TAG | Religious Right
Writing in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne ‘worries’ that GOP may be losing its religion
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 that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. The split this year among conservative evangelical Christians was profound.
On the one side were those, mainly Cruz supporters, still voting on abortion, same-sex 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.”
… 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.
… 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.
In a way, yes. But there’s not necessarily a contradiction between the two. I cannot speak for Evangelicals, of course, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that that label covers a wide range, from the deeply devout to those who use it as some sort of broader ‘tribal’ or social-cultural identifier.
Turn to another Washington Post article (by the appropriately named Geoffrey Layman) back in March and we find this:
The key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals’ commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church. In short, the evangelicals supporting Trump are not the same evangelicals who have traditionally comprised the Christian Right and supported cultural warriors such as Rick Santorum and Ted Cruz.
But evangelical support for Cruz and Carson, who are grouped because of their close association with evangelicalism and moral conservatism, was higher among those who attend church more frequently. In contrast, Trump did best among evangelicals who are never, almost never or only occasionally in the pews.
These aren’t the only evangelical Trump supporters. He still attracted a plurality of those who attend at least every Sunday. Nevertheless, Trump performed worse among devout evangelicals than among non-devout evangelicals.
Why is this? A considerable literature on religion and politics suggests that evangelicals who attend worship services irregularly tend to have less formal education and lower incomes than more devout evangelicals. They tend to care less about moral and cultural issues and vote more on the basis of economic concerns. In some cases, they are less tolerant of religious and racial minority groups….
Infrequent church attenders cared less about the traditional Christian Right policy agenda and more about Trump’s agenda of creating jobs, improving Americans’ economic welfare and stemming the tide on immigration. The graph below shows that infrequent church attenders were less likely to prioritize two “moral and cultural” issues (abortion and “morality and religion in society”) as one of their four most important issues. But they cared much more about jobs and economic welfare.
Similarly, evangelicals who attend church less frequently are also less socially conservative. They are less likely to favor religious exemptions to the federal requirement that employers cover prescription birth control in their health-insurance plans. They also are less enthusiastic about allowing business owners to refuse on religious grounds to provide services for same-sex weddings. Trump’s lack of commitment to social conservatism may not bother these less-observant evangelicals very much…
Even allowing for this distinction (which sounds convincing), it would be wrong to assume that the more devout Evangelicals will not opt for Trump this fall. How they decide to vote when there is a Santorum or a Cruz on the ballot is one thing, but when the alternative is Hillary Clinton the calculation could be very different.
As to the longer-term influence of the Trump candidacy on the internal politics of the Republican Party, we’ll have to see, not least to see whether he wins (unlikely, in my view, but I’m not known for the accuracy of my predictions concerning Trump). If I had to guess, the religious right (loosely defined) will continue to remain a powerful force in the GOP, although one that is deferred to a little less and understood somewhat better.
That’s no bad thing.
Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother on Monday that she could cure her son’s stomach pains by finding someone to cast out demons that were possibly caused by an ancestor who practiced witchcraft. In an email, a viewer named Dianne told the TV preacher that her son had “painful shock-waves thru his body” that originated in his stomach while she was praying for him and calling on “the name of JESUS.”
“My son said it felt like something hit him very hard in the stomach,” the mother wrote. “I know this is not of God. He is a Christian. Can Christians be attacked by demons?”
Instead of recommending that the mother seek medical attention, Robertson said that the boy could be “oppressed or possessed by demons.”
“You need to get somebody with you who understands the spiritual dimension and doing spiritual warfare,” he continued. “If I were you, I would look back in your family. What in your family — do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”
“Has there something been there that you don’t know about. Some grandparent, great grandparent or something. Look into the family tree, and then get some people in there and cast this stuff out. But that does not sound like normal.
Laura Helmuth, writing in Slate:
Most paranoid, grandiose, relentless conspiracy theorists can’t call a meeting with a U.S. senator. Then there’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A profile of Kennedy in this weekend’s Washington Post Magazine shows that Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders listened politely while Kennedy told them that a vaccine preservative causes autism.
It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country has evaluated the evidence and concluded that the preservative thimerosal is safe. The question is settled scientifically. Thimerosal, out of an abundance of caution, was removed from childhood vaccines 13 years ago, although it is used in some flu vaccines. And yet Kennedy, perhaps more than any other anti-vaccine zealot, has confused parents into worrying that vaccines, which have saved more lives than almost any other public health practice in history, could harm their children.
Mikulski and Sanders, to their credit, both politely blew Kennedy off.
That’s a sign of great progress: Not that many years ago, Rep. Dan Burton held congressional hearings on the entirely made-up dangers of vaccines. I’m especially proud of Sanders, who represents Vermont, a state with one of the highest rates of vaccine denial and misinformation.
But the more people dismiss Kennedy, unfortunately, the more obsessive and slanderous he becomes. Keith Kloor describes some of Kennedy’s recent outrageous claims in the Post profile:
The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.
Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”
I got a taste of Kennedy’s delusions last year. After Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, criticized Kennedy for speaking at an anti-vaccine conference, Kennedy called me to complain, and I wrote about our very one-sided conversation. He told me scientists and government agencies are conspiring with the vaccine industry to cover up the evidence that thimerosal is “the most potent brain killer imaginable,” and journalists are dupes who are afraid to question authority. He claimed that several specific scientists had admitted to him that he was right. I called these scientists up. Here’s one representative answer, from a researcher who preferred I not use his name because he gets death threats from anti-vaccine activists: “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”
To recap: Kennedy accuses scientists of fraud, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about a scientist. He distorts their statements. He says they should be thrown in jail. He uses his powerful name to besmirch theirs. That name, the reason he has power and fame, is inherited from a family dedicated to public service. He now uses the Kennedy name to accuse employees of government agencies charged with protecting human health—some of the best public servants this country has—of engaging in a massive conspiracy to cause brain damage in children.
And this nonsense has consequences:
The number of measles cases in the United States tripled last year—an entirely preventable disease whose resurgence has been made possible in part by Kennedy’s tireless efforts
Pat Buchanan, writing in Human Events, appears to suggest that Vladimir Putin may, so to speak, be on the side of the angels:
In his Kremlin defense of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin, even before he began listing the battles where Russian blood had been shed on Crimean soil, spoke of an older deeper bond.
Crimea, said Putin, “is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptized. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”
Russia is a Christian country, Putin was saying.
This speech recalls last December’s address where the former KGB chief spoke of Russia as standing against a decadent West:
“Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values. Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”
Heard any Western leader, say, Barack Obama, talk like that lately?
…Author Masha Gessen, who has written a book on Putin, says of his last two years, “Russia is remaking itself as the leader of the anti-Western world.”
But the war to be waged with the West is not with rockets. It is a cultural, social, moral war where Russia’s role, in Putin’s words, is to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”
Would that be the “chaotic darkness” and “primitive state” of mankind, before the Light came into the world?
This writer was startled to read in the Jan-Feb. newsletter from the social conservative World Council of Families in Rockford, Ill., that, of the “ten best trends” in the world in 2013, number one was “Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader.”
In 2013, the Kremlin imposed a ban on homosexual propaganda, a ban on abortion advertising, a ban on abortions after 12 weeks and a ban on sacrilegious insults to religious believers.
“While the other super-powers march to a pagan world-view,” writes WCF’s Allan Carlson, “Russia is defending Judeo-Christian values. During the Soviet era, Western communists flocked to Moscow. This year, World Congress of Families VII will be held in Moscow, Sept. 10-12.”
Will Vladimir Putin give the keynote?
In the new ideological Cold War, whose side is God on now?
On the corruption of the Russian Orthodox Church: nothing.
On the bullying of other (non-Orthodox) Christian denominations: nothing.
And on so much else: nothing.
People believe what they want to believe and they see what they want to see.
Meanwhile, Right Wing Watch (I know, I know) reports that Concerned Women of America will no longer be attending a ‘World Congress of Families’ summit scheduled to be held in the Kremlin later this year. The group’s CEO Penny Nance has said, “I don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” Well, it’s taken a while for the penny to drop, Penny, but good.
On the other hand:
CWA’s choice is especially surprising because its senior fellow, Janice Shaw Crouse, is amember of the board of the World Congress of Families and has been a vocal defender of Putin’s social policies. Last month, Crouse even appeared at a press conference promoting the Moscow summit.
Now the question becomes whether other American groups will follow Nance’s lead. An organizing meeting for the event in October included Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, Benjamin Bull of Alliance Defending Freedom, Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network and Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute.
A draft program for the event that was obtained by Buzzfeed includes speeches by ADF president Allan Sears, Focus president Jim Daly, Mike Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, Brown, Ruse and Murff, among others.
In addition, the World Congress of Families receives funding from “partner organizations” including the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and Americans United for Life.
The World Congress of Families’ Larry Jacobs said at last month’s press conference that members of the U.S. Congress would also attend the event, though he would not specify which ones since he said their confirmations were not yet finalized. The draft program also accounts for speeches from unidentified members of Congress. to speak.
As we’ve noted, the planned summit is more than just a trip to Moscow. It’s being held at the Kremlin with funding from key Putin allies and will include a joint forum with Russia’s parliament. In addition, the World Congress of Families itself has been working to support Putin’s crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia…
Ruse articulated the apparent attitude of many American groups when he told Buzzfeed that although the Ukraine invasion “muddied the water,” he had not been concerned about working so closely with the Putin regime until now, “because the Russian government has been quite good on our issues.”
Useful idiots, redux.
Over at Breitbart, John Nolte calls out Huckabee’s ‘libido’ comments for the gift to the Democrats that they were:
While speaking before the Republican National Committee’s national convention Thursday, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee blundered his way into the mainstream media’s War on Women trap with comments that have already lit up Twitter, MSNBC, CNN, and elicited condemnation from the White House.
While Huckabee was obviously trying to make a point about how Democrats view women, his phrasing is already catnip for a hostile media that looks for any reason to permanently define the GOP with one of the Democrat Party’s phony narratives:
“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing them for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.”
To anyone who understands how today’s media operates, Huckabee’s use of this kind of phrasing and language boggles the mind and seems almost intentionally designed to damage the Republican Party. Already engines of feminist outrage are firing up to scream about Huckabee’s “crass” view of Democrat women and the government programs that help them.
Huckabee’s remarks appeared to have been prepared. So you have to ask yourself why risk launching a thousand cable news segments that ask, “Does Mike Huckabee believe women who use birth control can’t control their libidos, and is that a problem for the GOP?”
Nolte’s question is reasonable enough. Why would Huckabee, who is no fool, say something like this? My first guess was to blame it on the intellectual bubble in which he clearly lives.
But perhaps there is something else. Maybe, looking at it from his perspective, these remarks were not a mistake. Huckabee knows that he has no chance of winning the White House, and next to none of winning the Republican nomination. On the other hand, language like this (and the controversy it stirs up) may appeal to that segment of the Republican base that will be essential to his being a potential contender in the GOP primaries for 2016, a position that is, of course, key to his continuing career in the media.
In the meantime he has done his bit to contaminate the broader Republican brand, and in an election year at that.
Not really a team player, Mike Huckabee, is he?
The New York Times has the details:
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has not been among the Republicans frequently named as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, but he would like that to change.
“I’m keeping the door open,” Mr. Huckabee said in an interview here Thursday night about the possibility of seeking his party’s nomination again. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”
…Mr. Huckabee dismissed the notion that pride was a factor in his decision to float a possible campaign.
If Huckabee does decide to run again, I will as usual be waiting to see if he is willing to release the text of his sermons from back in the day. He has always been rather reluctant to do so. Can’t think why.
This is about a piece that comes from the Daily Beast, so a few caveats are in order, even if we ignore a headline (“Why American Social Conservatives Love Anti-Gay Putin”) that may not be the work of James Kirchick, the article’s author.
I doubt, for example, whether this “many” is accurate:
Many of those self-same religious conservatives who cheered wildly when Ronald Reagan denounced the “Evil Empire,” are citing Russia as the world’s foremost defender of traditional values.
And this is ludicrous:
Russia today under the heel of President Vladimir Putin is arguably less free than it was in the late stages of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev.
The direction of change in the late-Gorbachev era (unless, say, you were a Lithuanian border guard), might have been more favorable than it is in Russia today, but, for all the reversion to authoritarianism seen in recent years, Russia is still infinitely more free than it was in 1989-91.
On June 30, Putin signed into law a now infamous measure banning “non-traditional relationships propaganda,” a catch-all term which legal experts say prohibits everything from gay pride parades to gay couples holding hands in public.
The law had earlier passed in the Duma by a vote of 436-0.
Back to the Daily Beast:
“Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth,” Peter LaBarbera, of the outfit Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, proclaimed on his website.
“You admire some of the things they’re doing in Russia against propaganda,” Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told the Associated Press last month, before lamenting, “on the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here.” Ruse recently traveled to Russia, and wrote a piece for the Daily Caller entitled, “Putin is not the gay bogeyman,” in which he defended the draconian legislation.
“Openly gay ambassadors are now placed in largely religious countries,” Ruse complained. “Gay celebrations are now held in U.S. embassies, even in countries like Pakistan where such parties are calculated to deeply offend legitimate religious sensibilities and beliefs.” Of course, Christians are also discriminated against in Pakistan. Presumably Ruse also opposes the U.S. Embassy’s Christmas Party, which is similarly “calculated to deeply offend legitimate religious sensibilities and beliefs”?
…Scott Lively, an American conservative activist largely credited for inspiring legislation in Uganda that would impose the death penalty on homosexuals, praised the Russian legislation on his website, writing, “I can’t point to any country of the world today that is a model for the rest of the world, except perhaps for Russia, which has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being ‘homosexualzed [sic].’” In 2007, Lively traveled across Russia on a 50-city tour, during which he recommended the very measures included in the Russian bill. Lively is the author of a book entitled “The Pink Swastika,” which argues that German Nazism was a gay conspiracy.
So supportive of Russia are social conservatives that many of them plan to travel to Moscow next year for the 8th international conference of the World Congress of Families, which proclaims on its website that, “Ideologies of statism, individualism and sexual revolution, today challenge the family’s very legitimacy as an institution.” Russia, the organization proclaims, is known for “its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality.”
Well yes and no at an individual and cultural level. But the use that the czarist state made of religion was not so much about “spirituality and morality” as it was about creating an ideology that both cemented an idea of Russianness across very disparate peoples, and provided a justification for absolutism, a notion that was reduced to the formula “authority, orthodoxy and nationality” under Nicholas I.
Social conservative love for Vladimir Putin’s Russia should not come as much of a surprise. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia eventually reverted to an authoritarian system that more resembles the governance of the Tsarist period than a modern liberal democracy. Russia is now heavily influenced once again by the Orthodox Church, which has essentially become a state religion and has openly declared its support for Putin’s gangster regime. Writing in Newsweek last year, Peter Pomerantsev reported that the Church has “been critical in helping Putin recast the liberal opposition’s fight against state corruption and alleged electoral fraud into a script of ‘foreign devils’ versus ‘Holy Russia.’” Shorn of its communist atheism, Russia is now a reactionary’s paradise. Those who sensed authoritarian tendencies lurking within the American religious right have had their suspicions confirmed by such vocal support for the Russian dictator.
The idea of a monolithic “religious right” is absurd, but nevertheless…
This preference for the strong, righteous hand was visible in the saga of Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk rock collective whose show trial last year after a “blasphemous” performance in an Orthodox Church became an international cause célèbre. While everyone from Madonna to Amnesty International protested, the Russian Foreign Ministry boasted that the harsh sentencing of the group to two years in prison demonstrated that it was Moscow which today stands for “Christian values” forgotten in the “postmodern West,” a point echoed by American social conservatives. “In an ironic reversal in time, as America has declared war on the church and Christians, Russians have come back to the church,” the Reverend Austin Miles wrote on the website of the Christian Coalition. “While America has allowed itself to be kicked into the gutter, Russia, the former Communist Soviet Union, has picked up the baton, rapped some knuckles and proclaimed sternly: ‘Do not foul religion or the church.’” What he and other defenders of Putin forgot to mention, however, was that the Pussy Riot protest was specifically aimed at the Church’s open and unapologetic collaboration with an undemocratic and oppressive regime.
Indeed it was (something that, as I noted here, appeared to have been forgotten/ignored by at least two Republican congressmen, Reps Rohrabacher and King).
At this point it might be worth linking again to a post I put up here in January.
Here’s an extract:
Vladimir Putin’s attempt to blend social conservatism and Russian Orthodoxy into the mix that is (nominally: the reality is rather grubbier) the ideology of his regime continues. The Guardian has the details.
First, we have an unpleasant piece of anti-homosexual legislation (in wording, context and intent far broader—and far nastier than the “Section 28” that was, to say the least, one of the Thatcher era’s less glorious achievements):
“The law in effect makes it illegal to equate straight and gay relationships, as well as the distribution of material on gay rights. It introduces fines for individuals and media groups found guilty of breaking the law, as well as special fines for foreigners.”
And then we have this:
“Minutes after passing the anti-gay legislation, the Duma also approved a new law allowing jail sentences of up to three years for “offending religious feelings”, an initiative launched in the wake of the trial against the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot.”
There ought, of course, to be no ‘right’ not to be offended. What’s particularly interesting about the latter law, however, is the way that it borrows from western neo-blasphemy legislation…
For a glance at where Putin’s efforts could lead, this post by Andrew Sullivan on an incident of bullying recently video-recorded in St. Petersburg is well worth reading. As he notes, it is “a scene reminiscent of fascist states in the early 1930s”, down, I might add, to the undertone that Sullivan also detects…
This is not something to be cheering on.
The Daily Telegraph’s Damian Thompson:
[T]he Tea Party wasn’t the Religious Right – at least, not at first. When Christian fundamentalists jumped on board, that’s when public support began to bleed away.
There’s something to that, I think, not least because of some of the candidates that emerged as a result, like DeMint’s O’Donnell in Delaware back in 2010.
The Washington Post reports:
McCaskill had 54.7 percent of the vote, Akin 39.2 percent and the Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine 6.1 percent…
By staying in the race this grotesquely selfish man threw away what should have been a GOP senate gain and, while he was at it, further tarnished a Republican national campaign already scarred by the earlier success of Rick Santorum.
What a disgrace.
Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Mike Huckabee participated in a conference call Friday night with hundreds of Baptist pastors and Christian talk radio hosts in Missouri that was organized to coordinate a robust defense of Rep. Todd Akin as he faces pressure from Washington Republicans to drop his Senate bid against Democrat Claire McCaskill…
Speaking harshly about establishment Republicans who have tried to force Akin from the Missouri race, Huckabee at one point compared the National Republican Senatorial Committee to “union goons” who “kneecap” their enemies.
The former Arkansas governor said party bosses were “opening up rounds and rounds” of ammunition on Akin and “then running over with tanks and trucks and leaving him to be ravaged by the other side.”
“This is unprecedented, to see to this orchestrated attempt to humiliate and devastate a fellow Republican,” Huckabee said of Akin, who has deep ties to the Christian conservative movement. Akin spent Thursday in Florida meeting with evangelical leaders and evaluating his political future.
All we need now is Santorum.