Religion

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 Debbie@NewsGuests.com.

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 (HazteOir.org, 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"

imagineIII.JPG

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, ffrf.org.

"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.

Keeping the Focus on Obama’s Faith – Part II

Focus on the Family continues with its attack on Barack Obama’s faith and understanding of Christianity, with FOF's Gary Schneeberger discussing it on Janet Folger's Faith 2 Action radio program while FOF Vice President Tom Minnery continues his three-part video criticism, claiming that Obama’s interpretation of the Bible is such a “sacrilege” that he “could cry”:
Trobee: Tom, [Obama] says he Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly when it comes to politics and yet, in the next clip, we’ll see what he really thinks about that. Obama: Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles. Minnery: I could cry. I could cry. That’s a gross misunderstanding of Scripture. To compare the dietary laws that pertained to the Israelites with the New Testament, Kingdom of God theme of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is a grotesque mischaracterization of what we believe as a Christian people today. He is mixing the Levitical law which applied to the Israelites as they were coming out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt at a time when God chose them to be his holy people; he was purifying them, everything he said then applied to them. Jesus opened to everyone the benefit of Heaven. It’s a new era, the New Testament era, and to willingly mix all this up is, to me, a sacrilege. Trobee: And it doesn’t stop there. Let’s watch this next one … Minnery: I hate to even think what’s on this next one. Obama: Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all. Minnery: Well, hello Senator. Isn’t it evident that taking of innocent human life is killing, is murder, whether someone believes in faith or whether someone does not believe in faith? Is this not evident to all? He hides behind what he believes is some false notion of religion and yet those notions of religion underlie much of our Western civilization’s law. For example, thou shalt not murder – that’s a religious concept. It comes in the Old Testament, it was affirmed in the New Testament, and it’s a law. Because it’s religious, should it be erased from law? Of course not. There are good reasons why this religious principle works well in secular, civil law for everybody regardless of whether they buy into the religious origin of that law. Thou shalt not steal is another religious precept that makes a pretty good law for everybody. He’s mixing things up here and I hope he’s mistaken, I hope he’s not willful, but I don’t know.

Richard Land on Dobson and Obama

If any Religious Right commentators were still bashful in knocking Barack Obama’s Christianity, James Dobson’s decision to attack Barack Obama on theological grounds is like a permission slip for them to come out of the woodwork.

“When you enter into that conversation, you open your theology and your policies up to scrutiny,” claimed Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. “And that's what Dr. Dobson did.” Rick Scarborough—who is revamping his “Patriot Pastor” church ralliessaid he “was appalled by the Senator's remarks … [T]he presumptive Democratic nominee is no friend of Bible-believing Christians.”

Mike Huckabee, who once came to the defense of Jeremiah Wright but now is working for both Fox News and John McCain, also joined the amen corner, accusing Obama of “reinterpret[ing]” religion and claiming that “what Barack Obama has done is to drive his campaign into a sink hole by saying some things regarding religion that I think will make people who are religious very uncomfortable.”

And Baptist Press, the media outlet of the Southern Baptist Convention, also promoted Dobson’s attack. BP’s executive editor Will Hall wrote that the senator “disrespected a portion of the Word of God simply because it does not fit his worldview” on the issue of homosexuality. “Obama's misappropriation of Scripture to fit his political perspective is more grave than its implications for a presidential election,” he added, calling the supposed scandal “biblical in proportion.”

Published next to the report on Dobson’s comments and Hall’s piling-on, Baptist Press also featured the words of Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s political spokesman:

"I think to go into the particular beliefs of a particular faith and to try to grill a candidate on that is an intrusion into his personal faith," Land said. "I think what we want to know in a campaign is how that person's faith impacts them.

Wait a minute—it sounds like Land is defending Obama and repudiating the “intrusion” of James Dobson! Indeed, Land said it was fine for candidates to talk about faith and their values, but that “they shouldn't either be asked to be or volunteer to be a spokesperson for their faith tradition, in other words talking about the particulars of their faith.”

Of course, there’s a catch: Land was speaking nearly three weeks before Dobson made his comments.

When Dobson attacked Land’s favored presidential candidate Fred Thompson—even saying he didn’t “think he’s a Christian”—Land called Dobson’s words “harsh and unwarranted.” Will Land hold Dobson to the “intrusion” standard this time?

And what about Obama’s statement that the U.S. is “no longer just a Christian nation,” which Dobson and his lieutenant also attacked? Land said at the above event that he “was, as a Baptist, somewhat appalled by John McCain’s assertion that the Constitution created America as a Christian nation.” Will he say he’s “appalled” by the Focus on the Family version?

Well, we’re not going to hold our breath. Land has been trying to rally the Right to John McCain, even as some complain about McCain’s faith talk. "I'd rather have a third-rate fireman than a first-class arsonist,” Land said recently of the two candidates.

Keeping the Focus on Obama’s Faith

After generating a wave of coverage with his nearly unprecedented attack on Barack Obama and his understanding of his own Christian faith in yesterday’s radio broadcast, James Dobson has returned to his standard program format for the time being with a program about “Recapturing the Joy.”  But that doesn’t mean that Focus on the Family is about to let the story go or about to back of its incessant attacks against Obama and his faith.  

Today, FOF unveiled the first installment of a three-part video series in which host Kim Trobee and Focus' Vice President of Public Policy Tom Minnery criticize Obama’s 2006 Call to Renewal Keynote Address.  In it, Minnery claims that Obama still has a long way to go in his “journey of faith” because he’s no where “close to our understanding of what the Christian faith is.” Minnery also gets unnecessarily worked-up about the fact that Obama sought to “compare James Dobson with Rev. Al Sharpton,” when, in fact, Obama wasn’t comparing them at all; he was contrasting them – a key distinction apparently lost on Minnery, Dobson, and the people at Focus on the Family:

Kim Trobee: Tom, Obama explains that he was not raised in a particularly religious household. He talks about his Dad being a Muslim and then becoming an atheist and he says that his mother grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion. What does that tell us with regard to his own views on religion?

Tom Minnery: It tells us that he’s on a journey of faith, and that’s a good thing because we think people out to journey toward faith. But from what he says about the Christian faith, who knows where he is? He’s not close to our understanding of what the Christian faith is, by any means.

Trobee: Let’s go ahead and show this first clip of the video.

Barack Obama: Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

Trobee: Is that true?

Minnery: No, it’s not true. It’s not even close. Senator, we are not an atheist nation. Senator, we are not a Hindu nation. We are not a Buddhist nation. 76% of the people, according to last year’s Pew Center on Religion survey, people identify themselves as Christian. Now, all of them are not practicing, yet 40% still go to church once a week and, by and large, it’s Christian denominations they’re going to. We are, along among the world, a nation still with a strong Judeo-Christian heritage and he is trying to erase that. And he does so at his own peril.

Trobee: In the next clip, he takes aim at Dr. Dobson and that’s something that, up until now, we were unaware had happened. Let’s take a look at it.

Obama: And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's?

Minnery: Wow. For someone on a journey of faith to compare James Dobson with Rev. Al Sharpton is breathtaking. Many viewers will know that Al Sharpton achieved his notoriety as a polarizing, racist figure in American life, a black racist figure. That’s strong language, but that is who he was and who he is and you can find numerous stories about his run-ins with racial incidents in the past, from the Tawana Brawley hoax to the Central Park jogger issue in which he entered the fracas on the side of black racism. And to compare that with Dr. James Dobson, a child psychologist – not even a Reverend – is a fierce misunderstanding of Christianity.

The Right’s New Religious Test

For months now, Religious Right activists have been quietly attacking Barack Obama’s Christian faith.  For years, the Right had routinely accused anyone who dared to criticize any Republican or right-wing political candidate for their political views of engaging in an unconstitutional religious test or exhibiting religious bigotry.

But the ascent of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, coupled with his open discussion of his personal faith, has forced the Right to not only jettison its long-held position that attacking a political candidate because of his or her faith was off limits, but to go a step further to include outright attacks on the fundamental tenets of Obama’s Christianity. 

For months, 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.”

Until now, those attacks had been more or less relegated to the right-wing fringe, but it looks like they are about to become mainstream talking points, as James Dobson attacked Obama’s understanding of Christianity on today’s broadcast, as the Associated Press reported

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus' teachings in the New Testament.

"I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said.

"... He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

He said Obama, who supports abortion rights, is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," labeling it "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

Listen to Dobson and Minnery discuss Obama and his faith:

Obama-as-Muslim Attack Gets on TV

The Associated Press previews the likelihood of a “Swift Boat”-style campaign against Barack Obama, focused on race, religion, and patriotism—cruder versions of Cal Thomas’s recent article denying Obama’s Christianity. The AP mentions a so-called “Coalition Against Anti-Christian Rhetoric” (their website, registered anonymously, is now gone, but here’s a temporary cached version) that managed to air an ad on a South Dakota TV station featuring a turbaned Obama and a spliced speech, as the ad asked, “What kind of nation would Barack Obama want us to be?” (“Muslim Nation?” suggested text on the screen.) “It’s time for people of faith to stand against Barack Hussein Obama.”

Another group is raising money for a similar ad that asks, “Was he Muslim?” This effort is led by the creator of the infamous Willie Horton ad of 1988. "Maybe it doesn't matter if Obama were a Muslim back then but it does matter if he is not telling the truth about it now,” the unsubtle ad states.

Both these ads are being promoted by right-wing websites such as WorldNetDaily (which speculates whether Obama is a “Manchurian candidate”).

FRC Demands That McCain Talk Religion Like They Want

In its most recent “Washington Update,” the Family Research Council appears to be trying to call out John McCain on the fact that his website just isn’t religious enough:

A quick tour through the candidates' official websites may do more to predict who our next president will be than months of polling data. On one nominee's site, visitors can select from featured articles called, "When Faith Is Front and Center," "Reconciling Faith and Politics," and "Strengthening Families." In another section, they can scroll through the priority issues of "ethics," "faith," and "family" and read excerpts from speeches, watch video clips, and peruse editorials devoted entirely to this senator's religious conviction. If you attributed that content to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), guess again. The site belongs to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), whose party is vying for the "values void" created by the GOP's near-silence on its core issues. Unlike Obama's site, McCain's homepage is dedicated to "energy security," "global competitiveness," and "Iraq." Nowhere is faith or family referenced. With the exception of a blurb on human dignity, found on the bottom half of his issues menu, McCain's commitment to and record on social values are glaringly absent … Is it any wonder then that the gap of support between McCain and Obama is shrinking in the religious community? As of Friday, McCain was leading by only five percent among those who said that religion is an important aspect of their everyday life. The GOP's silence on marriage, particularly at this critical juncture in California, is deafening.

Oddly, if you actually bother to compare the two candidate’s websites, they don’t seem nearly as different as FRC makes them out to be.

Obama does have a “Faith” page consisting mostly of a link to a speech he delivered to Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America Conference in 2006 and a link to a document entitled “Barack's Faith Principles. Other articles FRC cites look to be run-of-the-mill campaign issues - concerns about the issues such as “Ethics” and “Family” certainly are not unique to the so-called “Values Voters” FRC claims to represent and the "When Faith Is Front and Center” article they cite is basically a link to an op-ed by Obama supporter Douglas Kmiec.  

It’s not clear why FRC is so high on Obama’s website relative to McCain’s. FRC praises Obama for having a “Family” page even though it contains proposals for a bunch of things FRC loathes, such as providing a living wage and universal healthcare. On McCain’s site, what FRC dismisses as a “blurb” is actually a long “values” page dedicated to Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life which is chalk full of the issues FRC and its ilk care about and even starts off by pledging to overturn Roe v. Wade which, for groups like FRC, has long been its top political priority:

John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.

The page goes on to set out McCain’s views on the importance of protecting marriage, protecting children from internet pornography, and restricting stem-cell research. It concludes with a declaration that “decency, human compassion, self-sacrifice and the defense of innocent life are at the core of John McCain's value system and will be the guiding principles of a McCain Presidency."

McCain’s website also contains articles such as “John McCain: Keeping Faith, On His Own Terms” as well as others about his efforts to reach out to the GOP’s conservative Christian base and even the text of his remarks to FRC’s own Values Voter Summit.

FRC’s one-sided review of the websites seems to be an exercise in pressuring McCain into publicly discussing his faith more openly. As FRC’s Tony Perkins explained back in February:

“[McCain] must make social conservatives feel that he, No. 1, understands their issues; No. 2, believes in their issues; and No. 3, will advance them as president.”

Apparently, the only way McCain can do that, despite all the pandering he has already done, is to spend a lot more time talking about religion in a manner that FRC deems acceptable.

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