Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Do Political Leaders on the Right Have a Religious Agenda?

That is a question, so let's seek an answer without starting with assumptions and grounded in reality.

What groups are dedicated to creating a religious agenda in congress? Let's search on that question, using Google. The number two result takes us to a page called Taking Over the Republican Party on We will ignore that page for now as it is 'biased' and concentrate on the accusation that the 'Christian Coalition' has a political agenda. Let's look at facts about the Christian Coalition.

The Christian Coalition was founded by Rev Pat Robertson. I could give descriptions of Pat Robertson and his agenda, but that would be making assumptions. Let's let him speak for himself.

The mission of the Christian Coalition is simple, to mobilize Christians -- one precinct at a time, one community at a time -- until once again we are the head and not the tail, and at the top rather than the bottom of our political system." Robertson predicts that "the Christian Coalition will be the most powerful political force in America by the end of this decade." And, "We have enough votes to run this country...and when the people say, 'We've had enough,' we're going to take over!"

The Constitution of the United States, for instance, is a marvelous document for self-government by the Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that's what's been happening

Here Robertson has said that the purpose of the Christian Coalition is to get enough voters to "run this country". Additionally, he says that he believes the constitution is intended for 'Christians' alone. OK, but the statements of Pat Robertson and the agenda of the Christian Coalition does not impeach the leadership of Congress. Let's look at the leaders themselves.

The Christian Coalition holds a conference each year called "Road To Victory". For the 2002 conference, Christian Coalition leader Roberta Combs set the theme as:

"After Sept. 11, 'God bless America' was on every one's lips," Combs observed. "But if we want God's blessings, we must return to the Judeo-Christian values that made America
great - that guided us through war and peace, depression and prosperity."

This certainly says to me that the Christian Coalition still maintains the agenda of creating a christian based government. Who was in attendance at this conference from leadership postions?

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R)
Senator James Inhofe (R)
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R)
Senator Jesse Helms (R)
Congressman Dave Weldon (R)
Congressman Ernest Istook (R)
Congressman Walter Jones (R)
Congressman Henry Brown (R)

Not many (D)s, are there? That was four years ago, how about something more recent? For the 2004 meeting Roberta Combs says

At this year's conference, thousands of Christians will assemble together from coast to coast for two days to worship, to pray and to renew our commitment to stewardship as Christian Americans.

As I have shown above, the intention of the Christian Coalition is to mobilize the Christian vote so that they run the country and that the constitution only applies to Christians. So, what sort of power do they have? What other political leaders align themselves with this agenda enough to speak at their Road to Victory conference?

Pat Robertson (R)
President George Bush (R)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R)
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R)
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R)
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R)
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R)
Congressman Robert Aderholt (R)
Congressman Henry Brown (R)
Senator Sam Brownback (R)
Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis (R)
Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R)
Senator Lindsey Graham (R)
Congressman Ralph Hall (D)
Congressman Henry Hyde (R)
Senator James Inhofe (R)
Congressman Ernest Istook (R)
Congressman Walter Jones (R)
Senator Trent Lott (R)
Senator Don Nickles (R)
Congressman Chip Pickering (R)
Secretary Karl Rove (R)
Senator Bob Smith (D)
Congressman Chris Smith (R)
Secretary Tommy Thompson (R)
Congressman Dave Weldon (R)

That is pretty much the entire leadership of both congressional houses and the executive branch. Does this mean that there is a move towards theocracy? By some definitions of theocracy it does.

-the belief in government by divine guidance
-Theocracy is a form of government in which a religion and the government are intertwined.
-government in which the state is effectively managed or governed by an organized church or religion
Chuck Allen

So, this is my question to you: Do political leaders on the right have a religious agenda? The fact that there are many religious members in our government does not mean they have a religious agenda that is to the detriment of other religions. There are many government leaders who base their virtues and values in their religion without conflicting with their duties to uphold the constitution. Indeed, there is nothing in the mainstream Christian doctrine that conflicts with the constitution. However, many of the GOP leaders have chosen to align themselves with the goals of the Christian Coalition. It can be shown through numerous quotes that the goals of the Christian Coalition are in complete conflict with our constitution.

There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore.
-- Pat Robertson, address to his American Center for Law and Justice, November, 1993.

They scream, "First Amendment." Of course, the First Amendment, as you and I both know, is a restriction on Congress.... So it really doesn't have anything to do with what you say or what I say, one way or the other.
-- Pat Robertson, The 700 Club television program, December 10, 1990

When I said during my presidential bid that I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government, I hit a firestorm. "What do you mean?" the media challenged me. "You're not going to bring atheists into the government? How dare you maintain that those who believe in the Judeo-Christian values are better qualified to govern America than Hindus and Muslims?" My simple answer is, "Yes, they are."
-- Pat Robertson, The New World Order, p. 218

Each of these quotes from the founder of the Christian Coalition show a blatant disregard for the principles of equality outlined in our constitution. Does this really show that the leaders of the GOP have aligned themselves with the Christian coalition? Indeed, Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was a high ranking member (Southeast regional campaign coordinator) of the Bush/Cheney 2004 re-election campaign. Reed continued the Christian Coalition's agenda of placing candidate aligned with its philosophy into office:

They call them extremists. We have our own names. We call them senators, congressman, governors, mayors...

To be sure, Reed has a history of effecting politics right here in Montana.

"Speaking before the Montana Christian Coalition in January 1992, Reed openly advocated the defeat of U.S. Representative Pat Williams: 'If we will move forward in unity and if we will be persistent, victory will be ours. It will be ours in Montana and it will be ours all across America ... We're going to see Pat Williams sent bags packing back to Montana in
November of this year, and I'm going to be here to help you do it.'

His work on the 2004 presidential re-election was successful, as we all know. President Bush is the top ranking official in the United States. Early in his presidency, he took the step of combining church-based programs with the FEDERAL welfare system:

Take the life issue. This issue requires a president and an administration leading our nation to understand the importance of life. This whole faith-based initiative really ties into a larger cultural issue that we're working on.
-- George W Bush (unaware that a press microphone was on)

What is this larger issue that the president is working on?

And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer. Church and charity, synagogue and mosque, lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and laws.
-- George W Bush, Inauguration Address, January 20, 2001

Let's return to Princeton Universities definition of theocracy:

Theocracy is a form of government in which a religion and the government are intertwined.

Do recent laws concerning faith based initiatives show the beginnings of an intertwining of religion and government? Does the alignment between many leading GOP politicians and organizations like the Christian Coalition represent a movement towards theocracy in this country? I pose the question to you, and I really want to hear your answer:

Do political leaders on the right have a religious agenda that favors Christians over other religions?


cece said...

Whew, good morning brain!

Well it all goes back to the basic idea, of why was America formed with provisions (or without depending on your interpretation) for a clear distinction between church and state?

Actually Thomas Jefferson came up with the idea, and in quoting the First Amendment, Establishment Clause he wrote "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

James Madison also got in on the act, "Strongly guarded . . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States."

But here is the crux of the matter, and I was talking about it the other day with my neighbor, and the problem is perception.

As a qualifier, or some context for everyone, my upstairs neighbor is a widow of a preacher, a wonderful woman, has become a good friend, and someone I would say lies securely within that definition of "Christian" that Robertson is flinging about.

So we were discussing yard signs that I had put up, that's right, my Tester sign. She surprised me when she asked me if I could round up a couple more, revealing one of my own mistaken assumptions.

She started telling me how much she missed the old Democratic party, the one for the working man, the common man, about how the Democrats had gotten so polarized, that they had forgotten their base. She told me that Gay marriage and Abortion rights were issues to be decided by the courts, not by the parties, and that people needed to look at the bigger picture.

"The bigger picture". Yes, absolutely, politicians have the right to have religion. No, absolutely not, the politicians do not have the right to favor one religion over another. But do they? In my opinion, they do, and curbing that momentum is one of the things on my mind as I head to the polls this November.

Shane C. Mason said...

Yes Cece, always a great insight. You see though, I don't think that the Christian Coalition leadership is made up of the kind of Christian that your neighbor is.

I agree 100% that politicians have the right to their religions. They even have the right to allow the principals of that religion to guide their decisions, virtues and values. It is an inextricable part of who they are.

Thanks for your thoughts on this. It is a 'hotbutton' issue for me and so it is always nice to get others perspectives. I found myself in a position at MTPolitics where I was asked, given the condition where I did not want a given Democrat elected and I have voted republican before, how conservative was 'too conservative'. I made the claim that I was not a single issue voter, but I think that this might be 'the issue' for me.

craig said...

Really, this question is a non-starter. In practice, what makes the Christian Coalition that much different from, say, MoveOn?

Did Jerry Falwell get elected to office? No? How about Pat Robertson? James Dobson?

Besides, then you run into the problem of which Christians get to be in charge. Are the Catholics going to sit back and let the Protestants be in charge? Or vice-versa? What about the Jehovah's Witnesses? Where do they fit in? The Mormons?

Should we only elect atheists to office?

Short version: Sure, there are religious groups, and they will influence elections. There are all kinds of groups that will influence elections one way or another. The fact of the matter is that a majority of people in this country consider themselves religious.

Do you want to figure out how to work with them? Or marginalize them entirely?

Shane C. Mason said...

Thanks for the thoughts Craig.

In practice, what makes the Christian Coalition that much different from, say, MoveOn?

Well yeah, way different. I can not think of a single way that MoveOn wants to change or redefine our constitution. Robertson claims that the separation between church and state and the the right to freedom of speech are not garanteed in the constitution. Can you come up with an equivalent from MoveOn?

Did Jerry Falwell get elected to office? No? How about Pat Robertson? James Dobson?

Nope, neither did Ralph Reed. But folks like Jesse Helms and some of the bad ones from the class of 1994 did BECAUSE of the work that the Christian Coalition did:

The Coalition's "primary political weapon" was the "distribution of heavily biased voter guides to churches ... generally believed to have decided many close electoral races in favour of extreme right Republicans, such as the reelection of Senator Jesse Helms in 1990. It played a pivotal role in the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.

Should we only elect atheists to office?

Of course not. I think that I have made that clear in the post and comments. We ought not care about a persons religion, as I do not think that there is a correlation between religeous and goodness. To me religion is something that is private and ought not be used for political gain. Regardless, all folks should be treated equal under the law no matter what their religious leanings are. Remember Robertson's words though:

I would only bring Christians and Jews into the government

Here is my answer to your 'short version'.

It is one thing for a group to try and influence elections, it is another thing when a group that would change the fundamental values of our constitution are successful. It is a scary thing when our president and leaders align themselves with a group that would take away our freedoms (of religion and speech).

Craig said...

It is one thing for a group to try and influence elections, it is another thing when a group that would change the fundamental values of our constitution are successful.

I thought that liberals/progressives viewed the Constitution as a "living document." Are you a strict constructionist now?

You bring up Jesse Helms and the "Class of '94" as an example, and yes, the folks you mention probably did have an agenda, but guess what: most of 'em have since been voted out. That's the way the system works.

Please, put the Pat Robertson quotes away. He's not going to get elected. Some of his people are going to get elected at various points in time, but I doubt that it will ever be enough to matter. The tide is swinging back to the left right now, in case you hadn't noticed. Again, the system works.

To me religion is something that is private and ought not be used for political gain.

To some people it's not. While the "Christian Right" might be well organized, it's most often the Democrats I see stumping at the pulpit.

Both sides are guilty of seeing changes that they want to make to the constitution. Since you're a strict constructionist now, show me where health care is a right or a "living wage" is defined as a right.

If you want to advance those items, then I would argue that those change the fundamental values of our Constitution.

On a side note, this ought to give you the heebie jeebies.

Shane C. Mason said...

Please, put the Pat Robertson quotes away. He's not going to get elected. Some of his people are going to get elected at various points in time, but I doubt that it will ever be enough to matter.

Really? Today, the American death toll in Iraq surpassed the total of 9/11 attacks (over 2700). Not enough to matter? I think it does.

Craig said...

I thought we were talking about the rise of theocracy.

Shane C. Mason said...

Aaah Craig! We have to connect all the dots, you are right. Thank you for putting the last dot out there for me, now I will draw the line:

"We share common goals and a common faith."
--George W. Bush, addressing the Christian Coalition's "Road To Victory" convention

"God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam [Hussein], which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."
--Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen quoting Bush when they met in Aqaba; reported in The Haaretz Reporter by Arnon Regular

Mark T said...

It is true that religious people will influence the outcome of elections. They tend to vote en masse, and are irresistable to politicians for that reason. The first politician I saw make a run at them in my political lifetime was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Reagan in 1980 capitalized on Carter's success and literally stole the religious voters out from under him.

But politicians are smarter than the religious leaders -much smarter. Pat Robertson is an idiot. The task of the politician is to corral the religious vote without giving them the agenda - to throw them some crusts while keeping the loaf. The Republicans have been masterful at this - they'll give them an issue or two, like abortion, which they care neither way about, and coax them to the ballot box with things like gay marriage, and then get on with the business of governing as if they didn't exist. It is fun to watch!

Gman said...

Shane, don't we live in a democracy where majority rules -- majoritarian democracy? If the majority says this is the way things should be, then they will be that way. So, do you embrace majoritarian democracy?

If so, why is it a problem that a so-called Christian voting block determines who represents the nation in Congress, state legislatures, county commissions, city councils, etc.? That's majoritarian democracy, Shane.

Now, if you don't embrace this type of democracy, what type do you embrace? Are you, as Craig inquired, a strict constitutionalist? If you're not, likely you're tacitly a supporter of majoritarian democracy (unless you are of a political persuasion that simply wants to do away with the constitution).

You see, if the constitution were followed in letter and spirit by the people elected to office, you would have no need to concern yourself about which interest group was most powerful, because none of them would be. Our representatives would only pass legislation that falls under an enumerated power of the constitution and is in the interest of the nation's general welfare. Nobody would possess inordinate political influence or power, not even the political parties.

The irony, Shane, is that democracy leads to the tyranny that you are so concerned about. The framers of the constitution, who we've been talking about of late, understood this and created a system of gov't that would check the passions of the majority, not to mention of those who rule us. They created a constitutional republic based on the separation of powers and checks and balances.

The framers created a Republic, not a democracy.

It would be great to see the left spend some time, given their laudable concern for the little guy, trying to reinvigorate the original intent of the American founding, in particular the constitution. Abiding the constitution would solve your problem -- it would check all power, including the Christian right, and, maybe to your dismay, the secular left.

Shane C. Mason said...

Oh Gman. Of course I support majority rule, my friend, as I do fully support the constitution. I do NOT support the interpretations of the constituion that it is only meant to be applied to Christians.

That is why I use this forum to point out that their is a contigency trying to change the constitution to apply only to their needs. Only about 30-35% of this country fits into the 'evangelical' modes. I am not trying to retard their right to try and turn this country into a theocracy by overthowing the very document that gives them that ability. I am merely trying to remind people that this movement is out there and they should beware becuase it might be a bit more pervasive than many think.

With that said, I am not as concerned now as I was some months ago. The republicans that are in charge are inept and proving to be their own worse enemy. Showing that good generally triumphs over evil.

Colby Natale said...

I too agree that attempts to blatantly change teh constitution to go against its original meaning is maddening; but then again that is only because of my view of its origianl meaning. I too get caught up in Craig's point that it is either a static document or a living one. If it is static, then there are obvious problems calling many of my ideas constitutional, but if it is dynamic and changing, then how do we hang people for trying to change it? I still don't have a good answer here. I completely agree that organized religion is too involved in politics; not because it is illeagl persay, but because to me it is not what Jesus was all about. If anything, that man was anti-authoritarian; he sure wasn't down with the politics. I am curious as to how you see your use of the word agenda here, only because I brought it up in my Definition of Politics (A) post. Do you think this is some secret conspiracy, or do you use the world merely to show goals?

Gman said...

Shane, I totally agree with you that the Constitution isn't just for Christians. But you can't deny that the Judeo-Christian worldview was the impetus of how the framers devised the Constitution. It's one thing to say the Constitution is theocratic; it's yet another to say it is the byproduct of a particular worldview. Did you read the Sandoz article I linked to over at MtPolitics?

Also, you aren't getting my point about democracy versus republic. Really, what we have is a democratic republic (don't confuse those terms with party labels). The people have the ability to elect their representatives with a majority vote. However, our Constitution limits (or at least it's supposed to) what the people can demand of their representatives. I would say we have a democracy now, or at least increasingly so. Why? Because, increasingly, Vox Populi, Vox Dei. Whatever "the people" say, goes. In a constitutional republic, the voice of the people is not the voice of God. In fact, the constitution checks the power of the masses. The framers understood that pure democracy was just as dangerous as despotism. In fact, many argued that the end result of democracy is despotism. I might go further to say that majoritarian democracy is per se a form of despotism merely because it enables the majority to limit the freedoms of the minority. Majoritarian democracy puts power into the hands of the largest and loudest voice. As Lord Acton warned, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Gman said...

Shane, if you haven't already, I recommend reading the Federalist Papers. It would be a good campanion to Kirk's Roots of American Order.