The FundamentaList (No. 44)

1. Religious Right Debates Whether Obama Has "A Spirit of the Antichrist."

At a state GOP convention and across the American Family Association's (AFA) radio airwaves, religious-right activists reacted to Obama's speech in Berlin by suggesting that he will undermine America's sovereignty and greatness and that he might just be channeling the Antichrist.

Mike Huckabee, speaking at the Arkansas GOP convention, said that "the kind of change [Obama] would bring makes us more of a part of some global, mushy, middle-of-the-ground [sic], milquetoast world in which America loses its sovereignty and distinction."

The AFA reaches a rural audience through its radio stations -- it owns over a hundred of them, making it the sixth-largest radio-station owner in the country -- and its daily AFA Report show presents a "Christian worldview" on the news of the day. On Friday, the day after Obama's Berlin speech, the AFA Report's host, Fred Jackson, made note of the "messianic tone" of the speech, then quickly denied that he believes Obama is messianic. Ed Vitagliano, one of the program's roundtable guests, chimed in, "I don't think he's the Antichrist, but there is a spirit of Antichrist at work in the West in a very strong and open way that is leading people to want to solve their problems and have a desire to have their lives improved without Christ. That's what the spirit of Antichrist does, it denies Christ." In other words, Obama's not the Antichrist. He's just like the Antichrist.

2. Running-Mate Watch: Mormon or Jew?

Hardcore right-wing evangelicals who supported Mike Huckabee in the primaries are telling The Washington Times that John McCain will lose if he picks Mitt Romney as his running mate.

Tim LaHaye, author of the apocalyptic Left Behind series, and David Barton, the Christian right's favorite historian and foremost promoter of the "Christian nation" mythology, both tell the Times that Romney lacks the credibility within their constituency to generate enthusiasm for get-out-the-vote drives that McCain would need to beat Obama. Both LaHaye and Barton appeared with Huckabee at "Pastors' Policy Briefings" in 2007 and 2008, aimed at encouraging pastors to mobilize their flocks to vote.

Meanwhile, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission suggests that Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia might just make an excellent running mate for McCain. Land intimated to the AFA's news service that Cantor's anti-abortion record would lock in conservative evangelicals, that he could help keep Virginia in the Republican column, and, most improbably, that he could help McCain with Jewish voters in Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Has Joe Lieberman lost his luster?

3. New "Both Ways Barack" Ad Sponsored By Religious-Right Group Aiming for the Middle.

Let Freedom Ring, a political advocacy group that purports to defend "traditional values," didn't run any negative advertising in 2004; instead it touted George W. Bush's religious faith. With little material from McCain on that front, the group is now running an anti-Obama ad, the first political ad ever aired on MTV. The new ad says that Obama is not a flip-flopper but something even worse: someone who commits to two conflicting beliefs at the same time.

Although Let Freedom Ring advances far-right views on issues like immigration, abortion, and marriage, its president, Colin Hanna, has acknowledged that Republicans now need to reach moderate voters more then ever because of the Democrats' increased advantage in voter registration. "The only way for conservatives to regain majority status," he wrote, "is to broaden the base by returning to the principles and values that reflect the principles and values of Middle America: love of country, love of God, support for a strong but seldom-deployed military and a yearning for personal freedom rather than dependency on government." Are those people watching MTV?

4. Values Voters Summit vs. Rick Warren

Religious-right activists are irked about Rick Warren hosting his "Civil Forum on Leadership and Compassion" just one month before their annual Values Voters Summit in Washington. On its radio show this week, the Family Research Council's Kevin McCullough complained that Warren's meeting would only be a "dog and pony show" where Obama would preach his "gospel of condoms."

The Values Voters contingent is quaking in its boots. Warren shares their beliefs on issues like abortion, homosexuality, and the inerrancy of the Bible. But Warren has gotten so good at wrapping himself up in his Purpose Driven pabulum that he's often touted by Democrats, including Obama, as a great Christian leader, a new kind of evangelical who cares about the poor and vulnerable rather than spouting off mean-spirited culture-war rhetoric. With his best-selling books and his new status as arbiter of the presidential candidates, the religious right fears Warren is stealing its thunder.

But, to counter the religious right, Democrats should be elevating pluralism, not the political legitimacy of a best-selling author who promotes Christianity as superior to other religions and non-belief. Warren maintains that five "giant" world problems -- spiritual emptiness, self-serving leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic diseases, and rampant illiteracy -- conspire to "constrain and prevent masses of people from knowing the saving grace of a loving God who sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins allowing us eternal hope and security." What's more, Warren insists that "there is no organization or government that can effectively eradicate these giants. The only successful solution is the global church of Jesus Christ."

Warren's vision is not Democratic or democratic. The religious right might envy him, but Democrats shouldn't extol him.

5. More Insight into Televangelist Kenneth Copeland's Riches.

A detailed Associated Press story this weekend about Kenneth Copeland, who has defied a Senate Finance Committee investigation into whether his ministry complies with laws governing its tax-exempt status, suggests that the televangelist's empire might be running afoul of tax laws governing compensation of nonprofit executives and their families. According to the piece, Copeland and his relatives have enriched themselves by controlling the board of his church, affiliated nonprofits, and related for-profit companies including oil, gas, ranching, and media ventures.

But the real extent of Copeland's wealth remains shrouded in secrecy, because the Internal Revenue Code requires no transparency from churches, and Copeland has insisted that he's not going to voluntarily open his books for the public to see.

Religious-right legal powerhouses like the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice, and Liberty Legal Institute, have condemned the Senate Finance Committee investigation as an unconstitutional intrusion into church affairs. But the conservative evangelical watchdog group Ministry Watch worries that these legal stalwarts are paying too much attention to the constitution and not enough to their Bibles. Warren Smith, who works for Ministry Watch and runs the Evangelical Press News Service, wrote on Beliefnet that "Christians are required to be open, honest, and above reproach in all our dealings. This should be any Christian ministry's or church's 'default' posture toward its members, its donors, and the world at-large. We shouldn't need a law to require it, but we surely don't need to hide behind the Constitution to prevent it."

Meanwhile, the standoff between Copeland and Charles Grassley continues. Is a subpoena -- and a court fight led by Copeland's legal allies -- in the offing? Don't count on it before the election.

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