Warren Says Candidates Have to Believe in God

While Rick Warren is often portrayed as something of a poster-boy for a new, more moderate evangelical movement, his statements and views are closely aligned with the Religious Right's traditional agenda. And that was on full display when he appeared on Larry King Live on Monday to discuss the faith forum he recently hosted with Barack Obama and John McCain and declared that anyone running for president must believe in God and that while he could vote for someone of a different religion, he couldn't "vote for a person who was an atheist":

KING: Rick Warren is our guest. Rick, let me ask you a couple of Rick Warren questions. OK?


KING: Does a person have to believe in god to be president?

WARREN: I would say so. I couldn't vote for a person who was an atheist, because I would think -- I think the presidency is a job too big for one person. I would think there's a little arrogance that says, I don't need anybody else. I could vote for someone of different religions than mine, but I don't know that I could personally vote for somebody who denies that we need somebody greater than ourselves to help us.

McCain’s Faith Taking Center Stage

The conventional wisdom is that John McCain and his campaign are exceedingly reluctant to discuss McCain’s experiences in Vietnam when, in reality, they cite it repeatedly – even in cases where it has absolutely no bearing on the issue at hand.  
On the same note, it is widely accepted that McCain is equally reluctant to discuss his personal faith yet, whenever the topic arises, he inevitably relates the story about the kindly Vietnamese prison guard who loosened his ropes and sketched a cross in the dirt.

While McCain may very well have been hesitant early on to discuss his faith, it doesn’t seem as if that is any longer the case – his appearance at Rick Warren’s faith forum is evidence of that.  In fact, his appearance at the forum was really the culmination of an effort that had been underway for several weeks. 

For example, a few weeks ago, David Brody posted an email distributed by McCain’s Americans of Faith team that was designed to “explain the shaping and content of John McCain's faith.”  Around the same time, the candidate had an essay in Time magazine on his faith and then, just last week, McCain sat down for an interview with the Chicago Tribune to discuss “how his faith was tested during his years as a prisoner of war.” 

And now Beliefnet is reporting that the campaign has been busy screening a video of a “faith interview" that McCain originally conducted with the religious Trinity Broadcasting Network for right-wing leaders:  

[S]ome of the nation's top conservative Christian activists have already seen a glimpse of McCain discussing the influence of his religion in his life in deeply personal terms, in the form of a Christian television interview with McCain that his campaign has been screening for religious audiences.

McCain's "faith interview" originally ran on "First to Know," a program on TBN, which describes itself as "the world's largest religious network and America's most watched faith channel." TBN does not offer a video or DVD versions of its programs for purchase, and the full video is not available online. A McCain aide says it will likely to be posted to a new evangelical section of the campaign's web site that is scheduled to launch in the next week or two.

A McCain aide says the campaign began screening the video for Christian audiences in Iowa in advance of this year's caucuses there, and that it had begun showing it to national evangelical leaders in late spring or early summer. "The exciting thing about the piece is that it wasn't generated after Obama started talking about faith--it was a piece that showed he was engaged [on faith issues] before the Iowa caucuses," the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. "It will be used more often... we have plans for using it in a larger arena."

On top of that, as the Boston Globe reports, McCain has developed a tendency to start discussing every issue in terms to “Judeo-Christian values”:    

On a frozen winter evening at a Town Hall meeting in a school in the Manchester, N.H., suburbs, John McCain expressed surprise and irritation with an intelligence report downplaying the threat of Iran's nuclear program.

At the end of a long list of reasons to be suspicious of the Iranians, McCain declared: "And they sure don't share our Judeo-Christian values."

It seemed at the time to be an odd thing to say about a Muslim country. After all, even if there were no nuclear program, no oil, and no rabble-rousing president, Iran still wouldn't have Judeo-Christian values. And it's troubling to wonder if that alone would be a reason for suspicion.

Even President Bush has resisted framing the war on terrorism as a clash of religions; his inexpert use of the word "crusade" early in the conflict set off a wave of criticism and backtracking. He's never repeated it.

Perhaps McCain's comment was a similar mistake.

But on Saturday, at the nationally televised forum at evangelist Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California, McCain declared: "Our Judeo-Christian principles dictate that we do what we can to help people who are oppressed throughout the world."

And a review of online records by the Globe library shows that McCain uses the term "Judeo-Christian values" quite often, and in varying contexts. For example, last week in York, Pa., he praised small-town Americans by saying, "The Judeo-Christian values that they hold are the strength of America."

He has also repeatedly urged that illegal immigrants be treated in a manner "consistent with Judeo-Christian values." In February, he declared that job training was a Judeo-Christian imperative.

"We've got to educate and train these people," he said, referring to laid-off workers. "It is a Judeo-Christian values nation and it's an obligation we have and we are not doing it."

Last year, when he was criticized for telling the website Beliefnet that America was founded on Christian principles, McCain's defense was that he meant to say "Judeo-Christian." (When pressed, he said he believes a Muslim could serve as president.)

If McCain really is reluctant to discuss his faith, he sure is doing a good job of hiding it.

The New Evangelicals: Like The Right, Only Broader

Back during the heyday of Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, the candidate was being hailed as a “new breed” of evangelical, one who cared about issues like poverty and the environment in addition to traditional right-wing opposition to gays and abortion.  As we have noted before, one of the key mis-perceptions about this so-called new movement is that its purported concern about issues beyond the standard Religious Right agenda does not mean that they are any more moderate on the core anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda that has driven the movement for the last several decades. 

Heading into his faith forum over the weekend, Rick Warren was poised to emerge as the poster boy for this “new evangelical” movement – as Time Magazine put it:

A shift away from "sin issues" — like abortion and gay marriage — is reflected in Warren's approach to his coming sit-downs with the candidates. He says he is more interested in questions that he feels are "uniting," such as "poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change and human rights," and still more in civics-class topics like the candidates' understanding of the role of the Constitution. There will be no "Christian religion test," Warren insists. "I want what's good for everybody, not just what's good for me. Who's the best for the nation right now?"

McCain Opens Up Before Heading to Saddleback

As John McCain and Barack Obama prepare for their joint appearance at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, the current narrative is that it’s Obama who will be more at ease in the venue -- he has been very comfortable talking about his faith and the role that it plays in public life whereas McCain has been notoriously reluctant to do so:

The event will play to one of Obama's strengths, talking about his Christian faith, but it will also underscore the gulf between his views and those of the most conservative Christian voters.

Many of McCain's positions are more in line with the evangelical worldview, but he is uncomfortable - and some critics say unconvincing - while talking about his personal beliefs.

Given the importance of this issue to the Religious Right, McCain has been working hard to appease them, so it is not surprising that he agreed to attend the forum despite his discomfort with the format. As so, perhaps in preparation, McCain sat down with The Chicago Tribune for an “extended interview [in which he] talked about how his faith was tested during his years as a prisoner of war from 1967 to 1973, said God must have had a plan for him to have kept him alive, and reminisced about his appointment as informal chaplain to his cellmates”

"There were many times I didn't pray for another day and I didn't pray for another hour — I prayed for another minute to keep going," said McCain, who was brought up Episcopalian but now worships at North Phoenix Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church. "There's no doubt that my faith was strengthened and reinforced and tested, because sometimes you have a tendency to say, 'Why am I here?' "

McCain said his faith in God informs his decisions on issues of public policy. Christian conservatives are skeptical of McCain's commitment to many of the issues they care about, such as abortion and marriage. They have also been disappointed in his embrace of embryonic stem cell research. But McCain said he wrestled with that decision and hopes technology soon renders it obsolete.

Although polling suggests voters view faith as an essential ingredient in a president, McCain has never been a candidate to invoke God or dwell on religion. "In our case, faith is private," said his wife, Cindy, adding that once voters get to know him, "they will know he is a man of faith."

McCain's friends say they believe God had a plan for him, allowing him to survive to put him on the cusp of the presidency. He, too, acknowledges that idea, though cautiously.

"I can't help but feel like that to some extent, and I'm not a fatalist," said McCain. "I think it's remarkable that I've been able to survive so much and to have the opportunity to do the right thing. I do think we make our own choices, but certainly I think I was meant to serve a cause greater than my self-interest."

Deciding Public Policy Through Blog Comments

Last month, it was reported that the Bush administration was pushing a change in regulations that is says would protect the conscience of “health-care workers who object to abortion, and to birth-control methods they consider tantamount to abortion” by essentially redefining abortion to include “birth-control pills, IUDs and the Plan B emergency contraceptive.” 

The regulation would require any entity receiving HHS funding to certify that it does not discriminate against organizations or individuals who do not want to provide services they consider objectionable.

The most controversial section defines abortion as "any of the various procedures -- including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action -- that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation."

That definition would include most forms of hormonal birth control and the IUD, which most major medical groups believe do not constitute abortion because they primarily affect ovulation or fertilization and not an embryo once it has implanted in the womb.

The regulation would apply to anyone who participates in "any activity with a logical connection to a procedure, health service or health service program, or research activity. . . . This includes referral, training and other arrangements of the procedure, health service, or research activity."

Not surprisingly, right-wing groups loved the proposed change and pro-choice groups didn’t.  Then, a few days later, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt wrote a blog post about the controversy, saying “The Department is still contemplating if it will issue a regulation or not. If it does, it will be directly focused on the protection of practitioner conscience.”  His post generated more than 1100 comments

Leavitt then returned to his blog a few days later to weigh in on the discussion generated by his first post in which he made it clear that he was not particularly moved by opposition to the change: 

This is not a discussion about the rights of a woman to get an abortion. The courts have long ago identified that right and continue to define its limits. This regulation would not be aimed at changing or redefining any of that. This is about the right of a doctor to not participate if he or she chooses for reasons they consider a matter of conscience. Does the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association believe we can protect by Constitution, statute and practice rights of free speech, race, religion, and abortion—but not conscience?

Is the fear here that so many doctors will refuse that it will somehow make it difficult for a woman to get an abortion? That hasn’t happened, but what if it did? Wouldn’t that be an important and legitimate social statement?

I want to reiterate. If the Department of Health and Human Services issues a regulation on this matter, it will aim at one thing, protecting the right of conscience of those who practice medicine. From what I’ve read the last few days, there’s a serious need for it.

When that post generated more than 300 comments, Concerned Women for America took notice, alerting its activists that the post had been “flooded with negative comments from abortion advocates” and urging them to head over and leave comments of their own:

CWA has asked members to protect their rights as patients and show their support for the regulations by adding comments to Secretary Leavitt’s blog.

Right Says McCain Should Pick Ridge If He Wants To Lose

Just yesterday we were noting the Right’s repeated warnings to John McCain not to pick Mitt Romney as his running and their incessant clamoring for him to pick Mike Huckabee.  Now it looks like Huckabee himself is getting into the act:

"I think a lot of people, not just social conservatives, but a lot of the Republicans I know are not necessarily comfortable with Romney," Huckabee told "But it has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with inconsistencies in positions he's held, and that's it."

In our earlier post on this, we cited Tony Perkin’s advice that McCain needed to pick a running mate who is “strong where he is weak” and had a “record of delivering” on the issues that matter to the Right and speculated that McCain’s statement yesterday that he wasn’t ruling out the possibility of naming a pro-choice running mate, possibly Tom Ridge, was not going to go over well with the Right.

And it hasn’t:

But social-conservative leaders say a pro-choice nominee would cripple Mr. McCain politically with the Republican Party base.

"I think McCain has to have a running mate that clearly connects with social conservatives in the party," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "That is where he is lacking. So if he picks a pro-choice running mate, I don't see how he can win this race."

Asked whether social and religious conservatives would walk away from Mr. McCain if he picks Mr. Ridge or some other pro-choice running mate, Mr. Perkins said, "I'm not going to say people will stay home, but there is a core of voters whose level of enthusiasm influences people further from the core.

"So if McCain picks a pro-choice running mate, the strength of turnout on Election Day is not going to be there for him," Mr. Perkins said.

Considering that the Right’s support for McCain is tepid at best and hinges almost entirely on his choice of running-mate, McCain can hardly afford to pick someone like Ridge.  In fact, just last week, Richard Land told CBS that Ridge would be an unmitigated “catastrophe,” so it’s not as if McCain hasn’t been warned.

And just in case McCain needs any more advice on picking a running mate, Rick Santorum is there to give it to him:

If the Republican victory strategy is to disqualify Obama, McCain can't do anything that would disqualify himself in the minds of these less-than-ideological voters prepared to shift his way. As such, McCain's vice presidential pick has to be a nonevent, something of a yawner.

McCain needs someone who isn't going to upset the essential conservative base of the Republican Party, but will not raise red flags to moderates who have disqualified, or are ready to disqualify, Obama.


Better for John McCain to be safe than sorry.

Right Tries to Horn In On Saddleback Event

If there is one thing Religious Right activists apparently can’t stand, it’s forums on the role of faith in public life that they don’t control.  As we noted earlier this week, Tony Perkins, Mike Huckabee, and Lou Engle are set to hold a press conference on Friday timed to coincide with joint appearance by Barack Obama and John McCain at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church where they are set to “discuss faith in public life, AIDS, the environment and other issues.”

Now, other Religious Right activists have announced that they are having their own conference call with reporters following the event on Saturday in order to provide the media with “an expanded perspective on how evangelicals see the relationship between faith and public policy” – by which they mean the right-wing perspective:   

Some of the nation's top evangelical leaders – Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family; Bishop Harry Jackson, Senior pastor, Hope Christian Church and Chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition; Janet Folger, President and Founder of Faith2Action and national radio host; Phil Burress, President of Citizens for Community Values, among others.

Martha Zoller, Talk Radio World Today Host will be the moderator.

WHAT: Press Conference Call to gauge reaction of conservatives and evangelicals to the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, moderated by Pastor Rick Warren. The Forum takes place on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008 and features Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.

WHEN: Press teleconference call takes place at 10:30 EDT/7:30 PDT by calling: Toll-free: 1-888-296-6828. Passcode is: 418647# (announce name and media organization). If you would like to receive speaker bios, transcripts and/or audio versions of the interviews, please email

INFO: This press call event provides an opportunity for an informed response to the event at Saddleback Church, thus providing an expanded perspective on how evangelicals see the relationship between faith and public policy. The press conference call will give reporters access to alternative views on each candidate's presentation at the Saddleback Forum.

It's Understandable That People Think Obama is The Antichrist

Last week, when we wrote about the apparent uptick in right-wing suggestions that Barack Obama might actually be the harbinger of the Antichrist, we juxtaposed the comments of Hal Lindsey and the American Family Association against John McCain’s “The One” ad which seemed to be sarcastically suggesting, counter to the emerging right-wing narrative, that Obama was some sort of Messiah.  

As it turns out, Amy Sullivan writes in Time that the McCain campaign might have been subtly trying to make the point that Obama is, in fact, the Antichrist:  

The ad was the creation of Fred Davis, one of McCain's top media gurus as well as a close friend of former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed and the nephew of conservative Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. It first caught the attention of Democrats familiar with the Left Behind series, a fictionalized account of the end-time that debuted in the 1990s and has sold nearly 70 million books worldwide. "The language in there is so similar to the language in the Left Behind books," says Tony Campolo, a leading progressive Evangelical speaker and author.

As the ad begins, the words "It should be known that in 2008 the world shall be blessed. They will call him The One" flash across the screen. The Antichrist of the Left Behind books is a charismatic young political leader named Nicolae Carpathia who founds the One World religion (slogan: "We Are God") and promises to heal the world after a time of deep division. One of several Obama clips in the ad features the Senator saying, "A nation healed, a world repaired. We are the ones that we've been waiting for."

The visual images in the ad, which Davis says has been viewed even more than McCain's "Celeb" ad linking Obama to the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, also seem to evoke the cover art of several Left Behind books. But they're not the cartoonish images of clouds parting and shining light upon Obama that might be expected in an ad spoofing him as a messiah. Instead, the screen displays a sinister orange light surrounded by darkness and later the faint image of a staircase leading up to heaven.

Perhaps the most puzzling scene in the ad is an altered segment from The 10 Commandments that appears near the end. A Moses-playing Charlton Heston parts the animated waters of the Red Sea, out of which rises the quasi-presidential seal the Obama campaign used for a brief time earlier this summer before being mocked into retiring it. The seal, which features an eagle with wings spread, is not recognizable like the campaign's red-white-and-blue "O" logo. That confused Democratic consultant Eric Sapp until he went to his Bible and remembered that in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel, the Antichrist is described as rising from the sea as a creature with wings like an eagle.

Now, the authors of the Left Behind books, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, have felt compelled to weigh in, saying that they don’t think that Obama is the Antichrist … even though they apparently think it is understandable why people might think that he is:

LaHaye and Jenkins take a literal interpretation of prophecies found in the Book of Revelation. They believe the antichrist will surface on the world stage at some point, but neither see Obama in that role. "I've gotten a lot of questions the last few weeks asking if Obama is the antichrist," says novelist Jenkins. "I tell everyone that I don't think the antichrist will come out of politics, especially American politics."

"I can see by the language he uses why people think he could be the antichrist," adds LaHaye, "but from my reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria. There is no indication in the Bible that the antichrist will be an American."

Ralph Reed: Jack of All Trades

If you are Fox News and looking to do a segment related to the Olympics on the issue of China and religion, who better to invite on than a noted expert on the subject … maybe someone like Ralph Reed:

Well, China has always been something of a paradox and a riddle for Americans. I mean, it's an officially communist country that is increasingly embracing capitalism and free enterprise. It is, as you said, an officially atheist country that has arguably one of the most robust churches anywhere in the world. You mentioned the figure of 70 million Christians in China. Some figures go as high as 130 million.

And I think what we're really seeing, Heather, and the Olympics are really putting a spotlight on it, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle once you allow some measure of any kind of liberty. And when you allow cultural exchanges and we have hundreds of thousands of Chinese students who have come here, and then gone back home, there's an exchange of ideas. There's an exchange of Democratic values. The Internet is exploding, and Christianity is part of that flowering of liberty that I don't think the communist government is going to be able to snuff out.

In fairness, it is not as if Reed is completely unqualified to discuss the issue of Christianity and China – after all, he did once shill for Jack Abramoff in his efforts to fend off regulation of the Northern Marianas Islands by citing the fact that the Chinese slave laborers working there were “exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ”: 

The promise of eternal salvation for Chinese peasants proved to be a useful tool for Reed. In 1999, Abramoff hired him to help lobby on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth that is exempt from federal wage and labor laws, a loophole that allows garmentmakers to stitch MADE IN THE U.S.A. into their products without having to follow any U.S. rules. It’s also a hellhole for migrant workers: sweatshop labor, sex slavery, forced abortions for imported peasants. None of that was a secret: By the time Reed signed on as Abramoff’s subcontractor, there’d been years of studies and media reports documenting the conditions.

But in August 1999, Reed’s direct-mail subsidiary sent a pamphlet to conservative Alabama Christians urging them to call a Republican congressman and thank him for opposing the imposition of federal rules on the Northern Marianas. The mailer, sent under the auspices of the Traditional Values Coalition, claimed that “the radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas islands” and that they “have spread vicious lies about this U.S. territory to silence the gospel.” The pamphlet’s grotesque logic: Many of those sweatshop seamstresses and bullied prostitutes “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ…are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand, ready to spread the gospel and start home churches.”

Santorum Says Obama Has “No Right To Claim” He’s a Christian

It looks like former Senator Rick Santorum is adding his voice to the right-wing chorus that has been loudly proclaiming that Barack Obama is not a “true Christian,” that his proclamations of Christian faith are ““deceitful” and that is understanding of the faith is “woefully deficient” and borderline sacrilegious.  Steve Waldman at BeliefNet reports on a recent speech that Santorum gave to the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life in which he asserted that Obama’s talk of the importance of his faith is “absolutely disingenuous” and “phony” and that Obama has “abandoned Christendom” and thus has no “right to claim it”:

Santorum, known for overtly connecting his faith to his politics, said the Democrats' current efforts to be more faith-friendly are "a charade... I don’t think it's sincere at all." Obama's efforts to talk about the importance of faith in his life is "phony--absolutely disingenuous. I think he's a complete phony."

Obama, Santorum argued, chose Trinity Church in Chicago because it was politically advantageous -- "faith was an avenue for power."

(At the end of the attack, he added that of course it would be inappropriate for him to judge the authenticity of Obama's faith, as only God could do that.)

However, he questioned whether liberal Christianity was really, well, Christian. "You're a liberal something, but you're not a Christian." He continued, "When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you've abandoned Christendom and I don't think you have a right to claim it."

Kern Dubs Herself "Warrior for Judeo-Christian Values'

Oklahoma state legislator Sally Kern first came to national attention back in March when an audio clip of her declaring that the "homosexual agenda is destroying this nation, OK, it's just a fact ... I honestly think it's the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat" was posted on-line by the Victory Fund.

Since then she has become something of a hero to the Religious Right, receiving a standing ovation from her fellow Oklahoma GOP legislators and being praised and defended by the likes of militant anti-gay activists like Matt Barber, then of Concerned Women for American, and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.

In April, at least a thousand people attended a rally in the Oklahoma capitol to show their support for Kern, where she declared that "we were in a cultural war for the very existence of our Judeo-Christian values. This situation proves that I was right. We are in a cultural war; this is for real."

Kern has been quite for the last several months but she up for re-election in November and has now begun declaring that God put her in the statehouse to be "cultural warrior for Judeo-Christian values":

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, told members of the Cleveland County Republican Club Tuesday that being a conservative means supporting religion and morals in government as strongly as cutting taxes.


"I am not saying everyone has to be Christian; this is not a homogenous nation," Kern said. "What you have to be is someone who believes in a Judeo-Christian ethic, in other words, in knowing there's a right and wrong.

"Not all lifestyles are equal; not all religions are equal," she said. "Was I saying all people are not equal? Heavens no; we were all created equal."


[Kern explained] how she, a schoolteacher and minister's wife, became a state representative.

"I expected to run and lose, and then be a better government teacher, but I won," Kern said. "My Lord made it very clear to me that I'm a cultural warrior for Judeo-Christian values."

The World Congress of Families Chooses Its Destination

Every few years, right-wingers from all over the globe gather for the World Congress of Families in order to “affirm that the natural human family is established by the Creator and essential to good society,” share strategy, and urge their governments to adopt policies that “protect and support the family, and not usurp the vital roles it plays in society.”  Not surprisingly, high on their list of priorities is the protection of marriage and families against “pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality”: 


The complementary natures of men and women are physically and psychologically self-evident. These differences are created and natural, not primarily socially constructed. Sexuality is ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union. Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit. They lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease. Child molesters harm children and no valid legal, psychological or moral justification can be offered for the odious crime of pedophilia. Culture and society should encourage standards of sexual morality that support and enhance family life.


So where is the next World Congress of Families going to be held, you ask?  Of all places, Amsterdam:


Last week, the Selection Committee for World Congress of Families V met in Washington, D.C. and unanimously recommended Amsterdam as the site for the next Congress. Their recommendation was accepted by the WCF Management Committee.


If the World Congress of Families sounds like some sort of international version of the sorts of “values voters” events put on in this country by right-wing political groups, that probably has something to do with the fact that many of those same groups are members of the WCF’s various steering committees, with groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America all playing a role:

The 16-member Selection Committee was composed of: Ignacio Arsuaga (, Spain), Chuck Donovan (Family Research Council), Don Feder (World Congress of Families), Farooq Hassan (Pakistan Family Forum), Jesus Hernandez (The Family Network, Mexico), Marie-Claire Hernandez (Family & Society, Mexico), Randy Hicks (Georgia Family Council), Robert Knight (Culture and Media Institute, Media Research Center), Ewa Kowalewska (Human Life International,  Europe), Gwendolyn Landolt (REAL Women of Canada), Yuri Mantilla (Focus on the Family), Dorothy Patterson (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Austin Ruse (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute), Mary Ellen Smoot, Jennifer Swim (GFC Foundation) and Father Jaroslaw Szymczak (Institute of Family Studies, Poland). The meeting was chaired by Gwen Landolt (Real Women of Canada).


The Management Committee, which has ultimate oversight of the Congress, consists of Carlson, Janice Crouse (Senior Fellow, Beverly LaHaye Institute, Concerned Women for America), Paul Mero (President, Sutherland Institute), William Saunders (Senior Fellow & Human Rights Counsel, Family Research Council) and Christine Vollmer (President, Latin American Alliance for Families).

When the event was held last year in Poland, members of the European Parliamentary Working Group on Separation of Religion and Politics were not particularly jazzed that right-wing advocates were preparing to use the nation as a staging ground for saving Europe and the rest of the world from the “demographic winter and … the secularists.”

But the group soldiered on, despite the opposition. As Robert Knight of the Media Research Center put it


This is a nation that has suffered enormously over many decades. First from Nazism and then communism. They're a tough bunch of people who appear to have the strength to resist especially the homosexual agenda. If you've been victim of communists and Nazis, you're not going to run in fright from the forces from San Francisco.


Falwell Inc.

Forbes has been running excerpts from the new book “Falwell Inc.: Inside a Religious, Political, Educational and Business Empire” by Dirk Smillie.  The most recent excerpt recounts Falwell’s pioneering work in the field of direct mail and how he used wedge issues to raise millions of dollars: 

Falwell had the formidable talent of Jerry Huntsinger. Then 45, he was a former minister who lived on a farm near Richmond who had been taking advertising concepts from the for-profit world and applying them to nonprofit religious ventures. Huntsinger brought a novelist's touch to direct mail. He considered every fundraising letter a first cousin to the short story. "A short story has a problem that seems insurmountable, a sympathetic character that is a victim of the problem, complications and obstacles, but finally, a resolution." He advised his clients that emergency appeals work best because they give donors a feeling of "excitement at coming to the rescue."

Huntsinger was also a master at fine tuning the mechanics: the color of the envelope, the position of the address window, which paragraphs to indent, which sentences to underline. He knew how to lure a reader's eye just to where he wanted.

Huntsinger encouraged Falwell to focus on wedge issues in his mailings, excoriating the feminist movement and attacking homosexual rights, often equating both with the dangers of communism. As one letter stated: "Dear Friend: Homosexuals are on the march in this country. Homosexuals do not reproduce, they recruit, and many of them are after my children and your children….This is one major reason why we must keep "The Old Time Gospel Hour" alive…So don't delay. Let me hear from you immediately. I will be anxiously awaiting your reply."

The sense of impending doom the letter conveyed fit perfectly with Huntsinger's operating credo. It turned a pitch into a storyline (gays on the the march) with sympathetic characters (children) under threat from sex offenders (gay pedophiles). It was an emergency appeal that sought to panic his audience into coming to the rescue.

Dobson Always a Day Late

Back during the Republican primary, James Dobson made news several times by playing a very public game of “He Loves Me Not” with the varying GOP contenders, slowly ticking off John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson as unacceptable candidates, leavings observers to guess as to whether he supported Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.  Those questions were put to rest once Romney dropped out and Dobson cravenly endorsed Huckabee primarily as a means to show his deep-seated opposition to McCain.  Since then, Dobson has had a predictable change of heart and now says that he might be able to support McCain after all.    

Now that attention is focusing on whom McCain will name as his running mate, the original Huckabee Fan Club, which Dobson joined late in the game, has been hard at work pushing for McCain to pick their man and warning him not to choose Romney - but Dobson apparently doesn’t share that view.  While he had initially reportedly hedged on supporting Romney out of concern that rank-and-file evangelical voters might be unwilling to support him because of his Mormon faith, it looks like those concerns, just like his concerns about McCain, have evaporated as well:

Even Focus on the Family leader James Dobson — who has softened his stance on McCain, a candidate he had said he would never vote for — doesn't think Romney would be a bad VP choice.

"Dr. Dobson liked his speech about faith very much," said spokesman Gary Schneeberger, referring to Romney's December address, where he spoke about the importance of religion in American society but that it should be separate from public responsibilities. "He wants a pro-life running mate, and Romney qualifies for that."

Early in the primary, when Dobson could have made an impact on the race with an endorsement, he chose to shout from the sidelines until events forced his hand.  Then, when his ideological allies on the Right bit the bullet and grudgingly decided to back McCain, Dobson waited weeks before finally saying “I guess I will too.”  But whereas the others have at least been trying to pressure McCain into picking the vice-presidential candidate of their choice, Dobson seems to be resigned to quietly suggesting that as long as the VP choice is at least nominally pro-life, then that is good enough.   

For a man who prides himself on sticking to his principles and translating them into political power, Dobson is doing a remarkable job this election cycle of making himself seem increasingly feckless and irrelevant.  

For The Right, Obama’s Religious Test Now Includes Denouncing Unrelated Billboards

Throughout the summer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been placing billboards around the country reading "Imagine No Religion"


As the FFRF explains it

The Foundation is taking its irreverent message to what it calls the "unmassed masses" state-by-state. The billboard carries the Freedom From Religion Foundation's name and its website,

"Wherever you go, our roadsides of full of religion and religious symbols," said Foundation copresident Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We think it's time to advertise an alternative." The Foundation has placed a second billboard message, with the same stained-glass motif, warning: "Beware of Dogma," in several states.

The Foundation's goal is to place billboards in every state. Currently, its "Imagine No Religion" message appears near the State Capitol in Denver. Billboards have appeared in Madison, Wis., Atlanta, Ga., Columbus, Ohio, and rural Pennsylvania and will be going up in Harrisburg, Pa., in September.

The ad has now gone up in Denver, though The Denver Post reports that “it will come down before the Democratic National Convention because the rate for that period was prohibitively high.”  But that hasn’t stopped a Virginia group called In God We Trust from trying to capitalize on it by sending a letter to Barack Obama telling him that he has an obligation to publicly denounce it and that failure to do so “will permanently damage your message of hope and inclusion with the American people”:

By placing their billboard in Denver, the FFRF hopes to ride your coattails to the Democratic National Convention and claim your success somehow validates their anti-religious views. The presence of this hate-filled message in a prominent location in the city where you will be nominated in just a few weeks has already garnered much media attention. Its message damages the Democratic Party's image with the 92% of Americans who believe in God. I urge you to publicly reject the stance of the FFRF. Failing to publicly denounce this attack on religion will permanently damage your message of hope and inclusion with the American people. Your silence will only show Americans that attacks on their beliefs will go unchallenged in an Obama administration.

Perkins Wants To Run The Show

FRC's Tony Perkins seems to think that he has a right to be included in every political event that is focused on religion and is now dictating questions to be asked during the upcoming Obama/McCain event at Saddleback Church:"Saddleback Church has the rare opportunity to crystallize the debate over abortion and homosexuality before FRC Action's Values Voter Summit in September. The candidates should be asked: 1. What is your position on man-woman marriage? 2. Where do you stand on partial-birth abortion and the killing of nearly-born babies? 3. Would you sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law? 4. How can the federal faith-based initiative survive without hiring protections for religious charities?"

Dobson Parses 'Throwing Stones'

After James Dobson’s decision to launch an ill-tempered and tendentious attack on Barack Obama’s faith (with follow-up broadcasts), the Focus on the Family founder couldn’t have been surprised to hear criticism—even from his own side. “If Christian conservatives want to be taken seriously, they need to make serious arguments and speak with intellectual integrity,” wrote Peter Wehner of the right-wing Ethics and Public Policy Center. “In this instance, Dobson didn't. He has set back his cause and made some of us who are evangelicals and conservatives wince.”

But Dobson mustered an impressive showing of umbrage against a pro-Obama ad from a group called Matthew 25 Network. “You know it’s an election year when certain people start grabbing headlines by attacking the faith of presidential candidates,” the ad says. “With all these stones being cast at Senator Obama, it can be hard to know what to believe.” The ad then quotes Obama describing the power of faith, without discussing politics or particulars: “Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God’s spirit beckoning me.  I submitted myself to his will and dedicated myself to discovering his truth.”

Dobson, taking the ad to be directed at himself, responded with a segment at the beginning of his radio show yesterday.

DOBSON: For one thing, nobody is trying to grab headlines. Who needs ‘em? I get ‘em without even trying, even if I wanted them. And we are also not throwing stones at Senator Obama for his faith. That’s off the wall. We are responding to his comment about the Bible and about us and about the Constitution and that was the point of what we had to say.

TOM MINNERY: And it’s also true that the Bible has other things to say about how people speak, and the, the tongue, the tongue can be deceitful, and people don’t always speak the truth, and there’s some reasons to doubt what it is we’re about to hear.

According to Minnery, a vice-president at Focus, Obama’s description of his conversion is “deceitful” because the senator is “one left-wing liberal on the issue of abortion.” Furthermore, Minnery said “we have to question whether he’s even sincere as he speaks so lovingly about religion.”

Now, it may sound like Dobson and Minnery were once again directly denying the validity of their political opponent’s profession of Christianity. But Dobson, seconds later, took personal offense at such a notion:

DOBSON: Well we need to get to the program that we prepared for today, but we did want to make this statement, because we don’t want to leave it on the record that we’re throwing stones at Senator Obama to grab the headlines. That’s very offensive to me personally, and I’m sure it is to you as well.

MINNERY: And I appreciate your wanting to defend the evangelical beliefs in the Bible.

A Much More Subdued Right-Wing Declaration

Details continue to emerge about the meeting last week in Colorado where a large group right-wing leaders gathered and decided to back John McCain, with David Barton telling The Brody File that more than 90% in attendance agreed to support McCain primarily because they abhor Barack Obama and, as we noted yesterday, are really concerned about the future of the Supreme Court :

There were 83 state and national leaders in the room from all over the country. They included heavyweights Phyllis Schlafly, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Phil Burress, Mat Staver and representatives from Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the American Family Association.

David Barton, President of the conservative WallBuilders group was there too. I spoke with him about the meeting and he tells me roughly 75 of the 83 were on board for McCain at the end of the meeting.  

They don't want Barack Obama picking Supreme Court judges. That's why the judges issue is very important to this group and they believe McCain will be there on judges. They plan to let their supporters know about it. The "base" may be mobilizing very soon.

Charisma Magazine also provide some inside details, such as the fact that Mike Huckabee’s daughter Sarah was reportedly in attendance and that McCain has apparently been meeting with militant anti-abortion activist Alveda King, which makes sense seeing as she’s been supporting him for months.   

But the culmination of the meeting was the agreement by those in attendance to sign on to something called the “Declaration of American Values” put together by Mat Staver and David Barton.  If this sounds familiar, it is probably because it is a lot like the Values Voters’ Contract With Congress that a similar group of right-wing activists unveiled heading into the 2006 election.  The primary difference between the two is that the new declaration has dropped the laundry list of legislation they wanted to see passed that made up the bulk of the Values Voters’ Contract in favor of vague language about the “sanctity of human life” and the importance of securing our “national sovereignty and domestic tranquility” … almost as if they don’t anticipate that their legislative agenda has any chance of moving forward in the next Congress:  

Dobson’s Attack Opens the Floodgates

The Right is always saying that candidates can and should bring their faith to the public square, but it seems like the more Barack Obama does it, the more he gets criticized.  

As we’ve noted several times in the past, for months right-wing activists like Rob Schenck have been declaring “Obama's Christianity woefully deficient” and demanding that Obama explain, in detail, the basic tenets of his faith so that the Right can judge just “how profound is the religious commitment that Barack Obama has made.”  Others have echoed that point, saying that Obama is not a “true Christian,”  that “there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement,” and that Obama’s faith “tramples on the historic teachings of Christianity and the Bible.”

These attacks culminated in a nearly unprecedented episode last week when James Dobson dedicated his radio program to disparaging Obama’s understanding of his Christian faith, which was followed up by a three-part video series in which Focus on the Family Vice President Tom Minnery accusing Obama of having everything from a “completely and utterly ridiculous understanding” of the role of religion in public life to holding sacrilegious views.  

And now that attacks on Obama’s faith have been given Dobson’s blessing, it seems as if every right-wing commentator cannot wait to pile on, with Pat Buchanan weighing in with his typically well-reasoned and insightful views

Obama, however, is now preaching a kumbaya Christianity where leaders who believe abortion is the killing of the innocent unborn are to set their convictions and cause aside in the name of ecumenical amity.

It is Dobson who, in his intolerance of perceived evil, seems in the tradition of the abolitionists, and Barack who appears more like the milquetoast believers of whom Christ said he would spit them out of his mouth because they were neither hot nor cold and whom Dante consigned to the deepest reaches of hell.

For his part, George Neumayr was no less splenetic:

The willfulness he casually assumes in the traditionally religious defines his own stance, as he cobbles together a sham Christianity from scratch that conveniently dovetails with the platform of the Democratic Party, then calls his vote-searching the reconciliation of "religion and politics."

And, of course, the folks at the Christian Defense Coalition could not let any opportunity pass to weigh in as well:

Senator Obama does not have the moral authority to address these issues while supporting the tragic killing of innocent children and diminishing of women through abortion.
"The question must be asked, how can one support faith and values while embracing policies that brutalize children and wound women?  Senator Obama cannot talk with integrity about his faith and social justice anymore than a segregationist or racist can talk about their faith, justice or equality with integrity.

And then there is Rick Scarborough of Vision America :

"Like my friend Jim Dobson, I was appalled by the Senator's remarks," Scarborough disclosed. "This speech showed Obama's real views on politics and religion. And, I can tell you, the presumptive Democratic nominee is no friend of Bible-believing Christians," Scarborough added.

Of course, Scarborough has spent the last week loudly complaining that a variety of evangelical leaders even agreed to meet with Obama earlier this month (probably because he wasn’t invited, though he has been trying to make it seem like he was) saying that doing so only confuses right-wing voters:    

Senator Obama (D-Illinois), the presumptive Democratic candidate for president, recently held meetings with prominent Christians, including Franklin Graham and Bishop T.D. Jakes. But Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America Action, says evangelical leaders send a confusing message when they meet with Obama.
"This is a man that has never seen an unborn fetus that he wouldn't abort," chides Scarborough. "While serving in the state legislature in the state of Illinois, [he] served on a committee that literally prevented a bipartisan piece of legislation which would have offered medical services to botched abortions," he points out.
Scarborough goes on to criticize Obama's stance on homosexuality. "He's radically pro-gay...even to legislating against sections of the Bible and preventing those of us who embrace those sections of the Bible from preaching biblical truth," he argues. "So I'm troubled by it."

Keeping the Focus on Obama’s Faith – Part III

Focus on the Family has wrapped up its three-part series attacking Barack Obama’s faith and understanding of Christianity.  In part one, FOF Vice President Tom Minnery accused Obama of having “a fierce misunderstanding of Christianity,” while in part two he called Obama’s interpretation of the Bible sacrilegious.  In the final installment, Minnery said Obama has a “complete and utterly ridiculous understanding” of the role of religion in public life.  

Trobee: Tom, in the next segment of the address, I think it really represents the crux of the issue. What he says, basically, is that Christians are being asked to set aside their values and basically to keep their noses out of politics. Obama: Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. Minnery: Oh oh Obama: But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. Minnery: In a way, he’s right. What we believe, we believe absolutely. But no one who understands the proper place of religion in a free society believes that God’s edicts ought to be imposed on everyone. Nobody can impose anything on anyone. We understand compromise. We believe that it is unrighteous, wrong, to take the lives of innocent unborn children but we want to fight for those beliefs in the Democratic halls of the legislatures of the Congress. We are able to work back to our principle piece by piece, increment by increment, compromise by compromise, if you will. We are quite willing to be involved, as citizens, in the legislature that our civil government provides for us. We don’t want to impose any edict, any religious principle of God. Obama: If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing. Minnery: What he is suggesting here is that somehow conservative Christian people, presumably Dr. Dobson, whom he mentioned by name, wants to impose a theocracy. There has never been a suggestion from here or in any orthodox, evangelical source that a theocracy is appropriate for the United States of America. A theocracy, God’s edicts, were what the Israelites had to contend with. That’s called the Old Testament. This is called the New Testament. Salvation is open to everyone. Our Christianity is based on love. Nobody can force anyone to love anyone else. So this is a complete and utterly ridiculous understanding of how we bring faith into the public square.
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Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 3:51pm
Apparently, Sharia law is such a creeping threat to Wyoming that a Republican state legislator wants to make the “Equality State” consider a constitutional amendment barring judges from considering Islamic and international law. In November, Oklahomans passed a similar amendment, which was later blocked by a federal judge over its suspect constitutional grounds. “To date, no Wyoming court rulings have been based on Islamic law, or Shariah,” the Billings Gazette reports, “But state Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, said his proposed constitutional amendment, House Joint... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 10:59am
Michele Bachmann SOTU: Plans to give her own State of the Union Response to a Tea Party Express rally, even though Wisconsin Rep. Jim Ryan is the official Republican speaker (Star Tribune, 1/24). History: Maintains that skin color didn’t matter in early America at an Iowans for Tax Reform event (TPM, 1/24). Religious Right: Addressed the “March for Life” Rose Dinner (Politico, 1/24). Iowa: “Encouraged” by reception at Iowa events (Des Moines Register, 1/22). Religious Right: Set to attend a meeting of Iowa’s The Family Leader, led by Bob Vander Plaats... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 10:59am
Michele Bachmann SOTU: Plans to give her own State of the Union Response to a Tea Party Express rally, even though Wisconsin Rep. Jim Ryan is the official Republican speaker (Star Tribune, 1/24). History: Maintains that skin color didn’t matter in early America at an Iowans for Tax Reform event (TPM, 1/24). Religious Right: Addressed the “March for Life” Rose Dinner (Politico, 1/24). Iowa: “Encouraged” by reception at Iowa events (Des Moines Register, 1/22). Religious Right: Set to attend a meeting of Iowa’s The Family Leader, led by Bob Vander Plaats... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 01/24/2011, 6:43pm
George Zornick @ Think Progress: Allen West: Keith Ellison Represents ‘The Antithesis Of The Principles Upon Which This Country Was Established’. Sarah Posner @ Religion Dispatches: Rep. Smith Suggests A New Protected Class: "Immaturity". David Weigel @ Slate: Michael Bay Presents: "Pawlenty". Joe.My.God: Virginia Lawmaker: Feds Can't Stop Us From Banning Gays From National Guard. Pam Spaulding: Idaho pharmacist denies anti-bleeding med because woman MIGHT have had an abortion. Terry Krepel @ County Fair: Pat Robertson... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 01/24/2011, 6:43pm
George Zornick @ Think Progress: Allen West: Keith Ellison Represents ‘The Antithesis Of The Principles Upon Which This Country Was Established’. Sarah Posner @ Religion Dispatches: Rep. Smith Suggests A New Protected Class: "Immaturity". David Weigel @ Slate: Michael Bay Presents: "Pawlenty". Joe.My.God: Virginia Lawmaker: Feds Can't Stop Us From Banning Gays From National Guard. Pam Spaulding: Idaho pharmacist denies anti-bleeding med because woman MIGHT have had an abortion. Terry Krepel @ County Fair: Pat Robertson... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Friday 01/21/2011, 6:43pm
PFAW: Americans Unite Against Corporate Influence in Elections on Anniversary of Supreme Court Decision.   Julie Ingersoll @ Religion Dispatches: Theocracy: “What Would Be So Bad About It?”   Sam Stein @ Huffington Post: Bachmann To Give Her Own State Of The Union Rebuttal.   Good As You: A first look at Maryland's 'protect marriage' team: Gays 'hate the Lord', 'defy God'.   Jillian Rayfield @ TPM: Louisiana Locals Train To Protect Their Churches With Guns.   Sarah Pavlus @ County Fair: Caller: Dr... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Friday 01/21/2011, 6:43pm
PFAW: Americans Unite Against Corporate Influence in Elections on Anniversary of Supreme Court Decision.   Julie Ingersoll @ Religion Dispatches: Theocracy: “What Would Be So Bad About It?”   Sam Stein @ Huffington Post: Bachmann To Give Her Own State Of The Union Rebuttal.   Good As You: A first look at Maryland's 'protect marriage' team: Gays 'hate the Lord', 'defy God'.   Jillian Rayfield @ TPM: Louisiana Locals Train To Protect Their Churches With Guns.   Sarah Pavlus @ County Fair: Caller: Dr... MORE