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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Religion in the public square

I don't think Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaks for Barack Obama and I'm not all that concerned that Obama attended his church for 20 years. Over the past few decades, since Ronald Reagan embraced Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, we've heard many religious figures make incredible statements about politics. For the most part, their ties to specific politicians has not determined voting outcomes.

I think this reflects the insight Ronald Reagan offered when asked about the views of a John Birch Society member who supported him:
"if anyone chooses to support me, they're buying my views; I'm not buying theirs."
For most politicians, that's sage advice.

George W. Bush tried to take a similar stand in 2000 when Senator John McCain called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance." This is what McCain said at the time:
"The politics of division and slander are not our values," McCain said in Virginia. "They are corrupting influences on religion and politics and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."
I've previously blogged about Pat Robertson's outrageous "contributions" to public debate. It is almost impossible to select a single representative example from so much nonsense, but here's one to pit against Wright:
"If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer. You've got to blow that thing up."
Colorful, eh? And he said that after 9/11.

This is from a transcript featuring Jerry Falwell on Robertson's TV network, September 13, 2001:
JERRY FALWELL: ...[T}he Lord has protected us so wonderfully these 225 years. And since 1812, this is the first time that we've been attacked on our soil, first time, and by far the worst results. And I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters; the Husseins, the Bin Ladens, the Arafats, what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.

PAT ROBERTSON: Jerry, that's my feeling. I think we've just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven't even begun to see what they can do to the major population.

JERRY FALWELL: The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this.


JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I'll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'.

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do.
Back in 2000, then-Governor Bush tried to echo Reagan to distance himself from these kinds of remarks from Falwell and Robertson:
Bush acknowledged that Robertson, Falwell and other fundamentalist religious leaders have lined up behind his presidential bid. "They're supporters of ours, but I have all kinds of supporters," Bush said.
Obama supporters are probably ready to offer an amen to that, eh?

But what of McCain? Should it make a difference if the politician seeks out the controversial religious leader?

You've probably already heard about McCain pursuing the endorsement of controversial Texas pastor John Hagee. Indeed, he was "very honored by Pastor John Hagee's endorsement." In various public forums, however, Hagee has said that God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans because of their offensive "level of sin." He's denounced all Muslims for having a "a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews." There's more:
Catholic League president Bill Donohue said Hagee "has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church. For example, he likes calling it ‘The Great Whore,’ an ‘apostate church,’ the ‘anti-Christ,’ and a ‘false cult system.’
Given the saturation TV coverage of Wright -- and the previous efforts to make Obama denouce Louis Farrakhan -- it is one-sided to think that we haven't seen more about this pastor and his endorsement of McCain.

In any case, rather than provocative statements in the public sphere, perhaps we should worry most about what religious figures say privately to politicians. This story concerns release of tapes from Richard Nixon's Oval Office in 1972. Reverend Billy Graham has had the ear of every president since Harry Truman:
In the taped conversation, Mr [Reverend Billy] Graham said the Jewish "stranglehold" on the media "has got to be broken or this country's going down the drain".

"You believe that?" [President] Nixon replies.

"Yes, sir."

"Oh boy. So do I. I can't ever say that but I believe it," Nixon says.

"If you get elected a second time, then we might be able to do something," Mr Graham replies.

Later in the conversation, when Nixon raises the subject of Jewish influence in Hollywood, Mr Graham says:

"A lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth, but they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country, and I have no power and no way to handle them."
Jon Stewart played the tape on last night's "Daily Show."

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