Baptist minister E.W. Jackson spoke from the pulpit of the Restoration Fellowship Church in Strasbourg, Virginia, on Sunday. His words were fiery.
"Any time you say, ‘There is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion,' that’s controversial. But it’s the truth. Jesus said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.'"
Fiery, yes, as were his words about same-sex marriage. "God intended heterosexual marriage. I don't hear anything about two people of the same sex being married." But still, not out of the ordinary of what you might expect to hear in church.
However, Mr. Jackson wasn't there as the preacher. He's the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor.
Not surprisingly, statements such as this have caused problems for his running mate, Ken Cuccinelli, on the ticket as the Republican nominee for Governor. Previous, Mr. Cuccinelli had say that the two men were "running together." Now? Not so much.
"I am just not going to defend my running mates’ statements at every turn," Cuccinelli told the Washington Post. "They’ve got to explain those themselves. Part of this process is just letting Virginia voters get comfortable with us, on an individual basis, personally."
Alas, Virginia voters aren't getting comfortable with either candidate, individually, personally, together, or otherwise, as both are behind their Democratic opponents in this Red state. The most recent NBC News/Marist Poll has him behind Terry McAuliffe by five points, and by eight points in a Washington Post poll. The added problem for Mr. Cuccinelli, who is the current Attorney General of Virginia, is the same questions of bribery dogging the state's outgoing Govenor, Bob McDonnell, as well as his lack of popularity with the women folk. He's behind McAuliffe by a massive 24 points with women -- in large part for his having introduced a fetal personhood bill when a state senator that would ban all abortion.
But back to Mr. Jackson, who is behind his opponent Ralph Northam by three points in the most recent Washington Post poll, inside the 5-point margin of error.
To be clear, I understand any Baptist or Catholic or Methodist or whoever believes in Jesus Christ as his personal savior to believe that it is the only true salvation. To call all other faiths "false religions"...well, that doesn't strike me as terribly brotherly or endearing or substantive or decent -- especially since some of those religions pre-date Christianity by several thousand years, but I understand it. I understand intolerance, even if I certainly don't agree with it.
But it's one thing for a religious sermon to preach that, or a private individual to believe it -- after all, everyone is entitled to their intolerance, just as they're entitled to be bigoted, racist or full of hate, or love and joy. But it's something else for a candidate for Lt. Governor to be so intolerant of those he'll be governing, and so outspokenly and so proudly, even if he is delivering that intolerance as a sermon.
"He did not set out to offend people," said the church's pastor, Jay Ahlemann. He just arrived there all on his own, even without needing a map.
Ultimately, it's not really a case of whether anyone was offended. I am certain that all people who believe in faiths other than Christianity have full comfort that their personal beliefs are not "false," so what E.W. Jackson says about that is utterly meaningless. It's a case of whether it is in the public's best interest to have elected officials who are small-minded, divisive and feel that everyone who doesn't believe as they do is damned and going to hell.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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