1. Rick Warren: America's Pastor or the GOP's?
When I talk to evangelicals about who the most prominent leaders in the post-Moral Majority/Christian Coalition era are, Rick Warren is often the first name that rolls off their tongues. Warren, after supporting George W. Bush for president in 2004, has since refashioned himself as a global crusader for the poor and the sick, rather than a culture warrior fixated on gay marriage and abortion. Even evangelicals who claim to be progressive (and Obama) have assisted in marketing Warren as a new kind of evangelical who has ditched the culture-war vitriol in favor of helping the downtrodden. But although Warren knows how to tone down the rhetoric, he maintains a deeply conservative, biblically literalist worldview, is firmly opposed to reproductive rights, gay rights, and evolution, and views Jesus as the only way to a "purpose-driven life."
Just four years ago, Warren made clear to his followers that the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, was unacceptable due to his position on the "non-negotiable" issues "for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life." In reminding his followers of the imperative to vote, Warren wrote that "President Bush and Senator Kerry have VERY different opinions about the type of people who should become Supreme Court Justices. They could not have more opposite views about these matters. Either man will shape the court in very different ways." The five key issues were abortion, "homosexual marriage," embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, and euthanasia.
On Saturday, the religious right turned Warren's forum, particularly his questions on abortion, when life begins, and the definition of marriage, into a rallying cry for McCain. Charisma publisher Stephen Strang awarded McCain a "gold medal." Other leadership figures, including the High Impact Leadership Coalition's Harry Jackson, American Values' Gary Bauer, Faith2Action's Janet Folger, and Focus on the Family's Tom Minnery, stepped up to declare that McCain had finally sealed the deal with conservative evangelicals -- even though recent polls showed that evangelicals already supported him at about the same level they backed Bush in the 2000 election and approaching his share in the 2004 campaign. (A Pew poll had McCain's share at 68 percent and a Time poll had it at 70 percent; Bush got 68 percent of the evangelical vote in 2000 and 78 percent in 2004).
Warren gave McCain exactly what he'd been looking for: the blessing of the leadership that just last week was freaking out that he might pick a pro-choice running mate.
2. Abortion Still Trumps Expansive Agenda, But Could that Help Obama?
In an interview with Beliefnet after the forum, Warren himself emphasized just how pivotal abortion remains even for evangelicals who say they want a broader agenda. Although some evangelical leaders, like the Rev. Jim Wallis and the Rev. Joel Hunter, have praised the Democratic Party because they believe abortion-reduction language was included in the platform at their behest, Warren questioned whether most evangelicals were moved by the language, and noted evangelicals' suspicion about Democratic motives: "Well, for a person who thinks that abortion is taking a life, I'm sure that's not going to be very satisfactory to most of those people. And to put it in right at the last minute at the end of a campaign, there was some question about that: Why are they doing this?"
But could it turn out that McCain's answers on abortion that so thrilled the religious right will finally highlight for misguided pro-choice voters that McCain is, as Sarah Blustain's recent piece lays out, a pro-life zealot? As Blustain and others have reported, up to half of McCain's support from women comes from those who are pro-choice, and 70 percent of those women are unaware of his clear anti-choice record. So even if Obama didn't win any evangelical hearts that he hadn't already captured before Saturday, pro-choice women mistakenly supporting McCain might just have been persuaded.
3. Religious Right Promoting Lies About Obama's Abortion Record.
The religious right has stepped up its campaign to portray Obama as an infanticidal liar. Fueled by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the Obama-is-a-lying-baby-killer story line is also promoted by anti-choice darling Jill Stanek, who has commemorated Griswold v. Connecticut by naming its anniversary day "The Pill Kills Day" and believes that the Chinese eat sweet-and-sour fetuses.
The substance of the charge, if you can call it that, is that when Obama served in the Illinois Senate, he voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which would have required life-saving efforts for infants born alive during late-term abortion procedures (an extremely rare occurrence), because he believed the bill would have undermined Roe v. Wade, and that he would have supported a similar federal bill had he been in the Senate, because it did protect Roe . The religious right has long lambasted Obama as a baby-killer for the vote, but now the NRLC claims to have discovered documents from a 2003 Illinois Senate committee hearing, chaired by Obama, in which the committee voted down a bill that tracked the federal language. The NRLC now says those committee documents are the proof that Obama is a liar -- and that he was intent on blocking the legislation that would have saved babies' lives.
David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Obama about the NRLC discovery over the weekend, and Obama said that the NRLC was lying and that he opposed the bill because he believed it undermined Roe and because other laws already protected infants. And a campaign spokesperson reiterated to The New York Sun that Obama and his fellow lawmakers had concerns that the bill, even as written, would undermine Roe.
In a normal world, this would be unremarkable: Obama hypothetically would have supported the federal bill, but he thought that the bill before him undermined Roe and that the infants were otherwise protected, so he voted against it. But in conservative media-land, he's a liar and a fraud and this is a story as monumental as, say, supporting a war that has killed over 4,000 American soldiers and untold numbers of Iraqi civilians.
4. The Call Rallies "End-Times Warriors" On The Mall.
Lou Engle, whose organization, The Call, hosted the prayer rally on the National Mall on Saturday, is a major figure in a fundamentalist prayer movement, focused on praying and fasting around the clock to bring about the end times and the return of Jesus Christ. "I am an end-times warrior!" was one of the central mantras of the 12-hour event.
Unlike John Hagee's end-times warriors, Engle's troops don't need a war for Jesus to come back. Instead, they believe that by praying and maintaining what they say is a biblical standard of "purity," they will create God's kingdom on Earth, a prerequisite for Jesus' return. Engle and other speakers singled out different groups -- Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans -- to come to Jesus (or, for the Jews, Yeshuah). The crowd, which organizers estimated at 50,000, was diverse and fervent, entirely buying Engle's claim that abortion represents America's broken covenant with God for which the nation must collectively repent, in order to establish God's kingdom and pave the way for Jesus' return.
Next stop for The Call: San Diego, to organize voters for Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban on the California ballot in November, "to raise up a voice against the encroaching tide of impurity."
5. Tony Perkins Has A Dream For America: Marry Jesus.
Engle warned that the whole nation needs to return "into covenant with Jesus." God, he went on, "will not share you with any other lover," but "we've been adulterers" to God because America hasn't been committed to "foundational truths" laid out in the Bible. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council then took the stage and told of a dream he had about "a covenantal relationship between a man and a wife that was broken," an allegory for America's broken covenant with God. To hear the normally buttoned-up Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council talk about a prophetic dream was really pretty extraordinary and signaled how religious-right political apparatchiks value Engle's influence over his followers.
"We have broken our covenant with God, and if we want our courts to get it right, you and I must get it right by returning to covenant with Almighty God," Perkins shouted while people knelt, prayed, and cheered. "Are you ready to return to a covenantal relationship with God where there is no other God over America but Jesus Christ?"
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