I’m a graduate of Liberty University; I did not agree with the university’s decision to invite Mitt Romney as commencement speaker.
Tobin Grant did some analysis at Christianity Today [link] and noted that as a graduation speaker Romney’s not out of line with lots of graduation speakers. He mentions John McCain (2006), George H. w. Bush (1990), Newt Gingrich (1991, 2007), Ben Stein (2009), and Glenn Beck (2010). He didn’t mention Oliver North (1988), who subsequently ran as a Republican for Senate in Virginia, Bill Armstrong (1985), Donald Hodel (1986), Pat Buchanan (1992), Phil Gramm (1995), or Clarence Thomas (1996). He fairly notes that Romney isn’t even the first Mormon, and that Stein is Jewish; he doesn’t delve into which speakers are Roman Catholic (Gingrich; Thomas) and which proclaim no religion affiliation whatsoever (Rove).
I have to admit that I’m disappointed in the choice of Romney, for a couple of reasons. One is that I think it sends a message that someone should be held in high esteem by Liberty graduates regardless of their religion so long as they’re Republican. Here Liberty seems to be following the trend we see at other historically Christian but practically secular universities, where the religious or spiritual speaker speaks at baccalaureate and the aspirational speaker speaks at graduation. I think it’s more a question of “isn’t there someone from within our movement, whatever it is, who is worth inviting to speak?” rather than “why are we paying a Mormon to speak at our graduation?”
And finally, I have to admit that I don’t think this bodes well for Romney’s chances in the fall; with Santorum and Gingrich having suspended their campaigns Romney is as they say the presumptive nominee, so by now he should have solidified his popularity with the traditional Republican base and “moving to the center” to court the 20-40% of so-called undecideds. The fact that he’s speaking at Liberty suggests he hasn’t won over his base yet. This reminds me of 2008, where John McCain got almost to the party convention without having won over the so-called values voters, and we all know how that ended.
I am not a big fan of Robert Jeffress; I don’t know a lot about him, but he came to my attention during the fundraising campaign for his downtown Dallas campus a couple of years ago. At the time I thought he was a pretty good example of what’s wrong with the Southern Baptist Convention: he’s a strong personality, has a board that apparently agrees with him on everything, doesn’t mind saying or doing controversial things that have nothing to do with the Gospel, etc. If I had a “big-name conservative pastor dead pool,” a list of guys I expect to blow up or break down within the next five years, I suspect Jeffress would be on it.
I’d rather be wrong, of course. As always I’d much rather learn I’ve misunderstood someone, or see someone who is being reckless have a change of heart and learn to moderate their behavior, or whatever. And some recent posts by Tom Rich at his FBC Jax Watchdog blog [e.g. link] suggest that perhaps Jeffress isn’t just another loose cannon in the pulpit.
Still, I am inclined to see Jeffress’s recent “Mormonism is a cult” comments much the same way a lot of secular commentators have seen them: as just an uncomfortable religious/political favor done by a high-profile pastor for the high-profile governor of his state. In this case, a favor done by Jeffress for Texas governor Rick Perry.
I was interested to see that National Public Radio went to Richard Land for comment on the Jeffress flap [link], and I would love to hear Land’s unedited comments. Land is right: “cult” is a term with a bunch of meanings, and Mormonism’s relationship with little-oh orthodox Christianity is complicated. And I’m not surprised to see Land here lumping where Jeffress is splitting: despite Land’s apparent position as someone who advocates on behalf of a religious group with political organizations, I would argue that what he really does is sell Republican Party decisions to Southern Baptists. So the Jeffress flap puts Land in a difficult position, since Land will be stuck selling Romney to Southern Baptists if and when Romney is the Republican nominee.
It would take a lot for me to vote for Romney; I tend to see second-generation political figures who switch their position on abortion midlife (or midcareer) as not being solidly pro-life and not likely to do much to deliver on pro-life campaign promises, and as a former Massachusetts governor I just don’t see Romney as being all that conservative. I won’t say I’d vote for Obama over Romney necessarily, but I’m going to take some convincing to vote for Romney.
I tend to see Romney as being in that Bush Sr/Dole/McCain mold, an establishment Republican that evangelical opinion leaders sell at their peril. I’d be willing to guess that in his heart of hearts Richard Land wishes he had a better candidate to sell. Or at least that Robert Jeffress would shut up.
Rick Perry is George W. Bush, again. Mitt Romney is John McCain, again. Everything else is sound and fury.
A few weeks ago Mark Hemingway from the Weekly Standard put in an appearance on Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken to comment on the GOP frontrunners and said they were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, with current Minnesota Congressional representative Michele Bachmann having a very slim chance of clinching the nomination.
There’s not much good news here, unless you take comfort in the absence of say former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and real estate developer Donald Trump from this list. In other words, the news isn’t good but it could be much worse.
Since then, of course, Texas governor Rick Perry has announced his candidacy, and so far as I can tell nobody is talking about Tim Pawlenty any more.
A few weeks ago I juggled my podcast listening and picked up a couple of Moody Radio products, including In the Market with Janet Parshall. I think it would be fair to say Parshall participated fully in the Rick Perry rollout, devoting both hours of her show, I think, two days in a row. Careful readers will note that Parshall is the wife of Craig Parshall, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). Given the NRB’s past involvement in the manufacture of consent among conservative evangelical voters, I can’t help but suggest that the Parshalls might be considered a “power couple” within evangelical circles at the moment. Anyway, I tend to think that it is significant that Parshall devoted so much uncritical coverage to Perry on her show.
For the record, I’m baffled that opinion leaders in evangelical circles are seriously suggesting we might want to vote for another Texas governor so soon. I am so disappointed with the presidency of George W. Bush that whenever I’m dealing with a religious opinion leader (I’m thinking of Richard Land here, but not just him) I’m inclined to ask whether they endorsed Bush in 2000 or 2004, and whether they’ve reconsidered in the interim, before taking their endorsement in 2012 seriously. Yes, the last four years under Obama have been rough, but they haven’t been so rough as to make me forget the Bush Administration.
Finally, it appears that the Lutherans at Issues Etc. have decided to forgive Michele Bachmann for having bolted for an evangelical megachurch as part of her bid to become the first Lutheran President. I don’t much blame them; I suspect Bachmann will get the Tiger Woods treatment from both evangelicals and Lutherans: on her good days she’ll be one of “us,” on her bad days one of “them.”
I am personally dreading having to pick between Romney and Obama. Somebody please find me someone I can vote for.
I’ve been so busy lately I’ve mostly ignored politics. I’ve ignored the Tea Party altogether since it is making no inroads whatsoever in the state where I currently vote. But recently a couple of items caught my attention.
One is what appears to be a Doug Wead endorsement of Ron Paul [link]. If I read Wead correctly he seems to be saying that he thinks the Tea Party is the natural conduit for voters who want to vote for Ron Paul in 2012, whether they know it or not.
What the American people want is something new. Someone who will not mortgage away their futures. Someone who will pay the bills. Someone who will not spend trillions of dollars on foreign adventures that make more enemies than friends. Someone who will not use government to rule their lives. Someone who will honor the constitution and the original ideas of liberty that directed the Founding Fathers. Those issues cut across Democrat and Republican.
What the American people want is Ron Paul.
They just don’t know it yet.
This is a strange article from Wead; as far as I can tell he’s only talking about fiscal conservatism as being a good reason to vote for Paul and taking some predictable shots and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He doesn’t mention any of the issues important to social conservatives, particularly those important to religious conservatives. This is odd for two reasons: one is that pitching candidates to conservative evangelicals is Wead’s specialty. The other is that at first glance Ron Paul’s a good fit for a pitch to evangelicals, better than everyone ahead of him for the 2012 Republican nomination with the possible exception of John Thune (graduate of Biola) and Mike Huckabee (former Baptist preacher).
Ron Paul is that rare former Libertarian (he defeated Russell Means to become their Presidential nominee in 1988) who actually matches up well with evangelical talking points; most Libertarians tend to part ways with evangelicals on social issues, including the legalization of drugs, gay rights, and abortion [link].
The other interesting item I stumbled across this week asks the difficult questions about the religious attitude of the Tea Party [link]. Here’s the pull quote:
For example, [Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association] recently interviewed Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, on his nationwide radio program. Fischer told her that evangelicals want some signal that the Tea Party movement supports their views on abortion and marriage.”Can we hear that message from the Tea Party leadership?” he asked.
“You’re not going to hear it from me,” she responded. “I’m sorry, I’m going to disappoint you.”
In an interview, Kremer explains that the Tea Party movement is a big tent, including not just religious people but atheists and libertarians.
“As long as we stay focused on the fiscal issues, that’s the glue that holds us together,” she says. “If we start delving into the religious aspect or social aspect, that’s when we’re going to become divided and when people are going to disagree.”
But Fischer says this strategy could alienate Christian conservatives.
“And if they begin to discover that the leadership of the Tea Party movement isn’t going to fight for them on those issues, then I think they’re going to lose their enthusiasm for movement,” he says. “And they’ll go back to being disengaged or they’ll invest in that energy in some other direction.”
In other words, the Tea Party is happy to have religious conservatives along for the ride, but they shouldn’t expect it to return their loyalty. I suspect Kremer is taking the same calculated risk other fiscal conservative groups take regarding religious conservatives: that either they will continue to project their values onto candidates without good reason, or they will decide they have nowhere else to go. I hope folks like Fischer will keep asking the difficult questions so religious conservatives remember where their values really lie.
For the record I don’t think Paul is a viable candidate; he will be 77 in 2012, the only candidate in the current Republican field older than John McCain. With due respect to his experience and wisdom, I think he’s too old to campaign and too old to serve. Also, InTrade still has his chances at 5-6% [link], more than a point behind Newt Gingrich, and I’m still sticking to my arbitrary decision that anyone who doesn’t rank equal to or higher than Gingrich isn’t a viable candidate.
Here’s a fascinating appearance by Larry Schweikart, University of Dayton professor and author of three books, on the Richard Land Live! radio show, December 2008 [link][mp3]. Schweikart is pushing his book 48 Liberal Lies about American History (That You Probably Learned in School) [Amazon].
Schweikart’s attention-getter here is that one can discern the quality of a history textbook by seeing how it treats Ronald Reagan, but to my ears his discussion of how he surveyed history books by counting pictures and taking these to be representative of editorial choices, was much more interesting [see also]. I’m not sure I agree that his conclusion that pictures of the Ku Klux Klan represent a pessimistic outlook on the part of the authors is entirely warranted. Other interesting points include
- His claim that Lee Harvey Oswald’s Communism is well-established, and characterizations of Oswald as a Marine are evidence of some sort of bias. I’m under the impression that Oswald was definitely a Marine and at best probably a Communist.
- His analysis of the Japanese atomic bombing decision; this all seems to turn on the size and accuracy of troop casualty predictions, and whether 50,000 (or 100,000) Allied casualties was large or small.
- His discussion of the guilt or innocence of the Rosenbergs. I’m under the impression that modern views of the Rosenbergs are more nuanced: that Julius was guilty, Ethel not so much, and that they got harsher treatment than other Cold War spies because they were Jewish [link].
But it’s the discussion of Senator Joe McCarthy and the Red Scare that really makes this episode noteworthy; it starts at about 23:30 in the mp3. Land and Schweikart apparently agree that McCarthy was correct that Communists ran rampant in the government in the early Fifties, the fear of Communism that characterized the Red Scare was a “grounded fear,” and Schweikart says in his book that McCarthy was the victim of press bias, particularly on the part of Edward R. Murrow.
I realize that modern depictions of the Red Scare are generally seen through a Hollywood filter, particularly by people who were on a blacklist or were friends or colleagues of someone who was on a blacklist, but I am always surprised when I find someone whose interpretation of the Red Scare is this far to the right.
For the record, I’m of the opinion that if McCarthy had been correct in every detail someone would have taken up his crusade after his censure; if that happened I’m not aware of it.
The hour-long 2004 film George W. Bush: Faith in the White House is available in six pieces on YouTube:
I’ve linked to the first part here; unfortunately WordPress doesn’t support embedding of YouTube playlists. As best I can tell this is a straight-up campaign film, and assumes that viewers will project their own faith onto George W. Bush’s faith; needless to say his views on, say, penal substitution do not feature prominently. I have no idea who produced this; the host is talk show host Janet Parshall, and it includes appearances by Doug Wead and Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Wead’s appearance was before his 2005 falling-out with the Bush administration over recordings he made of phone calls with Bush and then leaked to the press.
The source for the YouTube clips is a Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) aircheck; the TBN logo and toll-free number are frequently visible.
Here’s a fascinating clip from Tomorrow Coast to Coast from 1980, showing viewer feedback after Sidney Sheldon had commented in a previous broadcast on the Moral Majority. Sadly the Sheldon episode that prompted these responses is not available on YouTube.
John Warwick Montgomery of Patrick Henry College made another appearance on Issues Etc. recently [mp3] and about 32:15 or so, while discussing the idea of a generic school prayer, suggests that politically active conservative Christians “easily confuse a general conservatism with orthodox Christianity.” He then goes on to suggest that Jesus is not a Republican.
That’s odd. I was under the impression that Patrick Henry College was nothing but an attempt on the part of right-wing Christian homeschoolers to take over America and establish a theocracy. Hmmmm. Perhaps it is, and Mr Montgomery just isn’t in on the plot.
In all seriousness, if you can stand to listen to Todd Wilken, and you can stand Montgomery’s pedantic, sing-songy delivery, almost every appearance he makes on Issues Etc. is interesting-to-fascinating.
The other quotes from Doug Wead in Jacob Weisberg’s Slate article [link] shed some light on Wead’s view of Bush’s faith:
But [Bush] was so anxious to avoid any whiff or rumor of infidelity that he asked Wead to stay in his hotel room one night when he thought a young woman working on the campaign might knock on his door. “I tried to read to him from the Bible, because by that time he was sending me these signals,” Wead told me. “But he wasn’t interested. He just rolled over and went to sleep.”
But Bush resisted religious overtures as firmly as sexual ones. “He has absolutely zero interest in anything theological—nothing,” Wead said. “We spent hours talking about sex … who on the campaign was doing what to whom—but nothing about God. And I tried many, many times.”
But the experience left Wead troubled about the sincerity of Bush’s beliefs. “I’m almost certain that a lot of it was calculated,” he says. “If you really believed that there’s some accountability to life, wouldn’t you have Billy Graham come down and have a magic moment with your daughters? Are you just going to let them go to hell? You have all these religious leaders coming through. If it changed your life, wouldn’t you invite them to sit down in the living room and have a talk with your daughters? Or is it all political?”
Wead’s case against Bush basically boils down to two points:
- Bush had no interest in the Bible or anything theological.
- Bush’s daughters aren’t born again.
The other stuff about Bush’s interest in other people’s sex lives is nothing new to anyone who’s seen e.g. Alexandra Pelosi’s 2002 campaign travelogue Travels With George. All things considered I don’t consider that sort of boundary-issue problem a big deal; I’ve seen comparable from more than one authority figure, and it’s rude etc. but not necessarily a fatal flaw.
The other questions about Bush’s spirituality and that of his daughters are more pertinent; I’m tempted to discount Wead’s comments as those of someone who grabbed for the proverbial brass ring and missed (Weisberg suggests he was originally on par with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney) and understandably bitter. But I do wonder what it says about Evangelical Christians that we don’t know more about Bush’s faith and that of his family. Did nobody ask? Did someone ask and get well-crafted answers? Or do we believe on some level that moderates like John McCain are right, and personal faith really is too personal and private to be a sticking point? Did anything we would want to know about his faith vanish in the glare of a terrorist attack and two foreign wars?
Or worse, do we really think that a couple of soundbites about Jesus and Oswald Chambers are sufficient to make someone a Christian President?