1. Renewal Project Fails to Deliver South Carolina to Huckabee
Although the Iowa Renewal Project’s Pastors’ Policy Briefings, at which Mike Huckabee was a featured speaker, contributed to his victory in the Iowa caucuses, last week's South Carolina Pastors’ Policy Briefing, hosted by the South Carolina Renewal Project, failed to deliver the votes he needed to beat John McCain in the state's primary. This week, the Florida Renewal Project hosted a pastors' briefing, but so far Huckabee is polling behind McCain, Romney, and Giuliani there, and it's unclear whether Thompson's withdrawal from the race will benefit Huckabee.
The "Renewal Project" events mirror those held by the Texas Restoration Project. As I reported on TAPPED, the watchdog Texas Freedom Network (TFN) recently filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, charging that the non-profit that funded the Texas Restoration Project, the Niemoller Foundation, violated its tax-exempt status by sponsoring conferences that were essentially campaign events for Gov. Rick Perry. Similarly, the Renewal Projects in other states have featured Huckabee as a speaker, but not the other presidential candidates.
In a rare interview last week, Renewal Project organizer David Lane reflected the biblical restoration movement's hostility toward secularism, the left and the press. Noting that he normally doesn't take press calls, Lane told me that he nonetheless wanted to answer TFN's "false" charges, adding that "why the left continues to attack public involvement by folks with faith in the public square is beyond comprehension to most people... What we're doing is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage. That's our goal." As for Huckabee's participation, Lane said there was nothing unusual about it -- Huckabee has been speaking at similar events Lane has been organizing since 1994, throughout his tenure as Lieutenant Governor and Governor of Arkansas. Lane added that videotapes of a recent Iowa briefing had been distributed to 5,000 churches. Talk about free advertising!
The other Republican candidates have griped about their exclusion from speaking at the pastors' briefings. While Lane insisted that he had invited all the candidates, Darrell Ng, a spokeperson for the Fred Thompson campaign, said Thompson was only invited to attend, not to speak, and produced the form invitation the campaign received. He added, "it's clear which candidate they're supporting."
2. Who's Behind the Renewal Projects?
The Renewal Projects provide free lodging and food for hundreds of pastors attending their briefings, but the source of the funding remains unclear. A person answering the phone at the Florida Family Policy Council said that the organization was promoting the Renewal Project but was not organizing it. Lane would not disclose the sources of funding for the Renewal Projects, which also have cropped up in Minnesota, Louisiana, and California.
In 1999, Laurence White, a Houston pastor and a driving force behind the Renewal and Restoration Projects, noted that Edward Atsinger, chairman of Salem Communications, one of the country's largest Christian broadcasters, helped launch a California Restoration Project in the 1990s. Atsinger, a major financier of the religious right in California, worked with Lane to get Proposition 22 -- which prevents California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed outside the state -- on the ballot and made law in 1998. Atsinger made the maximum individual contribution to Huckabee's campaign last year.
White also provided a clue about how the Niemoller Foundation, of which he is a director, got its name. He compared the role of pastors like himself, fighting the forces of evil in secular America, to the German minister who was deported to a concentration camp for challenging the Nazis.
3. Huckabee Compares America to Nazi Germany
In a speech to the Florida Renewal Project Monday night, which in an unprecedented move was live streamed on the American Family Association's Web site, Huckabee compared America to Nazi Germany. He first implored the audience to renew their "commitment to Christ" and "to our nation, to its heritage, as well as to its future," adding "do we expect the seculars [sic] to do it? Do we expect the unbelievers to lead us, and if so, how will they lead us and where?" He then engaged in an extended description of his visit to the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem with his 11- year-old daughter, who asked, "why didn't somebody do something?" Huckabee, who has called abortion a "holocaust," then issued a dire warning:
... I pray that no father ever stands over the shoulder of his own daughter and after her witnessing the decline and the fall of a great nation, writes, and sees her write these words, "why didn't somebody do something?" You see, I believe the reason we're here is because we are the somebodies. And we're to do the something and if we don't, who will? And if we don't act now, when will it happen, and will it be too late? You leave this conference with this haunting question, and pray that no one would ever ask of you or of me, why didn't somebody do something.
You read that right. Huckabee thinks if the "seculars" are allowed to rule America, our country could suffer the same fate as Nazi Germany. A resounding insult all around from this "Christian leader."
4. Huckabee's Christian Constitution
Huckabee has been consistently cagey about answering questions about his views on biblical law and Christian Reconstructionism. In the Times this weekend, Oran Smith, a conservative Christian activist in South Carolina, portrayed Huckabee as "Houdini," but he really is more like Zelig, adapting his answers to particular audiences to satisfy his radical fans while assuaging his critics.
Huckabee has offered his view that the Bible prohibits marriage between people of the same gender, and hell, between humans and animals, and hence the Constitution should be clear on that point, too. He slaps his opponents around for their lack of support for a federal marriage amendment and a human life amendment. Many supporters of a human life amendment believe that birth control pills cause abortions, and therefore should be outlawed under such an amendment. In a meeting with the editorial board of the Des Moines Register last year, Huckabee sidestepped answering the question directly but strongly suggested he thinks at least certain types of birth control pills should made illegal. In his Renewal Project speech Monday night, on the eve of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Huckabee made yet another inappropriate and insulting comparison, maintaining that overturning Roe is "not good enough," and that letting the states "handle something that is a moral issue is the logic of the civil war."
5. Grassley Seeks More Information from Targeted Televangelists
According to the Associated Press, Sen. Charles Grassley is reminding the six televangelists targeted by his investigation into their use of tax-exempt donor funds for their own personal luxuries that it would behoove them to respond to his investigation. In the not too distant future, I'm told, additional televangelists could be targeted.
Although many religious figures from all parts of the spectrum remain critical of the investigation, at a meeting of charismatic Christian leaders at the offices of Strang Communications this month, some were critical of the prosperity gospel. According to Charisma magazine editor J. Lee Grady, "a prophetic warning was also issued: Leaders should either adopt a policy of 'full disclosure' in the financial area, or they can expect 'full exposure' of financial misdeeds." One leader "bluntly suggested that the prosperity movement has ‘gone off the tracks.'" Still, Charisma remains a source of free advertising and support for many of the prosperity preachers, including those under Grassley's investigation.