The FundamentaList (No. 49)

1. Religious Leaders Petition Palin: Will You Please Start Acting Like A Christian?

The Matthew 25 Network, a Christian political action committee that is supporting Barack Obama, last week released a letter to Sarah Palin, which, in so many words, called on her to start acting like she follows Jesus's teachings instead of Karl Rove's. The signers, religious leaders of different Christian traditions, said they were "extremely disappointed in Sarah Palin's divisive, sarcastic, and often deceptive address at the Republican National Convention," and asked Palin as "not only as a political figure, but also as a prominent Christian, to recommit herself to campaigning in good faith, with a strong commitment to truth-telling." The letter cited Ephesians 4:25, which reads, "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are all of the same body."

One of the chief signers, Brian McLaren, is a prominent figure in a movement known as “emerging church”, an eclectic and growing subset of Christians who eschew the theological literalism of the religious right as well as its politics. In an interview this summer, McLaren described what propelled him to support Obama. Referring to U.S. foreign policy after 9/11, McLaren told me that "some of our darker motivations are at work in our national psyche so that fear and even revenge and a desire to reestablish dominance -- I think those are dark motivations, as a Christian."

Compare those words to Palin's description of the Iraq War being part of God's plan, as captured on video at a Wasilla church. (Palin flew to Wasilla that day on the state of Alaska's dime.)

2. Dueling Bible Verses: Mike Huckabee's Hidden Meaning?

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee decided to focus on another Bible verse -- the one that excoriates the media. Didn't know about that one? From Huckabee's blog: "It was a tremendous week and the launch of Sarah Palin was spectacular. The media never read Genesis 50 -- they would have then known that what they did was ‘throw Sarah in the well.' But they would also know that ‘what they intended for her harm has worked out for her good.'"

Huckabee's verse has a double meaning. He cited Genesis 50:20 ("You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives"), suggesting that the media intended to harm Palin but the good will that come out of it will be the mobilization of the base to elect her. But for anti-choice activists, his use of that verse had another meaning: that something good might come out of the evil of abortion. Jill Stanek, who has viciously disseminated the smear that Obama favors infanticide and will be speaking at the Values Voter Summit this week, wrote a in a 2005 column titled "The Genesis 50:20 Rule" that God is actually allowing abortion as part of a plan for the end-times showdown between Christians and Muslims. "Genesis 50:20 [is] a great pro-life verse," Stanek wrote. "Not only does God plan good to come from evil, but His specific intent by allowing evil is to save many lives . ... God is allowing Satan to "devour" (I Peter 5:8) more babies than any other time in human history . ... Add to that the increasing intensity of hatred by Muslims and the world toward Jews and Christians, and pro-lifers may be participating in a larger war than they understand."

This from someone who says that Obama is scary.

3. Blogger Who Unearthed Hagee Quotes About Hitler Goes Too Far With Palin

Bruce Wilson is the blogger who discovered the tape of John Hagee's sermon about the Holocaust being part of God's will -- which led to McCain's rejection of Hagee's endorsement. Now Wilson has written a post about the "weird theology" at Palin's Assemblies of God church. Wilson's piece, which attempts to tie Palin to numerous strands of Pentecostalism and charismatic evangelicalism, some of them controversial, appears to be an effort at tit-for-tat for the right's demonizing of Obama over his relationship with Jeremiah Wright.

But a religion professor and expert on Pentecostalism tells me that if Wilson had turned that piece in as a paper, she would have given it an F. Anthea Butler, professor of religion at the University of Rochester, said that the piece "mixed up a whole bunch of stuff" and that Wilson "doesn't know enough about any of it" to accurately discuss how influential various guest speakers at her churches may have been on Palin's viewpoint. "You can see every heretic known to man speak in every Pentecostal church," said Butler, but that doesn't mean the average person in the pews buys the theology. "[Wilson is] conflating a couple of things to make them sound dangerous," said Butler. "I think he's confused."

To be sure, said Butler, Palin comes out of a religious tradition that views the world through the prism of spiritual warfare, which would influence her domestic and foreign policy positions. "This is someone who would buy into McCain's 100-year war, for spiritual reasons."

That's alarming enough without mocking Pentecostals for religious practices like laying on of hands or casting out demons.

4. Former IRS Officials Complain of Religious-Right Legal Group's "Flagrant Disregard" of Ethics Rules

The Alliance Defense Fund, the religious-right legal group which insists that the Internal Revenue Service rule barring clergy from endorsing candidates from the pulpit is unconstitutional, is getting pushback from a group of pastors in Ohio.

The ADF plans a "Pulpit Initiative" for September 28, when pastors aligned with the group will endorse candidates in their sermons, an effort designed to goad the IRS into investigating them in order to set up a test case to challenge the ban's constitutionality.

The Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of the North Congregational United Church of Christ, is leading a rival effort to have pastors preach about the separation of church and state on September 21. Williams said that more than 55 pastors have signed on to a letter his coalition wrote to the IRS, asking the agency to investigate whether ADF violated its own tax-exempt status by inviting pastors to break the law, to enjoin ADF from going forward with the Pulpit Initiative, and to determine whether donors making contributions since ADF announced the Pulpit Initiative are entitled to a tax deduction.

Non-profit law expert Marcus Owens, a former IRS lawyer now in private practice and representing Williams's group, along with former IRS Commissioner Mortimer Caplin and former head of the agency's office of professional responsibility, Cono R. Namorato, also wrote a letter to the IRS asking it to investigate ADF's attorneys for "coordinating a mass violation of Federal law" and for its lawyers' "flagrant disregard" of the agency's rules of attorney conduct.

5. Latino Evangelicals Shunned by GOP But Still Might Vote for McCain, Leader Says

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which represents 15 million Latino evangelicals, attended the Republican National Convention last week and told me that despite the overwhelming whiteness of the convention, and the party's hostility to immigrants, he predicts that McCain-Palin will get the majority of Latino evangelical votes. (In polls, Obama has a substantial lead among Latino Catholics, a much larger and less conservative group.)

Palin, said Rodriguez, "is a win for Hispanic evangelicals. You have a woman, who happens to be evangelical, and Pentecostal, the fastest growing Hispanic faith demographic in America." And despite the GOP's stance on immigration, Rodriguez predicts that Latino evangelicals will be drawn to the ticket because of conservative wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion. So much for the culture wars being over.

Rodriguez doesn't consider himself a culture warrior, though, and he emphasized his own distance from the religious right. He is interested in expanding the evangelical political agenda to address the environment, immigration, and poverty, and disdains the notion of his organization becoming a tool of either party. Even so, Rodriguez said he thought the gay marriage ban on the ballot in Florida would draw Latino evangelicals to the polls and result in a gain for McCain-Palin. In Florida, Latino evangelicals make up 7 percent of the population, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life Religious Landscape Survey.

Latino evangelicals under 30 favor Obama, said Rodriguez. "Hispanic evangelicals overall," he added, "will have to decide whether they can vote for McCain-Palin in spite of the Nativism, xenophobia, and quasi-racist elements embedded in the Republican Party."

Is that a difficult choice, really?

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