The following good read for the weekend is from my old (and I mean really old) friend Bill Berkowitz (that's him in the picture). Just kiddin' Bill, its just that you have always been older than me...nothing you can do about that...and you're a whole lot younger then John McCain or his mother. Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer and longtime observer of the conservative movement.
These and other comments from Bill can be found at Religion Dispatches.
RD News Round-Up — September 11, 2008
It's the Platform stupid... and Sarah Palin didn't hurt....
For those who have repeatedly composed obituaries for the Religious Right in the hope that, to paraphrase President Gerald Ford's comment after President Richard Nixon resigned and he had taken the oath of office, our "long national nightmare" of the Right's political project is over, Tom Minnery has news for you.
Minnery, the senior vice president of Focus Action, a project of Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family, is more convinced than ever that the Religious Right is now, and will continue to be, a major force in American politics.
What has rejuvenated Minnery, and many others on the Religious Right, is the rock solid conservative bona fides of the Republican Party's political platform, which was then followed by the proverbial icing on the cake; the selection of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain's vice-presidential running mate.
In a recent special commentary titled "Palin Adds to Euphoria over Strength of GOP Platform," Minnery wrote:
"The platform stakes a claim to one-man, one-woman marriage, and to the right to life for all preborn children without exception. It calls for the nomination of federal judges who are pro-life, and it even upholds the suitability of the public display of religious symbols like the Ten Commandments."
The platform even stands its ground against an issue McCain has supported — scientific research on human embryos. Surprisingly, the McCain campaign did not object to the prohibition of this research being included in the platform."
Furthermore, the platform paints in primary colors. It boldly asserts that, "This is a platform of enduring principle, not passing convenience... we offer it to our fellow Americans in the assurance that our Republican ideals are those that unify our country."'
And neither is the document ashamed of the "G" word. It states that "Our platform is presented with enthusiasm and confidence in a vision for the future, but also with genuine humility — humility before God ..."'
According to The Hill, conservative activists led by Manuel Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of conservative leaders active on judicial matters, began pushing for the platform changes in May. Miranda writes in an e-mail that thanks to longtime Religious right leaders Paul Weyrich, David Keene, Gary Bauer, Connie Mackey and others, his group was "successful in rewriting the GOP Platform."
Miranda's organization pushed what he called "Third Branch Principles," which was aimed at shaping the judicial appointments of a McCain administration:
"Today, because of your efforts," Miranda wrote, "the Republican Party is not only the Party of Life, we are also the Party of:
"Constitutionalist" judges and judicial nominees who show fidelity to the Constitution;
No "stealth" nominees;
No guaranteed results or litmus tests, including on review of past error;
No "religious tests" or other opposition to nominees based on sex or ethnicity, as we saw with Bill Pryor, Leon Holmes, Miguel Estrada and several others.
So ecstatic is Tom Minnery's boss, James Dobson that the recent inductee into the National Radio Hall of Fame — the first religious program to be inducted — is reconsidering his oft-pronounced pledge that he wouldn't vote for McCain under any circumstances.
Minnery also pointed out that:
"For the last year, when none of the social conservatives running for president could emerge from the pack, reporters began saying — no, they began hoping — that those pesky people in the Religious Right would become a spent force in politics. That was a theme in reporters' questions to me during the primary election season. The theme only strengthened with the death of two national evangelical leaders, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell."
Another thread in that media theme was that in 2008, the Republican Party itself was a spent force, and due for a drubbing on Election Day. But that was before the adoption of this platform, before Sarah Palin's selection, and before John McCain's encouraging performance at the Saddleback presidential forum, where he boldly asserted that "life begins at conception."'
It is clear, to paraphrase Mark Twain, regardless of the outcome of this presidential election, "reports of the death of the Religious Right are pre-mature."
Praying for McCain's demise
Some Religious Right leaders, delighted over the Palin's pick, still hold no special place in their hearts for Sen. John McCain. As reported by Talk2Action's Fred Clarkson, "The more theocratic elements of the Religious Right have a disturbing habit, (more like a practice) of invoking 'imprecatory prayer — a call for God to literally pour his wrath down on those they consider to be his enemies." Townhall columnist and radio talk show host Doug Giles has defined "imprecatory prayer" as: "a prayer asking God to crush a clear enemy of His, an enemy which is an aggressive adversary of freedom and peace loving people."
Last year, the Rev. Wiley Drake, then a Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention "called on his followers to pray for God to smite members of the staff of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Clarkson pointed out. Evidently, Drake was infuriated by the group's complaint to the IRS "for endorsing Mike Huckabee on church stationary, among other apparent abuses of his church's 501(c))(3) tax-exemption."
Now, the "imprecatory prayer" warriors have set their sites on McCain. The thinking goes like this: work to get McCain elected president and Sarah Palin vice-president; pray that McCain dies as soon after talking the oath of office as possible; and voila, Palin is installed as president.
Clarkson reported that "antiabortion militant and all-round theocratic activist Jay Rogers of Florida, whose blog is called The Forerunner, wrote: 'Pray for John McCain's salvation and speedy death.'"
Al Qaeda targets Arab-American evangelist
It is not often that I'm on the same page with Joel Rosenberg, so I'm happy to say that I agree with him when he recently wrote in his "Flash Traffic" e-news letter that "you have probably never heard of Father Zakaria Botros." I hadn't. Who is Botros? "Far and away the most-watched and most-effective Arab-American evangelist focused on reaching the Muslim world, and by far the most controversial," says Rosenberg.
Rosenberg, the (Jewish-born) Christian best-selling author of such apocalyptic political thrillers as The Copper Scroll, The Ezekiel Option, and The Last Jihad, and close friend to rightwing Israeli officials, maintained that Botros, whom he calls "the Rush Limbaugh of the Revivalists," has been targeted for assassination by al Qaeda. According to Rosenberg, Botros told him that "he had just learned that an al Qaeda website had posted his photograph and named him one of the 'most wanted' infidels in the world," possibly putting as much as a $60 million bounty on him, the Christian Broadcasting Network reported.
"Using state-of-the art satellite technology to bypass the efforts of Islamic governments to keep the gospel out of their countries, Botros is directly challenging the claims of Muhammad to be a prophet, and the claims of the Qu'ran to be God's word. He systematically deconstructs Muhammad's life, story by story, pointing out character flaws and sinful behavior. He carefully deconstructs the Qu'ran, verse by verse, citing contradictions and inconsistencies. And not only does he explain without apology what he believes is wrong with Islam, he goes on to teach Muslims from the Bible why Jesus loves them and why is so ready to forgive them and adopt them into His family, no matter who they are or what they have done."
If Botros was doing this in a corner, or on some cable access channel where no one saw him or cared, that would be one thing. But his ninety-minute program — a combination of preaching, teaching and answering questions from (often irate) callers all over the world — has become "must see TV" throughout the Muslim world. It is replayed four times a week in Arabic, his native language, on a satellite television network called Al Hayat ("Life TV.") It can be seen in every country in North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, as well as all throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. And not only can it be seen in so many places, it is seen — by an estimated fifty million Muslims a day."
More on Rosenberg can be found here, and more of Rosenberg's report is here.
Americans view evangelicals, evangelicals view themselves; a Barna Group study
While Sen. Obama has devoted a serious amount of time and energy during the campaign courting evangelical voters — a portion of which were viewed as up for grabs — Sen. McCain's appointment of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee might have rendered that effort moot.
According to The Barna Group, a an evangelical-based polling operation, "There remains considerable confusion about evangelicals ... both in the media and among political strategists." Barna's recent study "explore[d] what Americans think about evangelical voters, including the perceptions of non-evangelicals as well as the self-perceptions of evangelicals."
While Americans generally view evangelical voters "with a mix of skepticism and respect.... [they] are not always sure what to make of evangelicals, but they believe the voting bloc has significant influence."
The following four statements represented the most widely-held views:
"that evangelicals will have a significant influence effect on the election outcome (59% of American adults said this was either "very" or "somewhat accurate" regarding evangelical voters);
"that evangelicals will cause the political conversation to be more conservative (59%);
"that they will be spend too much time complaining and not enough time solving problems (59%);
"and that they will be misunderstood and unfairly described by news media (56%)."
"... [O]nly half of Americans (52%) felt that evangelical voters would focus primarily on homosexuality and abortion," and "[r]oughly half said that evangelicals will minimize social justice issues (47%) and another 47% felt they believe that evangelicals will vote overwhelmingly Republican. Roughly two out of every five Americans (44%) believed evangelicals will not approach the election with an open mind."
Evangelicals themselves appear to be less confused about their role in electoral politics. They maintain "that they will have a significant influence on the election (84%), yet the also firmly believe that they will be misunderstood and unfairly depicted by media (81%)."
The vast majority of evangelicals believe that "their fellow believers will vote overwhelmingly with the Republican Party (74%)."
David Kinnaman, who directed the Barna study, put these findings in context. "One 2007 study we completed showed that more than 9 out of 10 evangelicals believe abortion is a major problem - easily making it their top concern. And nearly 8 out of 10 evangelicals say that homosexuality is a major challenge facing the nation. So the fact that many evangelicals are reluctant to describe their voting as primarily focused on these issues seems to reflect their self-awareness rather than their stances on the issues. Like anyone else, many evangelicals care about their image and do not want to be pigeon-holed as one- or two-issue voters, even though these social and moral issues remain very significant for many evangelicals." (For more, see "How Americans View 'Evangelical Voters.'")
Evans pedals over the line to peddle book
In a reckless attempt to peddle books, Mike Evans, the head of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, the publisher of the online Jerusalem World News, and the author of a number of books including the New York Times bestseller "The Final Move Beyond Iraq," is claiming that he's "been told by many of the [top Iraqi and Israeli] leaders that Iran is planning a major surge in the next 30 days to kill as many American troops as possible. They believe in doing so they can undermine the success of the U.S. surge and John McCain's hopes of becoming President."
Maintaining that "Muqtada Al-Sadr's, Iran's Shi'ite subcontractor in Iraq and head of the sixty-five thousand member Mahdi army (terrorists), are going to attempt to make Iraq a living hell in the next 30 days by killing as many people as possible," Evans suggests that supporters "go to Amazon.com right now and purchase as many copies of The Final Move Beyond Iraq as possible. You can give them as Christmas gifts to your friends and family."
"Why? Because this is the only book that reveals Iran's plans in Iraq. More importantly if you can drive the book to Amazon's Top Ten bestseller list, the network shows will be calling and inviting me to speak to tens of millions of people. I need to wake up the American people and government so they can pray and prepare for this attack that is coming. You can save American lives by helping me get on the major networks."
For more on Evans, see "Send in the Kurds."
What Christians should do about transgender workers
Focus on the Family's citizenlink.com recently turned its attention to transgender workers and how they should be treated in the workplace. Citizenlink.com cites a piece in The New York Times that reported that of Fortune 500 companies, 125 provide special protections based on employees' "gender identity."
"While 'transgendered' workers account for about 0.01 percent of employees nationwide," citizenlink.com points out, "employers are going out of their way to accommodate them. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives took up a bill that would have enshrined homosexuality and 'transgenderism' in federal law. The legislation passed only after language to include 'gender identity' was taken out. The Senate has not taken up the measure, but it is expected to resurface in Congress next year."
Jeff Johnston, gender issues analyst for Focus on the Family, stated that "Rather than focusing on the work at hand, these businesses are catering to a small minority suffering from a severe disorder — a disorder to which God can bring truth and healing.
"Usually, you think about business leaders as having to deal with hard realities — wages, taxes, profits, supply and demand. But here they are supporting the radical gay, lesbian and 'transgender' agenda."
Caleb Price, a research analyst for Focus on the Family maintains that "recent years have seen a sea-change in attitudes about cultural acceptance of homosexuality ... [so that] gay activists now believe that sufficient political gains have been won at the local, state and federal levels that they can now turn their attention to adding the 'T' — for Transgender — to the GLB (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual) acronym that represents their community. "
To see what Christians should "do about th[e] move throughout the culture to affirm "transgenderism"?, check out Price's piece "What About "Transgenderism"?, posted as an "Issue Analysis" at Focus on the Family's website. Bill's comments can be found at Religion Dispatches.
*Jay Hein, the former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, praises the President Bush's "very big vision" and the accomplishments of his faith-based initiative in an interview — that heats up a bit — with The Roundtable on Religion & Social Welfare Policy.
*Jedd Medefind, special assistant to the President and deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives since mid-2007, has been named acting director and will oversee operations of the Office until the end of President George W. Bush's term in January. According to The Roundtable on Religion & Social Welfare Policy, "Prior to joining the White House, Medefind was director of the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Center at the US Department of Labor, ... served as chief of staff and communications director for the California State Legislature and held communication jobs with several national and international organizations, including the C.S. Lewis Foundation and PriceWaterhouse in Moscow."
*The conservative online WorldNetDaily is keeping the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the news with this sensationalist headline: "Rev. Wright in 'steamy' sex scandal: Woman claims: 'That's why I lost my job and why my husband divorced me'"
*Talk2Action's Bruce Wilson takes a close look at Sarah Palin's churches in a piece titled "Sarah Palin's Demon Haunted Churches — The Complete Edition." Wilson has also come up with a ten-minute video documentary
*The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal enterprise set up in 1994 by a number of right-wing organizations — including Focus on the Family and Bill Bright's Campus Crusade for Christ — as an alternative to the American civil Liberties Union, is encouraging pastors to use their church pulpits on September 28 to endorse the presidential candidate of their choice, the Washington Post reported. According to the newspaper, the effort is aimed at defying Internal Revenue Service rules countering the "54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship."