Editors' Note: This piece has been corrected.
1. Huckabee Wins The Religious Right's Civil War.
"We have, as a movement, lost our heads." Thats from Nancy French, one of the bloggers at the still-active Evangelicals for Mitt, on the about-face by religious-right granddaddy Paul Weyrich, once a Romney supporter, who confessed to the Council for National Policy recently that he made a grievous error by spurning Mike Huckabee. French is dismayed as well by the new ad signed by a group of prominent Huckabee backers, threatening to stay home on election day if John McCain chooses Romney as a running mate. (The ad was financed by the Government is Not God PAC.)
The sometimes dyspeptic verbal skirmishes between the Romney and Huckabee camps are nothing new. Many Romney supporters see Huckabee's upstart campaign in Iowa as the beginning of the end for Romney, since it opened the door for the almost-dead John McCain to emerge victorious in New Hampshire and beyond. Romney-ites still resent Huckabee's musings to The New York Times Magazine, about whether Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, where Romney withdrew from the race, several (evangelical) Romney backers argued in conversations with me that Huckabee was fanning the flames of anti-Mormon sentiment and is guilty of "religious bigotry." Others pooh-poohed the idea of a Baptist preacher in the White House.
For Huckabee supporters, the flip-flopping Mormon exemplifies the mistakes evangelicals have made in hitching their wagons to insincere politicos who want them to pull the lever every Election Day but offer nothing in return. The "nothing in return" concept, incidentally, is a persistent myth -- surely the religious right has gotten plenty out of conservative judicial appointments, if not other faith-based initiatives -- and evidence of the pervasive persecution complex that drives the religious right.
Romney used to be a Kennedy-aspiring liberal, Huckabee backers say, but campaigned as the Second Coming of Reagan. Huckabee, who's neither a multimillionaire nor a Mormon, is one of them (but, as I've noted before, Huckabee is Zelig; he can be anything to anyone) so he can be trusted implicitly.
Don't try too hard to make sense out of the Romney-Huckabee smackdown. There are too many factors -- class resentment, weird religious distrust, political expediency, gut reactions to perceived sincerity or lack thereof -- to be able to generalize why some religious-right leaders got behind Romney, some behind Huckabee, while still others stayed on the sidelines. Here's the real story to watch: how all these forces will converge to propel Huckabee to the stage as the next great leader of the religious right -- and why it will be portrayed as less radical and less exclusionary.
Two forces are converging to create a perfect storm for Huckabee to emerge as the movement's next big political leader. The first is the intense resentment by his supporters that the big names on the religious right, like Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, and the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, among other Council for National Policy members that leaked the apocryphal third-party prospect to the press last fall, didn't line up behind him. The second factor is an emerging consensus among many evangelicals that rejects the vitriolic culture wars and the two- or three-issue focus of the religious right.
Drew Dyck, age 30 and editor of New Man magazine, one of the early endorsers of Huckabee's presidential campaign (as was New Man's publisher, Stephen Strang, who is one of the signers of the anti-Romney-as-VP petition), says that his generation is not happy with the old guard's narrow focus and political maneuvering. When I suggested to Dyck in an interview last week that we might be living in a "post-Dobson era," he murmured, "I like the sound of that."
Yet, according to Dyck and many other evangelicals I've spoken with in the past few months, this evolving evangelical political engagement remains theologically conservative. It maintains a continuing opposition to gay marriage and reproductive rights, and is generally silent on issues like evolution and separation of church and state. Its opposition to torture (and for some, to the war in Iraq) and its growing efforts to combat poverty and climate change are positive changes. But it's impossible to pinpoint exactly where Huckabee falls in this debate when he can simultaneously align himself with Joel Hunter, who abandoned the Christian Coalition because of its narrow agenda and rancor, and figures like Don Wildmon and Rick Scarborough, with their wild-eyed paranoia about the "homosexual agenda" and secularist cabals, David Barton, who believes the separation of church and state is a myth, and Tim LaHaye, with his lust for the violent showdown at Armageddon?
3. Hagee's War of Words
Speaking of Armageddon, this week John Hagee, while in Israel, said the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, has "a troubling disrespect for the truth." Yoffie, as I reported last week, called Hagee an extremist and urged Jews to disassociate themselves from him because, among other things, he virulently opposes many of the progressive principles the Reform movement espouses, and envisions a bloody war to end the world out of which a new Christian-only utopia will emerge. (The Jerusalem Post reports this morning that the two men may meet to discuss their differences.)
While the viral, Bill Donohue-inspired campaign to spread the idea that Hagee is anti-Catholic got mention in the Yoffie speech, it certainly was not the focus. But Hagee -- making the same mistake as his critics -- is wrong to focus on Yoffie's mention of his alleged anti-Catholicism. I've heard Hagee speak -- in person or on television -- countless times, and I've read more of his books than I care to admit. And, while I've reported that anti-Catholicism is common in Pentecostal circles and more than one person I met at Hagee's church gave me an eye-roll when talking about his or her own ventures into the Catholic Church, I've never found anti-Catholicism to be the focal point of Hagee's own ideology.
Like many end-timers, he believes the vague "church" (i.e., organized religion) is evidence of an emerging Antichrist depicted in the Book of Revelation. Many other events provide such evidence, in Hagee's view, including credit and debit cards, the formation of the European Union, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and many more. The clip that spread the idea that Hagee is anti-Catholic was no more nutty or hateful than hundreds of other things he has said and written in his 40-year career.
Hagee's views are not just dangerous because they convey anti-religious bigotry but because they represent a powerful movement that has had a catastrophic affect on our foreign policy. He fosters credulity in the rank and file who are loath to open any book aside from their Bibles in order to understand current events in the Middle East. Isn't that more alarming than unhinging Bill Donohue?
4. Grassley Probe Still Making Waves.
With Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar still holding out against cooperating with the Senate Finance Committee's investigation of their church finances, their resistance is being supported by conservatives anxious that the probe would have a chilling effect on religious liberty. The Baptist Press reported last week that the pair's lawyers took aim at Sen. Charles Grassley's targeting of Word of Faith, or prosperity-gospel preachers, with Dollar's lawyer wondering in a letter to the committee whether Grassley was motivated by a "distaste for, or disagreement with, these churches' theology and religious practices." The American Spectator accused Grassley of violating the spirit of a law he co-sponsored, the Church Audit Procedures Act, which prohibits leaks of information from any government investigation of church finances.
What's next? For the scandal-mongering Spectator, the possibility of a congressional investigation of "the black liberation theology popularized by Barack Obama's controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright" perhaps is not far behind. "Wright has retired to a $1.6 million home in a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago -- certainly a lavish lifestyle that seems equally ripe for such an investigation. Or what about the Hare Krishna temple in Grassley's home state of Iowa, or the wealthy sect of Scientology, which is supported by Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise and John Travolta?"
5. New Ben Stein Movie Takes Aim at Science
A new "documentary" featuring comedian and conservative lackey Ben Stein opens later this month, purporting to show that biology departments are not welcome places for believers in creationism and intelligent design. Imagine that, university biology departments interested in ... science! No wonder the film has been endorsed by James Dobson.
The producers of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed hoodwinked prominent atheists into agreeing to interviews, according to P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota-Morris and a self-described "noisy atheist." Myers told me he was led to believe that it was to be a "serious documentary on the intersection of science and religion." Instead, it's a propaganda film designed to play into efforts to enact "academic freedom" legislation, like a bill in Florida, supported by the extremist Florida Family Policy Council, that would allegedly "protect" teachers who challenge evolution in the classroom. (Stein is appearing at a Florida Family Policy Council fundraiser later this month.)
As for Myers, he has not yet seen the movie. While waiting in line for an advance screening at the Mall of American in Minneapolis last month, he was "expelled" by Mall security guards at the request of the film's producer. But they failed to notice Myers' companion, the notorious atheist Richard Dawkins.
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.