E.J. Dionne reminds us that there are far more influential political pastors than Reverend Wright who have intimated the God condemns America:

Two days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Jerry Falwell, appearing on Pat Robertson‘s “700 Club,” declared: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’”

Robertson replied: “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And the top people, of course, is the court system.”

There’s a difference between Obama and Wright on the one hand and McCain and the Religious Right on the other, of course. McCain won admiration on the Left by denouncing Falwell and company as “agents of intolerance” back in 2000, before he decided that if he wanted to win the GOP nomination, he’d better appeal to the Religious Right instead. Obama has only recently come around to damning Reverend Wright and hasn’t backtracked yet. But give him time.

I don’t know whether there is a double standard involved in the media’s reactions to the religious Right and the religious Wright, as Dionne suggests there is. All of these incidents have generated hysteria and sensationalism, though rather more in Wright’s case, it seems to me, than in Falwell’s or Robertson’s. But all this angsting over insensitive and unpatriotic pastors is predicated on a false premise: namely, that religious people should be nice, patriotic, and mostly harmless. I wouldn’t say either Wright or the Religious Right is very close to Jesus’ message, but their divisiveness is very much in the spirit of religion at its best, as well as at its worst, since the whole point of religion — or at least a large part of it — is to separate the holy from the profane, the sheep from the goats. That distinction usually does not coincide with national borders.

The larger problem with religion in America, and with the Religious Right in particular, is the very opposite of what outrages and the press about Falwell, Robertson, and Wright: American Christianity is all too susceptible to erasing the distinction between God and country. Christ chased the moneychangers out of the temple. I expect if He had seen Roman standards or American flags inside the temple, he would have chased out the people who put them there as well.