Christianity Today sat down with Marlys Popma, president of Iowa's Right to Life Committee, former deputy national political director for Gary Bauer’s 2000 presidential campaign, and current Evangelical outreach coordinator for John McCain. During the discussion, Popma suggests that McCain’s appearance at the Saddleback faith forum was such a success that it’s actually made it less necessary for the campaign to openly court the Right:
McCain just spoke at Rick Warren's forum, he met with Billy and Franklin Graham, and he met with evangelicals in Ohio. What is the campaign doing to reach out to evangelicals, other than these meetings?
Those meetings are less important than after Saddleback, but they were still important. It's very important that we touch leadership in groups or one at a time. We plan to make a visit with leadership in priority states. We also send regular e-mails to the individuals whom we have identified in our group. We recently put out a piece on John's faith. It's mostly getting John McCain's conservative message out to the grassroots.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the campaign is letting up. In fact, Popma reports that whenever she meets with right-wing activists, the one issue she makes sure to drive home is judges:
When you talk to evangelicals about voting for John McCain, what's your pitch?
The first thing I talk about is judges. We need judges who believe in the original intent of the Constitution and show great jurisprudence, who do not legislate from the bench and are constructionists. We are one judge away from the reversal of Roe v. Wade. There are many other points: that John McCain has had a 24-, 25-year pro-life message. He stands for marriage between one man and one woman. He has a great compassion for individuals as a whole, not only in this country, but also abroad. He and his wife are extremely philanthropic. Cindy is involved with HALO and Operation Smile. I just think that as a team, Sen. McCain and his wife, Cindy, reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is.
If McCain and his wife really do “reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is,” that must come as a surprise to Rob Schenck, who just announced that McCain is not an Evangelical at all.
But despite seemingly having the herculean task of selling McCain to the Religious Right, to hear Popma tell it, her job couldn’t be easier because McCain is the total right-wing package:
We understand on this campaign that there are essentially two groups in which we look for evangelicals. One is what I call "movement conservatives." Those are individuals who have for years been working for the unborn and working hard to make sure that the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. There is also a young emerging group of people who have broadened their scope. They haven't neglected marriage and life issues, but they've broadened them into a concern about global poverty and making sure the quality of life for individuals is one that a human expects and deserves.
The exciting thing about John McCain is that he hits on all cylinders. There's not any one of the things that evangelicals would be looking for — creation care, all of them — that John McCain has had in his agenda for years.
The AP reports that a ballot initiative preventing “gays and lesbians from becoming foster or adoptive parents was cleared Monday to appear on this fall's ballot in Arkansas”:
The measure would prohibit unmarried couples living together from fostering or adopting children, and Arkansas doesn't allow gays to marry or recognize gay marriages conducted elsewhere.
"Arkansas needs to affirm the importance of married mothers and fathers," Family Council President Jerry Cox said. "We need to publicly affirm the gold standard of rearing children whenever we can. The state standard should be as close to that gold standard of married mom and dad homes as possible."
You’d think that banning willing gays and lesbians from becoming foster or adoptive parents would only end up shrinking the pool of those willing to raise these children in need, but you’d be wrong – according to the Family Council Action Committee, putting this on the ballot will amazingly result in even more foster and adoptive parents:
[T]he campaign to pass this act is designed to increase the number of families willing to adopt or serve as foster parents. By circulating petitions in churches and elsewhere, we will spend the next several months highlighting the need for more foster and adoptive homes. We’ve published a book entitled, Adoption and Foster Care in Arkansas. Volunteers in this campaign will not only be circulating petitions, but they will be encouraging families to consider adopting a child or becoming a foster parent. Overall, we expect this effort to increase the number of foster care and adoptive homes in Arkansas.
Presumably, the Family Council thinks that “traditional” couples will suddenly start clamoring to take these children once they’ve ensured that they gays can’t have them. And, if not, it’s just as well that the kids remain safely in the care of the state rather than being “used to promote the social or political agenda of any special interest group.”
In short, the effort nails the trifecta:
This act protects the welfare of children, it blunts a homosexual agenda, and it encourages more people to adopt children or serve as foster parents. That’s what this act does. Anyone who tries to tell you anything less isn’t telling the whole story.
Rob Schenck, fresh off of addressing the “Prayer for Change” anti-abortion rally outside the Democratic convention (and presumably providing some sort of insights to NPR) takes time out to address a key election issue by informing us that John McCain is not an evangelical:
[T]he first two [requirements], “salvation” and “believer’s baptism,” form the sine qua non for initiation into the evangelical family. If you apply these two criteria to what we know of John McCain’s Christian faith he would fail the test for being a bona fide “evangelical.” According to various news reports, Senator McCain’s pastor of 15 years, Dan Yeary (of the clearly evangelical North Phoenix Baptist Church), says the senator has never made that initial walk of faith down the aisle. Neither has he undergone a believer’s full immersion baptism, a prerequisite for membership at North Phoenix. So, Senator McCain has all these years been an “adherent,” or non-member attendee, rather than a fully participating member. (This would mean, for example, that he likely couldn’t hold an office in the church nor vote at its congregational business meetings.) My conclusion from all of this: While John McCain is indeed a self-professed Christian; he would not qualify as an “evangelical Christian.”
Why does that matter, you ask? It doesn’t, unless you are a right-wing evangelical who is confused because you don’t have an evangelical candidate for whom you can reflexively vote, in which case knowing that McCain is merely an “adherent” is apparently relevant:
I frankly don’t think this has anything to do with whether or not Mr. McCain is qualified to be president. For that matter, neither does Barack Obama’s religious identification. What’s important is that Americans—religious and non-religious—have an accurate appreciation of who the candidates are religiously. Religion is an extremely important component to the electoral decision-making process for many voters. The fact that there isn’t an evangelical in this year’s presidential race may change the dynamics some, but it won’t necessarily change the outcome. We simply ought to deal with this factor candidly. (Even if you don’t think it’s important, I think you would agree it certainly can’t hurt to know) … In the end, it’s up to each voter to determine what John McCain’s or Barack Obama’s religious identity means and what bearing it has on which man should be president. I just think it’s something we all need to know, so we can at least pray about the matter in a more informed way.
The title of Schenck’s column is “Is John McCain an Evangelical? Short Answer: No.” Apparently, Schenck reserves his long answers for investigations into the faith of Barack Obama, which warranted a three-part report that concluded that Obama is “definitely not an Evangelical” and that his “Christianity woefully deficient.”
Ezra Klein predicts that John McCain will choose Joe Lieberman as his running mate and explains his reasoning:
For the Republicans, however, 2008 can't be [about] mobilization. Their half is too small. Their brand is too damaged. And they recognized that when they chose John McCain -- who's not a base mobilizing evangelical conservative anyway -- as their nominee … [Lieberman] lets McCain telegraph an ideological ambiguity and shift towards a policy agenda that's about process, about "reaching across party lines and getting things done," rather than about sops to the conservative base.
That may very well be true, but for this strategy to work one has to assume that the McCain camp would be willing to sacrifice nearly the entire Religious Right base in an effort to win support of moderates and independents because, as the Right has made abundantly clear, their now tepid support for McCain hinges almost entirely on his choice of running mate.
Just last week, we were noting how the Right was nearly unanimous in their opposition to Lieberman and that, while they were just starting to warm up to McCain, their efforts at mobilizing their grassroots activists on his behalf came to a screeching halt when he suggested that he was open to the idea of naming a pro-choice running mate.
Among those doing some soul-searching this week is Betty Kanavel, who lives in the tiny Monroe County town of Ida and will vote for no one who isn't anti-abortion. She would like McCain to pick Mike Huckabee, the charismatic preacher and former Arkansas governor who finished third in Michigan's primary.
The 56-year-old Kanavel, who works part-time at her church, also is concerned over Romney's religion.
"I probably shouldn't go there, but I will anyway: The Mormon religion is totally not the Bible," Kanavel said, adding: "It's very hard, but if he's the choice, OK. He is a good man."
But this is a debate that has raged over Mike Huckabee vs. Mitt Romney and is rooted in the fact that both are, at least nominally, pro-life. Lieberman, for all his faults, is ostensibly pro-choice - a fact that will not be easily glossed over by the Religious Right:
Let us be clear on this. Our values and our respect for the Constitution make clear that women must have the right to choose—and we will continue to fight for that right
When McCain floated the idea of a pro-choice running mate a few weeks ago, the Right went completely off the rails and leaders like Richard Land have been taking every opportunity to make absolutely clear just what such a decision would mean to McCain's campaign:
If he picks a pro-life running mate, it will really cement evangelical support. If he picks a pro-choice running mate it will give oxygen to all those doubts, and deflate the momentum that has been building.
I don't even know who his vice-presidential candidate will be. You know he could very well choose a pro-abortion candidate and it would not be unlike him to do that because he seems to enjoy a frustrating conservatives on occasions. But as of this moment, I have to take into account the fact that Senator John McCain has voted pro-life
consistently and that's a fact.
In case that wasn’t clear enough, FOF’s Tom Minnery recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that Dobson is essentially waiting to see who McCain picks before officially endorsing him:
"Admittedly, for a lot of us, McCain is an acquired taste," said Tom Minnery, who leads the government and public policy division for Focus on the Family.
But if McCain chooses a strong social conservative for his running mate, Focus on the Family's leader, James Dobson - whose conservative radio broadcasts are heard by 200 million people worldwide - could endorse him.
"We'll wait to see who his vice president is before embracing him," Minnery said.
If the McCain campaign decides that a pro-choice running mate is what the campaign needs, it’ll be because it has concluded that he can with without the Right or, more likely, that the Right will put aside its principles because they have no alternative but to support the campaign regardless of his running mate. But the Right is in no mood to be insulted in this manner. As it stands now, McCain’s support from the right-wing base is tenuous at best and will likely collapse completely were he to fill out his ticket with a pro-choice candidate.
As Dobson explained it, McCain has a history of going “out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes” of the Religious Right – and choosing a pro-choice running mate would be the ultimate poke in the eye to the Right; one that would make it nearly impossible for them to support him.
Is America a Christian nation? America has always been a very religious country, but I don't think America is a Christian nation. I don't think it was founded as a Christian nation. The majority of the country thinks so, and I think the majority of the country is wrong. As an evangelical, I find the phrase "Christian nation" to be problematic because for me being a Christian is an individual decision and a personal relationship.
Money-laundering charges against former U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay and two indicted co-conspirators may be dismissed because the 2002 campaign finance case involved checks and not cash, a lawyer for DeLay said Sunday night. "We win," said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's lawyer, "because there's nothing but checks in the case." The state's 3rd Court of Appeals on Friday actually upheld the money-laundering indictments against DeLay's two campaign associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington. But the ruling contained a silver lining for the trio's lawyers because it concluded that the state's money-laundering statute — written in 1993 to combat illicit drug activity by focusing on the cash in the criminal transactions — did not apply to checks at the time DeLay is accused of laundering corporate money into campaign donations. The Legislature changed the law in 2005 to include checks. ... DeGuerin said he would take the appellate court's opinion back to Pat Priest, the trial judge in San Antonio, who has dismissed the check argument previously. Armed with the opinion, however, DeGuerin said he expects Priest to reconsider DeLay's motion to dismiss the charges because only checks — not cash — were involved in the transactions.
We’ve written a few posts recently arguing that the main difference between Rick Warren and the more traditional right-wing figures like James Dobson is primarily tone. While Warren talks a great deal about expanding the evangelical agenda to cover issues such as the environment and poverty, that agenda is founded on the standard anti-gay, anti-abortion ideology.
As Warren himself regularly points out, “people think because I’m trying to expand the agenda that I’ve left the prior agenda. I have not.” And that agenda, as he spelled out explicitly in his 2004 pre-election email, comes directly out of the right-wing playbook:
But for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are 5 issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they're not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues. In order to live a purpose-driven life - to affirm what God has clearly stated about his purpose for every person he creates - we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.
Here are five questions to ask when considering who to vote for in this election:
1. What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children?
2. What does each candidate believe about using unborn babies for stem-cell harvesting?
3. What does each candidate believe about homosexual marriage?
4. What does each candidate believe about human cloning?
5. What does each candidate believe about euthanasia - the killing of elderly and invalids?
Around that time, Warren was poised to become the nation’s new Jerry Falwell, but chose a more moderate seeming path in an effort to broaden his reach without, of course, moderating his agenda. And so he continues to sell his right-wing views while hiding behind a veil of moderation and civility.
At least that is what he was doing heading into his faith forum last weekend – now that it’s over, it looks like Warren has all but given up the even pretending:
'Overhyped." That's how the Rev. Rick Warren describes the notion that the evangelical vote is "up for grabs" in this election. But what about the significance of the evangelical left, I asked the pastor of Saddleback Church after his forum with the presidential candidates last weekend. "This big," he says, holding his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.
Sitting on a small stone patio outside the church's "green room," I question him further -- has he heard that the Democratic Party is changing its abortion platform? "Window dressing," he replies. "Too little, too late." But Rev. Jim Wallis, the self-described progressive evangelical, has been saying that the change is a big victory. "Jim Wallis is a spokesman for the Democratic Party," Mr. Warren responds dismissively. "His book reads like the party platform."
[T]here is a misunderstanding by the media, says Mr. Warren. "A lot of people hear [about a broader agenda] and they think, 'Oh, evangelicals are giving up on believing that life begins at conception,'" he explains. "They're not giving up on that at all. Not at all."
Democrats might want to keep this in mind next week as their convention tries to welcome this "new breed" of religious folks. And as for the notion that younger evangelicals are ready for rebellion against their parents' ideals, Mr. Warren cites polls showing that the younger evangelical generation is even more concerned about abortion than the older one. After the Sunday morning service at Saddleback last weekend, I interviewed 15 random attendees. Only two were Obama supporters, one of whom was a British guy on holiday. Almost all of the remaining congregants mentioned abortion as the most significant issue affecting their vote in November.
So why is most of the press under the impression that Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist, is so different from, say, Focus on the Family president James Dobson? "It's a matter of tone," says an amused Mr. Warren, who seems unable to name any particular theological issues on which he and Mr. Dobson disagree.
Following the announcement that Barack Obama had chosen Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, the Right swung into action, with FRC Action quickly releasing a “fact sheet on [the] family record of Senator Joe Biden” while others carefully crafted statements of their own and began plotting strategy.
Within hours, a new on-line movement touting itself “Catholics Against Joe Biden” appeared on the scene, brought to you by the same people behind the “Catholics Against Rudy” effort during the GOP primary. Of course, that effort gained attention because the organizers were traditionally Republican supporters proclaiming a GOP candidate unacceptable whereas this new effort is standard partisan criticism cloaked in religious terms.
Apparently Catholics are not only universally opposed, but outright offended, by Obama’s decision to choose Biden - at least judging by the press release from Fidelis, another self-appointed political organization that claims to speak for Catholics:
Fidelis President Brian Burch commented, “Barack Obama has re-opened a wound among American Catholics by picking a pro-abortion Catholic politician. The American bishops have made clear that Catholic political leaders must defend the dignity of every human person, including the unborn. Sadly, Joe Biden’s tenure in the United States Senate has been marked by steadfast support for legal abortion.”
“Now everywhere Biden campaigns, we’ll have this question of whether a pro-abortion Catholic can receive Communion. Senator Biden is an unrepentant supporter of abortion in direct opposition to the Church he claims as his own. Selecting a pro-abortion Catholic is a slap in the face to Catholic voters,” said Burch.
But both Fidelis and Catholics Against Joe Biden were outdone by Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission who made his displeasure known by blasting Obama as a “fake Christian” and Biden as a “fake Catholic”:
"Barack Obama's choice of Joe Biden sends a clear message, true Christians need not apply in the Democratic Party," said Dr. Gary Cass, Chairman and CEO of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission. "Instead of picking a true Christian, Obama, a fake evangelical, has selected Biden, a fake Catholic.”
The CADC proclaims its mission is to “advance religious liberty for Christians by protecting Christians from defamation, discrimination, and bigotry from any and all sources,” but that apparently doesn’t apply to those it considers “fake” Christians such as Obama and Biden. It might seem odd that an organization founded to protect Christians from defamation would among the most frequently and vocally defaming Obama’s faith, but only if you don’t understand that Cass’s mission is reserved solely for those he deems “true Christians” who have proven their faith via “actions and [holding] the beliefs personified by all of us who proclaim the name of Jesus Christ as Savior: the need to be re-born in Christ and the affirmation of historic Christianity, having a demonstrable and proven record of support for traditional Christian morality.”
Rob Schenck is not exactly a household name – in fact, he’s barely known even to those who monitor the Religious Right, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a history of influence with member of Congress and the right-wing movement.
We’ve been writing about Schenck for awhile now, primarily in the context of his crusade to expose the fact that Barack Obama might really be a Muslim infidel … and even if he’s not, his Christian faith is “woefully deficient,” as well as his reportedly successful efforts to sneak into the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room and anoint the chairs with oil before Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings.
While Schenck might not be a right-wing powerbroker, he is something of a name dropper as this video check-in from earlier in the week demonstrates in which he reports that he’s on his way to Utah to join Sen. Orrin Hatch for a golf tournament before meeting up with Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.
None of this is particularly relevant or groundbreaking and we probably wouldn’t even bother mentioning it were it not for the announcement at the end that he will be attending and providing commentary for both the Democratic and Republican conventions on behalf of National Public Radio:
Schenck released a statement today confirming that he “will travel to Denver on Saturday, August 23, to observe and comment on the Democratic National Convention and surrounding events” but makes no mention of NPR.
Is Schenck really going to be providing commentary for NPR on the Democratic Convention? If so, did NPR bother to do any research on just who they were bringing on-board?
During the early 1990s … [Schenck] was arrested a dozen times during protests outside women's health clinics and abortion doctors' homes, and is renowned for outrageous publicity stunts, including dangling an aborted fetus in Bill Clinton's face outside the 1992 Democratic National Convention. With former Elim classmate Randall Terry, Schenck helped start Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion group that embraced "direct action" in an effort to shut down reproductive health clinics and prevent doctors from practicing abortion.
Schenck, along with his twin brother Paul, have a long history of militant anti-abortion activism and first came to fame by targeting local doctor Barnett Slepian who was, in 1998, assassinated by an anti-abortion activist:
BOOK EXAMINES SCHENCKS' ROLE IN SLEPIAN CASE
25 October 2000
Two years after Dr. Barnett A. Slepian's assassination, a new book written by a former local pro-life activist raises the question of whether the Schenck twins played an indirect role in singling out Slepian as a potential target for violence.
Author Jerry Reiter, a former member of the Town of Tonawanda church led by the Revs. Paul and Robert Schenck, never accuses the twin brothers of being involved in any murder plot or the harboring of the killer.
But in his book, "Live From the Gates of Hell," Reiter writes that his former pastors brought national Operation Rescue leaders here for protests outside the same home where Slepian later was killed.
The author questions how "an obscure physician from a midsize city like Buffalo" wound up on a national short list of targeted abortion providers.
"It was impossible to say with certainty who had put Slepian on the secret list, but it was possible that the national leadership would not have known about Slepian at all if it had not been for Rob and Paul Schenck," Reiter writes. "They were the first to choose him as a target for anti-abortion protesters."
Reiter writes that he was shocked when Robert Schenck told him that neither brother had heard of James C. Kopp before the FBI announced him as a suspect in Slepian's murder. The Schencks and Kopp had been arrested at demonstrations in the same cities.
Organizations:Democratic National Convention, National Public Radio, Operation Rescue, Religious Right, Senate Judiciary Committee
After years of monitoring the Religious Right, I tend to shrug when I see things like this from Focus on the Family announcing that they are offering “an online video series to keep you up to date on the election” because, frankly, I know what they are going to say: Republican=good, Democrat=bad.
And this inaugural video turned out to be exactly as predicted, with Stuart “Pray for Rain” Shepard discussing recent developments in the presidential race with FOF Vice President Tom Minnery. Minnery beamed about the recent Saddleback faith forum hosted by Rick Warren, noting with delight that for all of Warren’s talk about how he was going to “lead these Neanderthal conservatives into the light of liberal Christianity” by expanding the evangelical agenda to include issues like climate change and poverty, he didn’t actually ask about those issues during the forum, instead focusing on core right-wing issues like marriage and abortion. Minnery then discussed the need for McCain to pick a pro-life running mate and speculated that “gay activist groups” have greatly increased their influence within the Democratic Party. It is all pretty standard right-wing fare.
But then the discussion turns to the topic of why the Democrats chose Denver, CO to host this year’s convention and it gets weird. After Minnery makes some comments about Democrats seeking to be competitive in the Western US, Shepard asks about (seemingly false) reports that efforts are underway in the city to rid the downtown area of the homeless before the start of the convention, at which point Minnery goes off the rails, likening it to Communist China and expressing disbelief that there are still homeless people in Denver, thus apparently proving that Democrats can’t govern:
Shepard: Tom, people have been sending me news clippings about the convention offering special offers for homeless people to try and get them out of the downtown area, either out to a park or to a movie or something. I just read recently they’re offering free haircuts to street people. When you hear those stories, what do you think they illustrate?
Minnery: They remind me of Communist China. That’s exactly what we have been seeing in the run-up to the Olympics. Let’s make it look good. Let’s not solve the problems, let’s just push the problems ordinary people are having out of the way. It’s been a Democrat city for a long time; the local government has been in the control of the Democrat Party, yet there are still homeless people in and around Denver. And so that just shows that that party has not been able to solve this problem. The homeless are still with us.
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