The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism released a video yesterday criticizing Rick Santorum for sitting and listening and then later applauding a sermon by Reverend Dennis Terry at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Louisiana. The video shows Terry encouraging those who do not believe that America is a “Christian nation” — specifically Buddhists and Muslims — to “get out” of America. The RAC’s leader, Rabbi David Saperstein, took Santorum to task for going up to Terry after this tirade to get the pastor’s blessings. While acknowledging that Santorum later distanced himself from Terry’s views, Saperstein said the Republican presidential candidate had a special responsibility as someone who has given issues of faith a prominent role in his campaign to address “hateful” or “bigoted” speech.
Saperstein is right about that. Candidates who sit and listen to hate speech by their supporters, especially when it is spouted from religious pulpits, have a duty to draw a bright line between such views and the political mainstream. In that respect, Santorum appears to have failed. He was clearly more interested in getting the endorsement of Terry and the backing of other evangelicals in the Louisiana Primary than in doing the right thing during his visit to Greenwell Springs. But while I think the pointed questions that Saperstein posed to Santorum are very much on target, if the subject of politicians sitting and listening to hateful sermons seems vaguely familiar, maybe we should flash back to 2008 when a longtime member of Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s congregation was running for president.