1. Deja-Values Voters All Over Again
The wake of Mike Huckabee's win in the Iowa caucuses had a whiff of 2004 about it, as the self-anointed "values voters" declared victory -- and it was more about their own relevance than about the candidate himself.
The votes had barely been counted, and already, just like in 2004, "values voters" were being declared the soul of the heartland. But as noted at the Faith in Public Life blog, only Republican voters were asked about how their faith played a role in their vote. Neither the CNN nor the NBC exit polls asked Democratic caucus-goers whether they were "born again or evangelical," even though Barack Obama has spent considerable time talking about his faith on the campaign trail. And the religious right political leadership wasted no time on picking up the false narrative about their monopoly on righteousness.
Even though they had thumbed their noses at Huckabee for months, the lure of claiming credit for his victory proved difficult to resist. James Dobson proclaimed that the media had been "dead wrong" about the evangelical crack-up and crowed that these voters -- his own constituents, presumably, who voted for Huckabee even without his coveted imprimatur -- brought Huckabee to victory. Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family's senior vice president for government and public policy, gushed on a caucus night webcast about Huckabee's "dazzling ability to elucidate those issues that resonate with evangelicals." On the same program, Family Research Council's Tony Perkins compared Thursday night to 2004, insisting that "Iowa is reflective of the core values of America" and adding that "the winners tonight are the values voters."
Minnery predicted on the webcast that Huckabee's victory "will send shockwaves into the Republican establishment." Perkins added that "the Republican establishment was trying to brush their issues off the table, and they pushed back in a very significant way." Hey -- hold on a second! Weren't Dobson and Perkins resistant to the Huckabee candidacy because they thought he couldn't win over the GOP establishment? And aren't Dobson and Perkins part of "the establishment" (read: members of the Council for National Policy)? But now that Huckabee could be a real contender, Perkins praised his performance since it showed "the establishment" wing of the party that "you ignore social conservatives at your own risk."
All of this means that whoever the nominee is, we haven't even begun to see the religion card played.
2. Soldiers for Christ in New Hampshire
Although Huckabee wasn't about to pull off any miracles in New Hampshire, he did try to rally a crowd of 350 to enlist in "God's army" to be "soldiers for Christ" at The Crossing church in Windham Sunday, according to The Washington Post.
I caught up with an employee of The Crossing, Rebecca Schmitz, on primary day. Schmitz said the church is a 150-member, nondenominational "plant" of the organization YouthStorm. (In church parlance, a "plant" is a church that is launched by a sister organization.) The church had invited Huckabee to Sunday's event, said Schmitz, but it was not a campaign stop; instead, she said, it was "all about Jesus."
Schmitz said that Huckabee had spoken a few months ago at YouthStorm's "Prayer Furnace," which she described as a "house of prayer." (YouthStorm's Web site a href="http://www.youthstorm.org/furnace.htm">describes it as "a 24/7 prayer initiative being developed to fuel our aggressive mission endeavor and societal transformation. Kingdom-minded congregations and lovers of Jesus are joining together to stoke the eternal flame of devotion through prayer, fasting, and worship.") The purpose of that event was for Huckabee to "introduce himself," and there was a meet and greet afterwards. "Some of us are hopeful for him," said Schmitz, referring to New Hampshire evangelicals' assessment of his prospects there.
According to YouthStorm's Web site, the organization views itself as "on the verge of being history makers!" as it pursues "the greatest revival yet." To wit:
Historically, Satan has tried to extinguish God's plan for a generation that is destined to manifest the glory of God. America has seen this young generation attacked with everything from abortion to drugs, and now the American church is seeing her first martyrs, and they are the youth!! Now is the time to spend our lives for the kingdom.
YouthStorm has been established to seize this divine opportunity and facilitate a united front.
This is pretty standard dominionist stuff -- the belief that Christians have a duty to take dominion over governmental, societal, and cultural institutions -- and this kind of aggressive evangelizing, studded with militaristic metaphors, is increasingly marketed to young people. YouthStorm echoes the same sort of ideology as Ron Luce's Teen Mania, which focuses on regimentation and holiness, or Lou Engle's The Call, whose support for Huckabee I discussed in last week's FundamentaList. It centers on one's own devotion to Christ as an end in itself, and as evidence of one's obedience and purity. YouthStorm's "enlistment" form requires pledges of "allegiance to His kingdom" that "I will present myself a living sacrifice" and that "I will not be entangled with youthful lusts and the affairs of this life but endure hardship and fight the good fight that I may obtain His favor and obtain an incorruptible crown of righteousness."
This is not a primarily religious movement, despite all outward appearances, and it is not benign love-thy-neighbor stuff. It is overtly political, with a laser focus on spiritual battle with satanic forces by combating the evils of secularism, abortion, and sexuality of any kind, except within heterosexual marriage. (YouthStorm has reprinted a paper written by one of its directors condemning dating because God commands monogamy.) Mike Huckabee is the first major presidential candidate to so openly embrace this sort of militaristic evangelism -- more evidence of his unabashed coalition-building with even the most controversial and extreme foot soldiers of the evangelical right.
3. On to South Carolina
The candidates are on to South Carolina, where Huckabee is ahead in the polls, and where, like Iowa, he's expected to draw heavily on the support of evangelicals, with get-out-the-vote help from pastors.
Huckabee has already spoken at Pastors' Briefings sponsored by different state "Renewal Projects" (see FundamentaList 9:2), including in Iowa. This month, there will be additional pastors' briefings in Florida and South Carolina, ahead of each state's primary. Another event is slated for California this week. David Lane, the organizer of the events, told me that they were closed to the press and would not say whether presidential candidates were invited.
Huckabee is the only presidential candidate to speak at any of the past pastors' briefings, and his campaign did not respond to a request about whether he was invited to the upcoming ones. The Giuliani, Romney, McCain, Thompson, and Paul campaigns did not respond to inquiries about whether they had been invited.
4. Televangelist Investigation Update
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley had some words of advice this week for Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Benny Hinn, and Eddie Long, the four televangelists who have yet to respond to his request for financial information. "It's a new year, and the ministries that have chosen not to cooperate have a chance to see the inquiry in a new light. This has nothing to do with church doctrine. It's only about tax-exempt policy. The ministries are no different from any other tax-exempt group in terms of an obligation to cooperate with a congressional oversight inquiry exploring tax policy."
It's a new year for Hinn, too, and he started it by making an e-mail pitch for money: "Send your offering for $80 for each of your loved ones, as an act of faith, as God directs you, and I believe He is ready to touch those loved ones in a miraculous way as you lay your offering on the altar."
Where does that $80 go? That's all Grassley's trying to find out.
5. Religious Right Leadership Discontented with National Association of Evangelicals
Religious right activist Gary Bauer and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's seminary, blasted the National Association of Evangelicals leadership for daring to suggest an interfaith dialogue with Muslims. Bauer complained to Focus on the Family's Citizen Link magazine that "many of us have been concerned about the NAE getting into all sorts of areas where it has had no previous expertise," including global warming. "And now, I'm afraid, I see signs that they're going down the same road that the National Council of Churches is going." Heaven forbid they pursue all that peace and justice stuff!