June 24 editorial, Harris said, “It seems logical to assume that after the ridicule and marginalization comes the actual restriction.”
“It hasn’t happened as of this editorial, and until it does I am going to thankfully celebrate our Independence Day at least one more time,” he concluded.