Political Animal


August 31, 2012 11:37 AM Evangelicals, Mormons, and the Camp of the Saints

By Ed Kilgore

A subject I meant to address yesterday was the eyebrow-raising “validation” of a LDS presidential nominee by conservative evangelical superstar Mike Huckabee during his Convention Speech. Here’s the key passage from Huck:

Let me clear the air about whether guys like me would only support an evangelical. Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama, and he supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb or even beyond the womb, and tells people of faith that they must bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care.
Friends, I know we can do better!
The attack on my Catholic brothers and sisters is an attack on me. The Democrats have brought back the old dance the “Limbo” to see how low they can go in attempting to limit our ability to practice our faith.
This isn’t a battle about contraceptives and Catholics, but of conscience and the Creator. I care far less as to where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.

A lot of observers thought this was some sort of startling, landmark recognition of Christian Right ecumenism. By contrast, Dave Weigel thought it was a grudging, defensive formulation that showed Huck tolerating Mormons through clenched teeth.

I think both takes are wrong. What it really represents is the long-established (if occasionally violated) decision by conservative evangelical activists that positions on secular issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and even the role of the judiciary and of the Constitution, are more important not just politically but even morally than all the ancient arguments over doctrine and dogma. It’s part of what some of them would consider a “prophetic stance:” an eschatologically necessary submission of all “normal” religious priorities to the defiance of a wicked society in sinful rebellion against God’s moral laws.

It’s the perspective that made what we think of as the Christian Right possible in the first place. It was most conspicuously formed by Chuck Colson and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in establishing the group “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” aimed not only at promoting tactical alliances on “social issues,” but on encouraging ancient theological enemies to understand themselves as engaged as fellow-saints in a religious struggle against secularism. Mormons have long been regarded as within the charmed circle of this prophetic fellowship, despite a formal theology far outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity. Huck’s formulation of what he does and does not care about in religiously-motivated political allies is old hat, even a cliche. Even evangelical Mormon-baiters who consider the LDS a non-Christian “cult” just as quickly suggest Mormons are essential allies, as I noted earlier this year:

[One] prominent evangelical critic, the homophobic American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, has said repeatedly that his biggest problem with Romney is that “he’s not Mormon enough”—meaning, he has been insufficiently faithful to LDS teachings on abortion and homosexuality.

Indeed, to me the most striking feature of Huck’s speech involved not Romney and Mormons but Obama. Huckabee erroneously calls the president a “self-professed evangelical.” Obama’s last formal religious affiliation was with the United Church of Christ, the epitome of mainline Protestantism. When he quit Trinity UCC in Chicago, there was talk he might affiliate with my own denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), another mainline denomination. His family’s most frequent place of public worship has been St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House, yet another mainline sanctuary. Like so many conservative evangelicals (most notably and outspokenly his Catholic doppelganger Rick Santorum), however, Huckabee seems to struggle to accept the legitimacy of “liberal” mainliners. So he treats Obama as a debased and unfaithful evangelical who is persecuting real Christians. In that context, it’s no surprise he finds it easy to make common cause with LDS folk, even if he considers them not-so-Christian except in their brave defense of the saints, which may, like the Thief at Golgotha, may yet earn them salvation.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • stormskies on August 31, 2012 11:49 AM:

    Huckabee violates just about every teaching that Jesus made starting with two of the biggest sine: lying, AND BEARING FALSE WITNESS. For this creep to pretend that he is a man of God is like saying that the corporate automaton and pathological liar called Romney gives a shit about the poor.

    This evil man is hiding behind God.

  • KK on August 31, 2012 11:55 AM:

    "the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama"
    Missed that self prefessing of his. He is UCC, not evangelical in the least. Main line Protestant. We hate to confuded with our Southern friends.

  • c u n d gulag on August 31, 2012 12:05 PM:

    The enemy of my enemy, is my friend.

    And after my use for them is done, that friend will burn for all eternity in MY version of Hell, along with the rest of my heretical enemies.

  • mb on August 31, 2012 12:12 PM:

    I was raised in an evangelical home and was taught that Mormons are false prophets and that we, the real Christians, should not even wish them "Godspeed." This was especially true of Mormons as they were/are so persistent in trying to spread their (false, I was taught) doctrine and even offering them the most meaningless of pleasantries could imply one's approval for their Satanic mission.

    Really did not expect to see politics trump that but I guess I underestimated the motivation provided by a blah president.

  • Mitch on August 31, 2012 12:16 PM:

    You are mostly correct: Gays, abortion and the Republican economic doctrine are the only major dogmas of American theocratic groups. They will cheerfully make alliances with anyone who agrees with those three agendas.

    As an aside, I predict that within 20 years gays will no longer be a part of that equation. Even the Repugs are becoming more accepting of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

    On the flips side, no Fundamentalist or Evangelical ever thinks that good works alone qualifies one for salvation. My Baptist kith and kin in Kentucky still hate Mormons as much as ever, even the ones who plane on voting for Romney.

    But see, looking that things from a historical viewpoint, this is to be expected. Widely disparate theocratic groups will join together to oust what they perceive as an outside force. In this case, the Godless Liberals, who they believe support Socialism and Atheism and Evolution and Science and Abortion and Homosexuals.

    Once the theocratic groups gain power they will then turn on themselves in a feeding frenzy of fanaticism, they will burn down the world around them on a purging pyre of purity. First they unite, agree to get along. Then they gain power by appealing to people's religious devotion. Once they have gained and secured power, they then turn on each other.

    This is just what zealots do. The ancient Christians persecuted the Manichean Gnostic sects under the Emperor Theodosius I in AD 382 (he later declared Christianity to be the only legitimate religion of the Roman Empire in 392) only half a century after the First Council of Nicaea brought a wide array of Christians to the same table for the first time. Sunni and Shia today may unite to battle outsiders, but will begin slaughtering each other as soon as the opportunity arises.

    Clichés are often true. Well, we all know what happens to those who forget history.

    This story is called The Rise of Theocracy, and it's a classic. People have been telling it over and over agin for thousands of years. We all know how it ends. Only this time, the theocrats (if they gain control) will have the modern American military at their service. Not sickly, half-trained crusaders who are near death from a year long march to Jerusalem.

    Cheery thought.

  • SteveT on August 31, 2012 12:23 PM:

    Evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons --

    fighting side-by-side to persecute heretics in the name of religious "freedom".

  • mb on August 31, 2012 12:25 PM:

    RE: "self-professed evangelical"

    I think what Huck is getting at here is that if you listen to Obama's personal testimony of faith it is down the line, word for word, what evangelicals believe about salvation. I don't think Huck was meaning to suggest that Obama has self-IDed as an evangelical, rather that he has given a bullet-proof testimony of faith that any evangelical should accept as proof of the legitimacy of his Christianity.

    A lot of evangelicals use the term "evangelical" and "Christian" interchangeably and I think Huck is doing it here as a way of acknowledging that Obama is a Christian, Romney is not, and that's OK because of taxes, abortion, etc. (but I think mostly taxes.)

  • DRF on August 31, 2012 1:04 PM:

    I'm with Obama and the Democratic Party on every one of the issues you mention, but your characterization of abortion and same-sex marriage as "secular" issues is wrong-headed.

    Like it or not, most Americans derive their sense of morality--what's right and what's wrong--from their religious upbringing and beliefs. For millions of religious Americans, abortion is a moral issue first and foremost, informed by their religion. I would guess that for virtually everyone who opposes same-sex marriage, that opposition stems from their belief as to what their religion dictates.

    You and I may disagree with these positions, but let's not refuse to recognize that most of these people come by their views on these issues honestly and are sincere about them. And religious beliefs are the foundation for many of these people.

    Your implication that these are "secular" issues and that people like Huckabee who have a religious-based opposition are somehow crossing a line or are out of bounds in being motivated by religious beliefs is just misguided. IN the long run, if one wants to persuade people of faith to change their views on issues like this, denigrating their religion, or telling them to leave their religion behind when talking about these issues, is going to be a losing strategy.

  • Renai on August 31, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Shorter Huckabee: We'll vote for ANYONE who runs under the Republican banner and promises us more wealth.

  • Oh, wait... on August 31, 2012 1:09 PM:

    Obama: What you do with your vag is your own business, but I'd like to include some contraceptive coverage in ACA to PREVENT ABORTION before it happens.

    Huckabee: Oh, no the hell you don't! That violates our freedom of religion!

  • sue on August 31, 2012 1:16 PM:

    fundamentalist-theocrats band together even when their theology is wildy different.
    Their desire for power over us sinners is more important than their specific faith

    I offer the orthodox Jews as another member of this most unholy fraternity

  • citizen_pain on August 31, 2012 1:23 PM:

    Republican evangelic whack jobs, attention! NEWS FLASH:

    The United States Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3:

    "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

    Simple enough for ya????

  • boatboy_srq on August 31, 2012 1:37 PM:

    @DRF: the distinction you note is drawn, not by Kilgore, but by the Reichwing.

    Pro-choice, to them, is translated as pro-abortion, which to them is anti-God by definition. Anyone anti-God, or "godless" is therefore promoting a "secular" agenda. SSM, similarly, relies on tolerance for LGBTQ persons, who are mentioned briefly in Leviticus and one or two of Paul's epistles and therefore "unGodly" as well. The idea that support for positions on these subjects other than theirs could possibly be derived from Scripture is beyond them.

    I think Mr. Kilgore is buying into the Reichwing spew that any position on a topic not obviously faith-based is by definition not informed by faith, but the description suits the Fundies: anything they cannot justify from Teh Book (like evolution, particle physics, equality for women and universal education, as well as abortion and SSM) they deem as outside their faith, thus outside The Faith and therefore "secular." It's one of the more offensive parts of FundiEvangelism that they think God only speaks to them.

  • Mitch on August 31, 2012 1:50 PM:


    You are correct that most of those who are anti-choice do indeed they believe they are taking the moral high ground. From a certain point of view, they are. ("... you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.")

    But that does not mean that we should simply give up the high ground, or allow them to condemn women to murderous back-alley procedures. The fact is that abortion and contraception has always existed, and always will. Even if one finds it horrible. It is better for all involved that this behavior is left up to the choice of the individual woman, not strangers or the government.

    The fact that many people claim to receive their sense of morality directly from God does not impress me. For starters, the Bible itself is filled with morally questionable if nor straight our immoral behavior from God and man alike.

    Also, I recall an entire nation where every single soldier bore the slogan "God with Us." The fact that this nation believed it was doing good, and following the Will of God is not enough to make me seek to appeal to the few who still believe in that nation or it's goals. The nation, of course, was Nazi Germany.

  • MuddyLee on August 31, 2012 2:04 PM:

    This reminds me of a conservative friend's argument back in the 90s that the Reagans were very religious people who didn't attend church so as not to bother other worshippers with security/press etc, but that the Clintons were not really religious and their church attendance was just a political show. It's hard to argue with conservative/republican logic - their folks are right and your folks are wrong.

  • Anonymous on August 31, 2012 2:59 PM:

    "I would guess that for virtually everyone who opposes same-sex marriage, that opposition stems from their belief as to what their religion dictates."

    And I would strongly disagree. Their religions also profess that we should help the poor and not randomly bomb people into the stone age. Funny, they never seem too upset when we fail to meet those proscriptions.

  • Mitch on August 31, 2012 3:18 PM:

    @Anonymous @ 2:59PM

    You are 100% correct. The fact is that people get their ethics from the culture in which they live. These ethics are sometimes reflected by religious texts, but they are independent of them and universal across the bulk of human civilization.

    For exmple, honesty is traditionally treasured among all peoples. Christians, Jews, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, animists, atheists and whatever. It is human nature to believe that telling the truth is always better than telling a lie.

    It is ironic that one of the few exceptions to the honesty rule comes from Mormonism, which holds Lying for the Lord to be ethical behavior.

    And, alas, the GOP has also been infected by this (utterly alien to their beloved Judeo-Christian heritage) habit of lying. You know it's bad when even Fox News points out the falsehoods in Ryan's speech. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/08/30/paul-ryans-speech-in-three-words/

    Anyway, ethical behavior is determined by society, not by religion. Religions - at best - subscribe to the ethics of the time/place of their origin. At worst, they tell us that it's okay to kill a guy who was collecting firewood on the Sabbath, or that slaves should meekly obey their masters, or - as Romney knows - to Lie for the Lord. There is nothing inherently ethical or good about any religion that did not first arise in the society in when those religions were formed, despite how often they claim that they alone are the arbiters of ethics and morality.

  • grandpa john on August 31, 2012 3:55 PM:

    Jesus has a direct communication to the Huckabees of the world, it is found in Matt 7: 21-23
    " Not everyone who says to me 'Lord,Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven.Only those who do the will of my father in heaven. Many will say to me on the day of judgement,'did we not prophecy in your name driving out demons and performing many miracles?'
    Then I will tell them plainly ' depart from me ye evil doers, I never knew you."

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on August 31, 2012 3:59 PM:

    @ Mitch

    Well said. Well said.

  • JM917 on August 31, 2012 4:25 PM:

    Quoth Henry, King of Navarre, the leader of the Protestant side in the French Wars of Religion, after the assassination of the French King Henry III in 1588, which assassination put Henry of Navarre in line to succeed to the French throne--a succession that would be greatly eased if said Henry of Navarre converted to Roman Catholicism:

    "Paris is worth a Mass."

    Granted, it took Henry of Navarre ten more years of bloody civil war (against an ultra-Catholic outfit called the Catholic League--no, not Bill Donohue's) to reach this conclusion. And granted too that the newly-Catholic Henry IV gave France peace and decent government until Catholic fanatics finally assassinated him as well.

    So say all these ancient religious enemies, in sixteenth-century France and twenty-first century America alike. Mike Huckabee, you're no Henry of Navarre. Stil, the lesson stands: Political power in the end trumps faith.

  • Doug on August 31, 2012 5:12 PM:

    It's almost as if Huckabee and Co. have developed a new theology...

  • TCinLA on August 31, 2012 5:33 PM:

    Mike Huckabee's real name is Elmer Gantry.

  • citizen_pain on August 31, 2012 8:11 PM:

    I thought it was Ernest T. Bass

  • Liars, Liars on August 31, 2012 8:40 PM:

  • Rick B on September 01, 2012 12:00 AM:

    DRF 1:04 PM:

    You really pegged the source of objection to same-sex marriage and to abortion. "Morality" is the label that religious leaders use to influence secular decisions. For religious-based individuals science and scientific investigation are always secondary to the religious tradition in which they were raised.

    Religious leaders prescribe the social positions in such moral issues, not researchers and scientists. For religious-based individuals the basic source of trusted data is authority, not science or facts.

    Religious leaders predominate in low-population density mostly rural regions. Secular and scientific leaders predominate in high-population density urban and industrial regions (big cities.) A person's core orientation is generally established by their early or middle teens and is unlikely to change for the rest of their lives. A good measure of that orientation is the frequency of church attendance and the nature of the churches attended.

    The distinction between secular and scietifice leaders on the one side and religious leaders will be determined by whether their source of authority is scientific fact or by religious tradition.

  • Rick B on September 01, 2012 12:04 AM:

    Don't confuse institutional religion with religious teachings useful to the individual. Religious teachings for the individual and for individual comfort are almost an accident of the survival of religious institutions. Major religious institutions are first and foremost always political in purpose.

    A review of the sociology of religion, starting with Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, establishes that the religions of the book are institutions in which each tells a carefully crafted form of the history of a culture. They exist because they support the existing power of government and the story has survived because the government they describe has found it beneficial to tell that story to their population.

    The institutional existence of each of those religions is based on government recognition and certification. Modern corporations depend on government recognition and sponsorship for similar reasons of institutional longevity beyond the life span of any individual.

    The support of the legitimacy of an existing government is the quid pro quo which religious institutions pay for their continued long term resistance. The cultures of religions based on primarily agricultural societies, however, is very different from the culture of modern religions which fit more comfortably in industrialized urban societies. The essence of the religions of the book (the desert religions) is their use of the "history" they keep and provide to their parishioners. This is, however, a cultural and ideological history rather than a modern scientific history. The modern Jewish religion/culture exists, for example, solely because of the continuation of the history of the Jewish tribes and of Jewish social cultural rituals during and after the Babylonian Captivity. Institutional religion is the source of all writing. Writing only later became important to government (clerks to kings) and the merchants after religious institutions developed it to record what we only now differentiate as cultural and religious history.

    Writing and the religious schools for boys were created by religious institutions to pass on the most significant stories from the tribal "history" of the past. The ability of religious institutions to hold society together when secular institutions collapsed was demonstrated after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, but this was based largely on ability of Monasteries to train scribes to maintain writing and libraries. History as we know it would not exist without these institutional actions by Monasteries.