Editors' Note: This piece has been corrected.
1. Copeland Continues to Hurl Elitism Charges at Grassley
Kenneth Copeland Ministries, the most defiant of the Grassley Six, hosted former Bush family confidant and adviser Doug Wead at its Eagle Mountain International Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sunday. For decades, Wead has come to the defense of scandal-plagued televangelists, including Jim Bakker, the Trinity Broadcasting Network's Paul Crouch, Robert Tilton, and Grassley target Benny Hinn, on whose board Wead served from 2003-2005 (Wead served on the board after a scathing expose of the televangelist aired on NBC). At Copeland's church, Wead combined preaching with political protest as he continued to charge Grassley, his fellow Republican, with "elitism" for pursuing the investigation.
Last week, I reported that Wead had accused Grassley, a Baptist, of launching the investigation because of a doctrinal disagreement with the Pentecostal televangelists, all of whom preach the Word of Faith, or prosperity gospel, doctrine. (For the historical and doctrinal roots of Word of Faith and Wead's role in introducing Word of Faith teachers like Copeland to presidents and presidential candidates, read my book God's Profits.)
On Sunday Wead continued to press those same charges, arguing that "you cannot say there is not a legitimate scriptural rationale for these [Word of Faith] doctrines, they're there in the Bible. If the Constitution allows freedom of religion, people who believe these doctrines and interpret them the way they choose to interpret them, have a right to believe that. And there shouldn't be elitists who seize power in government to stop them from believing them. We've always had elitists like that who try to protect us dumb people, because we're so dumb and we're so stupid." That's a classic ruse used by the televangelists. They have long argued that, because Pentecostalism originated as a religious movement of the poor and uneducated, any criticism of its religious expression and worship style must stem from the disdain of mainline Protestants and evangelicals who engage in the theological equivalent of sipping lattes and driving Volvos.
Many evangelicals, including charismatics who engage in Pentecostal-style religious expression such as speaking in tongues, and most recently John Revell, the editor of the Southern Baptist Convention's magazine, do challenge Word of Faith (again, for the details of that theological debate, read my book), but no one is disputing that Copeland's followers have a constitutional right to believe it if they choose. As Warren Smith, spokesperson for Ministry Watch, a Christian organization that has called on the televangelists to be financially transparent, put it, "This is not a doctrinal question. This is a question of openness and transparency. I don't care if Kenneth Copeland believes in the Easter Bunny. ... If he believes that the Bible teaches that his followers should sell their homes and give the money to Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Copeland should relieve himself in gold-plated toilets and drive around in Bentleys and fly around in Lear jets, that's fine, just disclose that, completely and fully to the public and his donors."
Nonprofits that haven't been blessed with the "church" designation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are required to disclose to the public how much money they earn through donations, grants, conference fees, and sales of products like books, DVDs, or CDs. Non-church tax-exempt organizations have to disclose how much they pay their top executives and the value of perks they provide to them. Because Copeland's entire operation -- the church pastored by his daughter and son-in-law and his massive television ministry -- is designated a "church" by the IRS, he's exempt from those disclosure requirements.
Grassley's spokesperson, Jill Gerber, responded, "Sen. Grassley has answered Mr. Wead's charges many, many times. Sen. Grassley's interest is in tax policy, not doctrine. Tax-exempt organizations have a special tax status that the rest of us don't enjoy and as such, they can expect a certain amount of scrutiny from Congress and the public."
2. The Religious Freedom Ruse
"The founding fathers," said Copeland lawyer David Middlebrook, who also spoke on Sunday, "never imagined a senator would ask such a question of a church." True, but they also never imagined television or televangelists or presidential candidates parading around with them:
Wead, Middlebrook, Copeland's son John, and his grandson Jeremy Pearsons all pressed the religious-freedom argument hard on Sunday. (Kenneth Copeland and his wife, Gloria, were hosting an event in England.) John Copeland introduced the morning's festivities with the claim that "it's actually an honor to be the one to stand up to this," referring to what the Copelands maintain is the government "trampl[ing] over religious freedoms" and engaging in an "attack on First Amendment rights." Middlebrook warned that the Copeland-Grassley stand-off is "about the future of religious freedom in America," and Wead gave advice on how church members could "participate in the blogosphere" and write their members of Congress.
3. Is McCain Making Headway with the Religious Right?
Although John McCain has struggled to win over religious-right leadership, he did get a little bump following his endorsement by the anti-choice National Right to Life Committee and his reiteration of his anti-choice stand last week. FRC Action (the Family Research Council's PAC) sent out a press release praising McCain's embrace of the anti-choice plank in the Republican Party's platform, and his depiction of his views as a "deeply held belief."
McCain does have the support of his party's new evangelical idol: Mike Huckabee who is campaigning with McCain this week in Arkansas and other states. The former candidate, who closed his own campaign in the black, also will be co-hosting a fundraiser for McCain in Little Rock with former Congressman Asa Hutchinson on Friday.
Meanwhile, CQ Politics reports that fiscal conservative and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Freedom Works is annoyed with the FRC's socially conservative Tony Perkins. Armey, who has referred to Perkins ally James Dobson's empire as a "band of thugs" and "nasty bullies," is upset by Perkins' suggestion that a hypothetical President McCain should appoint a "family czar," who would check proposed policies for how they might affect "the strength of the marital commitment, [and] the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit."
4. Day of Silence Protests
On Friday, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) will sponsor its annual Day of Silence, held this year in memory of Lawrence King, an eighth-grader murdered by a classmate for his gender identity. GLSEN's event is designed to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying, and harassment, and to encourage schools to adopt anti-harassment policies. The religious right has long ridiculed the event and sponsored counter-events such as the Alliance Defense Fund's Day of Truth.
This year, a Columbus, Ohio, group called Mission America has organized a coalition of groups, including the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, and the panic-stricken Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and others to encourage children to boycott school on Friday. Needless to say, Mission America and its coalition embrace the usual arguments about homosexual "indoctrination" in public schools and fear-mongering about sexuality. "Homosexual behavior," Mission America's Web site claims, "is not an innate identity; it is sinful and unnatural. No school should advance a physically, emotionally, and spiritually destructive sexual lifestyle to students" by allowing the Day of Silence. Wouldn't it be great to see some of the new evangelical centrists, who have said they don't want to engage in any more gay-bashing, come out against Mission America's vitriol?
5. The Religious Right in the States: A Round-Up of Recent News
In Florida, a Democratic member of the Florida legislature has proposed a bill that would allow motorists to purchase an "I Believe" license plate, replete with a cross, for an extra fee of $25, which would go to benefit a faith-based education group called Faith in Teaching.
In Washington state, two conservative Christian political advocacy groups have merged. The Family Policy Institute of Washington (an affiliate of Focus on the Family) absorbed the local Washington Family Foundation to creat a larger and more powerful organization. The new group's president, Larry Stickney, told the Everett Herald that "Washington, outside of what you see from the Space Needle, is filled with independent and traditional voters. ... We want to wake up what we think is this silent majority." Mike Huckabee and Tony Perkins will headline a fundraiser for the group later this month.
In Louisiana, after the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City of Slidell over the public display of a portrait of Jesus Christ in the court house (and won), Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, called the ACLU "the American Taliban," and told the conservative Cybercast News Service that he finds the ACLU "to be the most vile group that exists in America."
In Ohio, Mount Vernon public school teacher John Freshwater was ordered by school officials to remove a Ten Commandments display and a Bible from his classroom. He refused to remove the Bible, and his spokesperson, Dave Daubenmire, told the Columbus Dispatch that the separation of church and state is a "fraud." Daubenmire, a former football coach at another Ohio school, lost a 1999 lawsuit challenging his practice of leading the team in prayer and is also head of the Christian culture-war groups Pass the Salt Ministries and Minutemen United. Minutemen's mission is "to unite and mobilize God-fearing Americans as an effective, recognized force dedicated to restoring and upholding our Judeo-Christian values as the bedrock of this distinctly American culture. America is at the crossroads. The enemies of God are relentless in their attack. ... The Minutemen are a proactive network of believers ready at a moment's notice to do battle for the cause of Christ."
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.
Correction: Due to an editorial error, this article originally stated that Doug Wead stepped down from Benny Hinn's board after an expose of the televangelist on NBC. In fact, he served on it after the expose.
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