Gov. Jan Brewer is a practicing Christian who accepts Jesus Christ as her personal savior, and that's just fine by me. I was born and raised Jewish, so I come from a different religious tradition. But I say, vive la difference. We all have the right to choose our own belief systems, and I respect her choice.
But I'm concerned when the governor of the state suggests her beliefs hold more sway in the United States than others. That's what Brewer proclaimed in a speech to Lutheran pastors when she said she is "grateful we are a country of Christianity."
A country of Christianity? I always thought we were a country of Americans who may be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists or whatever other belief systems people accept. Brewer apparently disagrees. In her limited view, Christians hold a preeminent position, and the rest of us should understand we're only allowed to live here by their good graces.
A frightening number of right wing pundits and politicians revel in proclaiming we are a "Christian Nation." According to them, the country should be a theocracy ruled by their narrow interpretation of the Christian Bible, with the Constitution taking a distant second place. Brewer's "country of Christianity" is just a hair's breadth away from that kind of religious intolerance.
Is it possible I'm being too sensitive? A little PC, maybe? Should I lighten up and recognize that Brewer was simply affirming her personal faith to fellow church members?
Let's see if I'm being overly sensitive by trying out a couple of thought experiments.
Here's the first one. Imagine Tucson is 65 percent Hispanic. It's actually closer to 35 percent, but let's pretend my figure is correct. Now imagine Tucson's Hispanic mayor is addressing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He says, "I am grateful that we are a city of Hispanics."
Any non-Hispanics out there feeling a wee bit uncomfortable with that "city of Hispanics" line? Feeling a little left out? Are you thinking, "Hey, what about me?"
Here's the second thought experiment. Imagine your non-Asian son or daughter is studying at U.C. Berkeley, where students of Asian descent comprise about 45 percent of the population, making them the largest ethnic group on campus, including Anglos (That's a fact, by the way). You read that the school's Chancellor, who is Asian-American, said to the Asian Student Union, "I am grateful that we are a university of Asians."
Is your first instinct to drive up to Berkeley, pedal to the metal, and yank your kid out of that racially biased university? Are you worried the curriculum might have an Asian-centric bias, and that your child might be treated as a second-class citizen?
If either of those thought experiments put a butterfly or two in your stomach, you should have no trouble understanding why a statement by the governor of Arizona saying this is a "country of Christianity" is upsetting to non-Christians, and to those Christians who believe in a bright line separating church and state.
I don't think Brewer quite fits into the "Christian Nation" camp. To her credit, in the same speech, she said her religious faith should not be confused with her political agenda. "The problem with having a (religion-based) political agenda," she said, "is that we give the impression that we have God's truth."
But she also said she can't imagine how anyone "can possibly get through without asking for help and guidance from Jesus Christ and from God."
Brewer must be wearing faith-based blinders if she can't understand how the rest of us —- infidels all, she must think — manage to "get through" without seeking Christian guidance. For the most powerful politician in Arizona to make such a narrow-minded statement is breathtaking, and profoundly disturbing.
When someone in Brewer's position believes we live in a "country of Christianity," all of us who cherish religious freedom and tolerance, Christians and non-Christians alike, should be deeply concerned.
Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.