Political Animal


August 11, 2012 3:41 PM Blogging From the Belly of the Christian Right

By Ed Kilgore

Last time I was at the Point of Grace megachurch in Waukee, Iowa, the audience was livelier and the praise band was bigger, better and louder. But then that was a Sunday worship service, and this is the 2012 FAMiLY Leadership Summit, a gathering of Christian Right leaders and troops in one of its stomping grounds.

Point of Grace used to be a non-political church not that long ago. But under current Pastor Jeff Mullen (a first-class singer, as it happens), it’s as though the whole place boarded a bus and took it straight to Lynchburg. Mullen was one of a large band of conservative evangelical ministers in Iowa who got on board the Michele Bachmann bandwagon early on before the wheels came off, and shortly thereafter ran an unsuccessful campaign himself against an entrenched Republican incumbent state senator. But I guess he earned his political chops enough to host this event, though POG’s large sanctuary (if that’s what you call a worship center with coffee holders in all its stadium seats) and state-of-the-art technology helped.

This “leadership summit” was clearly organized to perform a bit of a victory dance for FAMiLY Leader for its role in the Iowa Caucuses—the group was able to boast key last-minute support for the last two Caucus winners, Huckabee and Santorum (both of whom are speaking here later today), and its successful 2010 purge of three of the Iowa Supreme Court Justices among the seven who handed down the 2009 decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Iowa.

The first mention of Paul Ryan’s name today got a big rousing round of applause with a few whoops—slightly louder than the first mention of Chick-fil-A, slightly softer than the ruckus that greeted “Iowa’s own” Steve King.

It’s an indication of the atmosphere of this event—and of the crisis mentality the Christian Right is capable of reviving as often as the hope of salvation—that Steve King doesn’t stand out at all.

I was a bit startled to hear King encourage ministers to defy the IRS and “preach the word from the pulpit,” clearly meaning the political word. But then I heard it from the next four speakers.

Even poor old Chuck Grassley, who could barely stumble through his pithy remarks (“…the usurption of unconstitutional power by the President of the United States and his cohorts.”), got into the spirit, listing the propositions that a Romney/Ryan administration would promote “without apology:” “life begins at conception;” “gun ownership is an absolute right;” “choice in education is an absolute right;” “voter ID;” “marriage is between a man and a woman;” “American support for Israel,” and so on through the whole secular liturgy of the Christian Right.

Rick Perry illustrated why he didn’t exactly set the grassroots afire during the caucus campaign, bumbling through the standard conservative talking points on this and that, but feeding from the audience’s response when he got into the swing of detailing Barack Obama’s “war on religion.”

But the most interesting speaker I heard today was another Texan, Laurence White, pastor of the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church of Our Savior in Houston, who lashed not only the evil liberal secularists but faithless Republican pols and at audience itself for tolerating “the perverted standards of the ungodly who live around us.”

Best known for his relentless comparisons of conservative evangelical culture warriors with the Confessing Church under Nazi Germany, White came to demand that his listeners make the immediate and total revocation of legalized abortion, same-sex marriage and other forms of “indecency” an unconditional demand.

“On abortion, there is just one Christian position. For a Christian not to vote is a sin. For a Christian voting in any election for any candidate who is not absolutely, unequivocally and authentically opposed to abortion is a sin.”

You can only imagine what this man—and the audience who said “amen” to his thunderings and laughed at his jokes—thinks of Christians who aren’t so sure God wants them to abolish reproductive rights or deny marriage equality, much less of anyone else who do not approach politics with White’s maxim of “Jesus is Lord of all or Lord of nothing.” They—we—are all either Nazis or the Germans who did Hitler’s will.

As White’s jeremiad echoed through the room, FAMiLY Leader majordomo Bob Vander Plaats announced, to no one’s surprise, that he would spearhead another judicial “rejection” campaign this November aimed at knocking out one more Iowa Supreme Court Justice.

The slideshow that was running on the church’s big screens when I entered today had a quotation from the Book of Revelation prophesying “the day of reaping.” The next slide was a calendar with November 6 highlighted in red.

In this battleground state, the Christian Right is premobilized to turn out its maximum vote for a straight Republican vote, give or take a few state legislative candidates who won’t pledge to repeal abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Up until today, they were probably unenthusiastic about Mitt Romney (who was barely mentioned here other than in praise of his choice of Ryan). But particularly today, anyone who thinks the Christian Right wouldn’t emerge from a Republican victory on November 6 demanding, as Rev. White put it, “not a seat at the table but a new table,” doesn’t understand its role in a conservative movement that now stands astride the GOP like a colossus.

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.


  • FlipYrWhig on August 11, 2012 3:51 PM:

    One of my second-guessing pet peeves is that Democrats didn't do more to punish Grassley when he ran for reelection after turning full metal wingnut during the healthcare reform debate. He should have been ground into the mud at that point.

  • TCinLA on August 11, 2012 4:02 PM:

    tolerating “the perverted standards of the ungodly who live around us.”

    I'd love to have one of these morons come up and start "un-tolerating" me on anything. "Speak to the fist, moron!"

    Glad you went to the Nuremburg Rally for us, Ed.

    That "Reverend" White is proof that Sinclair Lewis was right: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

    "Amen!" rather than "Sieg Heil!"

  • c u n d gulag on August 11, 2012 4:13 PM:

    Thanks, Ed, for providing yet another example of why we need to tax the living/dead/about-to-rise-again Jayzoos out of many of today's churches.

    Wnat to advocate a political position?
    Liberal, OR Conservative.
    Then kiss goodbye to your tax exempt status.

    Feck, if the deficit's THAT important, they should volunteer to have that done.

    Enough of the worshippers of mythical of some mythical "Sky God" getting tax exempt credit.

    The real "God" - oh, SHE'LL me mighty pissed! THAT missing money could have been used to help the poor, elderly, and needy - and children!

    Tax every motherfeckin' church!
    That's the only time I'll agree to NOT seperate church from state!

    They need to pay taxes, the same as everyone else - it's not like there's some Libertarian Jayzoos, who levitates his worshippers into church every Sunday, avoiding the roads paid for by the tax payers. And, for Catholic's, that Holy Water didn't just flow up over night.

    TAX 'EM ALL!!!
    NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • DaveR on August 11, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Ed, you may be interested that here in Kansas we have a candidate who is running as a member of the Christian Left. Tobias Schlingensiepen (try to fit that on a yard sign!) is the Dem candidate running against Lynn (Great White Hope) Jenkins in Kansas Second District. Redistricting made the 2nd a tad less right-wing, and it has had Dem reps in the recent past. A shout-out to him on your blog would be very helpful.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 11, 2012 4:49 PM:

    “On abortion, there is just one Christian position. For a Christian not to vote is a sin. For a Christian voting in any election for any candidate who is not absolutely, unequivocally and authentically opposed to abortion is a sin.”

    I'm a pro-life Christian, but the Republican Party's utter disregard for post-fetal life gives me moral freedom not to vote for these loons. Apparently the only lives God created worth preserving are fetuses and those rich enough to afford insurance.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on August 11, 2012 4:51 PM:

    c u n d: If I'm not mistaken, even the radical first century Rabbi named Yeshua-something told his followers to render unto Caesar what's Caesar's.

  • mudwall jackson on August 11, 2012 5:12 PM:

    TAX 'EM ALL!!!
    NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    oh sure that'll stop them right-wing mega churches (they didn't become mega churches because of their inability to raise money ... )

  • T2 on August 11, 2012 6:01 PM:

    Isn't it great that we'll finally have an election to determine if our little nation will move into the next 20 years of challenge and prosperity or go back to the days of the Confederate States of America!

  • Steve on August 11, 2012 6:57 PM:

    Just one question: why the infix lower case "i" in "FAMiLY?"

    I groveled through their web site (Ugh! Now I have to swab my monitor and keyboard with Lysol, just to get to cooties off) and could find no explanation. I'm assuming it's some sort of acronym but it beats me as to what it could be.

  • schtick on August 11, 2012 7:16 PM:

    What is this deal all of a sudden with a pop-up from ad.yieldmanager.com that keeps coming up no matter how much I cancel it? Gives me a choice of saving or opening. I hate pop-ups. I had enough of them on AOhell. And the publishers cleaning house. It's a phoney set up no matter how they try to sell it. Please. If I wanted to be annoyed and lower my IQ, I'd either listen to Rush or watch Faux. Dump these people, please.

  • Daddy Love on August 11, 2012 7:25 PM:

    The Christian Right is shrinking, which is one reason that they are becoming more militant. The tensions between the business nazis and moral nazis (hey, it's lowercase, OK?) are growing and will be exacerbated during this election, especially with no moral nazi on the ticket (I know Paul ryan blah, blah, blah, but under it all he's an economic coservative--watch his public statements). I guess that's all I had. I'm enjoying the deconstruction and devolution of the Republican party.

    If I've heard any rumblings of upcoming tectonic change in the Grand Old Party, they are about people discussing leaving behind the asshole moralism as out of step with America as it is.

  • jsjiowa on August 11, 2012 7:31 PM:

    @Steve: If I remember correctly, it represents something along the lines of the individual (the "i") bows to the will of God, who is the true leader of the family.

    Ed, thanks for the inside view. These folks are scary, and it's scarier yet that they are practically in my backyard. I've watched for years as the state GOP has lurched further to the right. Steve King used to be one of kind in the state legislature; now there are quite a few who'd give him a run for the money in who was more right-wing. I hope the IRS keeps their eye on these churches, and yanks their tax-free status the first time they cross the line. If they feel persecuted, good. I don't want my tax dollars going to support their message.

    You didn't cover it, but the state Republican party chair came out this week advocating the removal of one of the state Supreme Court Justices this fall. The party was involved in the rallies last time, but didn't actually tell voters to vote the Justices out. A lot of people feel they crossed a line this time. In a state that uses merit selection for judges, with periodic retention votes, I have to agree. And the Governor, who's a lawyer, wouldn't take a stand against what they had said. Saddest part is, I don't think they've hit bottom yet. I shudder to think what lies ahead.

  • Steve on August 11, 2012 7:44 PM:

    @jsjiowa: Thanx.

    @schtick: Firefox and AdBlock are your friends. Noscript is your best buddy. DNT+ is your BFF. Just sayin'.

  • Anonymous on August 11, 2012 8:10 PM:

    re: "tolerating 'the perverted standards of the ungodly who live around us.'"

    8 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

    19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

    2 Kings 5:18-19 NIV

    Even in front of a prophet, Naaman obtained permission to continue his job, even though it required him to enter a pagan temple and sorta-kinda bow to the idol.

    I don't think God is threatened by tolerance of others. He is only strict in His requirements for believers in covenant with Him.

  • Neil B on August 11, 2012 8:46 PM:

    When are those Christians going to disavow their hater Ayn Rand, Ry-Ayn's beloved guru?

    From snowdrift Snookie to snow-job Kochkie.

  • rk21 on August 11, 2012 9:08 PM:

    In all this did you by any chance hear anything about helping out the poor or the less disadvantaged amongst us?

  • rk21 on August 11, 2012 9:12 PM:

    Sorry, meant to say "less advantaged" instead of less disadvantaged.

  • Blue Girl on August 11, 2012 9:33 PM:

    Another opportunity for a mass-smiting missed...

  • c00p on August 11, 2012 10:25 PM:

    Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (St Matthew: NIV)

  • Rick B on August 12, 2012 12:40 AM:

    What Ed describes is a bunch of demagogues who are trying to gain power and wealth for themselves by pretending to be religious. It has no connection to religion.

    You guys who demand that they all be taxed are absolutely right. But don't stop at these false 'religions.' Tax any organization which puts up a political advertisement or political sermon with no exemptions. 501(c)3 and such.

    Those organizations which are demanding that their suckers -- followers -- vote for one position or the other have no connection to religion at all.

    @Daddy Love -- You're right that the xtian right is shrinking. It's a cultural leftover of an America whose economy and most of whose population grew up rural or in small towns - like Janeville, WI. America is now well over half urban in large cities, but people who grew up rural or small towns are still looking for that "old time religion" to order their lives. That's why the conservatives are old people and most urban younger people are not becoming conservative - or evangelical. Gun sales are declining, also, as is hunting and fishing.

    As that lifestyle dies the people from the older culture are, as you say, becoming more militant. They have the feeling that nothing they do to stop the social changes is enough and they are right. So these are the people who 'double down' in the face of failure to change society back to what it was when they grew up. (By the way, politicians are from the dominant power class, and their power always comes from prior generations, so most politicians who do not understand social change and learn new power sources are conservative. They lead these dead-enders.)

    Religions are old fashioned. They depend on stories with moral teachings to teach others how to get along and to cause individuals to cohere to the group. An urban center is industrial and bureaucratic and consists of much larger organizations with high population density. Urban societies use public education, rationality, and science to hold society together. There is a reason why public education and universities have developed over the last century and a half. It's part of the urban-industrial age. That's why religion is changing radically and often breaking up into conservative and modern styles.

  • Todd M on August 12, 2012 1:10 AM:

    Time to start taxing these "churches" They're nothing more than business fronts. They need to begin paying property taxes like the rest of us. The tax breaks for being a pastor need to stop. I see no valid reason why any church should not pay it's fair share.

  • buckyblue on August 12, 2012 8:51 AM:

    My gripe with all of this is not the political impact, but the religious impact. Demagogues and religious morons have always been around, and America has always had an uneasy relationship betwix the politics and religion. Mostly, if not entirely, on the right. But the impact on religion has been enormous. People, especially young people, are abandoning religion in droves. I put that trend at the feet of the religious right. If my faith is contingent upon my voting for any party, then my faith is very shallow. The more the church embraces these awful, intolerant, unloving people and policies, the more people will abandon faith.

  • PTate in MN on August 12, 2012 10:50 AM:

    Wow, thanks for going there, Ed. I can't imagine how disturbing to be in the midst of the rally of the True Believers.

    buckyblue: "People, especially young people, are abandoning religion in droves."

    I wonder about the same thing, WTF is happening in the Christian church? As a lifelong Episcopalian (currently not attending), I had observed a drift to the right even in that fairly liberal denomination. The young and the politically liberal didn't find it meaningful and drifted away. So more doctrinally rigid, mean-spirited and politically conservative authoritarians gained influence and their influence caused the moderates to leave as well. But throughout Christendom, disturbances can be observed:

    1) The Catholic Bishops feel the need to reprimand Catholic nuns and suppress their mission.
    2) The Anglican communion is splintering as evangelical African bishops object to the ordination of women and gay priests.
    3) The fundamentalist church has this delusion that they are a persecuted minority. Gotta have guns to fight back when the godless Feds come to seize your wealth and force you accept the homosexual agenda, birth control, abortion and charity to the poor; in the meantime, protect your kids; don't let them be indoctrinated in government schools! And fight the good fight! Block voting by those who would persecute you, cut off the tax revenues that support the feds; prevent Sharia law and UN resolution 21. Do what you can to bring about the Apocalypse.

    It is a weird time. It looks like the Christian church has failed to adapt to the realities of the world surrounding it so maybe it can only appeal to people who can't adapt. Thus fundamentalists embrace all that right-wing anti-government (unless Christian) crap and Catholics and Anglicans try to enforce pre-Modern belief systems. Weird.

    captcha is almost relevant! harmony, imignot

  • Tired Liberal on August 12, 2012 12:03 PM:

    And this church that holds a political rally is tax exempt? Get rid of the religious exemption.

  • Rick B on August 12, 2012 3:27 PM:

    @PTate in MN 10:50 AM

    I am also a life-long Episcopalian and have observed the same thing about religion in the US as you have. It's a drift to the right as the most extreme and loudest Pharisees take over the control of the pulpits and demand that everyone pray publicly to be judged on their level of holiness and how they are selected by god so that everyone must revere them.

    The great sociologist Emile Durkheim described how the religion of agricultural rural people differs from that of urban industrial peoples, and I find that it goes a long way. But some sociologist whose name I cannot remember pointed out that religion is a trailing edge institution. It is based on stories and myths from the past and tends to slow social change. In addition, the dominant religious denomination of any culture attaches itself to the secular government (which gives the religion longevity) and makes itself useful to that government by providing legitimacy to the government.

    An example is the Baptists in the South. Originally Protestants came from the North to Christianize the slaves before the Civil War, but those evangelists who wanted to build churches found they had to have the support of the wealthy Southerners, so they preached that the Bible supported slavery. This led to the breakaway of the Southern Baptists - who supported slavery and later segregation until the 1990's.

    Both the Catholic Bishops and the Anglican Bishops are adapting worldwide to those areas in which their religion is growing. That's especially Africa. Africa is still rural and non-industrial, so the evangelicals there teach the doctrine that being gay is a sin. That teaching finds favor where there is a low population density, a class ordered society, and the primary economic basis for society is agriculture, ranching or the extractive industries (the latter are very dependent on the property rights enforced by the secular government.) The Catholic Bishops are aware that all they have to "sell" is their specific tradition presented in a very rigid manner. (The rigidity is how Bishops achieve leadership positions within their denomination.) If they try to change their tradition to match modern societies their church will stop being able to expand. It offers nothing unless it offers a refuge against social change. So they become more rigid and react strongly against every demand that they change. Remember - that's what they sell. Modern denomination offer a gateway to tradition, but they can't sell themselves to the large group who are afraid of current social changes. If religious success is measured by expanded membership then religion becomes rigid demand that members live a traditional life. That does not work in modern rapidly changing society.

  • ELCA Lutheran on August 12, 2012 7:56 PM:

    "Laurence White, pastor of the Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church"

    THANK YOU, Ed for specifying this man's denomination (LCMS). However, he sounds far more conservative than most Missouri Synod Lutherans that I know. Maybe because he's from Tex-ass? (FYI, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are even further to the right.) I find this man's proclamations horrifying and very anti-Christian.

    For those interested, the rational, liberal to middle ground Lutherans belong to the the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). So please don't confuse us with nutjobs like White. Thank you.

    Ed, you must have been cringing through this whole "ordeal". Thanks for the report.

  • ELCA Lutheran on August 12, 2012 8:07 PM:

    Cund gulag: Wnat to advocate a political position?
    Liberal, OR Conservative.
    Then kiss goodbye to your tax exempt status.

    So if my church advocates for the poor, homeless, hungry children, and unemployed, is that a "political position"? Does that make us liberal or conservative, deserving or undeserving of tax exempt status? Just asking because this FAMiLY group would label it as a political position. And class warfare, too.

    And, btw, my church never makes a "profit", we barely make ends meet with all of the outreach ministries we do for the community, the cost of maintaining the building (which is used all week long by many groups). And none of our staff is getting rich either. So tax-exempt wouldn't matter. Of course we don't tell people how to vote, either.

  • Anonymous on August 12, 2012 8:10 PM:

    Rick B: perfectly said!


    Rick B wrote: What Ed describes is a bunch of demagogues who are trying to gain power and wealth for themselves by pretending to be religious. It has no connection to religion.

    You guys who demand that they all be taxed are absolutely right. But don't stop at these false 'religions.' Tax any organization which puts up a political advertisement or political sermon with no exemptions. 501(c)3 and such.

    Those organizations which are demanding that their suckers -- followers -- vote for one position or the other have no connection to religion at all.

  • ELCA Lutheran on August 12, 2012 8:46 PM:

    Anonymous @8:10 pm is me.