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“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

“Ben Carson Is Right About Something!”: But Where Would His New Standard Leave Most Republicans?

Just a few days ago I wrote an article slamming Ben Carson for his asinine view that a Muslim should not be president of the United States and that the values of Islam are incompatible with our Constitution.  The irony here, of course, is that Carson’s very views are inconsistent with our Constitution, which expressly prohibits a religious test for president (or any federal office.)

But on Monday night Carson actually said something I agree with. While on Fox News, he stated, “I don’t care what religion or faith someone belongs to if they’re willing to subjugate that to the American way and to our Constitution.”

He even said he would support a Muslim American seeking office if the person  “clearly will swear to place our Constitution above their religion.”

I couldn’t agree more with Carson. And I say that as a Muslim American. If a Muslim candidate for office were to advocate imposing Islamic law in America or revising our Constitution to agree with the Koran, I would be the first one to loudly oppose that person.

But I also feel strongly the same test should apply to all candidates of any faith. John F. Kennedy, a man I greatly admire, espoused a similar view when running for president in 1960 when he was subject to vile religious bigotry for being Catholic. Like Carson is now saying about Muslims, in 1960 some on the right claimed that Roman Catholicism was “incompatible with the principles” of our nation and that Kennedy was not truly loyal to America simply because of his faith.

In response, Kennedy gave a famous speech in 1960 before a group of Protestant ministers in Houston to address these allegations head on. There, Kennedy said that “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Adding, “I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

Kennedy did, in essence, what Carson advocated Monday; namely that he swore “to place our Constitution above” his religious beliefs.  And I believe it’s now time for the GOP presidential field to do the same. (The Democrats as well but let’s be honest, the religion talk comes from the Republican presidential field.)

So in accordance with the “Carson doctrine,” at the next GOP debate, all the  presidential candidates should be asked if they would expressly pledge to place our Constitution above their religious beliefs.  Yes, I know some will try to squirm there way out of it saying things like, “America was founded on Christian values and that is my faith” or “America is a Christian nation and I’m a Christian so there won’t be a problem.”

Not so quick. If any candidate refuses to make this pledge, follow up questions must be asked. We, as a nation, need to know specifically which of their respective religious beliefs they view as superior to our Constitution. Here are a few proposed questions:

  1. In the Bible it says that, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Do you agree or reject that principle?
  2. If a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, would you support the men of the town stoning her to death as expressly as mandated by the Bible?
  3. We have heard American pastors called for killing gays for “for their abominable deed” as it’s described in the Bible. Is that something you reject or agree with?
  4.  If a woman is raped in the city but does not cry out for help, would you stone the woman to death to “purge the evil from your midst” or reject that and instead follow our Constitution?
  5. Do you believe in death for those who commit blasphemy as required by the Bible?

We can even ask about modern day issues such as if a bill was put in front of you to ban all abortions, would you sign it, imposing you religious believes upon all Americans or follow the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade?

Don’t we need to know which passages they would follow if elected president and which they would reject? And yes, I know that many of the above passages are from the Old Testament and some Christians will claim that they don’t follow that book—except when some cite it to demonize gays, of course.

Well I’m far from a theologian but Revs. Billy and Franklin Graham are. Billy believes that Christians mistakenly ignore the Old Testament when in fact God gave “the whole Bible to us.” And his son Franklin has echoed that very sentiment with his words, “I believe the Bible from cover to cover. I believe the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament.”

But even before the next debate, we know some would fail the Carson test. For example, Mike Huckabee has stated that conservatives cannot accept “ungodly” court rulings on gay marriage and abortion. He has even urged that we need “to amend the Constitution” to agree with the Bible.

And Rick Santorum in 2012 told us that Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech “makes me throw up,” and U.S. laws must “comport” with the Bible. So he’s out too.

But the jury is still out on the rest including Carson himself. Isn’t it time we know if these candidates will place the U.S. Constitution over the religious beliefs or are they more beholden to the Biblical passages listed above?  I, for one, very much want to know the answer to that question.


By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, September 22, 2015

September 23, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Presidential Candidates, Religious Beliefs, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How The Right Hijacked MLK To Fight Gay Marriage”: Their Cause As Just And Noble As Those Against Slavery, Segregation, And Nazism?

In their fight against the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, leading conservatives have been turning to an unlikely source for inspiration:  Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (PDF), the collection of notes that King smuggled out of his jail cell during his eight-day detention for protesting the Jim Crow laws that sanctioned discrimination across the South.

The letter is one of the most iconic documents from of the Civil Rights era and includes King’s observations on the injustice of segregation and the daily humiliations that black men and women were suffering in their public and private lives.

Fast forward 50-plus years to Sunday morning when pastor-turned-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee referenced King as he decried the same-sex marriage ruling handed down last week as “judicial tyranny.” Huckabee also predicted that Christians across the country would “go the way of Martin Luther King,” and disobey the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriages must be legal in all 50 states.

“In his brilliant essay, the letters from a Birmingham jail, [King] reminded us, based on what St. Augustine said, that an unjust law is no law at all,” Huckabee during an interview on ABC’s This Week.  “And I do think that we’re going to see a lot of pastors who will have to make this tough decision.”

Days earlier, the National Organization for Marriage, which has long opposed marriage equality, cited the same clause in a blistering take down of the Court’s ruling, comparing it to the 1857 Dred Scott decision that declared slavery constitutional.

As the marriage question has wound its way through the courts, conservatives from Franklin Graham to Tom DeLay and Dr. James Dobson (PDF) used the same portion of King’s letter to make the case that the Court’s decision to expand the right to marry would be unjust and immoral.

And when a group of Alabama pastors gave Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore an award this year to recognize his efforts to stop same-sex marriage, they called it the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail Award.”

But King experts say the basic premise of equating King’s fight against segregation with moral objections to same-sex marriage doesn’t ring true to King’s broader message of inclusion, tolerance and the rights of minorities to live by the laws of the majority.

“King never said a law is immoral if it doesn’t line up with the Bible. He would never have said anything like that. That’s not the way he thought,” said Doug Shipman, the founding director of the National Center for Civil Rights and Human Rights. “If you look at the letter, morality is bringing people together, not separating them from each other. So it seems odd that King would draw an exclusive line someplace.”

More broadly, it also seems odd that some cultural and religious conservatives are increasingly appropriating not just the language of the Civil Rights movement, but are also identifying themselves as an oppressed minority in a country that remains mostly white and mostly Christian.

On Sunday, Roy Moore warned Alabama churchgoers that they should prepare for their persecution.  “Welcome to the new world,” he said.

At a protest to keep the Confederate flag flying on the statehouse grounds in Alabama over the weekend, a woman carried a sign that read “Southern Lives Matter,” which spawned the Twitter meme #SouthernLivesMatter. It was exactly as ugly a cocktail as you’d expect from a combination of race, Twitter, and a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the Confederacy.

At the same rally, a Confederate flag supporter told the AP, “Right now, this past week with everything that is going on, I feel very much like the Jews must have felt in the very beginning of the Nazi Germany takeover. I mean I do feel that way, like there is a concerted effort to wipe people like me out, to wipe out my heritage and to erase the truths of history.”

Those truths of history make it impossible to draw a straight line from American slavery to Nazi Germany to the Jim Crowe South to today’s conservatives, who have seen social change sweep across the country in the last week and felt powerless to stop it.

Historically accurate or not, that lack of power, that sense of being a victim to current events, has become a key element of the new populism on the right that candidates like Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker are trying to harness.

That explains Huckabee’s and other conservatives’ decision to graft the fight against gay marriage onto MLK’s fight for Civil Rights. It also makes Ted Cruz’s reaction to the marriage decision (telling an Iowa crowd that “the last 24 hours at the United States Supreme Court were among the darkest hours of our nation” and hitting the “elites” on the Court), make perfect sense. And it explains why Scott Walker would suggest a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage that would be ratified by the states through a vote of the people.

By telling conservatives that their fight is as difficult and just and noble as those against slavery, segregation, and Nazism, the GOPers are not only endorsing conservatives’ fight, they are also casting themselves as the next Lincoln, the next FDR, or the next MLK that history will require to overcome tyranny.

When Huckabee quoted from King’s letter on Sunday, it wasn’t the first time. At the March for Marriage in front of the U.S. Capitol in 2014, he read lengthy passages of King’s words from a white iPhone to the crowd that had gathered to protest same-sex marriage.

“I wish I had penned those words,” Huckabee said. “But they were penned by someone who understood freedom, and understood that there was a time to stand up against law when it has become unjust. Those are the words that were penned in 1954 by Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

Among other omissions and inaccuracies, Huckabee botched the date King wrote the letter. It was in 1963.


By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, July 1, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Martin Luther King Jr, Mike Huckabee | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Look Out For Thunderbolts”: The President Dares To Defy Franklin Graham

We still don’t know for sure who if anyone is responsible for shoving 93-year-old Billy Graham back into the harness of right-wing politics after so many years of devoting himself to loftier causes, in order to marginally boost the numbers for North Carolina’s Amendment One. But this statement from his son in response to the president’s announcement of support for same-sex marriage is certainly a pretty big hint:

On Tuesday my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself.

In changing his position from that of Senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more.

The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.”

A swift response to Franklin Graham from a fellow North Carolina minister, the Rev. Murdoch Smith, pastor of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, said it all for me: “I am always suspect when someone says that they know the mind of God.”

I understand that many sincere Christians fundamentalists believe they are submitting themselves to God and subordinating their own egos and their own self-interest by simply following in their lives what they understand to be infallible divine revelation of the Bible. Many of them, indeed, are so humble it would not occur to them to impose their views on other people, much less force them to live as they do.

If there is anything humble or self-effacing or ego-immolating about Franklin Graham, I certainly don’t see it. As Rev. Smith says, he doesn’t follow God; he knows God and speaks for him, the God that not only fully reveals his Will to Franklin Graham via Franklin Graham’s infallible interpretation of scripture, but through God’s great and characteristic conservatism, his deep and manifest satisfaction with people like Franklin Graham who defend the ways things used to be before women and gay people and other lesser breeds got all uppity.

When people like Graham presume to accuse the President of the United States of “shaking his fist at God,” they are assuming the Prophetic Stance, the Hebrew tradition of calling down divine wrath on a depraved society. Ask yourselves: what kind of prophet would look at today’s world, with its poverty and violence and gross inequality, its environmental brinksmanship, its intolerance, its sheer wastefulness and lack of charity—and decide that what merits divine wrath is gay marriage? What sort of man of God could look at all the grievous occurrences on earth, and declare, with absolutely no indication of self-doubt, that God is grieving over gay people deciding to commit themselves to each other in love?

I’m sorry, I just do not get it. Graham has confused himself with God to an extent that when Barack Obama dares take a position he doesn’t like, he’s shaking his fist at God. I think Franklin Graham’s the one who’d better look out for thunderbolts.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 11, 2012

May 12, 2012 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Republicans Hypocrites By Nature?

The fire-and-brimstone Christian Right bible-thumper who gets busted buying crack cocaine from a male prostitute, or the “family values” conservative who turns out to be a serial philanderer. These are now stock characters out of GOP central casting.

But other than the rather tedious accumulation of examples of self-righteous Republicans who want us to do as they say and not as they do, is there something about Republicanism itself that produces these double standards? Is hypocrisy, in short, endemic to conservatism?

That is what Washington Post liberal E.J. Dionne wants to know. In his column this week, Dionne says that hypocrisy – “the gap between ideology and practice” — has now reached a “crisis point” in American conservatism.

“This Republican presidential campaign is demonstrating conclusively that there is an unbridgeable divide between the philosophical commitments conservative candidates make before they are elected and what they will have to do when faced with the day-to-day demands of practical governance,” writes Dionne.  “Conservatives in power have never been — and can never be — as anti-government as they are in a campaign.”

In an oft-quoted 2006 essay in Washington Monthly, “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern,” Boston College professor Alan Wolfe called contemporary conservatism “a walking contradiction” since conservatives were unable to shrink government but also unwilling to improve government and so ended up splitting the difference in ways that resulted in “not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.”

The problem begins, says Wolfe, when conservatives promise to shrink the size and reach of the federal government but find once in office they are “under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives.” And this, says Wolfe, “puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions — indeed, whose very existence — they believe to be illegitimate.”

To Dionne, this pulling in opposite directions is what inevitably makes conservatives hypocrites.

Why, for example, are so many conservatives anti-government while spending long careers drawing paychecks from the taxpayers? asks Dionne. Why also do conservatives “bash government largesse while seeking as much of it as they can get for their constituents and friendly interest groups?”

Why do conservatives criticize entitlements and big government yet promise their older, conservative base they will “never, ever to cut their Medicare or Social Security?”

And what about defense?  Why do Republicans support the free market yet refuse to consider any cuts at all in the bloated Military Industrial Complex that takes taxpayer dollars and transforms them into private profits.

The list goes on. The reason our political system is so “broken,” says Dionne, is that conservatives are hypocrites who keep making “anti-government promises that they know perfectly well they are destined to break.”

Dionne’s criticisms are well taken. But he needs to dig deeper. It’s not just small-government conservatives who are hypocrites about the size and cost of government they are willing to support. It’s that conservatism itself, as a collection of ideas about organizing society, inevitably breeds hypocrisy.

Conservatives are sure to cry foul and will no doubt respond by producing a mountain of examples where liberals have behaved hypocritically. I am sure they can. But that’s beside the point. The real point is that liberals care about hypocrisy and conservatives don’t.

Here’s why: liberals want to build a larger community by weaving together the different threads in our society into a fuller and more varied tapestry. This multi-culturalism and promotion of diversity, in fact, is what conservatives hate most about liberals since conservatives want to defend the community they already have by keeping others out, and by using politics to do it.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals because the only way to build a larger community is by first building trust. And the only way to build trust is by treating everyone equally — by consistently and impartially applying the same universal principles to like individuals in like situations.

Hypocrisy is the unequal application of principle, producing an arbitrariness that eats like a cancer at the connective tissue of the ethnically, religiously, and demographically diverse communities liberal societies hope to create.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals like Rachel Maddow — a lot — as her long-time listeners well know. Nothing makes Maddow madder than when people say one thing and do another. The best parts of her show, in fact, are when she takes apart right wing hypocrites with prosecutorial precision, exposing Republicans who attack Obama’s “job-killing” stimulus program on Fox News while taking credit for the jobs actually created in their local newspapers back home.

When Republicans accused Democrats of destroying the American Republic by using budget “reconciliation” to pass the Affordable Health Care Act, you could see the glee (and contempt) in Maddow’s eye as Republican duplicity was exposed as she quietly sat there while example after example of Republicans using reconciliation when they were in charge scrolled endlessly across the screen.

I watch Maddow’s surgical dissection of Republicans and think they’ve got to be devastated. But then I listen afterward, dumbfounded, as their only takeaway from this embarrassing unmasking is that Maddow is a partisan hack.

But after all, why should a right wing conservative care if he’s ridiculed for applying one standard to one group and a different standard to his? Why should he care if he is called a hypocrite considering that his ultimate objective is to guarantee the supremacy of white, Christian, affluent males?

Or take a charlatan preacher like Franklin Graham, whose sole objective isn’t saving souls but electing other Republicans. Why should Graham care if his duplicity is called out on national TV when he insists it’s impossible for him to vouch for the authenticity of President Obama’s Christian devotion while Graham eagerly does just that for Rick Santorum or even the three-timing Newt Gingrich?

Man is moral but society is not, the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us. Telling the truth and being true to our stated principles may be sovereign in our personal lives but can easily give way to the demands of our political commitments, as right wing conservatives know all too well.

Hypocrisy matters to liberals because the principles of equality and fair-dealing upon which our liberal way of life depends matter to liberals — and when those principles are impartially applied bridge the  differences that creates a society greater than the sum of its parts.

Right wing conservatives do not share this vision of the Great Society and so are untroubled by hypocrisy because their first and only commitment is to their group.

We are a nation not of blood and soil but of ideas, President George W. Bush told us in his second inaugural. Liberals accept that belief implicitly. Right wing conservatives do not. To this new generation of radical conservatives, societies are still based on soil and blood. With the emphasis on blood.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, February 23, 2012

February 24, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Ideologues | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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