Not So Goode
You may have seen the press accounts of the letter that Congressman Virgil Goode (rhymes with food) sent to a constituent.
He was responding to a question about the decision of Congressman-elect Keith Ellison to place his hand on a Koran while being sworn-in.
Congressman Goode went on to say that he feared that more Muslims would be elected to office.
The answer to that, he stated, would be for Congress to adopt the strict immigration policies that he champions.
He has been roundly criticized for these intolerant and prejudiced views, but he has not backed-down.
Nor will he, if this is the same Virgil Goode with whom I served in the General Assembly.
Until elected to Congress in 1996 to represent the rural 5th congressional district, Virgil served in the state Senate.
Coming from a long line of Democrats, he was election to his Senate seat as an Independent in a special election in 1972.
He later switched back to the Democratic Party. While not unusual to be a conservative Democrat in Virginia, Virgil can best be described as a Populist.
He has more in common with William Jennings Bryan, whose father was a Virginian, who supported “the laboring masses and the toilers everywhere.”
He supports the underdog and fights hard for the people of his district, which has been hard hit by the loss of manufacturing and textile jobs.
In Congress, his Democratic colleagues did not appreciate his contrarian views, so he became an Independent again and then a Republican.
Regardless of his political party, I am sure that his views are representative of those of his district.
Un-American and Un-Virginian
However, Virgil’s opinion on the use of the Koran by Congressman-elect Ellison is, in my view, contrary to basic American beliefs.
They are certainly contrary to the very foundation of our constitutional government, which began here in Virginia.
The first freedom given to the American people in the Constitution was the right of freedom of religion.
It is based upon Thomas Jefferson’s Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786.
“No man,” it states, “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship…nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions…”
It is now part of the Virginia Constitution and became the basis for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in the Bill or Rights.
The Statute was passed after nine years of effort in order to reverse what had been the practice since Jamestown was founded.
For over 170 years, the official church in Virginia, as in England, was the Church of England or the Anglican or Episcopal Church.
Before the Statute was passed, Virginians paid taxes to support the church and many Episcopal churches were built with tax money.
There was widespread discrimination of Baptists, Presbyterians, and other religious believers, who nevertheless paid church taxes.
Yet, Jefferson, Madison, and others considered the right of a person to hold their own religious beliefs to be one of the natural rights of mankind.
The Koran is the organic document of Congressman-elect Ellison’s Muslim beliefs, just as the Bible is to my Christian ones.
He has the same right to be a Muslim as I do to be a Methodist. The American experience is based upon this view.
The idea that he should be forced to swear on a Bible in contrary to that. It is an Un-American view.
Saddened by Schism
In speaking above about the Episcopal Church, I note the news of the split in that denomination.
Nine Episcopal churches in Virginia, whose roots go back to the colonial era, voted to ally themselves with Nigeria’s conservative Anglican church.
I understand that they did so because of their profound disagreement with the decision of the U.S. Episcopal Church to ordain a gay bishop.
As a Methodist, it is not for me to comment on their decisions except to say that I am saddened by it.
It seems to me that the very people who might have worked within their denomination to change that policy are now gone.
It has been said that the genius of the American experience has been our ability to work out our many differences and work together.
Past is Prologue to the Present
It was the failure to do that which resulted in the Civil War when hotheads in South Carolina changed the course of our nation.
Supporters of slavery, they were concerned about the views of a newly-elected abolitionist President, in an era of weak executive power.
So, they decided to challenge him on his one undisputed power, that of commander-in-chief.
Many Southerners realized that slavery could not be defended morally, but they were forced to accept it economically.
So, instead of working in Congress on some method of gradually ending a barbaric system, they threw down the gauntlet instead.
They gambled and lost. Their extreme solution led to the extreme reaction of Reconstruction.
That, in turn, led to the extreme reaction of the Jim Crow era and segregation. The result was that progress in the South became impeded.
Except for Southern poets, writers, musicians, and athletes, the region became a stagnant national backwater.
It has taken generations to overcome the poverty and ignorance perpetuated by all of this.
It shows that peace means prosperity and prosperity means progress. But, peace starts with open communications between parties.
As an elected official, I know that getting two warring factions together is not easy, but it beats the alternative.
I wish my Episcopal friends well and trust that they will enjoy a Happy New Year, but I hope that they learn the lessons of the past.