The Last Temptation

The Last Temptation by Michael Gerson, The Atlantic, May 2018    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-last-temptation/554066/

How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics—really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history—is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump. The president won four-fifths of the votes of white evangelical Christians. This was a higher level of support than either Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, an outspoken evangelical himself, ever received.

Trump’s background and beliefs could hardly be more incompatible with traditional Christian models of life and leadership. Trump’s past political stances (he once supported the right to partial-birth abortion), his character (he has bragged about sexually assaulting women), and even his language (he introduced the words pussy and shithole into presidential discourse) would more naturally lead religious conservatives toward exorcism than alliance. This is a man who has cruelly publicized his infidelities, made disturbing sexual comments about his elder daughter, and boasted about the size of his penis on the debate stage. His lawyer reportedly arranged a $130,000 payment to a porn star to dissuade her from disclosing an alleged affair. Yet religious conservatives who once blanched at PG-13 public standards now yawn at such NC-17 maneuvers. We are a long way from The Book of Virtues.

Trump supporters tend to dismiss moral scruples about his behavior as squeamishness over the president’s “style.” But the problem is the distinctly non-Christian substance of his values. Trump’s unapologetic materialism—his equation of financial and social success with human achievement and worth—is a negation of Christian teaching. His tribalism and hatred for “the other” stand in direct opposition to Jesus’s radical ethic of neighbor love. Trump’s strength-worship and contempt for “losers” smack more of Nietzsche than of Christ. Blessed are the proud. Blessed are the ruthless. Blessed are the shameless. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after fame.

According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.

And yet, a credible case can be made that evangelical votes were a decisive factor in Trump’s improbable victory. Trump himself certainly acts as if he believes they were. Many individuals, causes, and groups that Trump pledged to champion have been swiftly sidelined or sacrificed during Trump’s brief presidency. The administration’s outreach to white evangelicals, however, has been utterly consistent.

Trump-allied religious leaders have found an open door at the White House—what Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, calls “unprecedented access.” In return, they have rallied behind the administration in its times of need. “Clearly, this Russian story is nonsense,” explains the mega-church pastor Paula White-Cain, who is not generally known as a legal or cybersecurity expert. Pastor David Jeremiah has compared Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to Joseph and Mary: “It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians.” According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about

Loyalty to Trump has involved progressively more difficult, self-abasing demands. And there appears to be no limit to what some evangelical leaders will endure. Figures such as Falwell and Franklin Graham followed Trump’s lead in supporting Judge Roy Moore in the December Senate election in Alabama. These are religious leaders who have spent their entire adult lives bemoaning cultural and moral decay. Yet they publicly backed a candidate who was repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct, including with a 14-year-old girl.the current quality of evangelical dreams.

In January, following reports that Trump had referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries,” Pastor Robert Jeffress came quickly to his defense. “Apart from the vocabulary attributed to him,” Jeffress wrote, “President Trump is right on target in his sentiment.” After reports emerged that Trump’s lawyer paid hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels to cover up their alleged sexual encounter, Graham vouched for Trump’s “concern for Christian values.” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, argued that Trump should be given a “mulligan” for his past infidelity. One can only imagine the explosion of outrage if President Barack Obama had been credibly accused of similar offenses.

The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.

As the prominent evangelical pastor Tim Keller—who is not a Trump loyalist—recently wrote in The New Yorker, “ ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with ‘hypocrite.’ ” So it is little wonder that last year the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, an 87-year-old ministry, dropped the “E word” from its name, becoming the Princeton Christian Fellowship: Too many students had identified the term with conservative political ideology. Indeed, a number of serious evangelicals are distancing themselves from the word for similar reasons.

I find this desire understandable but not compelling. Some words, like strategic castles, are worth defending, and evangelical is among them. While the term is notoriously difficult to define, it certainly encompasses a “born-again” religious experience, a commitment to the authority of the Bible, and an emphasis on the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.

I was raised in an evangelical home, went to an evangelical church and high school, and began following Christ as a teen. After attending Georgetown University for a year, I transferred to Wheaton College in Illinois—sometimes called “the Harvard of evangelical Protestantism”—where I studied theology. I worked at an evangelical nonprofit, Prison Fellowship, before becoming a staffer for Senator Dan Coats of Indiana (a fellow Wheaton alum). On Capitol Hill, I found many evangelical partners in trying to define a “compassionate conservatism.” And as a policy adviser and the chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, I saw how evangelical leaders such as Rick and Kay Warren could be principled, tireless advocates in the global fight against aids.

Those experiences make me hesitant to abandon the word evangelical. They also make seeing the defilement of that word all the more painful. The corruption of a political party is regrettable. The corruption of a religious tradition by politics is tragic, shaming those who participate in it.

How did something so important and admirable become so disgraced? For many people, including myself, this question involves both intellectual analysis and personal angst. The answer extends back some 150 years, and involves cultural and political shifts that long pre-date Donald Trump. It is the story of how an influential and culturally confident religious movement became a marginalized and anxious minority seeking political protection under the wing of a man such as Trump, the least traditionally Christian figure—in temperament, behavior, and evident belief—to assume the presidency in living memory.

Understanding that evolution requires understanding the values that once animated American evangelicalism. It is a movement that was damaged in the fall from a great height.

My alma mater, Wheaton College, was founded by abolitionist evangelicals in 1860 under the leadership of Jonathan Blanchard, an emblematic figure in mid-19th-century Northern evangelicalism. Blanchard was part of a generation of radical malcontents produced by the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival that had touched millions of American lives in the first half of the 19th century. He was a Presbyterian minister, a founder of several radical newspapers, and an antislavery agitator.

In the years before the Civil War, a connection between moralism and a concern for social justice was generally assumed among Northern evangelicals. They variously militated for temperance, humane treatment of the mentally disabled, and prison reform. But mainly they militated for the end of slavery. 
Indeed, Wheaton welcomed both African American and female students, and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. In a history of the 39th Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, the infantryman Ezra Cook recalled that “runaway slaves were perfectly safe in the College building, even when no attempt was made to conceal their presence.”

Blanchard had explained his beliefs in an 1839 commencement address given at Oberlin College, titled “A Perfect State of Society.” He preached that “every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human concerns.” Elsewhere he argued that “slave-holding is not a solitary, but a social sin.” He added: “I rest my opposition to slavery upon the one-bloodism of the New Testament. All men are equal, because they are of one equal blood.”

During this period, evangelicalism was largely identical to mainstream Protestantism. Evangelicals varied widely in their denominational beliefs, but they uniformly agreed about the need for a personal decision to accept God’s grace through faith in Christ. The evangelist Charles G. Finney, who was the president of Oberlin College from 1851 to 1866, described his conversion experience thusly: “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love.”

Early evangelicals were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of the Second Coming.

In politics, evangelicals tended to identify New England, and then the whole country, with biblical Israel. Many a sermon described America as a place set apart for divine purposes. “Some nation,” the evangelical minister Lyman Beecher said, “itself free, was needed, to blow the trumpet and hold up the light.” (Beecher’s daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe was among the founders of this magazine.) The burden of this calling was a collective responsibility to remain virtuous, in matters from ending slavery to ending Sabbath-breaking.

This was not advocacy for theocracy, and evangelical leaders were not blind to the risks of too close a relationship with worldly power. “The injudicious association of religion with politics, in the time of Cromwell,” Beecher argued, “brought upon evangelical doctrine and piety, in England, an odium which has not ceased to this day.” Yet few evangelicals would have denied that God’s covenantal relationship with America required a higher standard of private and public morality, lest that divine blessing be forfeited.

Perhaps most important, prior to the Civil War, evangelicals were by and large postmillennialists—that is, they believed that the final millennium of human history would be a time of peace for the world and of expansion for the Christian Church, culminating in the Second Coming of Christ. As such, they were an optimistic lot who thought that human effort could help hasten the arrival of this promised era—a belief that encouraged both social activism and global missionary activity. “Evangelicals generally regarded almost any sort of progress as evidence of the advance of the kingdom,” the historian George Marsden observes in Fundamentalism and American Culture.

In the mid-19th century, evangelicalism was the predominant religious tradition in Americaa faith assured of its social position, confident in its divine calling, welcoming of progress, and hopeful about the future. Fifty years later, it was losing intellectual and social ground on every front. Twenty-five years beyond that, it had become a national joke.

The horrors of the Civil War took a severe toll on the social optimism at the heart of postmillennialism. It was harder to believe in the existence of a religious golden age that included Antietam. At the same time, industrialization and urbanization loosened traditional social bonds and created an impression of moral chaos. The mass immigration of Catholics and Jews changed the face and spiritual self-conception of the country. (In 1850, Catholics made up about 5 percent of the population. By 1906, they represented 17 percent.) Evangelicals struggled to envision a diverse, and some believed degenerate, America as the chosen, godly republic of their imagination.

But it was a series of momentous intellectual developments that most effectively drove a wedge between evangelicalism and elite culture. Higher criticism of the Bible—a scholarly movement out of Germany that picked apart the human sources and development of ancient texts—called into question the roots, accuracy, and historicity of the book that constituted the ultimate source of evangelical authority. At the same time, the theory of evolution advanced a new account of human origin. Advocates of evolution, as well as those who denied it most vigorously, took the theory as an alternative to religious accounts—and in many cases to Christian belief itself.

Religious progressives sought common ground between the Christian faith and the new science and higher criticism. Many combined their faith with the Social Gospel—a postmillennialism drained of the miraculous, with social reform taking the place of the Second Coming.

Religious conservatives, by contrast, rebelled against this strategy of accommodation in a series of firings and heresy trials designed to maintain control of seminaries. (Woodrow Wilson’s uncle James lost his job at Columbia Theological Seminary for accepting evolution as compatible with the Bible.) But these tactics generally backfired, and seminary after seminary, college after college, fell under the influence of modern scientific and cultural assumptions. To contest progressive ideas, the religiously orthodox published a series of books called The Fundamentals. Hence the term fundamentalism, conceived in a spirit of desperate reaction.

Fundamentalism embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to an older evangelicalism. Instead it responded to modernity in ways that cut it off from its own past. In reacting against higher criticism, it became simplistic and overliteral in its reading of scripture. In reacting against evolution, it became anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the Social Gospel, it came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea. This last point constituted what some scholars have called the “Great Reversal,” which took place from about 1900 to 1930. “All progressive social concern,” Marsden writes, “whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

This general pessimism about the direction of society was reflected in a shift away from postmillennialism and toward premillennialism. In this view, the current age is tending not toward progress, but rather toward decadence and chaos under the influence of Satan. A new and better age will not be inaugurated until the Second Coming of Christ, who is the only one capable of cleaning up the mess. No amount of human effort can hasten that day, or ultimately save a doomed world. For this reason, social activism was deemed irrelevant to the most essential task: the work of preparing oneself, and helping others prepare, for final judgment.

The banishment of fundamentalism from the cultural mainstream culminated dramatically in a Tennessee courthouse in 1925. William Jennings Bryan, the most prominent Christian politician of his time, was set against Clarence Darrow and the theory of evolution at the Scopes “monkey trial,” in which a Tennessee educator was tried for teaching the theory in high school. Bryan won the case but not the country. The journalist and critic H. L. Mencken provided the account accepted by history, dismissing Bryan as “a tin pot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards.” Fundamentalists became comic figures, subject to world-class condescension.

It has largely slipped the mind of history that Bryan was a peace activist as secretary of state under Woodrow Wilson and that his politics foreshadowed the New Deal. And Mencken was eventually revealed as a racist, an anti-Semite, and a eugenics advocate. In the fundamentalist–modernist controversy, there was only one winner. “In the course of roughly thirty-five years,” the sociologist James Davison Hunter observes in American Evangelicalism, “Protestantism had moved from a position of cultural dominance to a position of cognitive marginality and political impotence.” Activism and optimism were replaced by the festering resentment of status lost.

The fundamentalists were not passive in their exile. They created a web of institutions—radio stations, religious schools, outreach ministries—that eventually constituted a healthy subculture. The country, meanwhile, was becoming less secular and more welcoming of religious influence. (In 1920, church membership in the United States was 43 percent. By 1960, it was 63 percent.) A number of leaders, including the theologian Carl Henry and the evangelist Billy Graham (the father of Franklin Graham), bridled at fundamentalist irrelevance. Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was influential in urging greater cultural and intellectual engagement. This reemergence found its fullest expression in Graham, who left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism—a term that was deliberately employed as a contrast to the older, narrower fundamentalism.

Fox News and conservative talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations.

Not everyone was impressed. When Graham planned mass evangelistic meetings in New York City in 1957, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr editorialized against his “petty moralizing.” But Niebuhr’s attack on Graham provoked significant backlash, even in liberal theological circles. During a 16-week “crusade” that played to packed houses, Graham was joined one night at Madison Square Garden by none other than Martin Luther King Jr.

Over time, evangelicalism got a revenge of sorts in its historical rivalry with liberal Christianity. Adherents of the latter gradually found better things to do with their Sundays than attend progressive services. In 1972, nearly 28 percent of the population belonged to mainline-Protestant churches. That figure is now well below 15 percent. Over those four decades, however, evangelicals held steady at roughly 25 percent of the public (though this share has recently declined). As its old theological rival faded—or, more accurately, collapsed—evangelical endurance felt a lot like momentum.

With the return of this greater institutional self-confidence, evangelicals might have expected to play a larger role in determining cultural norms and standards. But their hopes ran smack into the sexual revolution, along with other rapid social changes. The Moral Majority appeared at about the same time that the actual majority was more and more comfortable with divorce and couples living together out of wedlock. Evangelicals experienced the power of growing numbers and healthy subcultural institutions even as elite institutions—from universities to courts to Hollywood—were decisively rejecting traditional ideals.

As a result, the primary evangelical political narrative is adversarial, an angry tale about the aggression of evangelicalism’s cultural rivals. In a remarkably free country, many evangelicals view their rights as fragile, their institutions as threatened, and their dignity as assailed. The single largest religious demographic in the United States—representing about half the Republican political coalition—sees itself as a besieged and disrespected minority. In this way, evangelicals have become simultaneously more engaged and more alienated.

The overall political disposition of evangelical politics has remained decidedly conservative, and also decidedly reactive. After shamefully sitting out (or even opposing) the civil-rights movement, white evangelicals became activated on a limited range of issues. They defended Christian schools against regulation during Jimmy Carter’s administration. They fought against Supreme Court decisions that put tight restrictions on school prayer and removed many state limits on abortion. The sociologist Nathan Glazer describes such efforts as a “defensive offensive”—a kind of morally indignant pushback against a modern world that, in evangelicals’ view, had grown hostile and oppressive.

This attitude was happily exploited by the modern GOP. Evangelicals who were alienated by the pro-choice secularism of Democratic presidential nominees were effectively courted to join the Reagan coalition. “I know that you can’t endorse me,” Reagan told an evangelical conference in 1980, “but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you.” In contrast, during his presidential run four years later, Walter Mondale warned of “radical preachers,” and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, denounced the “extremists who control the Republican Party.” By attacking evangelicals, the Democratic Party left them with a relatively easy partisan choice.

Billy Graham (right) left the fundamentalist ghetto, hobnobbed with presidents, and presented to the public a more appealing version of evangelicalism. (Bettmann / Getty)

The leaders who had emerged within evangelicalism varied significantly in tone and approach. Billy Graham was the uncritical priest to the powerful. (His inclination to please was memorialized on one of the Nixon tapes, in comments enabling the president’s anti-Semitism.) James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, was the prickly prophet, constantly threatening to bolt from the Republican coalition unless social-conservative purity was maintained. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Pat Robertson (the latter of whom ran for president himself in 1988) tried to be political kingmakers. And, following his dramatic conversion, Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy, founded Prison Fellowship in an attempt to revive some of the old abolitionist spirit as an advocate of prison reform. Yet much of this variety was blurred in the public mind, with religious right used as a catchall epithet.

Where did this history leave evangelicals’ political involvement?

For a start, modern evangelicalism has an important intellectual piece missing. It lacks a model or ideal of political engagement—an organizing theory of social action. Over the same century from Blanchard to Falwell, Catholics developed a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection. Catholic social thought includes a commitment to solidarity, whereby justice in a society is measured by the treatment of its weakest and most vulnerable members. And it incorporates the principle of subsidiarity—the idea that human needs are best met by small and local institutions (though higher-order institutions have a moral responsibility to intervene when local ones fail).

In practice, this acts as an “if, then” requirement for Catholics, splendidly complicating their politics: If you want to call yourself pro-life on abortion, then you have to oppose the dehumanization of migrants. If you criticize the devaluation of life by euthanasia, then you must criticize the devaluation of life by racism. If you want to be regarded as pro-family, then you have to support access to health care. And vice versa. The doctrinal whole requires a broad, consistent view of justice, which—when it is faithfully applied—cuts across the categories and clichés of American politics. Of course, American Catholics routinely ignore Catholic social thought. But at least they have it. Evangelicals lack a similar tradition of their own to disregard.

So where do evangelicals get their theory of social engagement? It is cheating to say (as most evangelicals probably would) “the Bible.” The Christian Bible, after all, can be a vexing document: At various points, it offers approving accounts of genocide and recommends the stoning of insubordinate children. Some interpretive theory must elevate the Golden Rule above Iron Age ethics and apply that higher ideal to the tragic compromises of public life. Lacking an equivalent to Catholic social thought, many evangelicals seem to find their theory merely by following the contours of the political movement that is currently defending, and exploiting, them. The voter guides of religious conservatives have often been suspiciously similar to the political priorities of movement conservatism. Fox News and talk radio are vastly greater influences on evangelicals’ political identity than formal statements by religious denominations or from the National Association of Evangelicals. In this Christian political movement, Christian theology is emphatically not the primary motivating factor.

The evangelical political agenda, moreover, has been narrowed by its supremely reactive nature. Rather than choosing their own agendas, evangelicals have been pulled into a series of social and political debates started by others. Why the asinine issue of spiritually barren prayer in public schools? Because of Justice Hugo Black’s 1962 opinion rendering it unconstitutional. Why such an effort-wasting emphasis on a constitutional amendment to end abortion, which will never pass? Because in 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun located the right to abortion in the constitutional penumbra. Why the current emphasis on religious liberty? Because the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage has raised fears of coercion.

It is not that secularization, abortion, and religious liberty are trivial issues; they are extremely important. But the timing and emphasis of evangelical responses have contributed to a broad sense that evangelical political engagement is negative, censorious, and oppositional. This funneled focus has also created the damaging impression that Christians are obsessed with sex. Much of the secular public hears from Christians only on issues of sexuality—from contraceptive mandates to gay rights to transgender bathroom usage. And while religious people do believe that sexual ethics are important, the nature of contemporary religious engagement creates a misimpression about just how important they are relative to other crucial issues.

The upside potential of evangelical social engagement was illustrated by an important, but largely overlooked, initiative that I witnessed while working at the White House. The President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar)—the largest initiative by a nation in history to fight a single disease—emerged in part from a sense of moral obligation informed by George W. Bush’s evangelical faith. In explaining and defending the program, Bush made constant reference to Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” pepfar also owes its existence to a strange-bedfellows political alliance of liberal global-health advocates and evangelical leaders, who had particular standing and sway with Republican members of Congress. Rather than being a response to secular aggression, this form of evangelical social engagement was the reaction to a massive humanitarian need and displayed a this-worldly emphasis on social justice that helped save millions of lives.

This achievement is now given little attention by secular liberals or religious conservatives. In the Trump era, evangelical leaders have seldom brought this type of issue to the policy front burner—though some have tried with criminal-justice reform and the fight against modern slavery. Individual Christians and evangelical ministries fight preventable disease, resettle refugees, treat addiction, run homeless shelters, and care for foster children. But such concerns find limited collective political expression.

Part of the reason such matters are not higher on the evangelical agenda is surely the relative ethnic and racial insularity of many white evangelicals. Plenty of African Americans hold evangelical theological views, of course, along with a growing number of Latinos. Yet evangelical churches, like other churches and houses of worship, tend to be segregated on Sunday. Nearly all denominations with large numbers of evangelicals are less racially diverse than the country overall.

Compare this with the Catholic Church, which is more than one-third Hispanic. This has naturally stretched the priorities of Catholicism to include the needs and rights of recent immigrants. In many evangelical communities, those needs remain distant and theoretical (though successful evangelical churches in urban areas are now experiencing the same diversity and broadening of social concern). Or consider the contrasting voting behaviors of white and African American evangelicals in last year’s Senate race in Alabama. According to exit polls, 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Roy Moore, while 95 percent of black evangelicals supported his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. The two groups inhabit two entirely different political worlds.

Evangelicals also have a consistent problem with their public voice, which can be off-puttingly apocalyptic. “We are on the verge of losing” America, proclaims the evangelical writer and radio host Eric Metaxas, “as we could have lost it in the Civil War.” Franklin Graham declares, a little too vividly, that the country “has taken a nosedive off of the moral diving board into the cesspool of humanity.” Such hyperbole may be only a rhetorical strategy, employing the apocalypse for emphasis. But the attribution of depravity and decline to America also reflects a consistent and (so far) disappointed belief that the Second Coming may be just around history’s corner.

The difficulty with this approach to public life—other than its insanely pessimistic depiction of our flawed but wonderful country—is that it trivializes and undercuts the entire political enterprise. Politics in a democracy is essentially anti-apocalyptic, premised on the idea that an active citizenry is capable of improving the nation. But if we’re already mere minutes from the midnight hour, then what is the point? The normal avenues of political reform are useless. No amount of negotiation or compromise is going to matter much compared with the Second Coming.

Moreover, in making their case on cultural decay and decline, evangelicals have, in some highly visible cases, chosen the wrong nightmares. Most notable, they made a crucial error in picking evolution as a main point of contention with modernity. “The contest between evolution and Christianity is a duel to the death,” William Jennings Bryan argued. “If evolution wins … Christianity goesnot suddenly, of course, but gradually, for the two cannot stand together.” Many people of his background believed this. But their resistance was futile, for one incontrovertible reason: Evolution is a fact. It is objectively true based on overwhelming evidence. By denying this, evangelicals made their entire view of reality suspect. They were insisting, in effect, that the Christian faith requires a flight from reason.

This was foolish and unnecessary. There is no meaningful theological difference between creation by divine intervention and creation by natural selection; both are consistent with belief in a purposeful universe, and with serious interpretation of biblical texts. Evangelicals have placed an entirely superfluous stumbling block before their neighbors and children, encouraging every young person who loves science to reject Christianity.

Evangelicals remain the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. They are broadly eager to act as his shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

What if Bryan and others of his generation had chosen to object to eugenics rather than evolution, to social Darwinism rather than Darwinism? The textbook at issue in the Scopes case, after all, was titled A Civic Biology, and it urged sterilization for the mentally impaired. “Epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness,” the text read, “are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity.” What if this had been the focus of Bryan’s objection? Mencken doubtless would still have mocked. But the moral and theological priorities of evangelical Christianity would have turned out differently. And evangelical fears would have been eventually justified by America’s shameful history of eugenics, and by the more rigorous application of the practice abroad. Instead, Bryan chose evolution—and in the end, the cause of human dignity was not served by the obscuring of human origins.

The consequences, especially for younger generations, are considerable. According to a recent survey by Barna, a Christian research firm, more than half of churchgoing Christian teens believe that “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” This may be one reason that, in America, the youngest age cohorts are the least religiously affiliated, which will change the nation’s baseline of religiosity over time. More than a third of Millennials say they are unaffiliated with any faith, up 10 points since 2007. Count this as an ironic achievement of religious conservatives: an overall decline in identification with religion itself.

By the turn of the millennium, many, including myself, were convinced that religious conservatism was fading as a political force. Its outsize leaders were aging and passing. Its institutions seemed to be declining in profile and influence. Bush’s 2000 campaign attempted to appeal to religious voters on a new basis. “Compassionate conservatism” was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought—an attempt to serve the poor, homeless, and addicted by catalyzing the work of private and religious nonprofits. The effort was sincere but eventually undermined by congressional-Republican resistance and eclipsed by global crisis. Still, I believed that the old evangelical model of social engagement was exhausted, and that something more positive and principled was in the offing.

I was wrong. In fact, evangelicals would prove highly vulnerable to a message of resentful, declinist populism. Donald Trump could almost have been echoing the apocalyptic warnings of Metaxas and Graham when he declared, “Our country’s going to hell.” Or: “We haven’t seen anything like this, the carnage all over the world.” Given Trump’s general level of religious knowledge, he likely had no idea that he was adapting premillennialism to populism. But when the candidate talked of an America in decline and headed toward destruction, which could be returned to greatness only by recovering the certainties of the past, he was strumming resonant chords of evangelical conviction.

Trump consistently depicts evangelicals as they depict themselves: a mistreated minority, in need of a defender who plays by worldly rules. Christianity is “under siege,” Trump told a Liberty University audience. “Relish the opportunity to be an outsider,” he added at a later date: “Embrace the label.” Protecting Christianity, Trump essentially argues, is a job for a bully.

It is true that insofar as Christian hospitals or colleges have their religious liberty threatened by hostile litigation or government agencies, they have every right to defend their institutional identities—to advocate for a principled pluralism. But this is different from evangelicals regarding themselves, hysterically and with self-pity, as an oppressed minority that requires a strongman to rescue it. This is how Trump has invited evangelicals to view themselves. He has treated evangelicalism as an interest group in need of protection and preferences.

A prominent company of evangelical leaders—including Dobson, Falwell, Graham, Jeffress, Metaxas, Perkins, and Ralph Reed—has embraced this self-conception. Their justification is often bluntly utilitarian: All of Trump’s flaws are worth his conservative judicial appointments and more-favorable treatment of Christians by the government. But they have gone much further than grudging, prudential calculation. They have basked in access to power and provided character references in the midst of scandal. Graham castigated the critics of Trump’s response to the violence during a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (“Shame on the politicians who are trying to push blame on @POTUS”). Dobson has pronounced Trump a “baby Christian”—a political use of grace that borders on blasphemy. “Complaining about the temperament of the @POTUS or saying his behavior is not presidential is no longer relevant,” Falwell tweeted. “[Donald Trump] has single-handedly changed the definition of what behavior is ‘presidential’ from phony, failed & rehearsed to authentic, successful & down to earth.”

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms. It has coarsened our culture, given permission for bullying, complicated the moral formation of children, undermined standards of public integrity, and encouraged cynicism about the political enterprise. Falwell, Graham, and others are providing religious cover for moral squalor—winking at trashy behavior and encouraging the unraveling of social restraints. Instead of defending their convictions, they are providing preemptive absolution for their political favorites. And this, even by purely political standards, undermines the causes they embrace. Turning a blind eye to the exploitation of women certainly doesn’t help in making pro-life arguments. It materially undermines the movement, which must ultimately change not only the composition of the courts but the views of the public. Having given politics pride of place, these evangelical leaders have ceased to be moral leaders in any meaningful sense.

Every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States.

But setting matters of decency aside, evangelicals are risking their faith’s reputation on matters of race. Trump has, after all, attributed Kenyan citizenship to Obama, stereotyped Mexican migrants as murderers and rapists, claimed unfair treatment in federal court based on a judge’s Mexican heritage, attempted an unconstitutional Muslim ban, equivocated on the Charlottesville protests, claimed (according to The New York Times) that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America, and dismissed Haitian and African immigrants as undesirable compared with Norwegians.

For some of Trump’s political allies, racist language and arguments are part of his appeal. For evangelical leaders, they should be sources of anguish. Given America’s history of slavery and segregation, racial prejudice is a special category of moral wrong. Fighting racism galvanized the religious conscience of 19th-century evangelicals and 20th-century African American civil-rights activists. Perpetuating racism indicted many white Christians in the South and elsewhere as hypocrites. Americans who are wrong on this issue do not understand the nature of their country. Christians who are wrong on this issue do not understand the most-basic requirements of their faith.

Here is the uncomfortable reality: I do not believe that most evangelicals are racist. But every strong Trump supporter has decided that racism is not a moral disqualification in the president of the United States. And that is something more than a political compromise. It is a revelation of moral priorities.

If utilitarian calculations are to be applied, they need to be fully applied. For a package of political benefits, these evangelical leaders have associated the Christian faith with racism and nativism. They have associated the Christian faith with misogyny and the mocking of the disabled. They have associated the Christian faith with lawlessness, corruption, and routine deception. They have associated the Christian faith with moral confusion about the surpassing evils of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The world is full of tragic choices and compromises. But for this man? For this cause?

Some evangelical leaders, it is worth affirming, are providing alternative models of social engagement. Consider Tim Keller, who is perhaps the most influential advocate of a more politically and demographically diverse evangelicalism. Or Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, who demonstrates how moral conservatism can be both principled and inclusive. Or Gary Haugen, the founder of the International Justice Mission, who is one of the world’s leading activists against modern slavery. Or Bishop Claude Alexander of the Park Church in North Carolina, who has been a strong voice for reconciliation and mercy. Or Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who shows the deep compatibility of authentic faith and authentic science. Or the influential Bible teacher Beth Moore, who has warned of the damage done “when we sell our souls to buy our wins.” Or the writer Peter Wehner, who has ceased to describe himself as an evangelical even as he exemplifies the very best of the word.

Evangelicalism is hardly a monolithic movement. All of the above leaders would attest that a significant generational shift is occurring: Younger evangelicals are less prone to political divisiveness and bitterness and more concerned with social justice. (In a poll last summer, nearly half of white evangelicals born since 1964 expressed support for gay marriage.) Evangelicals remain essential to political coalitions advocating prison reform and supporting American global-health initiatives, particularly on aids and malaria. They do good work in the world through relief organizations such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse (an admirable relief organization of which Franklin Graham is the president and CEO). They perform countless acts of love and compassion that make local communities more just and generous.

All of this is arguably a strong foundation for evangelical recovery. But it would be a mistake to regard the problem as limited to a few irresponsible leaders. Those leaders represent a clear majority of the movement, which remains the most loyal element of the Trump coalition. Evangelicals are broadly eager to act as Trump’s shield and sword. They are his army of enablers.

It is the strangest story: how so many evangelicals lost their interest in decency, and how a religious tradition called by grace became defined by resentment. This is bad for America, because religion, properly viewed and applied, is essential to the country’s public life. The old “one-bloodism” of Christian anthropology—the belief in the intrinsic and equal value of all human lives—has driven centuries of compassionate service and social reform. Religion can be the carrier of conscience. It can motivate sacrifice for the common good. It can reinforce the nobility of the political enterprise. It can combat dehumanization and elevate the goals and ideals of public life.

Democracy is not merely a set of procedures. It has a moral structure. The values we celebrate or stigmatize eventually influence the character of our people and polity. Democracy does not insist on perfect virtue from its leaders. But there is a set of values that lends authority to power: empathy, honesty, integrity, and self-restraint. And the legitimation of cruelty, prejudice, falsehood, and corruption is the kind of thing, one would think, that religious people were born to oppose, not bless. This disfigurement of evangelical faith squanders the reputation of something valuable: not just the vision of human dignity that captured Blanchard, but also Finney’s electric waves of grace. At its best, faith is the overflow of gratitude, the attempt to live as if we are loved, the fragile hope for something better on the other side of pain and death. And this feather of grace weighs more in the balance than any political gain.

It is difficult to see something you so deeply value discredited so comprehensively. Evangelical faith has shaped my life, as it has the lives of millions. Evangelical history has provided me with models of conscience. Evangelical institutions have given me gifts of learning and purpose. Evangelical friends have shared my joys and sorrows. And now the very word is brought into needless disrepute.

This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way. And this sets an urgent task for evangelicals: to rescue their faith from its worst leaders.

Right wing ideas and actions 2016

There’s a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Afoot, Fueled by Dark Money, By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout | Book Review, April 3, 2016

Today’s GOP Might Be Most Dangerous Organization in Human History | by Noam Chomsky, by THE INTELLECTUALIST May 17, 2016

It’s so much worse than Trump: The history of the modern GOP is a history of racism, bigotry and dog whistles By Phillip Cryan, salon.com,  Apr 5, 2016 The party of Lincoln? Sure, in 1858. Today’s GOP wants to pretend Trump is an outlier. They should look in a mirror

 

 

Right wing’s unholy alliance/vast right wing conspiracy

most recent update: 2/3/18

In Leaked Tape Mitch McConnell Admits The Koch Brothers Are Running The Republican Party By Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA, August, 27, 2014

Neocon ‘Chaos Promotion’ in the Mideast By Ray McGovern, Common Dreams, April 14, 2015 …shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 about the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz-led plan for “regime change” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran…Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries…Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon “crazies” still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington… Wolfowitz… is now presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s foreign policy/defense adviser,

As It Turns Out, There Still Is a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy – The Many Friends of ALEC By Ellen Dannin, Truthout  Op-Ed, 12 December 2013

How the GOP Bought, Rigged, Stole and Lynched the 2014 Election by BOB FITRAKIS AND HARVEY WASSERMAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT, November 12, 2014 excerpt: Since the Bush-Cheney-Rove theft of the 2000 election in Florida, the right of millions of American citizens to vote and have that vote counted has been under constant assault. In 2014, that systematic disenfranchisement may well have delivered the US Senate to the Republican Party. If nothing significant is done about it by 2016, we can expect the GOP to take the White House and much more. The primary victims of this GOP-led purge have been young, elderly, poor and citizens of color who tend to vote Democratic. The denial of their votes has changed the face of our government, and is deepening corporate control of our lives and planet.

Army of Rightwing Groups Plan Assault on State Laws in 2014 by Jon Queally, staff writer, CommonDreams, December 5, 2013  Internal documents show how state-level affiliates serve national interests of corporations and wealthy, conservative ideologues.

The Five Strands of Conservatism: Why the GOP is Unraveling by Drew Westen, HuffingtonPost.com, April 16, 2009

Why Karl Rove Uses Dirty Tricks: They Work By Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, May 2014… He hinted it, thus giving himself deniability while ensuring that the slur lingers in the public mind. Which is what he’s been doing his entire career…Why does Rove allegedly smear his opponents this way? Because it works… he’s now planted questions…that will lurk in journalists’ minds as they do that reporting… Once you kindle public suspicion about your opponent, it’s easy to keep throwing logs on the fire…

The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy By The Daily Take Team, The Thom Hartmann Program, June 5, 2014 The “vast right-wing conspiracy” machine is alive and well in America today…ever since President Obama was first elected president back in 2007, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” machine that Hillary Clinton first pointed out way back in 1998, has been churning out conspiracy after conspiracy, no matter how bizarre or outlandish they may be, all intended to take down President Obama. The folks over at Mother Jones have compiled an amazing list of just about every conspiracy about President Obama that’s ever hit the Internet…When it comes to all of these conspiracy theories that have been floated around over the past six years, what we really need to be asking ourselves is, “Who benefits from these outlandish and absurd beliefs? Where is the money behind these ideas coming from?” The answer, of course, is that it’s coming from the billionaires and economic royalists who are in control of our country. By floating around anti-Obama conspiracy theories, and by using Republicans in Washington to do their dirty work, America’s billionaires and economic royalists know that they’re weakening and disempowering the Democratic Party. And while a weak and disempowered Democratic Party is bad news for you and me, it’s great news for the billionaires and economic royalists. It means they can stay in power a lot easier…

Bible barons: How the GOP uses religion to keep voters captive to corporate ideology by CJ Werleman, Salon.com, Mar 4, 2014

Conquering by Stealth and Deception — How the Dominionists Are Succeeding in Their Quest for National Control and World Power by Katherine Yurica, September 14, 2004

Meet the Elite Business and Think-Tank Community That’s Doing Its Best to Control the World By Andrew Gavin Marshall, Andrewgavinmarshall.com, Alternet.org June 19, 2013  The large foundations of America’s industrial giants have played a truly profound – and largely overlooked – role in the shaping of modern society….The corporate-policy network is highly centralized, at both the level of individuals and that of organizations. Its inner circle is a tightly interwoven ensemble of politically active business leaders… William K. Carroll and Jean Philippe Sapinski 

How a Shadowy Network of Corporate Front Groups Distorts the Marketplace of Ideas, BillMoyers.com

The Oligarchy Doesn’t Care About Democracy, Just Rigged Markets By Mark Karlin, Truthout, April 7, 2014

How Sleazy Christian Con Artists Took Over the GOP Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 23, 2013  Conservative politicians are exploiting their voters the same way Christian fundamentalist charlatans exploit the true believers.

Conservative Christianity’s Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet, July 10, 2012

The Radical Right Roadmap – Paul Weyrich and his disciple, Eric Heubeck, Voter Legislative Transparency Project, Oct 14, 2012

The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement was an American conservative political activism call to action published in 2001 by the Free Congress Foundation. It was written by Eric Heubeck with guidance from Free Congress Foundation founder Paul Weyrich. It urges conservatives to reassess their position in American society and to consolidate their position by focusing on building conservative institutions with the goal of “taking over political structures.” …the essay describes as “hopeless and self-delusional” the political activism efforts of conservatives to “compensate for their weakness in the non-political sectors of society.” Instead it called for fostering an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of conservatism in American society which would in turn convince the American people that conservatives can be trusted to take over political structures: “to do that we must win the people over culturally — by defining how man ought to act, how he ought to perceive the world around him, and what it means to live the good life. Political arrangements can only be formed after these fundamental questions have been answered.” Weyrich’s 1999 A moral minority? An open letter to conservatives from Paul Weyrich is cited for its call for “a tactical retreat from political battle” for conservatives to regroup and reorganize. Again citing Weyrich, it suggests that “a network of parallel cultural institutions” be developed, “existing side-by-side with the dominant leftist cultural institutions” and that the these institutions will supersede “the existing … conservative movement … because it will pursue a very different strategy and be premised on a very different view of its role in society.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Integration_of_Theory_and_Practice

How the Religious Right Is Fueling Climate Change DenialThe Guardian By Katherine Stewart posted on Alternet, November 5, 2012   Radical religious activists promote anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolutionwhy do so many people in America refuse to take climate science seriously?… how is it possible for anyone to think that thousands of scientists around the world are engaged in an elaborate hoax? Climate science denial needs disinformation to survive, but it has its feet firmly planted in a part of American culture. That culture draws on lots of different sources. But if you want to understand it, you need to understand something about America’s religious landscape. Take a look at some of the most recent initiatives in the climate science denial wars… the ultimate purpose is to produce a young generation of “skeptics” whose views on climate science will happily coincide with those of the fossil fuel industry. Who is behind these programs of de-education? The group writing much of the legislation is the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a “nonpartisan” consortium of state legislators and business interests that gets plenty of money from the usual suspects. But the legislation has also received vital support from groups associated with the religious right.…What does religion have to do with climate science? Radical religious activists promote the anti-science bills, in part, because they also seek to undermine the teaching of evolution – another issue that supposedly has “two sides”, so schools should “teach the controversy”.…It also tells us – on the firm foundation of Holy Scriptures – that policies intended to slow the pace of climate change represent a “dangerous expansion of government control over private life”. It also alerts us that the environmental movement is “un-Biblical” – indeed, a new and false religion…Now, this isn’t the theology of every religion in America, or of every strain of Christianity; not by a long stretch. Most Christians accept climate science and believe in protecting the environment, and many of them do so for religious as well as scientific reasons. But theirs is not the theology that holds sway in the upper reaches of the Republican party,…Why does this theology of science denial have such power? For one thing, it gives its adherents something to throw back in the face of all those obnoxious “elites”, which they think are telling them what to do with their lives. There’s no need to master the facts if all you need is to learn a few words of scripture.…  to disguise the extraordinary selfishness of his position in a cloak of sanctimony.There is a choice. And even if you don’t think it matters, your grandkids will.

How the Unholy Alliance Between the Christian Right and Wall Street Is ‘Crucifying America’ By CJ Werleman, Dangerous Little Books, published by Alternet.org, November 8, 2013  Atheist groups, associations, and networks have literally sprung up in every town and city in America…The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over zealousness of the Christian Right…atheists are the fastest growing minority in the U.S. today. More significantly, we make for being one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country, at least potentially. We now have the required critical mass to shape elections, laws, and leaders…We [free thinkers] are winning the cultural war, but the Christian Right is winning in the race to control the levers of power…atheists are wasting far too much intellectual and emotional energy on battles that lack real political gain or consequence…While we are busy playing the role of the nation’s police force for political correctness, they are gerrymandering voting districts to ensure they regain and maintain control of the levers of congressional and gubernatorial power…Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans favor liberal policies, but our courts and legislatures are increasingly becoming controlled and driven by the Christian Right…on January 21, 2010… the Supreme Court … ruled that money equals free speech, and corporations equal people. That was the moment that whatever chance we had of righting the wrongs that have led to growing social inequalities in this country was lost. That was the moment that all but guarantees a continuation of the shrinking of the middle class. That was the moment that presented billionaires and the wealthiest corporations an opportunity to partner with the Christian Right, so that a new era of pro-business and anti-government policies could be enacted in this country.

 

Paul Crouch, Architect of Prosperity Gospel Televangelism, Dead at 79

by Sarah Posner, ReligionDispatches.com, December 1, 2013

Paul Crouch, the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network and an architect of global prosperity gospel televangelism, died yesterday at the age of 79.

Crouch built the network from one station in the 1970s to a global empire featuring a 24-hour menu of health and wealth gospel, preying on the gullible to turn their money over to televangelists to receive God’s blessing.

The network has purchased property all over the world to spread its message to Christians and non-Christians alike. Last year, when the network acquired studio space in Jerusalem, Crouch said on his Behind the Scenes program, “the harvest is coming in so fast. People, the messianic congregations are growing like you can’t believe.” Crouch maintained the purchase was of a “prophetic” significance, claiming that it would reach both the Jewish and Arab residents of the city.

Crouch’s son Matthew, speaking from a Jersualem balcony with his father, added, “what is the message of the Gospel, if it isn’t for the Jew first?”

Best known for his controversially extravagant spending, with his wife and business partner Jan, Paul Crouch survived many a media exposé. He and his wife built their network, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, using tax-exempt donor funds, frequently, former insiders have charged, for their own enrichment.

In 2004, the conservative Christian financial watchdog Ministry Watch issued a scathing report on the network, charging that its “huge cash stockpile” should be spent on charitable works, rather than on the Crouches’ personal luxuries. That same year, the Los Angeles Times ran a damning three-part exposé of the family’s mansions, luxury cars, and private airplane. But perhaps the most damaging revelation was the claim by Crouch’s former chauffeur, Lonnie Ford, that Crouch had paid him $425,000 in hush money to keep silent, Ford claimed, about how he was forced to have sex with Crouch to keep his job. On the air, Crouch called the story a “pack of lies right out of the pit of hell.” Other prosperity televangelists closed ranks around Crouch; the enemy, after all, was the secular media.

More recently, in 2012, Brittany Koper, the Crouches’ granddaughter and daughter of their son Paul, Jr., sued the network. She described to the New York Times “company-paid luxuries that she said appeared to violate the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on ‘excess compensation’ by nonprofit organizations as well as possibly state and federal laws on false bookkeeping and self-dealing.” The luxuries included a “former Conway Twitty estate in Tennessee, corporate jets valued at $8 million and $49 million each and thousand-dollar dinners with fine wines, paid with tax-exempt money.” The network has repeatedly denied Koper’s allegations, and has claimed it was Koper who stole money from the network.

Koper’s sister, Carra Crouch, also sued the network, claiming her family covered up her rape by a TBN employee when she was 13 years old.

The Orange County Register reported last year that Koper’s husband, Michael, filed documents in her lawsuit alleging that Jan and her son Matthew were celebrating that the elder Crouch—thought then to be on his deathbed—had signed a letter leaving them, not Paul Jr., in charge of the network.

The Register, which closely follows the lawsuit against the network based in Santa Ana, also reported that Paul and Matthew Crouch suggested that God might punish TBN’s adversaries with death. “God help anyone who would try to get in the way of TBN, which was God’s plan,” Crouch said. “I have attended the funeral of at least two people who tried.”

Frequently overlooked amid the Crouches’ family feuds, financial and sexual scandals, prosperity preaching, faith healing claims, revelation, prophecy, and apocalyptic outlook was the role Crouch played in the development of Republican evangelical outreach in presidential campaigns. The Times obituary today notes that Crouch interviewed Rick Santorum last year; that’s a tradition, though, that dates back to the George H.W. Bush era, when Bush’s evangelical outreach guru Doug Wead brokered an interview for the Yankee Episcopalian to reach TBN’s audience.

Wead, who developed an extensive list of influential evangelicals with whom he wanted 1988 Bush presidential primary campaign to connect, had first-hand knowledge of the Crouches’ world. Yet he recognized the potential downside of Bush being seen with Crouch, whom he described as an “exaggeration of the most bizarre manifestation of the peculiar evangelical subculture.” He advised the vice-president not to appear for a televised interview with Crouch. But he staged such an interview himself, using the tagline “correspondent Doug Wead,” coaxing Bush to exhibit his faith in Jesus Christ for the TBN audience.

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, Wead helped push for Crouch’s support without Bush appearing on the network. John McCain, however, had no such luck: he submitted to a 2007 interview with Crouch’s son, Paul, Jr.

To outsiders, the Crouches are comical, Elmer Gantry-esque caricatures of themselves, he with his prophecies and flamboyant fawning over the televangelists he helped turn into stars, she with her pink hair piled high on her head, garish make-up, high-pitched voice, and gaudy clothes. But as Wead recognized, they have an audience (one worth cultivating for votes, at least), in a subculture not only unfamiliar but probably outright incredible to many Americans.

When I was writing my book, I attended one of those notorious TBN “Praise-A-Thons” at the network’s suburban Atlanta studio. (For more on what happened that night, see this post on prosperity gospel and foreclosure.) The studio audience is nothing more than a prop. While the audience is asked to deliver money to an altar ready-made for the cameras, the real money comes pouring in from those at home.

The people in the studio audience, some bussed there in church vans, are true believers. They were willing to stay in their seats during crucial camera pans so television viewers could feel the anointing, too. They spoke in tongues and were slain in the spirit, but not too much if it wouldn’t play well on TV. The sad genius of it all was the orchestration to make the audience feel like a crucial part of something huge, something God wanted, something that God was going to bless many times over with miraculous riches and good health.

Jan Crouch was there, without Paul. The audience heard of her healing from colon cancer, “no radiation, no chemo, just Jesus!” she exclaimed.

After the healing story, Jan Crouch really got down to business. “The gift of the anointing for prosperity is flowing on this Praise-a-thon,” she said. The Praise-a-thon (which raises millions for the network that even conservative Christian critics charge lacks transparency and accountability) “is not about TBN,” said Crouch. “It’s about you.”

Paul Crouch managed to survive scandal after scandal, even those that tore apart his own family. For his supporters, he was a prophet, or at least a lucrative patron and ally. For anyone shocked by the excesses and abuses of prosperity preaching and exploitation of tax-exempt status, though, Crouch was a heretic and a charlatan. For both, his imprint will long survive him: he leaves not only a legacy of scandal, but a legacy of forever altering the landscape of American and global Christianity.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/sarahposner/7422/paul_crouch__architect_of_prosperity_gospel_televangelism__dead_at_79

Conservative donors eye independent groups with new skepticism

By Matea Gold, Published: June 22, 2013

Charlie Spies knows how to raise money. The Republican lawyer helped rake in $153 million for Restore Our Future, the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC.

But he’s had a harder slog with one of his latest projects, Republicans for Immigration Reform, a super PAC that aims to be a dominant force in the fight over revamping the country’s immigration laws. So far, the organization has made just a tiny ad buy in South Carolina and financed a poll with two other advocacy groups.

“It has been a challenge to get donors on the Republican side to reengage,” Spies said.

Seven months after the 2012 election, a lingering hangover among conservative donors has stalled efforts by right-leaning independent groups to fill their coffers. Wealthy contributors who dashed off six- and seven-figure checks last year are eyeing super PACs and other politically active groups more skeptically, frustrated that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to elect Romney went for naught.

“There’s donor fatigue,” said Fred Malek, a veteran GOP operative wired into high-net-worth circles. “Everyone was in a frenzy of giving up until the November elections, and then everyone was sort of worn out on the whole process. It’s very hard to raise money after an election, especially after you lose.”

Several Republican fundraisers said they remain optimistic that the money spigot will reopen as the 2014 congressional elections approach. But this time around, donors are seeking to be more judicious about where they put their money, asking groups for detailed strategy and spending plans.

“At the moment, I’m kind of in a waiting and watching mode,” said Howard Leach, an ambassador to France under President George W. Bush. In 2012, Leach gave $100,000 each to Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, the conservative super PAC co-founded by former Bush political strategist Karl Rove.

Post-election donor apathy is not limited to the political right. Organizing for Action, a nonprofit group launched by former advisers to President Obama to back his agenda, has halved a $50 million fundraising goal for its first year after slower-than-expected fundraising, according to people familiar with the group’s plans. The decision came after the group reversed course and said it would not accept corporate funds.

But the pressure to bring in big checks is greater for pro-Republican groups, which have not been able to match the extensive small-donor network that was built by Obama’s campaign and that OFA is now drawing on.

There are signs that donor reticence stems in part from dissatisfaction with the uneven track record of super PACs, which report their funding sources, and opaque nonprofit groups, which do not disclose their donors. Both types can raise unlimited funds.

One well-connected Republican donor and fundraiser, who has held off writing big checks to outside groups since the election, said he is among a group of top contributors now questioning the value of financing such organizations, which operate independently of candidates and party leaders.

“I do find it a little worrisome, frankly, that there’s so much more money and so few people behind it,” said the contributor, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about his misgivings. “I am concerned that all that money didn’t seem to bring results.”

Frank VanderSloot, chief executive of an Idaho nutritional-supplement company who gave abundantly to Romney and groups backing him, said he has concluded that it is not effective to finance tax-exempt advocacy groups that can only spend a limited amount on politics.

“If you can’t say what candidate you’re for, it’s hard,” said VanderSloot, who said he gave “several million” in all to various groups, including $1.1 million to Restore Our Future.

From now on, he said, he is sticking with super PACs, which have more latitude to directly engage in elections: “That’s where my money is going.”

Major conservative groups such as Crossroads have stayed out of Tuesday’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, leaving Republican Gabriel Gomez outmatched against the resources of Democrat Edward J. Markey and his allies.

Conservative donors said they have not softened in their opposition to Obama or stopped trying to stymie his presidency. If anything, recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s data gathering and the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of conservative groups have intensified those sentiments, they said.

Having failed to deny Obama a second term, some contributors said they plan to work on flipping the Senate to Republican control in 2014 in order to block the president legislatively. Obama is “taking this country down the tubes,” said Andrew Sabin, owner of a New York-based precious-metal refining business, who gave $100,000 to American Crossroads in the last election cycle. “I’m extremely motivated.”

One fundraiser for a top conservative group, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations with donors, said contributors understand that the midterms will be important. “I think they just have to understand how the money is being spent,” the fundraiser said.

New conservative outfits are finding that they have to work much harder to win over donors, some of whom now hire lawyers to conduct due-diligence inquiries about the organizations soliciting their support.

“We’ve learned to ask people: ‘What is your message? Where are you going to spend the money, and how?’” said VanderSloot, who said that he also requests information about how much of a group’s budget goes to paying people running the organization. “In some cases, you may want to get that answer in writing.”

The intense scrutiny “is winnowing the field of consultants who are able to raise significant funds,” said Robert Kelner, a Washington campaign finance lawyer who heads the political law practice at Covington & Burling.

“You’re seeing more impressive business plans, on better paper with fancier graphics,” Kelner added, referring to the efforts of political groups. “They look more like the kind of proposals someone would submit to a private equity fund.”

In their pitches, many organizations are pledging to diversify their approaches and not rely as heavily on expensive television advertising as they did in the last election, when the airwaves were crowded with discordant messages. The new emphasis is on digital campaigns and get-out-the-vote organizing — strategies that some groups expect to test this year in Virginia’s governor’s race and New Jersey’s U.S. Senate contest.

The desire of donors to see specific political plans has slowed the efforts of Republican groups seeking to promote their preferred versions of immigration reform, strategists said. The Senate is on track to approve a bipartisan compromise by the end of next week, but prospects in the House are less certain.

It remains to be seen whether any groups on the right will provide significant air cover for lawmakers who support the legislation.

So far, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit sister of American Crossroads, has spent less than $100,000 to run a newspaper and online ad calling for comprehensive immigration reform. A spokesman declined to comment on whether the organization’s modest efforts so far were due to fundraising challenges.

One of the biggest players was expected to be Republicans for Immigration Reform, which Spies launched in the fall with Carlos Gutierrez, a former Kellogg chief executive who served as commerce secretary under Bush.

“This is not small ball,” Gutierrez told The Washington Post in November. “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”

Spies said that the group still hopes to launch a paid media campaign this summer but that no plans have been finalized.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/conservative-donors-eye-independent-groups-with-new-skepticism/2013/06/22/e8cb5f22-d8f3-11e2-a9f2-42ee3912ae0e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

11 Most Absurd Lies Conservatives Are Using to Brainwash America’s School Kids

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, March 11, 2013

Excerpt

If recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that young Americans have taken a decided turn to the left. Young voters delivered Obama the election: the under-44 set voted Obama and the over-45 set broke for Romney. The youngest voters, age 18-29, gave Obama a whopping 60% of their vote.

Now Republicans have a plan to try to recapture the youngest voters out there: Take over the curriculum in public schools, replace education with a bunch of conservative propaganda, and reap the benefits of having a new generation that can’t tell reality from right-wing fantasy.

How well this plan will work is debatable, but in the meantime, these shenanigans present the very real possibility that public school students will graduate without a proper education. To make it worse, many of these attempts to rewrite school curriculum are happening in Texas, which can set the textbook standards for the entire country [3] by simply wielding its power as one of the biggest school textbook markets there is. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 lies your kid may be in danger of learning in school.

Lie #1: Racism has barely been an issue in U.S. history and slavery wasn’t that big a deal.

Lie #2: Joe McCarthy was right.

Lie #3: Climate change is a massive hoax scientists have perpetuated on the public.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) [5] has been hard at work pushing for laws requiring that climate change denialism be taught in schools as a legitimate scientific theory...The reality is that climate change is a fact that has overwhelming scientific consensus…To claim that climate change is a “controversy” requires one to believe that there’s a massive conspiracy involving nearly all the scientists in the world…

Lie #4: The Bible is a history textbook and a scientific document.T

Lie #5: Black people are the descendents of Ham and therefore cursed by God.

Lie #6: Evolution is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

Lie #7: Sex is awful and filthy, and you should save it for someone you love.

Lie #8: Dragons actually once existed.

Lie #9: Gay people do not actually exist.

Lie #10: Hippies were dirty, immoral Satan-worshippers.

Lie #11: Ayn Rand’s books have literary value.

Full text

If recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that young Americans have taken a decided turn to the left. Young voters delivered Obama the election: the under-44 set voted Obama and the over-45 set broke for Romney. The youngest voters, age 18-29, gave Obama a whopping 60% of their vote.

Now Republicans have a plan to try to recapture the youngest voters out there: Take over the curriculum in public schools, replace education with a bunch of conservative propaganda, and reap the benefits of having a new generation that can’t tell reality from right-wing fantasy.

How well this plan will work is debatable, but in the meantime, these shenanigans present the very real possibility that public school students will graduate without a proper education. To make it worse, many of these attempts to rewrite school curriculum are happening in Texas, which can set the textbook standards for the entire country [3] by simply wielding its power as one of the biggest school textbook markets there is. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 lies your kid may be in danger of learning in school.

Lie #1: Racism has barely been an issue in U.S. history and slavery wasn’t that big a deal.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute reviewed [4] the new social studies standards laid down by the rightwing-dominated Texas State School Board and found them to be a deplorable example of conservative wishful thinking replacing fact. At the top of list? Downplaying the role that slavery had in starting the Civil War, and instead focusing on “sectionalism” and “states rights,” even though the sectionalism and states rights arguments directly stemmed from Southern states wanting to keep slavery. There’s also a chance your kid might be misled to think post-Civil War racism was no big deal, as the standards excise any mention of the KKK, the phrase “Jim Crow” or the Black Codes. Mention is made of the Southern Democratic opposition to civil rights, but mysteriously, the mass defection of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party to punish the rest of the Democrats for supporting civil rights goes unmentioned.

Lie #2: Joe McCarthy was right.

The red-baiting of the mid-20th century has gone down in history, correctly, as a witch hunt that stemmed from irrational paranoia that gripped the U.S. after WWII. But now, according to the Thomas B. Fordham report, your kid might learn that the red baiters had a point: “It is disingenuously suggested that the House Un-American Activities Committee—and, by extension, McCarthyism—have been vindicated by the Venona decrypts of Soviet espionage activities (which had, in reality, no link to McCarthy’s targets).” Critical lessons about being skeptical of those who attack fellow Americans while wrapping themselves in the flag will be lost for students whose textbooks adhere to these standards.

Lie #3: Climate change is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) [5] has been hard at work pushing for laws requiring that climate change denialism be taught in schools as a legitimate scientific theory. Unfortunately, as Neela Banerjee [6] of the L.A. Times reports, they’ve already had some serious success: “Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change.” Other states are taking the “teach the controversy” strategy that helped get creationism into biology classrooms, asking teachers to treat climate change like it’s a matter of political debate instead of a scientifically established fact.

The reality is that climate change is a fact that has overwhelming scientific consensus. In 2004, Science reviewed the 928 relevant studies [7] on climate change published between 1993 and 2003 and found that exactly zero of them denied that climate change was a reality, and most found it had manmade causes. To claim that climate change is a “controversy” requires one to believe that there’s a massive conspiracy involving nearly all the scientists in the world. So, your kids are not only not learning the realities of climate change, they are also learning, if indirectly, to give credence to conspiracy theory paranoia.

Lie #4: The Bible is a history textbook and a scientific document.

Texas passed a law in 2007 pushing schools to teach the Bible as history and literature in schools. Since that was already being done in most schools, the law was clearly just a backdoor way to sneak religious instruction into schools, and a report by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) demonstrates [8] that many of them have taken full advantage. One district treats the Bible stories like history by “listing biblical events side by side with historical developments from around the globe.” Many other schools are teaching that the Bible “proves” that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. The Earth is actually over 4 billion years old.

Lie #5: Black people are the descendents of Ham and therefore cursed by God.

Among the courses justified by the 2007 Bible law, TFN found two school districts teaching that the various races are descended from the sons of Noah. All the Bible really says about the sons of Noah is that Ham was cursed by his father so that his descendents would be slaves, but American slave owners used this passage to claim that Africans must be the descendents of Ham and therefore their slave-owning was okay by God. Make no mistake. The only reason this legend has persisted and is popping up in 21st-century classrooms is that conservative Christians are still trying to justify the enslavement of African Americans over a century ago.

Lie #6: Evolution is a massive hoaxscientistshave perpetuated on the public.

Creationists have an endless store of creative ways to get around the Constitution and the courts when it comes to replacing legitimate biology education with fundamentalist Christian dogma. Various states have employed an extensive school voucher system that has allowed creationist dogma to flourish. College-age activist Zack Kopplin has been chronicling the problem, and has found various schools nationwide using taxpayer dollars to teach that evolution is a “mistaken belief” and that the Bible “refutes the man-made idea of evolution.” Why do these school administrators believe that scientists are hoaxing the public by making up evolution? Kopplin found a Louisiana school principal who claimed it’s because scientists are “sinful men” seeking to justify their own immorality, and another Florida school teaching that evolutionary theory is “the way of the heathen.”

Lie #7: Sex is awful and filthy, and you should save it for someone you love.

While things are improving, even in notoriously fact-phobic states like Mississippi and Texas, “abstinence-only” education continues to persist in school districts across the nation. TFN found that nearly three-quarters of Texas high schools are still teaching abstinence-only [9], which is based on the fundamental and easily disproved lie that premarital sex is inherently dangerous to a person’s mental and physical health. On top of this, TFN found that many schools are still passing on inaccurate information on condoms and STI transmission, usually exaggerating the dangers in a futile bid to keep kids from having sex. Unfortunately, even Texas school districts that use curriculum that educates correctly on contraception use are still trying to spin abstinence-until-marriage as a desirable option for all students, even though premarital sex is near-universal in the real world [10].  Abstinence-only may be discredited with the voters, but sadly it’s still very normal in Texas, other red states, and even across the nation [11].

Lie #8: Dragons actually once existed. 

As much as “Game of Thrones” fans might wish otherwise, dragons are not real and have never existed. But as reported by Mother Jones [12], Louisiana’s notorious voucher school system has let some crazy nonsense fly in the classroom, including the claim that dragons used to roam the planet. A book being used in Louisiana classrooms titled Life Science and published by Bob Jones University Press claims that “scientists” found “dinosaur skulls” that the book suggests are actually dragons. “The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke,” the book claims.

Lie #9: Gay people do not actually exist.

After being beat back by gay rights and sexual health advocates, Republicans in the Tennessee legislature are once again trying to bring back the “don’t say gay bill.” The law would ban a teacher from admitting the existence of homosexuality [13] to students prior to the 8th grade, even if the students ask them about it. Instead, the bill would require turning a student who confesses to being gay over to his parents, with the legislators clearly hoping that punishment will somehow make the kid not-gay. The entire bill rests on and promotes the premise that homosexuality isn’t a real sexual orientation, but just the result of mental illness or confusion, and if it’s enforced, that message will come across to the students.

Lie #10: Hippies were dirty, immoral Satan-worshippers.

In the 1960s, it was common for conservatives to try to discredit the left by stoking paranoia about hippie culture and denouncing the supposed evils of rock ‘n’ roll. Forty years have passed, but in Louisiana, some school administrators are apparently still afraid that possessing a Beatles record means a young person is on the verge of quitting bathing and taking up a lifestyle of taking LSD and worshipping Satan at psychedelic orgies.

A history textbook snagged from a Louisiana school [14] funded by the voucher program tells students: “Many young people turned to drugs and immoral lifestyles and these youths became known as hippies. They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship.” It’s unclear if the book also teaches that if you play a Queen record backward, you can hear Satan telling you to smoke pot, but that kind of critical information could also be conveyed during the teacher’s lectures on the subject.

Lie #11: Ayn Rand’s books have literary value.

Idaho state senator John Goedde [15], chairman of the state’s Senate Education Committee has introduced a bill that would require students not only to read Rand’s ponderous novel Atlas Shrugged, but also to pass a test on it in order to graduate. Goedde claims to mostly not be serious about this bill, but instead is using it as a childish attempt to piss off the liberals, but it’s still the sort of item parents need to watch out for.

After all, Texas textbook standards require that an obsession with the gold standard [16] be taught as a legitimate economic theory instead of the mad ravings of cranks that it is. We live in an era where no amount of right-wing lunacy is considered too much to be pushed on innocent children like it’s fact. Anyone who doubts that should just remember one word: Dragons.

See more stories tagged with:

texas [17],

textbooks [18],

racism [19],

joe mccarthy [20],

climate change [21],

amanda marcotte [22]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/education/11-most-absurd-lies-conservatives-are-using-brainwash-americas-school-kids

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/amanda-marcotte-0
[3] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/jun/21/how-texas-inflicts-bad-textbooks-on-us/?pagination=false
[4] http://www.edexcellencemedia.net/publications/2011/20110216_SOSHS/SOSS_USHistory_Texas.pdf
[5] http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/01/alec-bill-in-three-states-to-require-climate-change-denial-in-schools/
[6] http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jan/16/nation/la-na-climate-change-school-20120116
[7] https://www.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1686.full
[8] http://tfninsider.org/2013/01/16/new-tfnef-report-texas-public-school-bible-classes-teach-races-come-from-noahs-sons-biblical-literalism-6000-year-old-earth/
[9] http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/Report_final_web.pdf?docID=2941
[10] http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2006/12/19/index.html
[11] http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/10/10/987411/federal-funds-abstinence-only-programs/
[12] http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/07/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars
[13] http://www.advocate.com/politics/2013/01/30/tenns-dont-say-gay-bill-back-and-it-could-out-students-their-parents
[14] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/03/11/1697601/textbook-for-louisianas-voucher-schools-teaches-hippies-are-dirty-rock-musicians-worship-satan/
[15] http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/feb/05/bill-requires-all-idaho-kids-read-atlas-shrugged/
[16] http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/03/conservative_bloc_dominates_latest_texas_textbooks.php
[17] http://www.alternet.org/tags/texas
[18] http://www.alternet.org/tags/textbooks-0
[19] http://www.alternet.org/tags/racism-0
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/joe-mccarthy
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/climate-change
[22] http://www.alternet.org/tags/amanda-marcotte-0
[23] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Why are “Wedge Issues” Essential to Republican Rule?

BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS,   23 July 2006

Excerpt

While they have the public and the media distracted with red hot emotional topics, they go off and make the wealthy wealthier, increase our national debt, dismantle the Constitution, and take away government social services. Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue that the Busheviks could care less about… wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response. Name any Republican wedge issue from immigration, to abortion, to gay marriage, to flag burning… “the war on terrorism” … and you run head into an emotional, not a reasoned, hook…. Basically, the Republican “rule by emotional appeal” boils down to a big brother elitism whose message to Americans is simply this: “Don’t think. We’ll do the thinking for you. Just follow.”

Full text

Why are “wedge issues” so important to the modern Republican Party?

First of all, wedge issues are emotional in appeal. They bypass the cognitive function of the brain and go right to a subconscious emotional response. Name any Republican wedge issue from immigration, to abortion, to gay marriage, to flag burning — not to mention the granddaddy of them all: “the war on terrorism” and FEAR — and you run head into an emotional, not a reasoned, hook.

In short, the Republicans are tremendously skilled at employing the art of the demagogue to get Americans — around half at any given time — to avoid reasoned discussion of public policy. They do this by appealing to emotional, instinctual reactions that are not processed through a thoughtful process. It’s called pressing a hot button.

Second of all, the Republicans use wedge issues to, essentially, pickpocket the American public and dismantle the American government.

While they have the public and the media distracted with red hot emotional topics, they go off and make the wealthy wealthier, increase our national debt, dismantle the Constitution, and take away government social services. Wedge issues are a powerful distraction — and allow the right wing to accomplish their goals while the public is preoccupied with some trumped up emotional issue that the Busheviks could care less about.

Finally, wedge issues are a tremendous fundraising tool for the right wing. In fact, the campaigns of right wing candidates were financed by the money generated by right wing wedge issue direct mail. Richard Viguerie was the guru who started the direct mail juggernaut for GOP candidates — and organizations — and he’s still going strong. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Rove came to the fore in Texas politics as a direct mail consultant.

In short, wedge issues that press the hot buttons of right wing donors sell big time. We heard Viguerie speak recently and he referred to “pre-sold” wedge issues. In essence, these are topics like “gay marriage,” “abortion,” and “war on terror” that you include in the first sentence of a GOP direct mail piece and you are guaranteed a good response because they have such visceral impact on Stepford GOP followers.

Progressives and Democrats have far fewer “pre-sold” appeals — except for the mention of Bush and Cheney — because progressives and Democrats think more before acting. That may sound snobbish, but it’s true from a direct mail perspective.

Basically, the Republican “rule by emotional appeal” boils down to a big brother elitism whose message to Americans is simply this: “Don’t think. We’ll do the thinking for you. Just follow.”

http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/79-why-are-wedge-issues-essential-to-republican-rule

Apocalypse Now

By ANDREW ROSENTHAL, New York Times, October 30, 2012

The presidential candidates have told us many times that this election is vitally important and have stressed the dire consequences of voting for the other guy. President Obama says the poor will suffer while rich people will prosper if Mitt Romney wins. Mr. Romney counters that Mr. Obama will destroy the economy, coddle terrorists and betray Israel.

But now we learn that there is a much, much greater risk even than that in voting for Mr. Obama – the wrath of God.

“This November, Christians across the nation will be put to the test,” the Rev. Mike Huckabee, former governor and former presidential candidate, says in a new video.

“Your vote,” he says, “will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?”

While the video shows burning fires (get it?) and a woman striding purposefully into a voting booth, Mr. Huckabee concedes that there are a lot of issues in this campaign, but “some issues are not negotiable.”

These are “the right to life from conception to natural death; marriage should be reinforced, not redefined; it is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life.”

That last bit is a combination of two lies involving Mr. Obama’s health care reform, which requires companies to offer coverage for contraceptives to female employees. It specifically exempts churches and it does not cover abortion.

Mr. Huckabee is not alone in casting this election as a test of your faith in God.

On his website and in newspaper ads (for the Milwaulkee Journal-Sentinel, among other places), the Rev. Billy Graham wrote: “I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.” (Hint: That does not include Mr. Obama.)

“I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman,” he said. “Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that American will remain one nation under God.”

Although Mr. Obama isn’t above pandering, in this election cycle I have not seen the Democratic side stoop nearly this low.

http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/30/apocalypse-now/?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20121030

Mitt Romney’s Prosperity Gospel

By Peter Laarman, October 29, 2012

The presidential candidate as televangelist

Mitt Romney’s endorsement by various televangelists obscures the more important ways in which the candidate himself now projects the essence of televangelism. As the campaign enters the final days, Candidate Romney increasingly exhorts his audiences to dare to have faith in the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Hebrews 11.1), to dare to imagine a whole new life for themselves under this very rich man’s care, to dare to believe in the Gospel of Wealth, and to be saved, finally, from real-world lives that are going nowhere in the $10/hour economy

Watching Romney’s preacherly side take the stage in the second debate, I mistakenly feared for a time that he was having the better evening because of his way with a microphone and his remarkable capacity to modulate his voice (not to mention outing himself as LDS pastor and bishop). But it was Billy Graham’s endorsement, splashed into our faces via an expensive full-page Sunday New York Times ad, that triggered my flat-out recognition: the 94-year-old daddy of all televangelists is laying his bony patriarchal hands upon a fellow preacher who shares his hawk-like profile, and that man is not Franklin Graham.

Romney wants us to turn away from the false gospel of an impostor, a usurper, a false messiah, who happens to be the sitting president. Pretty much every Romney speech tells the story of how this imposter’s hope proved to be a false hope. Romney is clearly trying to plead for the souls of those who voted for Obama the first time. Romney’s message: “It’s okay, I understand the seduction: they don’t call Satan the ‘Father of Lies’ for nothing.”

But far more potent than the trashing of Obama in the new Romney pitch is the miracle-cure element (and the part that makes Obama people go nuts). To wit: “C’mon, folks! Just walk through these waters and watch that dropsy vanish, watch those deficits just disappear, watch those good American jobs fall like manna from Heaven.” He joins this with a very effective appeal to a still-Puritanical American need to avoid indebtedness and accept austerity as the price of redemption.

This is what Romney means when he refers to “big things” that need to be resolved. The biggest thing of all, for his purposes, is recovering the will and the capacity to believe. This very much includes believing that some should suffer (working people, “takers,” not plutocrats) in order to achieve national redemption. As Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Jeff Madrick, and many others are quick to say, imposing austerity on workers is the worst possible remedy. But this doesn’t mean that many middle-class and working-class Americans, including many who consider themselves free of any residual Puritanism, don’t buy into the new austerity.

Obama’s response so far to Romney’s Austerity/Prosperity Gospel: “Do the math.” The professor’s answer to the preacher.

But Mr. President, with respect: Your own Education Department will affirm my suggestion that we are no longer the world’s most mathematically-inclined nation. We’re a scratch-to-win nation. We’re a roll-the-dice people. And our god is that God: the one who makes water flow from the rock (Numbers 20:11); who surprises us all the time by blessing us in the least likely circumstances. Mr. President: You need to understand this. You need to work with this, but very, very carefully.

Because, like it or not, the endgame in this election is going to be about which candidate does religion better, I fervently wish that Mr. Obama would say a bit more about the problem of cheap grace. Reminding us that people who work very hard for very little are not the abusers of cheap grace, but that others in well-feathered nests who are preaching sacrifice might be in real trouble on the cheap grace front.

Obama cannot and should not condemn those in the electorate who buy into Romney’s “there will be showers of blessing” message, but he probably does need to get his preacher voice on to remind folks that all covenant promises are conditional. That is, he should tell us in a religiously-resonant way that expecting God’s favor without loving mercy and doing justice is an utter impossibility. And (this is trickier) that God’s prescribed path of blessing is identical to the path of a bottom-up recovery, which necessarily means casting the rich down from their thrones (Luke 1:51-53—and the proof-texting business here is all mine: God knows that Obama should not be doing this except by implication).

It is not the least bit difficult to see why the Austerity/Prosperity Gospel claims so many Americans: it’s God and Mammon gift-wrapped together with a big shiny bow. It’s likewise not hard to see how a residual Puritanism and the Prosperity Gospel can reinforce each other.

I don’t expect the president to counter all of this through a few well-chosen words. But with so much at stake, we need a bit more than “do the math.” We need a bit more evocation of the most important part of Winthrop’s “shining city” sermon, which is the part about bearing one another’s burdens and prospering by way of ethical community. And also just a bit about how to recognize the false prophets of any age. That would be those who cry “peace!” when there is no peace, and those who pronounce God’s blessing upon an oppressive status quo.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/6553/mitt_romney%27s_prosperity_gospel

Jesus Hates Taxes: Biblical Capitalism Created Fertile Anti-Union Soil

By Peter Montgomery, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2011

Excerpt

While the assault on unions by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP governors and legislators seems driven mostly by the billionaire Koch brothers and corporate-funded groups, religious right leaders and activists have spent decades creating fertile soil for anti-union campaigns through the promotion of “biblical capitalism,” which researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes as “the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated.”
Pseudo-historian David Barton, a frequent guest of broadcaster Glenn Beck, is using his newly enlarged audience to promote American exceptionalism (America was created by its divinely-inspired founders as a country of, by, and for Christians) and Tea Party-on-steroids economics (Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wage laws). The Religious Right has a long practice of claiming divine mandate for its policy agenda as it makes for an exceptionally potent political argument: if God supports radically limited government, then progressive policies are not only wrong but evil, and supporters of liberal policies are not only political opponents but enemies of God.
Two days after the November 2010 elections, Barton, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Garlow (who runs Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership group), held a conference call with pastors to celebrate conservative political gains. On the call, Garlow and Barton asserted a biblical underpinning for far-right economic policies: Taxation and deficit spending, they said, amount to theft, a violation of the Ten Commandments. The estate tax, Barton said, is “absolutely condemned” by the Bible as the “most immoral” of taxes. Jesus, he said, had “teachings” condemning the capital gains tax and minimum wage.
Barton also enlists Jesus in the war against unions and collective bargaining…and went on to explain why the Bible is anti-union…
It’s clear that the attempt to once again “break the spine of labor” is meant to cripple any opposition to the vision of a country in which corporations are given free rein to maximize profits without concern for workers’ safety, community well-being, and environmental protection. The seeds of that vision were first planted by Christian Reconstructionists and The Family and today’s conservative Christian leaders are only too eager to take advantage of the fruits of those labors to make the case that Jesus opposes efforts to ensure a living wage to workers, and that workers should accept as good slaves whatever treatment their employers dish out.

Full text

While the assault on unions by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP governors and legislators seems driven mostly by the billionaire Koch brothers and corporate-funded groups, religious right leaders and activists have spent decades creating fertile soil for anti-union campaigns through the promotion of “biblical capitalism,” which researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes as “the belief that unregulated capitalism is biblically mandated.”

Pseudo-historian David Barton, a frequent guest of broadcaster Glenn Beck, is using his newly enlarged audience to promote American exceptionalism (America was created by its divinely-inspired founders as a country of, by, and for Christians) and Tea Party-on-steroids economics (Jesus and the Bible oppose progressive taxes, capital gains taxes, estate taxes, and minimum wage laws). The religious right has a long practice of claiming divine mandate for its policy agenda as it makes for an exceptionally potent political argument: if God supports radically limited government, then progressive policies are not only wrong but evil, and supporters of liberal policies are not only political opponents but enemies of God.

Two days after the November 2010 elections, Barton, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Garlow (who runs Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership group), held a conference call with pastors to celebrate conservative political gains. On the call, Garlow and Barton asserted a biblical underpinning for far-right economic policies: Taxation and deficit spending, they said, amount to theft, a violation of the Ten Commandments. The estate tax, Barton said, is “absolutely condemned” by the Bible as the “most immoral” of taxes. Jesus, he said, had “teachings” condemning the capital gains tax and minimum wage.

Barton also enlists Jesus in the war against unions and collective bargaining. Two years ago Barton devoted his Wallbuilders Live radio show to celebrating a Supreme Court decision that upheld anIdaho law ending state withholding of public employee union political funds. Barton’s co-host Rick Green called for activists to “spark a fire” and encourage other states to take up the effort to disrupt unions’ political activities. Barton called the Supreme Court’s decision “the right historical position and the right biblical position,” and went on to explain why the Bible is anti-union.

According to Barton, a parable from the 20th chapter of the book of Matthew about the owner of a vineyard making different arrangements with workers was about “the right of private contract”—in other words, the right of employers to come to individual agreements with each employee. Jesus’ parable, he said, is “anti-minimum wage” and “anti-socialist-union kind of stuff.” (This is just one of the parables of Jesus cited by Barton and others in support of laissez-faire economic policies.)

The religious right’s anti-union roots are long and deep. Researchers have traced them through the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony, an intellectual godfather of sorts for much of the increasingly dominionist religious right; Gary North, a leading Christian Reconstructionist; and through fundamentalist textbooks used by homeschoolers and Christian schools. The roots of the Family, as Peter Laarman notes in his examination of religious indifference to the decades-long war on workers’ rights, are in anti-unionism. Back in 1942, according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power:

[T]he National Association of Manufacturers staked [Family founder Abraham Vereide] to a meeting of congressmen who would become students of his spiritual politics, among themVirginiasenator Absalom Willis Robertson—Pat Robertson’s father. Vereide returned the manufacturers’ favor by telling his new congressional followers that God wanted them to break the spine of organized labor. They did.

One of the most striking examples of this theory reaching into the political realm is found in an early Christian Coalition Leadership Manual, co-authored by Coalition founder Ralph Reed in 1990. A section titled “God’s Delegated Authority in the World,” which argues that “God established His pattern for work as well as in the family and in the church,” cites four Bible passages instructing slaves to be obedient to their masters, including 1 Peter 2:18-19:

Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

And then, the astonishing lesson drawn by Christian Coalition leaders from these slaves-obey-your-masters passages:

Of course, slavery was abolished in this country many years ago, so we must apply these principles to the way Americans work today, to employees and employers: Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.

Slavery also makes an appearance in “Indivisible,” a booklet of essays being aggressively promoted by the Heritage Foundation as part of its campaign to assert that genuine fiscal conservatism cannot be separated from social conservatism. In one essay, anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson writes that minimum wage laws “[remind] me of slavery.”

There’s no reason to believe that religious right and anti-union forces won’t continue to join forces. Later this month, the anti-union National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation will join anti-gay activists, anti-immigrant groups, and other groups primarily associated with social conservatism, at a gathering in Iowaconvened by religious right favorite Rep. Steve King to discuss “American Exceptionalism.” National Right to Work promotes a guide for employees with religious objections to joining a union:

To determine whether your beliefs are religious instead of political or philosophical, ask yourself whether your beliefs are based upon your obligations to God. Do you simply dislike unions or hate this particular union’s politics? Or, does your desire to stand apart from the union arise from your relationship to God? If your beliefs arise from your decision to obey God, they are religious.

And in April, religious right and Republican leaders will gather for the second year in a row at LibertyUniversityat the invitation of the Freedom Federation, a collection of religious right groups launched in 2009 with a Declaration of American Values, which added opposition to progressive taxation to the religious right’s usual issue agenda. While the Freedom Federation refers to itself as a federation of faith-based organizations, its founding members also include Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that has funded attacks on Democratic lawmakers and mobilized Tea Party activists on behalf of right-wing candidates.

Just last week, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins tweeted his support for the Wisconsin Republicans’ union-busting: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/ liberal social agenda.”

It’s clear that the attempt to once again “break the spine of labor” is meant to cripple any opposition to the vision of a country in which corporations are given free rein to maximize profits without concern for workers’ safety, community well-being, and environmental protection. The seeds of that vision were first planted by Christian Reconstructionists and The Family and today’s conservative Christian leaders are only too eager to take advantage of the fruits of those labors to make the case that Jesus opposes efforts to ensure a living wage to workers, and that workers should accept as good slaves whatever treatment their employers dish out.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/4366/jesus_hates_taxes%3A_biblical_capitalism_created_fertile_anti-union_soil