v. diane woodbrown   Intolerance at a Slumber Party  
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  I went to Catholic school from first to seventh grade, and I know something about religion, salvation and being accountable to God.

But when I read the words of Wendy Wright of Operation Rescue ("We're accountable to God, not to government"), feelings of bewilderment and frustration arose in me.

Wright feels she can do as she pleases in the name of her God. What possible dialogue can one have with someone whose ultimate defense is always, "Because God says so?"

My discomfort with people of this kind is familiar, and I know why. In 1969, I entered fourth grade and my parents divorced. In a sad, single moment, my mother, who raised my siblings and me, was cast from the secure world of the housewife into one of uncertainty.

I was much too young to understand the complex dynamic that made inevitable the split between my parents. And I will never know the grief the two of them faced as they released the hopes and dreams that had brought them together 13 years before. In the same way, none of us can ever truly understand another couple's -- or a pregnant woman's -- dreams, limitations and desires.

But there it was. That year, my father was gone. And I remember my mother telling me that she was sorry, this was how it had to be.

The parents of my friends -- virtually all of them married -- and the nuns at school did not agree. One mother told me at a slumber party that, by divorcing, my mother had committed a cardinal sin that violated the will of God.

This is one of the reasons the separation of church and state is so important. We each have our own brand of hardships, and we need to be free to deal with them in our own spiritual ways.

Our constitution celebrates the importance of being free to follow God's word as interpreted by you, or your organized religion -- even those at Operation Rescue -- provided you aren't a threat to the lives or safety of others.

And I'm proudto live in a country where each one of us can believe what we need to believe to get by in this world.

But we also need the protection of our government -- to provide some measure of temporal security, to safeguard the individual's authority over our own lives (and bodies) and, ultimately, to protect the leadings of our individual souls.

By disregarding these protections, and assuming a moral authority that allows them to violently attack "sinful" neighbors, Wright, and those like her, seem to believe they live in a Christian state.

It's curious to me that Jesus himself -- as he once walked the streets of an imperfect Palestine -- is reported to have said: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."

This essay originally appeared as an article in The San Francisco Examiner February 18, 1994.
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Copyright © 1994 V. Diane Woodbrown.

Photo of V. Diane Woodbrown copyright © Michael Scarpelli.