Well, the ham-fisted Robert Jeffress has doubled down. He quotes some of the Founders, ignoring completely that as a group they were as religiously diverse, and diverse on the question of the role of religion in governance as we are now. He cites the old tried and true “I can do what I want in the voting booth” argument, which at this point is trite, boring, and an excuse for close-mindedness. He pulls out the standard “religion defines character and character matters” argument which is very true, but somehow neglects to argue how the Mormon faith produces bad character?! (Put a bookmark here – we’ll be back.) And then he discusses primaries:
During this firestorm I’ve reignited over the role of religion in politics, some have quoted Martin Luther as saying he would rather be governed by a competent unbeliever than an incompetent Christian. Yet evangelicals should remember that the purpose of the primary process is to keep us from having to make such a choice. At this point we have the opportunity to select both a competent leader and a committed Christian.
I guess a primary is not a real election and I guess there is no diversity of religious opinion inside the Republican party? That idea is just mind-numbingly disconnected from anything resembling reality. In fact, it is so obscure that by comparison, Obama’s excuse-making disconnects look almost reasonable. That is the argument of a desperate man who has just wasted all his political capital on an errant shot. I quite honestly am flummoxed at how to respond to such an argument; it is simply foreign – there is no common basis upon which discussion can be had. But then, Jeffress is pretty typically Texas.
What’s amazing is that Jeffress feels the need to say anything – he did his job and he did it quite well. The religion front in the political battles has been opened up and now new battles are emerging on the front. Consider what a extraordinary couple of weeks it has been at this blog. We have written more, done more radio, gotten more correspondence in the last two weeks than in the last two years (he said, being only slightly hyperbolic).
There are a number of new fronts opening in the religion discussion and the situation is not pleasant. Sometime, the writers just want to keep the issue alive – I mean a story saying that Romney will not give a speech he has already given – that’s news? Speaking of “not news,” this ABC piece is truly remarkably uninformative. But then strategically keeping the issue open allows those new fronts to mature – some are on the anti-Mormon front and some simply left vs. right. Let’s start with the anti-Mormon front as it is part of what buttresses the general left v. right war on religion. Fortunately there are still some out there with some common sense.
People who paid attention last cycle will remember the most hateful argument from the right of Joel Belz. Belz “argued” that because Mormons had a more fluid view of scripture than traditional Christians; their view of truth was therefore equally fluid – in other words “Mormons lie.” I guess this is how Mormonism builds “bad character.” We contended last cycle that it was that argument that gave the flip-flop charge traction against Romney when it had no traction against other candidates that had changed their views. Well that argument is more or less back, this time offered by Joe Conason:
In practice, however, the Mormons welcome or at least permit a much broader spectrum of political and ideological affiliations within their ranks, even among the elected officials who share their faith. The highest-ranking Mormon in public office today, for instance, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a liberal Democrat demonized by the tea party and the Republicans, who spent millions trying to defeat him last year.
The best example of Mormonism’s political flexibility, of course, is Romney’s own career (and that of his father, the late Michigan governor who was hardly a hardliner), which veered from the most liberal Republicanism to the harsh conservatism he currently espouses.
That pretty well ties it in a knot in terms of linking Mormonism and flip-flop. And, of course, this all comes up in the context of discussing Jeffress, etc. This is a particularly insidious article because it attempts defend Mormons by showing how not-in-lockstep they are politically, but what it really does is assert flip-flop and try to tie it directly to Mormonism, simply skipping over Belz’ scripture linkage. Ugly, but at least we have seen it before.
Six Republican presidential candidates are slated to attend Saturday’s gathering of an estimated 1,000 Christian conservatives in Iowa – but not Mitt Romney. His campaign doesn’t feel comfortable “in this arena,” the activist group organizing the event said.
The Former Massachusetts governor is not coming “because probably he doesn’t want to be there,” Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition that is hosting a presidential forum in Des Moines Saturday, told CNN.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will be a special guest at the forum, which will be attended by presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
“Tell me what there is to fear by coming to this event – to making their case?” Scheffler, whose group promotes morality and Christian principles in government, asked, referring to Romney’s campaign. “Why have the six other candidates accepted and the perceived frontrunner decided not to come?”
So now it’s Romney’s fault!? This is all headlined “Romney Not Comfortable With Christian Conservatives, Iowa Activist Says” OK, two comments – last cycle Romney worked his tail off to reach out to Evangelicals in Iowa and they handed the caucuses to Huckabee. Every Evangelical of import in Iowa knows Mitt Romney – he does not need to reach out to them – been there, done that. Secondly, this Evangelical has been in the room with Romney several times and even enjoyed brief conversations. If there is anyone that is uncomfortable, it is NOT Mitt Romney.
But moving to the bigger left v. right front. The DNC is trying a faith outreach – watch this space. But apparently where we are really going to get hit is that Perry has opened up his campaign to a bunch of pretty serious traditional Christian extremists. And by that, I mean people a lot more extreme than even Jeffress:
Pentecostals, the spirit-filled worshippers known mostly for speaking in tongues, were at a crossroads, divided over the extent of God’s modern-day miracles. If God made apostles and prophets during the New Testament era, did he still create them today?
Most Pentecostals said no, and went on to build the movement’s major denominations.
A minority disagreed — and amazingly, their obscure view is now in the crosshairs of a presidential race. Some critics, fearing these little-known Christians want to control the U.S. government, suspect that Republican Rick Perry is their candidate.
The Texas governor opened the door to the discussion with a prayer rally he hosted in August, a week before he announced his run for president.
The end of the world is an intense focus of many of the religious leaders involved in the rally. Engle has said that the tornado that leveled Joplin, Mo., last May was evidence of God’s judgment on the country over abortion. Bickle views acceptance of same-sex marriage as a sign of the end times.
These preachers believe demons have taken hold of specific geographic areas, including the nation’s capital. They also promote a philosophy of public engagement known as the “seven mountains,” which urges Christians to gain influence in business, government, family, church, education, media and the arts as a way to spread righteousness and bring about God’s kingdom on earth. The language seems close to dominionism, the belief that Christians have a God-given mandate to run the world.
OK – this is a bit of a retread of the Dominionist thing. We have never said that there was no such movement, we have only said it did not matter – too small, too crazy. Apparently Rick Perry does not think they are too small or too crazy and is consorting with them. Once again, we of faith in politics prove to be our own worst enemies.
In opening up the religion front Jeffress/Perry have now not only injured the party generally, but themselves specifically. I, and I think the majority of those of us that call ourselves Christians – Evangelical and otherwise, do not want to be associated with that bunch of yahoos. We have a better understanding of things than that. As JMR said last week:
At one time in the history of the English speaking world, men of good will believed that mistakes about this truth disqualified a man from office. Experience showed that this disqualified good people, facilitated persecution, and corrupted the clergy. As a result pious men became opposed to religious tests for office. This was not the result of impiety, though the impious rejoiced, but due to the overwhelming Christian majority recognizing they had been wrong.
And now I shall close with the best headline quip of last week:
There is a lot of truth in that one.