1. Former Bush Confidant Continues to Defend Televangelists
Appearing on televangelist and Grassley target Kenneth Copeland's program last week, former Bush family confidant and televangelist advocate Doug Wead once again defended his friend from that "elitist," Sen. Charles Grassley.
Wead, the architect of the evangelical outreach efforts of both the first and second President Bush, is intimately familiar with the theological disagreements among American evangelicals. Though he defends Copeland's prosperity gospel, he is also well aware of how doctrinally controversial it is. (Although Wead's tactics helped George W. Bush get elected and re-elected, he fell out of favor with the Bush family in 2005 after he released secretly taped conversations in which George W. Bush admitted to marijuana use.)
Copeland played a key role in Wead's strategy. As I detail in God's Profits, in 1985 Wead compiled a list of 1,000 "targets" -- religious leaders of influence that the elder Bush should become friendly with for political reasons. Copeland was in the top dozen, along with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Wead, in fact, seemed to think Copeland was more useful than Robertson and Falwell because they were divisive while he was more "discreet." And when George W. Bush was contemplating his own presidential run 13 years later, Wead told Karl Rove that Copeland "is arguably one of the most important religious leaders in the nation."
On the program last week, Copeland made sure that his viewers understood the political connections he and Wead share, somehow evading the obvious contradiction inherent in the idea that Copeland is at once under siege by an elitist senator and a confidant of presidents. "I had the privilege of discussing different things with you when you were an adviser in the Bush campaign and later in the Bush White House," he reminded Wead. Wead replied that Copeland has also met with presidents, but that few people know this "because those were meetings you kept private, and what was shared you kept private, but you've had your impact on this country, Kenneth, impact for good."
Wead played along as Copeland accused Grassley of "literally hat[ing] all six of us" (referring to the six televangelist targets), argued that "Satan is going to try his best to persecute" Pentecostals and charismatics, and wondered whether "the Devil stirred up senators ... because I'm not preaching Republican doctrine or the doctrine of the Democratic Party." Although Copeland claims to have no partisan affiliation, he says that God told him in the 1970s to read both parties' platforms and that God "asked me this question: Did you ever notice that the abortionists, the homosexual community, people that are on the far, far left side of everything, have you ever noticed they are very seldom divided against a candidate?" (Apparently God hasn't updated Copeland on this year's Democratic primary.)
2. Shouldn't Americans Be Concerned That Politicians Hang Out With Guys Like Copeland?
And don't worry, Copeland was not any politician's personal pastor -- he is just one of the most important religious leaders in the nation. Even though there is extensive video of him saying that Satan is behind a Congressional investigation, arguing that your faith in Jesus empowers you to call money into existence, and engaging in the controversial charismatic tradition of holy laughter, you won't be seeing him condemned on Fox News.
I'm not making any judgment about people's religious experiences, and if they want to partake in holy laughter -- a sort of spiritual drunkenness, if you will -- I really don't care. But if we're going to have to hear about the "controversial" and "Marxist" theology of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright for the next six months or longer, it seems quite relevant to explore a televangelist who has prayed with and provided political comfort to Republican politicians for two decades. Especially when that televangelist has claimed to have amassed over a billion dollars through his tax-exempt organization, and has accused a Congressional investigation into his operation's possible abuse of that tax-exempt status of being satanic.
What's more, there are probably more active politicians who believe Copeland's sort of theology than Wright's. Copeland protégé Keith Butler, pastor of Word of Faith International Church in Southfield, Michigan, ran in his state's Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006. He lost, but he's hardly a marginal figure. He gave political advice to the elder Bush and was rewarded with the post of deputy co-chair of the 1992 Republican National Convention, and a seat on the platform committee. And Rep. Michele Bachman of Minnesota gave her infamous "fool for Christ" speech at the church of Mac Hammond, another Copeland protégé.
3. Copeland and Huckabee Keep the Baptists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics Together.
Wead now is peddling the argument that, while at one time all those Methodists and Lutherans and Presbyterians were part of the fold, now all that's left of Bush's evangelical base is Southern Baptists, charismatics, and Pentecostals. It's a not-so-subtle warning to Grassley (which Grassley has completely and justifiably ignored) that he's mucking up the GOP's chances of consolidating the evangelical vote in November.
What's the glue that's holding the Pentecostal-Baptist alliance together? Why, it's Mike Huckabee and Kenneth Copeland, well-known buddies -- but don't worry, no pastor-parishioner relationship there! Their relationship was cemented when Copeland used a gathering of pastors to help the struggling campaign scare up some needed cash in January. "I've seen you sitting with presidents and talking with them, and I believe that right now, you and your relationship with Gov. Mike Huckabee, for example, you representing the Pentecostals and he representing the Southern Baptists, are kind of holding this thing together single-handedly," said Wead. (Apparently Huckabee has an issue with financial secrecy as well, as he settled yet another inquiry by an ethics panel in Arkansas over secrecy of donors to his official portrait.)
But, perhaps owing to Wead's public-relations effort, a bigger coalition of conservatives -- not just Baptists and Pentecostals -- has gotten behind Copeland. In a letter to the Senate Finance Committee on Friday, 23 conservative Christian leaders, including (Catholic) religious-right godfather Paul Weyrich and the Rev. Rob Schenck, head of the interdenominational National Clergy Council, who has set up a cottage industry of vilifying Wright, asked that the panel honor Copeland's request that the Internal Revenue Service investigate him under the Church Audit Procedures Act of 1984, which requires a "high ranking Treasury official" to initiate the investigation, which must be kept completely secret.
But Warren Smith, spokesperson for Ministry Watch, a leading critic of the lack of transparency in the operations of the Grassley Six, argues that the Church Audit Procedures Act does not apply since Copeland's operation, far from really being a church, is a for-profit entity "potentially fraudulently hiding behind this designation."
Jill Kozeny, a spokesperson for Grassley, reiterated that the investigation is not about doctrine, but about "the adequacy of tax-exempt laws, which haven't been updated in any substantial way since 1968." And during that time, televangelism has exploded, its scope has expanded, and its nonprofit and for-profit functions have blended. That's what Grassley is investigating, and that is what Copeland is trying to keep under wraps.
4. Useful Idiots?
At the National Press Club this morning, evangelical leaders unveiled "An Evangelical Manifesto: The Washington Declaration of Identity and Public Commitment." As I reported here a few weeks ago, the Manifesto has ruffled some feathers of religious-right culture warriors, who have claimed they were excluded from the drafting process.
Although the document was still embargoed at press time, a copy was leaked to the Associated Press, which reported that it takes evangelicals to task for politicizing theological issues, leading to "Christians becom[ing] 'useful idiots' for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becom[ing] an ideology." And even though it appears to chastise both conservative and progressive evangelicals equally for such politicizing of issues (if someone can tell me who those progressive evangelicals are, that would be mighty interesting), it's the right that has taken umbrage at its exclusion from the drafting process. People close to the writing process have told me that no one was excluded, but another person with knowledge of it interpreted it as a rebuke of the tactics and tenor of the culture wars. I'll have more later in the day over at TAPPED.
5. McCain's Speech on Judges Thrills Religious Right
After John McCain gave a speech in North Carolina yesterday promising more judges like Roberts and Alito, the Family Research Council signaled its second embrace of the Arizona senator in just a few weeks. (Last time it came in response to his comments on abortion.) But it wasn't just McCain's judicial promises -- he's surely promised such nominees before -- but his condemnation of those terrible people in the black robes (so out of touch with the ideals of real Americans) that really got the FRC's motor running. Throw in some tongue-lashing for those "obstructionist" Democrats, some castigating of federal judges for "the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts" and showing "little regard" for "the authority of the president, the Congress, and the states" as well as the "will of the people," and they're practically hitched.
Contact me at tapthefundamentalist AT gmail DOT com.