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“Unwrapping Falwell’s Trump Endorsement”: Trump “Reminds Me So Much Of My Father”

On the surface, the political dynamic is baffling. Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of a legendary right-wing TV preacher and the head of one of the nation’s largest evangelical universities, threw his official political support behind Donald Trump – a secular, thrice-married casino owner who’s never really demonstrated any interest in, or knowledge of, matters of faith.

And yet, here we are. Falwell has not only offered a spirited (no pun intended) endorsement to the Republican frontrunner, he’s even gone so far as to say Trump “reminds me so much of my father.”

There’s a fair amount to a story like this one, but let’s start with a blast from the recent past.

In November 2007, another thrice-married New York Republican was running for president, who also had a secular track record of supporting abortion rights and gay rights. And yet, a high-profile televangelist – Christian Coalition president and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson – nevertheless threw his support to that GOP candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

Social conservative activists and leading religious right groups howled, for reasons that are probably obvious. Giuliani was the antithesis of everything evangelicals were looking for in a Republican presidential candidate, and yet, Robertson ignored his allies and threw in his lot with the secular, Catholic adulterer.

Why? Because Robertson’s priorities weren’t (and aren’t) at all similar to those of many other evangelical leaders: the “700 Club” host saw a Republican leading in the polls; he wanted a seat at the table with a man he perceived as a future president; and so Robertson followed the prevailing political winds.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know this was a poor bet – Giuliani failed spectacularly as a candidate, earning exactly zero delegates – but it was a reminder that Robertson is a partisan first and a culture-war ideologue second, while other prominent social conservatives reverse the two.

And Robertson isn’t the only social conservative who thinks this way.

In the current GOP race, prominent political evangelical leaders effectively limited their top choices to five Republican presidential hopefuls: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson. Trump was an afterthought.

Cruz emerged as the religious right movement’s standard bearer, but like Robertson eight years ago, that didn’t stop Jerry Falwell Jr. from going his own way.

Of course, there’s also the larger question of why Falwell’s fellow evangelicals would even consider Trump in the first place. We can’t say with certainty whether the Liberty University president has partisan or electoral motivations, but that’s a separate question from what other social conservatives are thinking as they, too, rally behind Trump.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent published a good piece on this last week.

Instead, Trump’s success among evangelical voters may be rooted in the fact that, more than any other GOP candidate, Trump is able to speak to their sense of being under siege. Trump somehow conveys that he understands on a gut level that both Christianity and the country at large are under siege, and what’s more, he is not constrained by politically correct niceties from saying so and proposing drastic measures to reverse this slide into chaos and godlessness.

I recently talked to Robert Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, who has been studying evangelical opinion for many years. His research has led him to believe that Trump is very good at speaking to evangelicals’ sense of a lost, mythical golden age in America that predates the political and cultural turmoil of the 1960s.

In other words, we’re talking about a group of voters – largely white, older, social conservatives – who hear Trump vowing to “make America great again,” and believe him, without much regard for his ignorance about religion, his messy personal life, or his previous policy positions.

If a secular, thrice-married casino owner who uses phrases like “Two Corinthians” is eager to champion a vision of a bygone era, these evangelicals appear to care more about the message than the messenger.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Jerry Falwell Jr | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb And The Falwells: A Match Made In Heaven”: The Histories Of Liberty University And The Bush Dynasty Are Closely Intertwined

Jeb Bush left Protestantism in his 40’s to convert to Roman Catholicism, and he’s widely perceived as the most moderate potential 2016 presidential contender.

So, at first blush, it may seem a little odd that Liberty University—the largest Christian (mostly evangelical) university in the country—gave him the honor of delivering its commencement address.

Liberty is nothing if not conservative. And conservatives hate the establishment. Right?

Wrong.

In fact, the Bush family and the Falwell family are a match made in heaven. And their bond is likely to be a boon to Jeb’s White House dreams.

Jerry Falwell, the single most influential conservative Christian power broker of the 20th century, founded Liberty in 1971 to foster evangelicals’ political and cultural clout.

Since then, the school has had some dramatic ups and downs, with the downs reaching their lowest in 1990 when the school faced $110 million in debt.

But Falwell died and God provided: Thanks in part to the pastor’s hefty life insurance policy, the school paid its dues, got in the black, and catapulted to a higher place than ever in the conservative firmament.

And even when it was short on money, it never lost its political cachet.

The histories of the university and the Bush dynasty are closely intertwined.

In 1980, former congressman and U.N. ambassador George H. W. Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination with a less-than-red-meat record, and he was pro-choice as Reagan’s vice president. His beliefs could have permanently soured his reputation with evangelicals.

That’s where Falwell comes in: The reverend endorsed Bush in the 1988 Republican presidential primary, even though Pat Robertson—an evangelical televangelist whose ideological resume had much more overlap with Falwell’s—was also a contender.

This has often been chalked up to rivalry between the two preachers. But it was more than that.

“Establishment recognizes establishment,” said one prominent evangelical leader who was close with the late Falwell.

As he explained, Southern evangelicals have been part of their region’s cultural establishment for decades, and in a way that their Northern counterparts couldn’t have dreamed.

When it comes to said cultural establishments, Northern evangelicals have been on the outside looking in, while those from the South have been on the inside looking out. So Southern evangelicals are much more comfortable with the possession and the exercise of cultural and political power than Northern evangelicals are. And nobody possessed and exercised political power quite like the Bushes, including Bush 41, a literal senator’s son.

So Falwell had an immediate commonality with the Bushes that helped solidify their relationship. They may have differed in policy, theology, rhetoric and a host of other details. But in one key area, they had everything in common: In their respective spheres, they were boss.

“These two families have each played an iconic role in modern, American politics, and their influence has intersected on not a few occasions,” said Johnnie Moore, a former senior vice president of Liberty University.

“When it did intersect, it was a force to be reckoned with. There will be two political dynasties represented on that stage at Liberty University this weekend whose influence is not only undeniable, it’s incalculable.”

In 1990, Bush found himself at Liberty, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the reverend and delivering the commencement address to a crowd of evangelical voters who had helped secure his predecessor’s legacy.

And Bush 43 wasn’t the only so-called establishment-type to win Falwell’s imprimatur.

A few years after Sen. John McCain put him on his list of “agents of intolerance,” the pastor invited him to deliver the university’s 2006 commencement address.

The two broke bread, a reconciliation that boosted McCain’s 2008 presidential efforts.

And Falwell’s son, Jerry Falwell Jr., invited Mitt Romney to give the school’s 2012 commencement address. His decision to give that platform to a Mormon enraged many conservative Christians. But Jerry Jr. and Mitt Romney had commonality where it counted: They were both the heirs of dynasts.

If George H. W. Bush had a good relationship with the evangelicals in Falwell’s orbit, George W. Bush had a magnificent one.

“In 41, they’d take our calls,” said the aforementioned evangelical leader. “In 43, they’d call us.”

And now it’s Jeb’s turn.

And Liberty’s protestants will likely make him feel right at home.

And even though he’s pledged allegiance to Rome, they still see him as one of their own: the kid brother of their favorite president ever and the unabashed social conservative icon who tried to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

And, per excerpts of his speech provided to reporters in advance, Jeb will speak their language.

“Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice,” he plans to say, “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.”

“Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace,” he’ll add, “and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.”

Consider a country without Falwell’s influence, and you might be considering a country without the Bushes.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 8, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Jerry Falwell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“He Was Awfully Busy Last Time”: In Early Polling, God Remains Undecided On Pick For 2016 GOP Nominee

Had you asked me which of the 20 or so potential Republican presidential candidates would be first to claim that his candidacy was endorsed by God himself, I would have said Ben Carson, who has the necessary combination of deep religious faith and self-aggrandizing nuttiness. And today we learn that while the creator of the universe is still mulling his options, he’s not exactly giving Carson a no:

In an interview on Thursday with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, Carson said he felt the hand of the Lord pushing him toward the White House.

“Has He grabbed you by the collar yet?” host David Brody asked.

“I feel fingers,” Carson said. “But, um, you know… It’s mostly me.”

Admirably modest and self-aware, I’d say. But I still bet that eventually Carson will announce that he’s received a signal from above that the campaign is a go. If and when he does, he’ll surely have some competition, that is if 2016 is anything like 2012. In case you don’t recall, God was awfully busy last time. Here are some highlights:

Michele Bachmann, when asked if she was being called to run, said, “Well, every decision that I make, I pray about, as does my husband, and I can tell you, yes, I’ve had that calling and that tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do.” She also noted that God had called her to run for Congress in 2006.

In July of 2011, Rick Perry said his impending campaign was a God-sanctioned religious mission: “I’m getting more and more comfortable every day that this is what I’ve been called to do. This is what America needs.”

While Rick Santorum didn’t say God had instructed him to run, his wife Karen did say that she put aside her initial reluctance about a campaign after concluding that it was what God wanted.

My personal favorite is Herman Cain’s story of how one day when he was tired from going out and meeting potential voters his granddaughter sent him a text telling him she loved him. The sweet act of a loving child? Heavens, no. “Do you know that had to be God?” Cain said. “I know that God was speaking to me through my granddaughter, that this is something that I have got to at least explore.”

And here’s a little bonus from four years prior, when past and future candidate Mike Huckabee, who may or may not have been called to run, explained a fleeting rise in his poll numbers by saying, “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. That’s the only way that our campaign can be doing what it’s doing. And I’m not being facetious nor am I trying to be trite.” Apparently, God was only teasing, because Huckabee did not in fact become president.

Of course, just because God tells you to run doesn’t mean he’s promising you’ll win. Maybe it’s his plan that you run and humiliate yourself in order to make you humble, which looks like it might have been the idea with Rick Perry in particular (though I don’t know that the humility lesson really took).

All kidding aside, I understand that deeply religious people pray for guidance and wisdom whenever they’re faced with a big decision, and whether to run for president is about as big as it gets. It helps if you can attribute to God the thing you want for yourself. And this is really just a religious version of the reason every candidate says they’re running. No one says, “I’m running for president because I’m pathologically ambitious, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was 10 years old, and this is the year I think I’ve got a real shot.” Instead, they all say it’s a calling of one sort or another. It’s because the challenges the country faces are so enormous that as someone who cares so deeply about America, they just couldn’t stay on the sidelines. It’s because they have a vision that can lead us into the future. It’s because this is such a critical time in our history. In short, they all say, “I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for something much larger and greater.”

In other words, everyone who runs for president delivers a line of bull when asked why they’re running. Saying it’s because God demands it may at first blush sound particularly crazy, but it’s all the same.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 22, 2014

November 23, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Faithful Are Spinning Out Of Control”: The Bizarre Behavior Of Christian Conservatives This Week

If Christianity had its own PR flack, he would be slamming his fist on the desk right about now, as the faithful are spinning out of control.

A Tennessee man, Ronnie Monday, and his friends thought they were doing the “Lord’s work,” by raising money to erect a massive billboard in the town of Portland that called homosexuality an abomination. It quotes Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman. It is an abomination.” To the right of the verse the billboard says, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.” Yet what Monday didn’t address is that a few verses later in Leviticus, homosexuals are condemned to death. So much for loving the sinner.

The United States Air Force entered the religious battle this week when it said it would not let a veteran airman reenlist unless he swore an oath unto God. The airman, who has remained unnamed, signed the oath document, but crossed out the words “so help me God.” Bryan Fischer of the ultra-conservative American Family Association said that atheists should not even be allowed to serve in the armed forces. “There is no place in the United States military for those who do not believe in the Creator,” he said. “A man who doesn’t believe in the Creator … most certainly should not wear the uniform.”

How quickly Fischer dismisses the lives of those like Pat Tillman, an open atheist who lost his life not long after he walked away from his professional football career to fight Al Qaeda after 9/11. The American Humanist Association and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation quickly took action against the Air Force, which strongly defended the wording of the oath. Eventually, the organizations wore the Air Force down, and it dropped its religious enlistment requirement.

After the Air Force’s decision to drop the requirement, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson went on an anti-Semitic tirade: “There’s a left-wing radical named Mikey Weinstein [president of MRFF] who has got a group about people against religion or whatever he calls it, and he has just terrorized the armed forces.” He continued, “You think you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to defend us, and you got one little Jewish radical who is scaring the pants off of you.”

On the subject of the military, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared in front of a crowd that the US should not fear a war with the Islamic militant group ISIS because Huckabee has read the Bible, and it contains a prophecy. “I got good news for all the dispirited and disquieted Christians in America who somehow are afraid that the Sons of Ishmael who are challenging us now in the Middle East will overwhelm the Sons of Isaac,” Huckabee said. “Let me assure you, I have read the end of the book! My dear friend, we win!”

For those who have not read the Bible, there is a massive lack of information about how to deal with ISIS, but that did not stop Huckabee, who even appeared on Fox News endorsing greater military action, saying dropping bombs is not enough to “eradicate ISIS.”

And last, if you are not familiar with Jesus’ famous sermon on the mount, Jesus blessed the poor and the hungry. But now he’s blessing the gun nuts? Pat Robertson, who can’t stay out of the news, has added a new verse: “Blessed are the fully armed because theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

Robertson was referring to earlier fear-mongering comments in which he claimed, “Violent attacks and even deaths on church property occur far more often than people realize.” But Robertson had good news for his viewers, saying, “The good news: You can protect yourself. What are you going to do, are you going to give church members AK-47s at the door to let them blow away those intruders?”

I don’t think Jesus meant handguns when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

 

By: Dan Arel, AlterNet, September 18, 2014

September 22, 2014 Posted by | Atheism, Christian Conservatives, Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fundamentalism, The Political Kiss Of Death”: Experienced Veterans Of Culture Wars, Just Not On The Winning Side

Jonathan Rauch writes that Christian conservatives, in response to their defeat in the “culture wars,” are likely to isolate themselves from the wider society.

I think that is precisely what they will do. It’s what they’ve done before. After the failure of Prohibition and their Pyrrhic victory in the Scopes trial, they headed for the backwoods, hiding out in their tent revivals and two-bit tabernacles.

The iconoclastic libertarian, H.L. Mencken, skewered and roasted them with all the glee of the Calvinistic deity in newspapers across the country. They earned every column inch.

Even into the 1960s, they continued their retreat, establishing thousands of “Christian” schools in protest of 1) the ruling on prayer in government schools, 2) sex education, and 3) desegregation of government schools. They wanted the right to pray, repress and hate–three constant traits of the American fundamentalist.

Oddly, it was the victory of Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian, who gave them a lust for power–in spite of Carter holding none of the hateful values inspiring his fellow fundamentalists. Once they saw the glimmer of political power, however, nothing could restrain them. The greatest lust is not sex, it’s power.

It is said in Luke that Satan took Jesus to a mountaintop and showed him “all the kingdoms of the world” and said to him, “All this power I will give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”

Jesus resisted, it is said, but for American Christians this temptation was too great. With Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson playing the role of Satan, they were promised political domination of this country, and by implication, the world. The temptation was too great.

In the end, they tied their wagons to the anemic presidency of the village idiot, George W. Bush, discrediting themselves and their message in the process.

America turned against the demands of the Christian Right. The campaign to bring back censorship failed. The campaign to ban abortion fizzled with public opinion now as split as when the battle started. They will never have the nation-wide ban on abortion they seek.

Their crusade against gay people backfired spectacularly–not only did they fail to make it a felony to be gay, but gay couples are legally marrying in state after state.

During the “war” Americans, became more secular and less Christian. More Americans today say they are non-believers than when the Moral Majority set out to make this a “Christian nation.”

They lost because they fought tooth and nail against the oldest American value–individual rights and liberty. Americans have long held those as core values. I won’t say Americans have always lived up to those values–they haven’t, but I will say they always clung to them.

As much as the Religious Right pretends they are patriots, in terms of American core values, they are traitors to the Enlightenment tradition of the Founders, instead they preached an authoritarian religion which, when all was said and done, had no appeal for the American people.

Time and time again, we have been able to judge the final victory of a cultural war by determining the side of the American fundamentalist. The staunchest advocates of slavery were fundamentalists, so much so that the largest fundamentalist denomination in the country originated in a defense of slavery: the Southern Baptist Convention. Fundamentalists supported Prohibition. They tended to oppose equality of rights for women.

During the war against Jim Crow, racist fundamentalists put out pamphlets on the evils of “miscegenation.” Figures such as Jerry Falwell claimed “civil rights” was communistic. Some outposts, such as Bob Jones University, refused to admit black students even into the 1970s. Fundamentalists are experienced veterans of culture wars, just not on the winning side. If anything, their support for a cause is the kiss of death.

 

By: James Peron, President, Moorfield Storey Institute; The Huffington Post Blog, July 8, 2014

 

 

 

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Culture Wars, Fundamentalists, Religious Right | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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