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Note to Star Tribune’s Katherine Kersten: We’re one nation, under gods

“. . . The proscribing [of] any citizen as unworthy unless he profess or renounce [a] religious opinion is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage….”
— Thomas Jefferson, The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, 1786

Katherine Kersten, your God is too small.

You write on any topic of your choice as long as your interpretation of Christianity is at the heart of your rant and you do grave injustice to all of those whose Christian beliefs vary from your own, and I want you to stop.

Despite your best hopes, this is not a Christian Nation. This is the United States of America, a pluralistic society, built on the concept of the commonwealth, root common weal, common well-being. All of us in it together, each imbued with equal standing and value, with all the fantastic and marvelous messiness of our cultures, our ethnicities…and our faiths.

Your God isn’t everyone’s God
Your God is too small. If the lost child of Minnesota’s famous Mayo family (Star Tribune, Dec. 9) had not been attending a church-tied private academy but, instead, was a student at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind just down the road, you would never have written that column. I find abhorrent your use of this child and this school to further your personal agenda. I cannot find any column in recent months — and you are spinning them out at the rate of twice a week — that does not take the reader back to your one-note theme of better days in conservative Christianity.

Your God is too small. Your God is not in the great Rabbi of the turbulent days of Israel’s Roman occupation. Your God is not in the gentle saints whose teachings reached Provence and then Saxon Britain and finally the shores of Ireland. Your God is not in the faith of the Early Celtic Church monastics. Your God is not in the mosaics of the Trinity at Eastern Orthodox Constantinople, the soaring Gothic arches of Chartres, the gentle and simple rule of Francis and Clare, the rebuilt Anglican Cathedral of Canterbury.

Your God is not in the Congregational fellowships of Massachusetts, the Methodist chapels of Georgia, or the silence of the Quaker meetings of Pennsylvania (would that you would consider adopting their example).

Your God is not in the four-square Baptist temples of Selma and Memphis. Your God is not in the Amish house churches (which would not even find you sufficiently Christian to be “saved”), the Mennonite double-door meetinghouses, the Greek Orthodox domes.

Your God is certainly not in the Buddha, who teaches us that no living being shall reach for Nirvana until every blade of grass is realized: we all go over the Wall together, or not at all.

Your God is certainly not in Allah, who is the All-Merciful and the transcendent Creator of the Universe.

Your God cannot be the Sophia of Gnostic Christianity and the Hellenic Church, who resides in us all as the Divine Spark and whose heart is Wisdom.

Your God is not in Yahweh nor the lessons of the Talmud, where learned debate and discussion of the requirements of our lives as children of a just and loving God would be utterly foreign to you.

Deborah Morse-Kahn
  Deborah Morse-Kahn

Your God is too small, and your ideas too narrow
Your God is too small, and your heart is hard. “Justice, justice shall ye pursue!” But you would reframe “my” justice. This scholar of the world’s religions finds your ideas of our collective human value and many paths to be brutally narrow and built on your own self-importance. Archbishop Harry Flynn’s marvelously direct statement in his letter to the Star Tribune amounted to a rephrasing of a classic Yiddish invocation, “May the Lord bless and keep you…far away from us!” I like to think he learned this wonderful exhortation from his colleague at the Jewish-Christian Learning Center on the University of St. Thomas campus: Rabbi Max Shapiro.

Katherine, your God is too small. Where my God seeks to be everywhere, in all beings, in all ways, for all time, your God has rules and lines drawn in the sand, accusations and retributions and punishment for the unworthy. The Rabbi Jesus who received the devotion of the Magdalene, the Fallen Woman, and appeared to her first in the Garden of Gethsemane, first among all his disciples, would not approve of your chosen role. “You who are without blame, you cast the first stone.”

Listen up.

And lest you presume that to be patriotic is to be Christian, and to be Christian is surely the essence of American patriotism, revisit Thomas Jefferson’s words, written to stave off the very hope that you cherish, that your God truly does come with a sword.

“…Their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own….”

Deborah Morse-Kahn, director of Regional Research Associates in Minneapolis, can be found at

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Joseph Pettini on 12/20/2007 - 11:56 am.

    Thank you, Deborah, for such a thoughtful and needed response to Ms. Kersten’s ongoing message of hatred and exclusion. I fear that she is part of the advance guard for Huckabee Nation, that her harshness is calculated to make his homespun evangelical pose seem temperate in comparison. We must challenge these “faux Americans” at every step, or they will succeed in continuing to trample our basic rights and freedoms.

    Well done. Keep it up.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/20/2007 - 12:53 pm.

    It is refreshing to read an article on faith that focuses on what should bring us all together, rather than on what drives us apart.

  3. Submitted by Pete Anderson on 12/20/2007 - 01:17 pm.

    I’m not sure of what was so hateful and exclusive about her column, i thought the column was touching. Katherine Kersten is an opinion columnist, and as such she writes her opinion. You want her to stop writing in the way that she does, but isn’t that just what she is supposed to do? Isn’t that what freedom of speech and freedom of religion is all about? Should we tell you to stop in telling us your opinion of faith/country? I think not.

  4. Submitted by James Nordgaard on 12/20/2007 - 01:19 pm.

    When reading your piece, I knew absolutely nothing about Katherine Kersten, or her work. So I when to the Strib’s site and read a few of her columns. Clearly, she is a conservative columnist. Some of her columns are about religion; and it’s clear she is Christian, though I didn’t gather what type of Christian.

    What struck me while reading was how vitriolic and angry the tone was. It was not when reading any of Kersten’s pieces, though, it was yours.

    In the Dec 9th column you refer to, I could not find a single place where she even refers to a religious affiliation for the school. How you came up with her endorsement of a narrow religious belief from this column escapes me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not defending this columnist; I could not disagree more about ANY of her views or even her choice of subject matter; I certainly have NO love for Christian conservatives. But unfortunately, your criticisms of her and her religious beliefs are off the mark, mean-spirited, and just plain inappropriate. You make a big point about her anger and hatred, which just might be true, but I think you’d do better by dealing with your own anger and hatred before concerning yourself with others’.

  5. Submitted by Deborah Morse-Kahn on 12/20/2007 - 01:50 pm.

    From the Commentary author…

    I do not feel hatred, nor do I believe Ms. Kersten harbors hatred. There are very few things in this world that I hate–Hitler, any harm to small children and animals comes to mind, and murder done in the name of anyone’s deity.

    But yes, I do certainly feel anger, a good solid human emotional response. The commentor who thoughtfully returned to Ms. Kersten’s recent archived columns, not being familiar with her work, does not therefore hold the months and months and years of her one-note theme. I do, and finally lost my temper. And no, she did not expressly state that Shattuck-St. Mary’s is a church-tied religious military academy, but it is my work as a public historian and sociologist specializing in Upper Midwest ethnic and cultural studies to know all about that school…and knew she had once again used her column to glorify her hobby-horse: private Christian-based education. I disliked her intensely for using the child’s death to further her own aims, and I repeat that she would not have written about him if he were at the School for the Blind one mile away from Shattuck.

    Anger, carefully directed, is useful and healthy. I have strong feelings about religious narrow-mindedness…anyone’s!

    And, as many have asked, I am Jewish by birth and a Unitarian by affiliation.


  6. Submitted by Eric Schubert on 12/20/2007 - 07:44 pm.


    Thoughtful commentary and insights such as this are why I turn here.

  7. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 12/20/2007 - 10:43 pm.

    As to Kersten’s presumptive one-note theme, I think you underestimate her tonal range: Although Kersten does often clock in with vignettes she supposes prove the superiority of parochial (viz. conservative Christian) education, she also loves to issue jeremiads about the grave dangers of gay marriage, high taxes, liberalism, and secular culture in general. She is a Cassandra of truly catholic tastes!

    All kidding and (groan-inducing) puns aside, although I share the author’s distaste for Kersten’s scorched-earth writing style and her tendentious ideology, I agree with other commentators who detect an undercurrent of ugly hostility in the alleged noble outrage. In my experience, more than a few self-styled progressives seem as small-minded and intolerant as the kind of rabid right-wing bete noire they see in Kersten.

    Even the most magnanimous conception of God imposes certain inviolable rules and lines. If it did not, you would not be as angry as you are. My own (unorthodox) religious sensibilities lead me to concur that Kersten’s God is small indeed (to use your wording), but it seems to me you succumb to the same facile, false dichotomy Kersten trots out almost invariably in her columns: this side is good and pure, that side is bad and corrupt.

    While I regard Kersten as more tiresome than infuriating, I do understand your anger to a point. I do not, however, think it very useful as “dialogue,” which presumably is what this forum is meant to be. Your piece seems written for the already converted–to reassure those who share your politics and to insult those who, for their own reasons, sympathize with Kersten’s. I can’t imagine your commentary swaying anybody in the center.

  8. Submitted by John Olson on 12/21/2007 - 07:18 am.

    Nicely done!

    One of the things that always troubles me is whether or not columnists such as Ms. Kersten are the same character in real life, or if they adopt an “alter ego” to tweak readers in an attempt to gain readership. Jane Curtin and Dan Ackroyd of SNL’s old “Point-Counterpoint” comes to mind.

    I have no issues with her right to publish her thoughts, and I would be the first to defend her right to do so. Or any columnist, for that matter. Sadly, Ms. Kersten seemingly continues to regurgitate themes that she knows from experience will tweak out a segment of the readership.

    I also suspect that some of this has to do with keeping the ego fed and hoping for a chance to be a “talking head” someday in the broadcasting media. Sadly, the road to fame and fortune in the cases of many wannabe “talking heads” seems to be comprised of a caustic mix of semi-contained bigotry, stereotyping, and pontificating.

    Would a person like Katherine Kersten ever have the courage to open the deepest of parental pain publicly and share them the way that Al Sicherman did on November 8, 1989 with the tragic passing of his son?

    I doubt it very much. And that, my friends, is why I no longer add wear and tear to my computer’s CPU by reading her.

    (PS: If you have never read Al’s column of 11/8/89 in the Strib, please do so.)

  9. Submitted by John Olson on 12/21/2007 - 07:28 am.

    This link contains the Sicherman column and additional commentary referenced in my earlier post.

    All I ask is you go home and hug your child (if you have one).

  10. Submitted by Deborah Morse-Kahn on 12/21/2007 - 08:08 am.

    From the Commentary author:

    An ugly hostility…an ugly hostility. Mr. Kitzman, the 39+ emails I have received here at the home office seem to find only beauty. Some of these letters have been long and deeply moving. I do not recall being so honored with responses to my commentaries since I started writing for the StarTribune op/ed pages a decade ago. This has been a special experience and has clearly struck a nerve out in the community.

    An ugly hostility. Interesting phrase. We need to hold the experience of a sentiment, I believe, in order to believe we perceive it in another. Look in the mirror.

    But I do think what you may mean is that I am telling Ms. Kersten to put her idea of how we all should be believing and living, in brief, where the sun doesn’t shine. Semantics…semantics…


  11. Submitted by Jeff McCallum on 12/21/2007 - 08:24 am.

    Too Great

    God is too great to be confined to one religion.
    One faith, one calling, one vision can not contain the miracles.
    The sun and all its spheres, the stars across the growing galaxies
    Touch only pale as clouded moon to noon day sun upon the myriad mysteries.

    One faith, one calling, one vision can not contain the miracles.
    We catalogue: family, genus, species to unseen atom’s orbiting particles,
    Touch only pale as clouded moon to noon day sun upon the myriad mysteries
    As we strive to name, identify, allay our fears and fantasies.

    We catalogue: family, genus, species to unseen atom’s orbiting particles,
    Explain creation, birth of universe, gods and science meld, collide, divide
    As we strive to name, identify, allay our fears and fantasies,
    Create a universe sans mysteries

    Explain creation, birth of universe, gods and science meld, collide, divide
    Demonstrate its chaos, sheer impossibility to
    Create a universe sans mysteries.
    God is too great to be confined to one religion

  12. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 12/21/2007 - 10:14 am.

    I wonder along with Mr. Olson how much of Kersten’s obtuse pugnaciousness is a literary pose she feels obliged to strike as the Strib’s alleged lone “conservative” op-ed voice. She clearly enjoys being an berzerker in the culture wars, a war I find as inane as it is persistent. I also would not be surprised if she jockeying for future opportunities in talk radio or at least a wider (national?) op-ed audience.

    In the end, pose or no, it does not much matter to me because my criticism of her is necessarily limited to her writing. Whether she in fact believes all of what she writes, or whether she is a “nice” person in real life, is irrelevant. We judge her as a columnist on her writing, not her everyday personality, if such a distinction even exists.

    As to Ms. Morse-Kahn’s allegations of projection–armchair psychoanalysis can be a hoot–I surmise the same ironclad logic and Freudian projection applies to her own commentary: Does not one therefore have to know a small God in order to see others worshiping the same thing? Mirrors are tricky things.

    In any case, bully for you for telling Kersten to put her cramped God where sun shines not. I am pleased to know you have struck a chord with readers and that your feedback has been positive.

    While I agree with the substance of your censure of Kersten’s screeds, I have a rich enough sense of irony to take mild offense at (what I perceive to be) its smug tone. Perhaps we can only agree to disagree on our taste in writing style.

  13. Submitted by Deborah Morse-Kahn on 12/21/2007 - 10:53 am.

    Daniel, I loved this! Thanks for a great letter. =^..^=

  14. Submitted by James Nordgaard on 12/21/2007 - 12:38 pm.

    Reading all these posts I have to conclude that a lot of people who detest Kersten and all she stands for still read her column regularly. In my earlier post I professed ignorance about her, but–assuming she’s the Strib’s solo, ‘token’ conservative columnist–I have to admit I am familiar with her, but only as a columnist I regularly avoid reading, by default.

    Her message is so clear-cut that any intelligent reader can tell immediately who her intended audience is. What I didn’t realize is this appears include a lot of liberals and progressives who apparently love to be angry at Kersten.

    I am sure–or at least hope–everyone here realize this commentary, supposed directly at Kersten, is not about to sway her or any conservative idealog a smidgen, except to reassure her her message is on target and having an impact.

    Kersten’s message is aimed at polarization, through skillful and subtle use of hateful and angry messages. The opposite of this is creating dialog among open minded and thoughtful people of all political (and other types of) persuasions, including open minded conservatives. But you won’t reach the later by a direct and angry attack like this commentary. This only reinforces the polarization. Kersten and ilk (on both sides) should not be detested, merely ignored.

  15. Submitted by Dan Kitzmann on 12/21/2007 - 12:49 pm.


    My pleasure. I hope I did not sound combative. In spot duty I can engage in epistolary pugilism, but it is not my natural prose voice; in any case, I was not writing on this blog with said gloves donned.

    Forced to choose (gun to head and so forth), it should be evident that I “side,” always and forever, with your ideology over Kersten’s. (In reality, I would fail any ideological purity test.) My personality is such, however, that I simply regret the noisome atmosphere where one feels compelled to circle the wagons and to take sides in such a strident fashion. As I said, the culture wars bore me to tears when they do not depress me.

    Of course, I believe in truth and justice, and that some issues do indeed have a right and a wrong side to them and hence need to be contested as such, even if less than graciously at times. Thus, while I was put off by your piece’s tone, at the same time I must admit to a guilty pleasure in seeing somebody have a go at Kersten using her very own confrontational style. Dirty work perhaps, but someone has to do it!

  16. Submitted by Deborah Morse-Kahn on 12/21/2007 - 05:11 pm.

    The many comments posted here, and the 47 emails that have dropped into my home office in box in the last 36 hours, tell me that my writing in distress and anger did indeed promote a discussion and allowed others to express their feelings on all points of view concerning the StarTribune’s columnist, Katherine Kersten. Soon this discussion will pass as new commentaries are posted on MinnPost, as should be.

    Before we come to a stop, I want all readers and comment-writers to know that it is too easy to classify supporters of my letter as ‘liberals.’ I have heard from distressed members of some very non-liberal congregations, including clergy, and from some well-known folks who do not live on my side of the political line as a rule. But we all had something in common: an end to patience with a one-note writer who was being paid by our state’s largest newspaper to harp and harp on her note: Christianity is best, Christianity is right. I said “Enough!” and most who wrote directly or to this forum–from all sides, all faiths, all demographics–agreed with me. Enough. – Deborah

  17. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 12/30/2007 - 07:10 pm.


    Why are you so hateful of conservative Christians? What could be the justification of your anti-Christian rants. I don’t classify the supporters of your position as liberals, I would call them bigots. I guess in your world, it is ok to bash true Christians.

    God bless you Katherine!

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