Editor's Note: Introducing a new regular feature at TAP Online in which Sarah Posner, author of the forthcoming book God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, counts down the week's top news about the religious right. Look for it every Wednesday.
1. IRS Says Dobson Can Endorse Candidates
In Colorado Springs, James Dobson of Focus on the Family (FOF) was jubilant that the IRS had cleared his organization of charges, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), that it had illegally endorsed Bush for president in 2004. As a tax-exempt organization, FOF could be subject to fines and even revocation of its tax-exempt status if it campaigns on behalf of or endorses candidates. But according to Dobson's announcement on his nationally broadcast radio program, the IRS found that any endorsement of Bush came from Dobson personally and not on behalf of his organization.
Dobson -- despite FOF out-fundraising CREW by a 127 to 1 margin -- was in classic sore-winner mode, complaining that CREW's purpose -- with its funding from George Soros, a "radical leftist who seeks to undermine so much of what this country stands for" -- was to "scare every pastor and every non-profit" from speaking their minds on political issues.
Although Dobson -- and other non-profit heads, as well as pastors -- will undoubtedly now feel free to offer up endorsements in the 2008 race, the irony is that no clear choice has emerged for them to support. Dobson already has ruled out John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, and has left open the possibility of endorsing Mitt Romney (although his Mormonism, Dobson maintained, would be an issue for many evangelicals) or Fred Thompson (after first questioning his Christian credentials, too). But some of Dobson's fellow members of the Arlington Group, the influential set of Christian right leaders struggling to find a hero in the imperfect field of Republican candidates, are dissatisfied with Thompson, and worry that Mike Huckabee lacks the fundraising firepower to vanquish their bête noire, Hillary Clinton.
2. …And the Second-Tier GOP Candidates Woo "Values Voters"
Huckabee made a play for the religious-right endorsement Monday night at the Values Voter Presidential Debate in Fort Lauderdale, where he overwhelmingly won the event's straw poll of religious-right insiders with over 60 percent of the vote. Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson all skipped the debate, citing scheduling conflicts. (Giuliani -- who had nothing to gain by being questioned by the likes of anti-feminist grande dame Phyllis Schlafly, Liberalism Kills Kids author Rick Scarborough, or Ten Commandments crusader Roy Moore -- was reportedly across town at a fundraiser.) The debate moderator, World Net Daily editor Joseph Farah, crowed that the debate panel "struck fear in the hearts" of the four absentees, and warned the leading candidates that "you can run but you can't hide." The absent presidential hopefuls were each subject to questioning while the camera zeroed in on empty podiums with their names on them.
As a Southern Baptist minister, Huckabee's answers about his faith were all predictably on target, particularly his statement that "the greatest thing in my life was coming to know Jesus Christ." (As the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody put it, "Cha-ching!") Huckabee stumbled a bit when he displayed a shocking ignorance of the Mexico City Policy, the Reagan-era ban on federal funding to international organizations that "provide or promote abortion," which he mistook as a reference to Mexican law. The debate organizer, Janet Folger of Faith2Action, was palpably dismayed, but Huckabee may have redeemed himself with a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood.
Lined up on a stage with the single-digit Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo, businessman John Cox, and Alan Keyes (yes, he's back), Huckabee's statements -- on issues ranging from a constitutional ban on gay marriage, overturning Roe v. Wade, immigration ("closed and secure borders"), judicial activism (activist judges should be impeached), and Social Security privatization (Bush's plan should be resuscitated) -- were indistinguishable from the other hardliners' statements. But he probably most ably cast the good-versus-evil foreign policy that his audience relishes. He opposes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, an answer that satisfies Biblical literalists and Christian Zionists but is at odds even with recent Bush-stated policy. In response to a question about "Islamic jihadists," Huckabee described "a theological war" that is not about Iraq or Afghanistan, but "about our survival as a civilization and as a people."
3. 9-11 Remembered as Biblical Prophecy
The message aired by Christian television during the 9-11 anniversary week was that there's a war raging against Western civilization -- and against Christianity itself. The Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the world's largest religious television network, re-ran a 2002 program, Bible Code Foretold 9/11. This, er, documentary purported to show how Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) codes in the Bible have predicted countless events, including Saddam Hussein's 1991 scud-missile attacks in Israel, the assassinations of Itzhak Rabin, Anwar Sadat, and Robert F. Kennedy, the Clinton impeachment, George W. Bush's 2000 victory, and the Oklahoma City bombing. The film lamented how it was discovered -- too late -- that ELS codes predicted 9-11 (code spelling out bin Laden's name, the film maintained, appears in the Book of Numbers).
It's amazing that TBN still shows the film, because it unwittingly proves its own prophesy wrong. Made a year before Bush's invasion of Iraq, it warns that "intelligence agencies should be listening" to Bible codes that prove Saddam Hussein was "deeply involved in the terrorist attacks of September 11." Decoders also claimed that ESL codes showed that the Iraqi dictator would die of a terminal disease. Oops.
But this artifact from the elaborate media roll-out of the invasion of Iraq does serve as a premonition of sorts for today. As the Bush administration plans a military attack on Iran and an accompanying media blitz, it's worth recalling that none other than TBN's own John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have been instrumental in peddling purportedly vetted intelligence about Iran's nuclear program since early 2006. Now, Hagee is selling face time "with Israeli and U.S. elected officials and opinion leaders." For a mere $365 a year, you too can buy membership in the Lion of Judah club and participate in these quarterly teleconferences.
4. Santorum's New Career: Warning of the "Gathering Storm"
One of Hagee's allies in the Israel-defense effort is Rick Santorum (R-Man on Dog). Last year, the voters of Pennsylvania decided their sanctimonious senator was too nutty to continue to represent their interests. He has since found gainful employment as the director of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center's Program to Protect America's Freedom, where he expresses fresh new worries about illicit man-pairings. This time, it's Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Employing the ever-so-fashionable Churchillian reference, he warns of a "gathering storm," which CUFI's Executive Director David Brog approvingly called an "appropriately urgent name for the rise of militant Islam."
Citing a poll Santorum commissioned from Republican pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies, Brog echoed Santorum's message that "a majority of these respondents consider the danger from militant Islam to be even greater than the dangers America faced from Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. When it comes to recognizing the severity of the threat, the American public is clearly far ahead of our leaders."
5. Televangelist Claims the Devil Made Him Beat His Wife
While of late Hagee has spent a lot of time meddling in foreign policy, as a pastor he has done some of what you'd expect, like presiding over weddings and such, especially when they involve other high-living televangelists like himself. In 2003, he helped officiate the million-dollar wedding of charismatic evangelists Prophetess Juanita Bynum and Bishop Thomas Weeks III. Bynum, popular on TBN and with fellow televangelists like Hagee, T.D. Jakes, and Rod Parsley, rose to stardom with a sermon, later adapted into a book, No More Sheets, in which she renounced her former life of promiscuity.
The Bynum-Weeks wedding was broadcast numerous times on TBN as a fairy-tale affair while many of the network's evangelizing heads were denouncing gay marriage as a threat to the institution itself. But Bynum, who with her lesser-known husband, also co-authored the book Teach Me How to Love You, filed for divorce last week in the wake of allegations that Weeks "choked her, pushed her down, kicked and stomped her ... until a bellman pulled him off of her" in a hotel parking lot in Atlanta last month. Weeks, who initially told his congregation the devil made him do it, now denies the beating as he faces criminal charges that could land him in jail for 27 years if convicted.
In his televised sermon this week, Hagee pontificated on "God's Plan for Wives and Mothers" as part of his sermon series, In Mortal Danger: The Fight for the Family. An ideal woman, said Hagee, is a mother, but wicked secularists like to see a woman smoking and swearing, and "her breath would smell like a brewery, a condom in one hand and the feminist manual in the other, listing the local abortion clinics to snuff out the life that was within her body. Her allegiance is always to her career." Women are ignoring God's command that "her highest and best field is that of being a mother," which, according to Hagee, puts America's security at risk.
No mention of whether the Bible sanctions beating your more successful wife.
Next week: Profiting off Yom Kippur, faith-based drug treatment, getting ready to pray at school, and more presidential politics.