An Introduction to the SALT and
God invades MTV
By Scott Gillette
Before traveling to our nation’s capital two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Christine O’Donnell, the head of the SALT, or Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth.
The SALT http://www.thesalt.org/ is in its own words "a Generation X, interdenominational non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing and training young people to be salt and light in their generation and culture." Their Christian faith serves as both the impetus and ultimate purpose of their work. Their name symbolizes the essence of the organization as well. Their website explains, "Just as the mineral salt is used to enhance flavor, to preserve, and to prevent decay, the Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth aims to enhance God's kingdom, preserve moral standards, and prevent the moral decay of our communities. The mineral salt is most potent in its pure form. Likewise, The SALT recognizes that we, too can only be effective if we are seeking purity."
Yet the SALT differs from much of the religious right in two significant ways. First, its primary focus is reaching younger people, a constituency many pro-family groups fail to reach. Second, the group is eager to express their views and values in places that could be described as secular and indeed hostile to an uncompromising stance based upon Biblical teaching. Most religious groups are unlikely to appear on MTV or go to Lollapalooza concert to spread their message, but the SALT does.
Christine O’Donnell http://www.thesalt.org/christinebio.html founded the SALT in 1996 in order to influence young people as well as the individuals who run our cultural institutions about "the values that make a self-functioning society possible." I was not surprised that Christine was savvy and articulate as numerous media appearances demand such qualities. Nor was I shocked to find that both of us had some similarities in our cultural outlook and observations, as both of us are products of the suburbs of New Jersey in the last quarter of the 20th century. Christine is a sucker for 1980s music and was interested in my claim that U2’s was always a Christian band, but especially in their earlier albums.
Christine’s own faith came to her in 1991, but she acknowledges that she got caught up in legalisms and rules that sapped her faith’s emotional power. However, it was in 1993 that her spiritual faith blossomed, and her life reflected that transformation. Since that time, Christine became involved in several groups affiliated with the religious right, but decided that a new approach was needed to reach out to a different generation. She added, "We are trying to put a young face on our organization. Young people are the ones most likely to deal with the issues that we address, but they are the least likely to be reached by traditional pro-family groups."
The most unexpected part of the interview and what surprised me the most was the utter lack of sentimentality in her views. Many practicing Christians, while fundamentally decent on all counts, have a complacent countenance that derives from their belief that everything in the world has been accounted for. Christine could not have been further from this stereotype. Her faith came through in her words, but it was never preached. She invoked the glory of God, but with an urgency that stressed that God was not in many places, instead of an axiom that could be taken for granted.
I began the interview by telling her that I am not a Christian, nor do I belong to any other major religion. I am a monotheist, in that I believe strongly in the existence of one single, universal God. Beyond that, I lean towards deism, which holds that God created the world but left the world alone afterwards and left humanity to its own devices. However, I am not dedicated to this position, simply because I do not know God well enough to know for sure.
Christine asked me what I thought was the Bible was all about, and I replied that the story of Jesus was a metaphor for our own lives. Christine was both interested and amused by my assertion, and said that was the first time she heard it put that way. She added that there was historical evidence for much of what occurred in the Bible. I acknowledged that the Bible refers to real places and there is some historical consistency, but that I was unconvinced. She will send material buttressing her contention soon.
I did acknowledge my belief that the three major monotheistic religions provide the most profound, coherent and accurate descriptions of the human condition, which explains why they all have served mankind for millennia. Christine nodded in agreement, but summed up her faith in emotional, spiritual terms as opposed to my clinical view: "You please Christ by loving him. God created us to worship him, with a humble, broken spirit and contrite heart."
The SALT was formed in 1996 at an anti-abortion rally, and that issue clearly motivates Christine the most. I made a vow some time ago that I never would write about abortion under any circumstances, and I intend to keep that vow. However, the next paragraph includes Christine’s views on the subject. Individuals who wish to respond should do so:
"Before doctors had ultrasound, doctors performed the equivalent of back-alley abortions, as they were literally winging it. Once ultrasound became available, abortion became much safer, but the founder of NARAL began to see the facial expressions of babies inside with womb of ultrasound, and he converted to the pro-life position as well as Catholicism. Even though abortions are safer now, 1/3rd of all abortions involve complications…If a baby is 1 year old, it is just as dependent on a mother as it is in the womb. Yet it’s illegal to murder that 1 year old infant, right?"
The subject of homosexuality came up, and Christine and I differed on its origins. I argued that being gay was partly a personal choice, and affected by a complex interaction of environmental issues, but certain people had a genetic predisposition to homosexuality in their genes. Christine believes that homosexuality "stems from a deeper wound. Most people who are homosexual experienced abuse or trauma that resulted in a brokenness in their sexual identity and lives."
Our different views on whether gays are born or made have enormous implications for not only that debate, but also the nature of mankind as well. If gays are born gay it can’t be considered a sin; if homosexuality is a consequence of negative influences it can’t be considered healthy. I don’t view homosexuality as sinful or immoral, but I’m not sure if it’s a decision that can bring long-term happiness. Christians, Muslims and Orthodox Jews consider homosexuality sinful. But is it a choice at all? Too many questions to be resolved here.
Christine agrees homosexual people are as deserving of God’s love and basic respect, as her own sister is in a long-term lesbian relationship. Moreover, I see no inherent harm with the SALT or any other group advocating alternatives to a gay lifestyle. Gays can decide for themselves whether their sexuality is right for them, or whether the Bible speaks truths that prompt them to change course.
I have heard gay activists argue that any criticism or even second thoughts on homosexuality as intolerance, and such views made the killing of Matthew Shepard possible. Such a position is both intellectually dishonest and morally repugnant, because it seeks to intimidate dissenting views on the subject by associating disagreement with the lifestyle as proof of ill intent. Young people who think they may be gay would not suffer to hear the message from groups like the SALT state that such sexual proclivities may be harmful, but that God will love them no matter what.
We turned to the issue of pornography, and again my response to Christine’s arguments was ambivalent. She argued that individuals who engaged in pornography developed an addiction to it that grows worse over time. "One develop a tolerance over time to it, and that leads to an effort to seek out more physical, harder material." I personally question whether magazines like Playboy could lead to, say, sadomasochistic material, but I certainly concur that pornography does not square with the chaste lifestyle that the SALT advocates. Christine also had a fascinating statistic to share. "In Cincinnati and Oklahoma City, county prosecutors enforced the decency laws in those areas, and reported sex crimes in those areas declined, while those same crimes were increasing in every other part of the country. There appears to be a direct correlation between rape and sex crimes and the dismantling of the sex business."
Christine related Pamela Anderson Lee’s story to the consequences of soft pornography as well. "When Pamela Anderson first posed for Playboy, she cried for several hours after disrobing herself. However, she learned to adapt to taking off her clothes, and soon thought nothing of it. What I believe had occurred is that an important part of herself, her natural modesty and God-given dignity, had to be ignored. She had to harden herself, and literally had to kill a part of her spirit."
Although she is not a feminist as the term is currently applied, she is a strong woman whose dedication and intelligence was immediately apparent, and hopes to foster an environment where other strong women can thrive. Yet there was a vulnerability to the leader of the SALT as well. Because of her message and access to innumerable media outlets, a lot of people try to knock her down. People spread false rumors, send hate e-mail, and patronize her because of her gender because of what he says and how she says it. It takes courage to stay in the ring after experiencing this.
As this essay makes clear, I do not agree with the SALT on many issues, foremost among them the divinity of Jesus Christ. But many detractors of the SALT use the argument that the SALT have a judgmental, holier-than-thou view of the world, and they want to everyone to act just like they do. They also infer that if SALT’s members had their chance, they would create laws that would force everyone to live by Christian dogma. Two arguments:
First, the SALT is an organization that seeks to awaken hearts and minds, and it does not advocate specific changes in public policy. It may support obscenity and decency laws, and certain courts may reject such laws if they are seen a violating free speech, but that is within the constitutional process. The ultimate purpose of the SALT is to persuade, not to create a theocracy. If I thought the SALT sought to undermine anyone’s basic individual rights, this column would be very different.
When I told Christine I was not a Christian, she did not object to my position. Nor did she condemn it, or even show the slightest sign of being perturbed by it. We simply exchanged our views openly and in a relaxed manner. Moreover, that was the nature of our entire conversation. This is not the behavior of an individual who wants to control my life.
Second, it is true that the SALT makes judgments about behavior that they may improve or degrades one’s life and soul. They are guilty of this. But we all are! We are all judgmental, because judgments are how we prioritize our values, how we choose our friends and soulmates, how we live our lives. Judgments make an arrival at subjective and objective truths possible. To deny this is to be a hypocrite.
Now being judgmental can refer to someone who criticizes and censures others unfairly, and clearly human beings sometimes give themselves the benefit of the doubt and do not confer the same benefit to others. But living the Bible’s teachings and imploring others o do the same should not be viewed as something suspicious, disdainful or dangerous.
Sometimes the people who make the accusation that the SALT is being judgmental just don’t want to hear any of those judgments. It is their right to reject them if they so choose, but they should heed the following: To lose the right to judge others means that only certain people are equipped to be judgmental. Well, who will judge others then? Someone will need to make judgments if society is to exist. The only people left, of course, will be the ruling elite of the state. The loss of the concept of fixed, minimal standards is replaced by the threat of sheer power. When anything goes, might makes right. To lose the right to judge is to abrogate all power to the government. It’s amazing how excessive demands to foster differing views in the name of openness can lead to tyranny.
I was compelled to write about the SALT in part because of my interest in Generation X activists, who will become tomorrow’s leaders. But I was also drawn to the unyielding positions that the SALT takes on a myriad of issues, which I believe fits the demanding, all-encompassing precepts that Christianity asks for its believers. Jesus did say in the Bible that he was the way, the truth and the light. Therefore, one’s devotion to Jesus Christ as a Lord and Savior must be total, or it is irrelevant. For this reason, I believe that the SALT’s positions to be the accurate manifestation of the Bible’s teachings.
Christine and I both agree that members of both Generation X and the large generation of the Baby Boomers’ children will seek out God for many different reasons. Christine opines, "The norm of the 1950s and 1960s was to be a part of the system. The norm now is anything goes. So kids now are raised in a vacuum, as the nuclear family unit has been replaced by autonomous units. Many kids have already or will soon see that."
Only free people can seek out the God of the New Testament, and build bountiful lives out of those teachings. I am confident that many young people will seek out this life, and the SALT is only scratching the surface of its enormous potential. My best wishes for the SALT and Christine as they work with others to fulfill their most noble aspirations.
My thanks to Andrew Wynn Rouse for these links
The Case for Chastity by Christine O’Donnell
Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Ben
O'Donnell, Joshua Harris and Steven Wright
The Salt survives exclusively on donations, and is open to praying for anyone in need. More information is available at http://www.thesalt.org/prayer.html
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