A couple of years ago a friend of ours popped a CD of praise music into the CD player at her moms group meeting, and one of the other moms responded with something like
Oh let’s not listen to that; we wouldn’t want anyone to think we support the war in Iraq.
At the time the connection struck me as odd; I mean, I don’t especially like contemporary praise and worship music, and I don’t and never have supported the Iraq War, but I didn’t see the two as related. I mean, “Here I Am To Worship” dates from December 2001 [link] and the Iraq War didn’t begin until March 2003 [link]. Etc.
The link came to mind repeatedly as I read Bill Bishop’s 2008 book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded America is Tearing Us Apart [link]. Credit where due: I first heard about this book on Brian Daugherty’s blog [link]; see also [link]. Bishop’s main thesis is that there are basically two kinds of voters in the United States, and they tend to live in homogeneous communities consisting of exactly one kind of people: those who vote the way they do.
That’s a vast oversimplification, but then Bishop is engaging in a vast oversimplification. For some reason the 2000 Presidential election separates the past, loosely defined, from the current era, loosely defined, in the minds of many people, and Bishop is one of those people. He talks confidently about Red States (states whose Electoral College votes were casts for George W. Bush in 2000) and Blue States (similarly Al Gore) and suggests that the people who cast their votes for Bush or Gore live in increasingly separate worlds; not just Red or Blue counties, but Red or Blue precincts, neighborhoods, social circles, and churches.
It is of course the last part (Red Churches, Blue Churches) that interests me, and I think it’s worth a post of its own. But that’s not this one.
Reading Bishop’s book I wondered why he chose the method he chose; why 2000? Why Presidential voting results? Because after all not many people actually take their primary identity from this distinction. I honestly couldn’t tell you whether the pastor at the church I attend tends to vote for Democrats or Republicans. When we had two the prevailing rumor was that one voted one way, the other the other. I never found out which was which.
I am tempted to conclude that this is because
- The data is available, more or less. The 2000 campaign was national and was much more data-driven than the 1996 campaign.
- Elected offices are very important prizes to modern people. They’re not just positions of power, influence, and indirect wealth; they represent our faith in the modern nation-state if not modernity itself.
- In many areas in 2000 the Republicans did a very good job of exploiting existing affinity groups. This was apparently part of the genius of Karl Rove.
So when we learn for example that Republicans were able to sniff out religious conservative voters by asking questions about land use and property rights (page 231) maybe it’s reasonable to conclude that the story above about praise music and war support isn’t so strange; it’s just a matter of an amateur doing the same thing for free a professional does for money. Or votes.
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?
There’s a discussion going on among Liberty alumni on LinkedIn about who should be the 2011 graduation speaker at Liberty. In summary, most of the nominations are either Fox News personalities, politicians (mostly right of center, natch), or Christian authors. My suggestion that former Moral Majority lieutenant and Liberty dean and professor Ed Dobson would make a good selection did not meet with universal approval, partly because of Dobson’s appearance on Good Morning America in 2008:
Here’s a list of Liberty graduation speakers from 1985 on; I’d appreciate any help in filling gaps
- 1985 Senator Bill Armstrong, R-Colorado
- 1986 Donald Hodel, Secretary of the Interior
- 1988 Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North
- 1989 W. A. Criswell
- 1990 President George H. W. Bush
- 1991 Rep. Newt Gingrich
- 1992 Pat Buchanan
- 1993 Dr. James Dobson
- 1995 Sen. Phil Gramm
- 1996 Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas
- 1997 Billy Graham
- 1998 Dr. John Borek Jr. (outgoing President of the school)
- 2004 Karl Rove
- 2005 Sean Hannity
- 2006 Sen. John McCain
- 2007 Rep. Newt Gingrich
- 2008 Chuck Norris
- 2009 Ben Stein
- 2010 Glen Beck
I think it’s interesting to note that during the heyday of Moral Majority the speakers were relatively minor figures; it’s important to note that during those days Liberty was still a school of less than 6000 students. Resident enrollment has doubled since then, and total enrollment has increased eight-or-nine-fold. It’s also interesting to note that the three speakers selected since Jerry Sr. died have all been commentators and entertainers. I have no idea what that means.
Among the names above only two are preachers: Criswell and Graham, so I’d be really surprised to see Liberty select another high-profile Christian preacher or author who isn’t also involved in politics somehow for 2011.
Video for the 1996, 2004, and 2006 addresses are available at C-SPAN [search].
Finally: it’s interesting to note that of the twenty or so names commonly mentioned as possible 2012 Republican Presidential nominees, only Newt Gingrich is listed above. That may or may not be significant; I do think it’s interesting that Mike Huckabee isn’t on that list. Mitt Romney not so much.
It’s probably a mistake to read articles about Sarah Palin in Salon and The Atlantic, since true believers in Palin are pretty scarce in either place, but here they are anyway:
- The Unstoppable Sarah Palin (Andrew Sullivan)
- What We Do and Don’t Know About Sarah Palin and 2012 (Salon.com)
For the record, after reading the Hillary Clinton narrative in Game Change I’m pretty sure I’ll care about Sarah Palin as a Presidential candidate once she puts together the core of her campaign team. I don’t think George W. Bush would have become President Bush without Karl Rove, and I have yet to hear even a rumor of Palin finding her Rove.