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“GOP Outreach To Gays: At Least We Won’t Kill You”: We Only Want To Deny You Your Rights

Conventional wisdom suggests that Republicans decided to trash the RNC’s autopsy that was completed after their loss in the 2012 presidential election. It contained suggestions that the party should do more to reach out to women and people of color – especially Hispanic Americans. But perhaps we got it all wrong. Maybe in some fevered minds, trashing illegal immigrants was actually their idea of how to reach out to the Hispanic community.

I say that after reading an article by Tierney Sneed titled: GOP Makes “Appalling” Pitch to LGBT’s: Dems Are Choosing Muslims Over You. Perhaps this is what Republicans mean by “outreach.” The message basically comes down to this: We may be trying to deny you your rights, but at least we won’t kill you.

Their reasoning? That somehow, in the wake of the Orlando shooting at a gay night club that left 49 people dead, there’s now a mutually exclusive choice between supporting Muslims and protecting gay people, and Democrats have chosen the former.

The unlovely premise of that rationale is that all Muslims are terrorists, as one Republican congressman has baldly stated.

“Democrats are in a perplexing position. On the one hand, they’re trying to appeal to the gay community, but, on the other hand, they’re trying to also appeal to the Muslim community, which, if it had its way, would kill every homosexual in the United States of America,” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said on a radio show Thursday.

Sneed goes on to provide similar quotes from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. But for anyone who still had a functioning irony meter, the one from conservative evangelist Pat Robertson is sure to break it for good.

Pat Robertson – the conservative preacher and Christian media executive who has said gay people are “demonic” and will eventually die out — said the “left” had “a dilemma of major proportions.”

“We’re looking at a favored group by the left, the homosexuals, and that in Islam is punishable by death or imprisonment or some sanction, so what are the left going to do?” he said on his TV show “700 Club” Tuesday.

What makes that kind of talk so outrageous is that Robertson is a leader among right wing Christians who have supported murderous African dictators in singling out homosexuals for both imprisonment and death.

For the record, I know of no liberals – let alone LGBT people – who have any love lost for groups like ISIS that have practiced horrific executions of homosexuals. Nor is there any lack of protest against regimes in the Middle East (or countries like Russia) that imprison them. But just as in the Christian community, there are Muslims who support equal rights for homosexuals and those who deny them. Republicans who would do the latter should revisit the words of Jesus when he suggested that people check out the log in their own eye before judging the splinter is someone else’s.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 17, 2016

June 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Muslim Americans, Pat Robertson | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Is The GOP Losing Its Religion?”: Religion Will Never Again Enjoy The Public Influence It Once Had

In American politics, where has God gone?

Of course this is an inadequate way of posing the question. God is always present for believers, even if the political workings of the divine can be hard to discern. And religious people continue to occupy points all along the spectrum. Just ask Hillary Clinton about her Methodism.

But especially among Republicans, religious issues have taken a back seat in the party’s discourse and religious leaders are playing a diminished role in the 2016 campaign.

This was not how things started. Many had the remarkable experience during the primaries of hearing Ted Cruz declare to his followers: “Awaken the body of Christ that we might pull back from the abyss.” You can’t get much more religious than that.

But Cruz failed to awaken and unite religious conservatives, a reason why Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelicals was profound.

On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, gay marriage and other moral issues. On the other were those among the faithful so angry about the direction of the country and what they saw as the marginalization of conservative Christianity in public life that they opted for the strongman who could push back hard against their enemies.

Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, spoke for the second group. “Most Americans know we are in a mess,” Jeffress declared, “and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”

Jeffress reflects a profound pessimism among conservative Christians that contrasts sharply with the movement’s hopeful spirit in its Reagan Era heyday.

The current gloom grows out of an implicit awareness of the reality shrewdly captured in the forthcoming book, “The End of White Christian America,” by my friend and colleague Robert Jones. Although conservative Christianity will remain important, the sheer force of demography means it will never again enjoy the public influence it once had.

And in imagining that Trump will somehow reverse the trend, Christian conservatives are taking a big risk. As he has on so much else, Trump has been entirely opportunistic in his approach to religion. By some measures, he’s running the most secular Republican campaign since the 1970s.

In the early primaries, particularly in Iowa and the South, Trump tried hard to identify with a constituency he knew would be key to his success. “I love the evangelicals,” Trump said. “Why do they love me? You’ll have to ask them — but they do.”

His efforts were often awkward. He mangled references to the Bible, referred to communion as “my little cracker,” and once momentarily mistook the communion plate when it came around for the donation plate. But none of this seemed to matter.

He also was far-sighted. Long ago, he put some money where his political needs would be. As Betsy Woodruff reported last year for The Daily Beast, The Donald J. Trump Foundation contributed $100,000 in 2012 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and in 2013 gave $10,000 each to The Family Leader, an influential Iowa evangelical group, and to Samaritan’s Purse.

Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, said nice things about Trump early on. But he took Trump to task in April when the candidate distanced himself from North Carolina’s law barring transgender people from using bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity. Characteristically, Trump quickly walked the statement back and proclaimed himself a states’ rights advocate on the question.

Nonetheless, his initial signal on the North Carolina law marked a new phase in the campaign. As voting moved to Northeastern states with fewer evangelicals, Trump spoke much less about religion and his evangelical love affair. Among his winks to social moderates: praise for Planned Parenthood for having done “very good work for many, many — for millions of women.”

Trump’s comments on immigrants, political correctness and Muslims suggest he is far more anti-multicultural than he is pro-religion. He talks more about symbols and public icons than about faith or morals. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” he said last October. “The ‘Happy Holiday’ you can leave over there at the corner.”

It’s an empty promise, since no president could force “every store” in America to give a Christian greeting. But the fact that he chose to make the media-driven Christmas wars a centerpiece of his argument to Christians shows that his real engagement is with identity politics, not religion.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 2, 2016

June 5, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Don’t Need A ‘Christian Left’ To Replace The Christian Right”: We Need A Commitment To Church-State Separation

It was inevitable, I guess, that the latest talk of the Christian Right “dying” — or at least suffering under divisions created or exacerbated by Donald Trump — would revive hopes of a “Christian Left” emerging to compete with, or even displace, the alliance of Republicans with conservative evangelicals and traditionalist Catholics that has played so large a role in American politics since 1980. And now, at Slate, Ruth Graham has expressed these hopes at considerable length. Though I will not blame her for a sub-headline that fatuously refers to Democrats as a potential “party of God,” Graham’s piece begs for a dissent from a liberal Christian perspective. To put it simply, must Christian progressives replicate the politicization of the Gospel that Falwell and Robertson and Colson and so many others undertook?

Yes, Graham is right in identifying this as an opportune moment to disrupt the popular stereotypes (promoted equally by secular and conservative religious folk) of Christian faith connoting conservative politics, or of the only “good” or “real” Christians being the conservative variety. And it never hurts to protect the First Amendment rights of American Christians to vote and think and speak as they wish, which historically (viz. the abolition and agrarian reform and urban reform and civil rights movements) has been on the Left as much as the Right.

But like previous apostles of a Christian Left such as Jim Wallis, Graham implies that the grievous error of Christian Right leaders is misapplying biblical lessons for contemporary culture and society, and elevating concerns about personal morality and “family life” above commitments to peace and social justice. The idea is that God does indeed have a preferred politics (if not necessarily a party) that just happens to be very different from those the Christian Right has endorsed.

The alternative argument is that believing there’s any comprehensive prescription for political behavior in religious scripture or tradition betrays a confusion of the sacred and the profane, and of the Kingdom of God with mere secular culture. That’s what one prominent liberal Christian named  Barack Obama maintained in his famous Notre Dame commencement speech of 2009, in which he described as essential to faith a healthy doubt about what God wants human beings to do in their social and political lives. And it leads not to a desire to replace the self-righteous Christian Right with an equally self-righteous Christian Left, but to a renewed commitment to church-state separation — on religious as well as political grounds. After all, church-state separation protects religion from political contamination as much as it does politics from religious contamination. And what the Christian Right abetted was political contamination, not just recourse to the wrong politics.

Needless to say, Christians who are also political progressives would get along better with their non-Christian and non-religious allies if they stood with them in staunch support of church-state separation instead of implying that progressive unbelievers are pursuing the right policies for the wrong (irreligious) reasons. And they would also tap into the true legacy of this country’s founders, largely religious (if often heterodox) people who understood the spiritual as well as the practical dangers of encouraging the religiously sanctioned pursuit of political power.

So with all due respect to Ruth Graham and others like her who dream of a Church Militant marching toward a progressive Zion under the banner of a rigorously left-wing Party of God, thanks but no thanks. Progressive Christians would be better advised to work quietly with others in secular politics without a lot of public prayer about it, while also working to help reconcile with their conservative sisters and brothers, who may soon — God willing — be emerging from the Babylonian captivity of the Christian Right.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 17, 2016

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Christian Right, Religious Right | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ethical Philistine”: Why Trump Leads Among Evangelical Voters — Even Though He’s A Religious Illiterate

In the fun-house-mirror dynamics of the 2016 presidential contest, one of the more regularly hilarious images is of Donald J. Trump trying to pander to conservative Evangelical Christians.

Back in July at the summer’s preeminent Christian-right event in Iowa, under questioning from Frank Luntz, Trump famously seemed puzzled that anyone would think he needed to ask God’s forgiveness, and deferred instead to the cleansing power of “my little cracker” and “my little wine,” a.k.a., Communion or, as Catholics and some mainline Protestants would call it, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He rambled through other arguably offensive religious observations (his theological beau ideal, Norman Vincent Peale, is most decidedly not in fashion with any variety of American Christian at present), most of which were submerged in the furor over his disrespecting of John McCain’s war service.

As part of the mainstream media’s confusion over the characteristics of the Trump electorate, there were a few alarms sent up about the Donald’s “base” being Evangelicals, until first Ben Carson and then Ted Cruz came along to challenge his support levels in this demographic. But according to a New York Times/CBS national survey released early last week, Trump remains the leader among Evangelicals, with 42 percent as compared to Ted Cruz’s 25 percent.

Yet he continues to make buffoonish mistakes. Making the obligatory rounds at a Liberty University convocation over the weekend, Trump tried to quote Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, more colloquially referred to as “Second Corinthians.” He called it “Two Corinthians,” showing how little time he’s sat in a pew listening to a Scripture reading. And instead of going to the trouble of negotiating the complicated logic of the Christian right’s position on “religious liberty,” which often seems like compulsory religion to many secular and religious folk alike, Trump cut right to the crudest possible “War on Christmas” chase:

“If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.”

I’m sure the company of saints will cheer.

Still, Liberty president Jerry Falwell Jr. gave Trump a fulsome introduction. And when word leaked out that the tycoon is unveiling an important endorsement in Iowa today, Falwell’s name was the first to surface in speculation before it was displaced by another Christian-right favorite, Sarah Palin.

So how can conservative Evangelicals rationalize their fondness for a man who isn’t even up to the task of pandering to them?

The key to this phenomenon is to understand that the touchstone of the Christian right has always been the semi-divinization of cultural conservatism, and the identification of the Kingdom of God with the patriarchal and puritanical (and sometimes racist) America of the 19th century. So any politician vocally fighting against cultural change, like Donald J. Trump, is objectively a Christian soldier even if he is a religious illiterate and an ethical philistine. This is precisely how conservative Christians have in the past let themselves be recruited into the camps of other highly secular demagogues, from the proto-fascists of the 1930s to the church-y and Bible-quoting segregationists of the civil-rights era.

To their credit, most conservative Evangelical leaders seem to dislike Trump for reasons ranging from his personal ethics to his hateful attitudes toward immigrants; Southern Baptist spokesman Russell Moore has issued repeated jeremiads warning the faithful against this false prophet. It may well be that Trump’s Evangelical following is mostly not that observant. But so long as religious leaders and their political allies treat cultural change as demonic, and people different from them as Satan’s spawn, then they cannot plead complete innocence when their flocks follow the loudest voice of protest and ask for little other than lip service to faith itself.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 19, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Donald Trump, Evangelicals | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Christian Candidate”: The Republican Formula To Snag Christian Votes Is Unraveling

Mike Huckabee is not happy.

Once a rising star in the Republican Party who successfully leveraged his background as a pastor for political advantage, Huckabee’s 2016 presidential run has proved a disappointing sequel to his respectable third place showing in 2008. With underwhelming fundraising numbers and a bump to the kiddy table after the third GOP debate, most voters are no longer paying attention to the former governor’s campaign.

But perhaps the cruelest blow is that many conservative evangelical leaders and organizations have jumped ship, ignoring Huckabee in favor of contenders like Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

Asked about this betrayal in a radio interview, Huckabee struck back. “A lot of them, quite frankly, I think they’re scared to death that if a guy like me got elected, I would actually do what I said I would do,” he alleged — and that would be bad for business.

“A lot of these organizations wouldn’t have the ability to do urgent fundraising because if we slay the dragon, what dragon do they continue to fight?” Huckabee continued, “And so, for many of them, [my victory] could be a real detriment to their organization’s abilities to gin up their supporters and raise the contributions.”

Huckabee pressed on to the final blow: Conservative evangelicals who don’t support him must be motivated by “secular” concerns like personal gain, because if they were truly acting in faith and prayer, they’d support him over their current candidates of choice.

In other words, if they weren’t so sinful, they’d listen to God and vote Huck.

Huckabee’s expression of his frustration is uncivil and theologically suspect, but from a political perspective the frustration is reasonable. After all, the formula to be the GOP’s “Christian candidate” used to be pretty straightforward: Give special attention to culture war issues like gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion; invoke God and scripture regularly; and tell your faith story in a compelling manner. This worked for Huckabee in 2008, just as it worked in 2012 for another 2016 also-ran, Rick Santorum.

But these days there are a lot of candidates trying to capture the GOP evangelical vote. And their success doesn’t seem to have much to do with their actual faith. Witness Cruz, for example, who quotes liberally from the Bible on the stump. His campaign asks supporters to join his national prayer team so there’s a “direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.” (The sign-up form also includes a box you can tick if you “publicly endorse Senator Ted Cruz for President!”)

While the Cruz camp insists there’s no “political or tactical angle” to joining the prayer team, their candidate’s public prayer requests all but equate his own electoral victory with divine salvation for America. Cruz even has the audacity to call his candidacy a “revival” and “awakening” — as in, the Great Awakenings — and many Christian audiences are eating it up.

Marco Rubio is trying to follow the formula too. In a recent campaign ad, for example, Rubio recites a string of Christian catchphrases and biblical allusions so generic that they offer zero insight into his personal faith.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who is interested in the evangelical vote formula exactly insofar as it helps him be the best, hugest, most successful candidate ever — and no farther. Trump knows he needs to say some Christian stuff, but he’s doing the absolute minimum to pass this test.

I know this because that’s what he word-vomited at a rally in Iowa the last week in December. “I even brought my Bible — the evangelicals, OK?” Trump said. “We love the evangelicals and we’re polling so well.”

In case the point of waving around the Bible wasn’t perfectly clear, he added one more time: “I really want to win Iowa — and again, the evangelicals, the Tea Party — we’re doing unbelievably, and I think I’m going to win Iowa.”

Trump’s transparent pandering has been controversial among conservative evangelicals but oddly successful. To be sure, many Christians, including yours truly, have questioned or criticized Trump’s candidacy on moral grounds. Writing at The New York Times, for instance, Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore argued that for evangelical Christians to support Trump means “we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist ‘winning’ trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. To back Mr. Trump,” Moore summarized, “[evangelical] voters must repudiate everything they believe.”

But polls consistently find Trump at or near the top of evangelical Republicans’ list, so his pandering seems to work.

Huckabee’s outburst and Trump’s farce are two sides of the same phenomenon: the inevitable unraveling of an election dynamic that has become too absurd a caricature to continue. While Cruz seems on track to execute a classic fulfillment of the “Christian candidate” formula, his performance may well be one of the last of its kind. Huckabee might be right: The best GOP candidate for conservative Christians’ political goals may not be the best actual Christian.

That may seem like a frightening prospect for a post-Obama Republican Party searching for its identity as it loses demographic ground. But however the next few elections shake out, disintegration of the GOP’s wrong-headed obsession with the “Christian candidate” is much overdue.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, January 18, 2016

January 22, 2016 Posted by | Christian Conservatives, Evangelicals, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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