Religious Liberty

Donald Trump’s Religious Bigotry Isn’t New, But It’s Still Dangerous

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A disloyal religionA religion that mandates violenceA religion incompatible with freedomA religion intent on overthrowing the governmentA religion that’s not a religion but a political movement.

Such smears were used for years in American politics to attack Roman Catholics, and Catholic immigrants in particular. In the 19th century, rioters attacked Catholic churches and homes, and an entire political party was created based on the fear of a Catholic plot to undermine America. The Ku Klux Klan reorganized in the early 20th century in part by using anti-Catholicism to recruit members

While John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on the separation of church and state and his subsequent election were seen as turning points, religious bigotry never went away in American politics; the targets simply shifted, as the very same attacks once hurled against Catholics are now being used to demonize and marginalize Muslims. 

This year, Donald Trump showed once again that religious bigotry remains an effective and destructive way for politicians to foment hate and win political power.

Muslims were among Trump’s top targets of scorn and ridicule in his successful presidential bid. He falsely claimed that Muslims took to the streets by the thousands to celebrate 9/11; declared that “Islam hates us”; repeated a debunked story about Muslims refusing to report the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attack; proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.; considered a Muslim registry and databasebaselessly alleged that around one out of three Muslims were ready to go to war against the U.S.; and praised a general who he said massacred his Muslim detainees with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. 

Trump’s attacks against America’s Muslim community capitalized on existing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been diligently spread by a network of far-right groups. But he brought those bigoted ideas to a far wider audience, feeding anti-Muslim conspiracy theories directly into the national media. Unsurprisingly, his election has led to a spike in attacks against Muslim-Americans.

On the campaign trail, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Michael Flynn, who is now set to be his national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, whom he has named his top White House strategist.

Flynn, a board member of the anti-Islam group ACT for America, has described Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” If Islam isn’t a religion, activists like Flynn believe, then Muslims shouldn’t receive First Amendment protections.

On his Twitter page in August, Flynn posted a video that said “ISIS is practicing Islam to the letter.” He has tweeted that Muslim leaders must “declare their Islamic ideology sick.” “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one tweet promoting a video that said Islam “wants 80% of humanity Enslaved or EXTERMINATED.” 

Before joining Trump’s team, Bannon ran the ultraconservative website Breitbart, which he boasted was the “platform for the Alt-Right,” a racist and xenophobic movement. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart was dominated by stories about the purported dangers of Muslims, and promoted the Alt-Right narrative that the West is engaged in a civilizational war with the Islamic world.

This rhetoric, incidentally, plays into the very message that terrorist groups like ISIS are attempting to promote: that their version of Islam is the only true one and that they are engaged in a civilizational battle against the West. Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi noted in Foreign Affairs over the summer that Trump’s rhetoric had the potential to be a valuable recruiting tool for these groups. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda celebrated Trump’s win by claiming that it validated their claim that the U.S. hates Muslims.

Even before his inauguration, Trump’s religious bigotry is wreaking real damage on America, undermining national security and giving the green light to a wave of assaults against Muslim-Americans.

Perhaps Trump can learn from Abraham Lincoln, a man he claims to admire, who called out as hypocrites politicians who claimed to believe in liberty while seeking to exclude Catholics and immigrants from fully taking part in American society.

Judging by his pick of advisers, however, it seems unlikely that President Trump will be that much different than the man we saw on the campaign trail, a man willing to sow divisions and ratchet up bigotry no matter the cost.

PFAW

First Win in a Trump Era: Georgia Rejects Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Following the shocking election results, hate, bigotry, and xenophobia are now on the rise again, and American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslims, have become some of the first targets. President-elect Trump appears to be seriously considering a registry targeting Muslims in the United States and staffing his administration with anti-Muslim leaders. Last week, Republican state Representative Jason Spencer from Woodbine, GA, proposed legislation that would ban Muslim women from wearing the hijab or niqab (burqa) in public.

Fortunately, progressive leaders and policy makers did not sit idle; they decided to take action against attacks that degrade our American values. Georgia leaders took a stand against hate, including a minister in PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action network, the Reverend Dr. Merchuria Chase-Williams, who drafted a letter speaking out against the proposed bill and a member of YEO Action in the Georgia House, Rep. Keisha Waites, who released a statement against anti-Muslim bigotry.

On Thursday, only one day after Representative Spencer introduced the anti-hijab legislation, the bill was dropped. This victory is crucial because it shows that progressive lawmakers, community leaders, and the American people can stop the normalization of hate and bigotry. This could be considered the first real win in the Trump era, and it is a reminder to progressives from around the country that we must join forces against racism, divisiveness, and policies that undermine the core values of the United States: liberty, freedom of religion, and equal justice under the law.

PFAW has already been active in the fight to combat Islamophobia and will continue to do this work. For the past three months, in a coordinated effort between PFAW’s Young Elected Officials Network Action (YEO Action) and Local Progress, more than 500 elected officials from around the country have signed onto an open letter pledging to fight against hate and anti-Muslim bigotry. As part of this effort, nearly 40 school board and city council resolutions have been passed nationwide to denounce hate and protect American Muslims—an effort that U.S. Representative Keith Ellison has called “essential work” that “will strengthen our country and help protect the Constitutional rights of all Americans and immigrants to practice their faith and live dignified lives in our great country.”
 

PFAW

Religious Right Backs Bill to Implement Trump’s Pledge to Make Churches More Politically Powerful

Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to make conservative Christians more politically powerful by eliminating legal restrictions on churches’ and other tax-exempt nonprofits’ ability to do electoral work. On Wednesday two Republican congressmen, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and Georgia’s Jody Hice, introduced H.R. 6195, what they call the “Free Speech Fairness Act,” which would lay the groundwork for a President Trump to do just that.

Scalise and Hice were joined at a press conference in the U.S. Capitol by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Christiana Holcomb, and anti-gay activist and pastor Harry Jackson. According to a handout, the bill or the policies represented in it are also supported by Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability, March for Life Action, Liberty Counsel and Liberty Counsel Action, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Trump has said he decided to call for repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which dates to 1954, when he heard from pastors that it restricted their ability to help him get elected. He has made it clear that he sees its repeal as a way to build Christian conservatives’ political muscle. So it was a bit unconvincing to have Scalise and Hice portray their legislation not as a vehicle for turning churches into more effective political machines, but merely an effort to protect the trampled-upon free speech rights of pastors and nonprofits.

Scalise and Hice say their bill would allow churches and nonprofits to make political statements if those statements are in the ordinary course of their regular work and any expenses related to them are de minimis. In their example, a preacher could endorse a candidate as part of a sermon, and a church could do the same in its normal newsletter. Under their rules, they say, the church couldn’t launch a new political direct mail campaign that is outside the normal scope of its work. But given the massive communications networks that many megachurches and nonprofit religious broadcasters have, this seems like more of a fig leaf than an actual limitation.

Before coming to Congress, Hice was a pastor in Georgia. He said he was one of 33 pastors who challenged the Johnson Amendment back in 2008 with the help of ADF, a challenge that grew into “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual project that encourages pastors to violate legal restrictions by endorsing candidates from the pulpit and daring the IRS to come after them. Not coincidentally, this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday is this weekend, October 2.

Speakers at this week’s press conference portrayed the Johnson Amendment as a dire restriction on free speech and religious liberty. ADF’s Holcomb said it has had “devastating impacts on religious freedom and the freedom of speech.” Hice said it is “unconscionable that our government would force individuals to choose between their constitutionally protected rights or their faith.”

Perkins quoted Martin Luther King Jr. at the press conference, and his commentary on the new bill at the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal features a large photograph of King. []Jackson also cited the civil rights movement. But the example of King actually undermines their hyperbolic claims about Johnson Amendment, which was in effect in the late 1950s and 1960s when African American pastors and churches served as moral and logistical focal points for the civil rights movement. They were not “muzzled” any more than conservative megachurches have been “muzzled” in speaking out about abortion for the past 40 years or rallying their members to vote against equality for LGBT people.

Under the existing IRS rules, the Family Research Council has no problem communicating on the issues of the day with the 11,000 pastors in its network. Indeed, there are currently multiple voter registration and GOTV operations being carried out by Religious Right networks through conservative evangelical churches. Trump and other Republican presidential candidates have appeared before gatherings of pastors brought together by Christian nationalist David Lane, who has recruited hundreds of pastors to run for office.

Their First Amendment freedoms are quite intact. But they’re looking for more—the ability of churches, religious broadcasters and other nonprofits to engage in direct electoral advocacy with tax-exempt funds. Speakers at Religious Right conferences routinely blame what they see as America’s moral decline on timid preaching, and they blame that on pastors who are intimidated by the IRS or hide behind the supposed threat of the IRS to avoid taking strong political stands. Charisma’s Bob Eschliman even said in praising the new bill that the Third Great Awakening—a national spiritual revival longed for by Religious Right leaders—cannot come about until the nation’s pulpits are “unshackled from the Johnson Amendment.”

Perkins, who is honorary chairman for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, bragged about the fact that he worked with the Trump campaign to get language calling for repeal of the Johnson Amendment into the Republican Party platform. He praised Trump for making it a campaign issue, adding, “I hope the next time that I’m talking about this could possibly be as he’s signing it behind his desk as president.”

Trump Gives Another Gift To Far Right With New Supreme Court List

According to news reports, Donald Trump is set to release today more names of individuals whom he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if elected, a key part of his strategy to win over the Religious Right and the conservative establishment.

The new list includes Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who, as Peter noted earlier this year, is not only a staunch social conservative but also believes that large parts of the federal social safety net are unconstitutional:

Lee dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a women’s right to abortion . He called the court’s marriage equality ruling a “breathtaking presumption of power.” People For the American Way noted in a 2010 report that Lee “has denounced as ‘domestic enemies’ those who disagree with his radically limited view” of the Constitution.

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Lee also has some ideas about how he’d like to change the Constitution. We wrote when Lee was running for Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010:

He wants to eliminate capital gains taxes and make the current tax system more regressive – more reliant on lower income taxpayers – and says his favorite approach to taxation would actually be to repeal the 16th amendment altogether, strip the federal government of the power to tax income, and leave it to the states to determine how they would tax their own citizens to pay for the limited federal government that would be left.

He’s a constitutional lawyer who’d like to make lots of changes to the Constitution: he has said he supports repeal of the 17th Amendment, which calls for popular election of U S Senators; he wants to "clarify" the 14th Amendment through legislation to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens or legal residents; he wants to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget and to impose congressional term limits.

Other names on Trump’s expanded list are also sure to please those who are hoping to radically reshape American law.

The Trump campaign’s statement boasts that one potential pick, Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young, is part of a court majority that has “embraced originalism and led what one scholar described as a ‘textualism revolution.’” The article in question notes that much of the Michigan majority’s philosophy draws on the arguments of the late Justice Antonin Scalia (while differing with Scalia in some ways).

In 2007, Young wrote a majority opinion upholding Michigan’s voter ID law, writing that it was a “reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction designed to preserve the purity of elections and to prevent abuses of the electoral franchise."

The new list also includes Charles Canady, a Florida Supreme Court justice who served four terms as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s. In the House, Canady was the first to introduce the so-called ban on “partial-birth” abortion, a term that had been newly coined by anti-choice activists to stir up opposition to a specific abortion procedure and prompt a legal challenge to undermine Roe v. Wade.

Also on Trump’s list is Timothy Tymkovich, the chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote that court’s opinion in favor of Hobby Lobby’s attempt to cite religious objections to deny its employees health insurance coverage for contraception. That case later made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in a dramatic reinterpretation of the idea of religious liberty in America.

Trump’s new Supreme Court list is, like his original list released in May, clearly aimed at pacifying social conservatives who want assurance that his federal judges will uphold their policy priorities and by conservative legal groups intent on remaking American law.

‘Welcome To The War’ – Jim Garlow’s New Book On ‘Biblical Applicationalism’

One of the giveaways at the recent Values Voter Summit was a new book from Jim Garlow, a California pastor who mobilized churches to organize on behalf of California’s anti-marriage-equality Prop 8 in 2008 and says his daily one-minute radio commentaries are heard on 850 stations across the country.

After getting through Garlow’s “Well Versed: Biblical Answers to Today’s Tough Issues,” I was surprised that David Barton was not mentioned in the acknowledgments, because the book is a very Bartonesque argument that politicians should look to the Bible for policy guidance on everything from healthcare to the minimum wage to climate change.

“There is no major world issue about which the Word does not provide basic and transcendent truths,” Garlow writes. He complains that people understand that the Bible applies to their personal lives, but

…when we hear the word political, we shut our Bibles and recoil, as if God has no interest in government, in spite of the fact that it was God who first invented it (Isaiah 9:6). Christians—particularly pastors—seem to run from the political. The Evil One delights over this situation. But a Sovereign King refuses to yield any ground to the Evil One. He intends for us to do the same.

Garlow’s first chapter asks, “Why are we quiet?” Perhaps in a nod to Donald Trump, Garlow says the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which bans overt politicking by tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, including churches, “effectively silenced and muzzled all pastors.” Anyone who follows American politics can be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the notion that conservative religious leaders have been “silenced” and “muzzled,” but it is an article of faith at Religious Right gatherings that America’s moral decline is the fault of overly timid preachers. Garlow does not like timid, and neither, he says, does Jesus, whom he describes as a “man’s man” and “no wimp.”

We are in a war: a war for truth, righteousness, and justice. The pages that follow are designed to equip you for success in those battles. Welcome to the war.

Garlow says what he’s calling for is “biblical applicationalism” and a return to the idea of a nation founded on biblical truth. He repeatedly says that he is not calling for theocracy, and says he’s not a dominionist. But among those whose quotes he uses to open chapters in his book is Christian Reconstructionist Gary DeMar. And one of three people he thanks as members of his “spectacular research and writing team” is Gary Cass, who Garlow calls “a pastor who ‘gets it,’ who has a staggering grasp of historical theology and its relevance to current culture.” Cass is a former director of the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. Two years ago he generated controversy with a Charisma magazine column entitled “Why We Cannot Coexist,” in which he said that Muslims and Christians cannot co-exist and that “The only thing that is biblical and that 1400 years of history has shown to work is overwhelming Christian just war and overwhelming self-defense.” After the column generated a protest campaign with the hashtag #CancelTheCrusades, Charisma took down Cass’s call to “crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus name.”

Garlow does not call for a worldwide holy war, but he does complain, “Our societal and cultural desire to accept everyone has stopped us from acknowledging the evil clearly written into Islamic tenets.”

Garlow, like Donald Trump, disparages political correctness:

Not surprisingly, the promoters and users of PC tactics are those who typically hate biblical truth, traditional morality, sexual restraint, personal responsibility, the nuclear family, or any other concept based on transcendent, unchanging truth revealed by an almighty God for our society’s good.

Says Garlow, “Unfortunately, Christian religious tolerance has devolved into a secular monstrosity called multiculturalism.” Tolerance is a “weapon” to “destroy and discredit our values in the public square,” he writes.

Cultural progressives will not be satisfied with silence; they want a complete and unconditional surrender. That is the nature of spiritual warfare; there is no peaceful coexistence.

“Religious liberty is under attack from godless, sexual anarchists,” he declares. Garlow, of course, is stridently opposed to legal equality for LGBT people. “There is no God-given right to do wrong,” he writes. “Every sinful act is by definition a lawless one.” Garlow says it is “quite likely” that “there is no such thing” as sexual orientation and he seems to wish gay people would just slink back into the closet. “For years that chant was, what we do in our bedroom is our business,” he writes. “If that is the case, then they should keep their business in their bedrooms.”

Hate crimes laws are, in his view, “inherently unjust” and “are a form of legally justified revenge against someone whose actions violate some standard of political correctness.” And, he says, “Hate crimes inevitably lead to hate speech and ultimately thought crimes.”

Garlow also devotes plenty of space to arguments about the kinds of authority the Bible grants to government, ideas that are grounded in Christian Reconstructionism and have been embraced by much of the Religious Right. The term social justice “has taken a distinctly anti-scriptural meaning,” he says, and liberal churches “cherry-pick the Bible to advance a humanistic (Marxist) definition of economic justice.”

“The biggest problem is that it confuses social justice’s governmental confiscation of private property with authentic biblical justice, which it isn’t,” says Garlow. Some taxation is biblically acceptable, he says, in order to pay for things like national defense. But, he argues, “Nowhere in the Bible is the government authorized to take from the rich to give to the poor nor to redistribute wealth.” That kind of taxation, he says, is theft:

Any forced redistribution of the fruit of a man’s labor violates God’s command not to steal. Theft is still theft, even when it’s the government picking your pocket. Whether by a gun (a thief) or through a tax (by the IRS), the impact is still the same: you no longer have what you earned.

Food stamps are also unbiblical, he says. Not surprisingly, Garlow cites Star Parker, a favorite at Religious Right conferences for her attacks on welfare recipients as lazy freeloaders. Writes Garlow, “Show me a person who uses their welfare dollars to buy lottery tickets and play the casino slots, and you will see as much greed as an inner city slumlord.”

Because he argues that the Bible gives churches, not government, the responsibility to care for the poor, Garlow’s proposal for a “biblical tax code” includes a 3.33 percent tax that would be given to local houses of worship, replacing government welfare programs that he says are rife with abuse and corruption. He says by letting churches take care of people, his plan would be “assuring funds went to the genuinely needy, offering job hunting assistance, and, at the same time, proper prodding of the slothful and lazy.”

Social Security is also unbiblical, according to Garlow. “Biblically, entitlement programs and forced savings/retirement insurance programs like Social Security are never the role of the civil government,” he says. “With the Social Security Act of 1946, the government has stepped outside of its prescribed role and into areas it had no right to enter.”

Besides, “Where does it say in the Bible that we are supposed to retire at sixty-five, or at any age for that matter?” Garlow asks. He complains, “After a life of hard work, Americans now feel an entitlement to unproductivity.” But sooner or later Social Security will collapse and people will get back to “God’s design for society” by “having lots of godly, hardworking children” who will take care of their parents in old age.

Garlow also takes on climate change, writing that “at its core global warming is a battle between two worldviews in direct opposition: biblical truth and evolutionary untruths.” Garlow writes that “all the major global datasets reveal the earth hasn’t warmed since 1977” and “NASA scientists are now discovering record levels of ice in the Arctic.” Writes Garlow, “The reality is this: we’re all just fine. God remains in complete control of His creation.”

Just to do a little reality check on his claims, August 2016 was the 16th straight hottest month ever recorded globally. And while Antarctic wintertime ice hit record highs in 2012-2014 before returning to average levels in 2015, “both the Arctic wintertime maximum and its summer minimum extent have been in a sharp decline for the past decades,” according to NASA. “Studies show that globally, the decreases in Arctic ice far exceed the increases in Antarctic sea ice.”

On it goes, through 31 chapters. Our educational system “is consumed with anti-Christian bigotry.” Government should do away with no-fault divorce. Unions were legitimate at a time of deplorable and dangerous working conditions, but have “become as abusive as eighteenth century employers.” God wants workers and employers to negotiate without any third-party involvement from government or unions. In a break with the hard right, Garlow does call for immigration reform that offers those who have been in the country illegally a pathway to remaining in the country. 

Garlow also takes on the federal judiciary. He calls the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “quite possibly the strongest attack on Christians and Christian values ever written by a sitting Justice in a majority opinion.” Justices, he says, are “knowingly lying about what the Constitution says and what its words mean and, as such, are in direct violation of Exodus 20:16,” which prohibits “false testimony.”

Garlow says there’s no quick fix to bad court rulings because Congress doesn’t have the courage to impeach justices. It will require “America to experience a spiritual renewal, or at least an adherence to biblical values such as integrity.” But he does call for state officials to nullify and defy federal court rulings on abortion and LGBT equality: “We need principled, constitutional, pro-life, and pro-family state legislators and governors to defy the Feds and enforce state laws.” And he calls for individual citizens to nullify “ungodly” and “unjust” laws, citing the Manhattan Declaration’s vow of civil disobedience and adding, “May we have the discernment and courage to do what is right and obey God rather than man.”

 

Samuel Rodriguez Says His Freedom To Preach Is At Stake In 2016 Election

We have written before about My Faith Votes, a supposedly nonpartisan organization chaired by Donald Trump surrogate Ben Carson and supported by Religious Right activists including Robert Jeffress, Richard Lee, Alveda King and Kirk Cameron.  The group, which sponsored the meeting this summer between Trump and hundreds of Religious Right leaders, says on its website, “My Faith Votes won’t tell you who to choose but we can make the process easier.” In fact, the group is not at all shy about telling Christians who they should vote for, as a recent interview with conservative Hispanic evangelical Samuel Rodriguez made clear.

Rodriguez also has a long track record of posturing as a political independent who is not wedded to, as he puts it, the agenda of the donkey or elephant, but of the lamb, Jesus Christ. Rodriguez, who had been critical of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric earlier in the election process, now says he has had a “wonderful conversation” with Trump and has seen a “significant pivot” from the candidate when it comes to dealing humanely with people who have been in the country illegally for many years.

During the online interview and Q&A session for My Faith Votes, Rodriguez repeated Religious Right alarms about religious liberty, saying that there is a Jezebel spirit in the land, one that intimidates and threatens Christians based on fear and hatred of Christianity and the “biblical worldview.”

Rodriguez fielded a couple of questions from people who are not happy with either of the presidential candidates and were not feeling motivated to vote. He was not having it, telling one person, “In my personal opinion, the number one deliverable from the next president will be the Supreme Court.” Citing the potential for the next president to nominate three or four justices, he said, “Who I vote for has to be connected to which nominee…has committed to nominating justices on the court that will protect life and religious liberty and respect the image of God in every American. That’s what compels me to vote in 2016.”

In response to another discouraged voter, he argued that his very freedom to preach the gospel is at risk:

We have to rise up and look beyond the candidates. We have to look at the issues that are at play here. What’s at risk, truly? Will anything impact me? If I do not vote, will I personally suffer any consequences? Well, if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Bible-believing Christ follower, the answer is yes. There are legislative initiatives right now, that serve, that actually carry the great potential of limiting our expression of our Christian faith.

What if I tell you there are initiatives out there that would attempt to silence us from preaching about what the Bible may deem as sinful, and that speech may be deemed as hate speech, because it runs counter to a cultural narrative out there, a cultural thread or a cultural dynamic? Not only that; recently, as I alluded to in the beginning of this broadcast, in California there was an attempt to punish Christian colleges and universities for believing the Bible and preaching the Bible. It’s this sort of thing taking place, not only in California but across the nation.

So staying home may very well jeopardize my ability as a pastor to reach people with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ. Without a doubt, staying at home carries the potential of enlarging and increasing the number of abortions that take place in this country. How about this: and around the world, because there are candidates that are committed to funding abortions around the world. My taxpayer money going out and helping someone else terminate a life. So if you care about the sanctity of life, and if you care about religious liberty, then you should care about voting this election.

And again, if you can’t vote for a candidate, vote for the platform, vote for the party platforms, and the party platform that best will protect your right to be a Christian and reach others with the loving, grace-filled message of Jesus Christ.

And in response to a questioner complaining that church leaders are not willing to talk to people about how to vote, he said:

Elections have consequences. Because 25 million Christians did not vote in 2012, the institution of marriage suffered a radical transformation via the conduit of judicial and executive fiat. Elections have consequences. Because 25 million Christians did not vote in 2012, we have more and more children that were aborted, and we had an agency in America that sold aborted baby parts, and they were protected…This time, the stake is even higher and greater. The consequences are more egregious and more serious. So I would tell them, if you care about the future of America, if you care about the future of Christianity in America, you must vote. And you must vote righteousness and justice. And you must vote life and religious liberty. You must vote.

 

Conservative Evangelicals Debate Whether Christians Should Support Trump

The National Religious Broadcasters sponsored a debate on Friday morning between two Never Trump evangelicals and two evangelical Trumpers. The event, held at the National Press Club, was emceed by NRB’s President and CEO Jerry Johnson, who called it a “family conversation.” Johnson, whose own inclinations seemed to rest with Trump’s advocates, was careful to say that NRB members are on both sides of the debate and the group itself does not support or oppose political candidates.

Representing the Never Trump position: pundit Erick Erickson and Bill Wichterman, who served in George W. Bush's White House. Arguing that evangelicals should rally around Trump were radio host Janet Parshall and anti-gay activist Bishop Harry Jackson. The event was structured with two rounds, starting with an Erickson v Parshall bout, followed by a Jackson v Wichterman match-up.

Erickson got the ball rolling saying he wouldn’t tell people not to vote for Trump, but he said that Christians with public platforms should not support Trump publicly “because I think it’s harmful for our witness.” When asked about Jesus, he said Clinton called Him her savior, and Trump gave vague and rambling responses.

Justifying support for Trump based on “values,” he said, runs up against the reality of Trump’s behavior as someone who “has bragged in his books about multiple affairs, including with married women, has cheated widows and single moms and the elderly out of money through Trump University, has stiffed the low-income worker on his buildings, telling them if they want to collect everything they’re owed they need to sue. Why do you go with him instead of her? Well, you say, ‘our values.’ How does he represent our values?...If you want to advocate for that, OK, but how are you advancing the kingdom of God?” Trump, he noted, says he’s a Christian but has repeatedly said he has never repented or asked for forgiveness.

To those who have suggested God could be using Trump like he used biblical figures like King Cyrus, Erickson said God had done that on His own and “has never asked His people to choose the evil.” Erickson said that he’s sure that there were some in Babylon saying “go on and bow, it’s just a statue,” but that the names we remember are those who resisted.

Parshall seemed a bit peeved about Erickson’s arguments. She talked about the supermajority support Trump is getting from conservative Christians and adopted evangelical pollster George Barna’s nomenclature for “SAGE Cons” – Spiritually Active Governance Engaged Conservatives. Trump’s support from that group, she said, has grown from 11 percent early in the year to 80 to 85 percent now.

“I’m interested in keeping the republic,” Parshall said. She dismissed the question of Trump’s character by saying that everybody is a sinner and “God has a track record of using flawed and broken people, even when it doesn’t look right to us.” She read a long list of moral failings by presidents throughout history, saying, “We are not electing a Messiah.” She did a similar litany with biblical figures, saying, “Noah was a drunk. Abraham lied. Jacob was a liar. Moses was a murderer. Samson was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Job went bankrupt. Peter denied Christ.”

Parshall suggested that Trump’s victory over the huge field of Republican competitors was a sign of God’s favor: “For those who have been praying and fasting through, during and for this process, have we now believed the sovereignty of God didn’t apply? Did He take off to Philadelphia, as W.C. Fields said? Or was a God sovereign in this entire process? Can God raise up a leader who just doesn’t look right to us, but is exactly who God wants for such a time as this?”

During a Q&A session, Parshall said that evangelicals should look to Trump’s pick of Mike Pence, “who represents everything we evangelicals love and support,” as his running mate. Wichterman said that the vice president has as much power as the president wants him to have. Trump, he said, is not someone who surrounds himself with people who challenge his authority or is willing to hear from dissenting opinions. “I don’t have any confidence that Mike Pence, a good man, will be able to have that influence on Donald Trump,” he said.

In his response to Parshall, Erickson said essentially that yes, we are all sinners, but do we revel in our sin or repent of it? Are we to lower the bar or strive for something higher? Embracing Trump, he said, neither glorifies God nor advances the kingdom. Parshall responded that Christians have responsibilities on earth to be engaged culturally and politically. She said she doesn’t care that Hillary Clinton says Jesus is her savior if she also supports “the denigration of marriage” and the “annihilation of the pre-born.” She said she was interested in what a candidate will do for the country and “first, last, and always, what will you do with the court?” She said the difference between the judges Hillary Clinton would nominate and Trump’s list is “the difference between darkness and light.”

Harry Jackson started the second round, making the astonishing assertion that Trump “may be the only one who’s able to bring some substantive healing to the racial divide,” because, Jackson said, he could help the country by advancing “practical answers” on educational and economic opportunity.  Black and Hispanic voters, he said, have too often settled for “the politics of grievance.”

Jackson’s top three reasons for all Christians to vote for Trump were religious liberty, the Supreme Court, and support for Israel. He cited other reasons of particular interest to Black and Hispanic Christians to back Trump, including educational reform, economic development in urban areas, and family-oriented tax policies.

Trump isn’t perfect, Jackson said, but he’s getting better. Besides, he said, a little “organized and strategic chaos” might be just what the country needs to shake up the status quo of generational poverty and explosive racial tension. “We are at a place in our culture that the folks who control the system, their grasping little fingers need to be broken off the controls.”

Wichterman, a former special assistant to George W. Bush who now runs a ministry to congressional staff, established his conservative bona fides by saying that "you’ll have a hard time getting to my right. I’m a Republican because I’m a conservative, and a conservative because I’m a Christian. I believe conservative policies best reflect a Christian worldview.” Wichterman said he had been ready to support any of the other 16 Republican candidates, but is not willing to support Trump. Wichterman said he will vote for third-party candidate Evan McMullin.

Wichterman took on three of the arguments being used to justify evangelical support for Trump: Trump is the lesser of two evils; God uses bad people for good purposes; and Trump is a “good man”—a phrase Pence repeats over and over when talking about Trump.

Wichterman says the lesser of two evils argument is the most compelling. He said he has used it himself over the years, and understands that Trump is more likely to nominate conservative judges. But that’s not enough, he said, because Trump may actually be “a threat to our democratic republic”:

I care about the Supreme Court because I care deeply about the government handed down to us by the founders…Trump, on the other hand, has too often demonstrated contempt for the rule of law. He has sounded more like a strongman impatient with constitutional constraints. He advocates death to the innocent family members of terrorists…He advocates torture, not as a means of extracting important intelligence, but as a means of retribution. He said he would do a hell of a lot more than waterboarding.

Wichterman slammed Trump for praising dictators like Vladimir Putin – who is a strong leader in the same way arsenic is a strong drink – and the Chinese officials who Trump says showed “strength” by slaughtering peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square. He cited examples of Trump encouraging violence against protesters. “Trump admires strength whatever form it takes,” he said, which is “inimical to the Gospel.”

Wichterman challenged people who say they won’t vote for Clinton because they believe she’s a liar, but will vote for Trump hoping that he’s been lying and doesn’t really mean what he says. Trump, he said, corrupts his supporters and corrupts “what it means to be a Republican.”

Regarding the argument that God uses bad people for good purposes, Wichterman said that doesn’t mean Christians are called to do bad so that good may result. “I’ve heard some evangelical leaders say we need a bad man to stand up to the bullying of the left…It’s almost as if we’re hiring a hitman to play dirty for the sake of good government,” which is an idea, he said, that “has nothing to do with our faith.”

Wichterman said the argument that Trump is a good man, a humble man, a truth-teller, “completely mystifies me.” He cited a litany of Trump outrages, including the implication that liberal judicial nominees should be assassinated and his reckless talk about rigged elections, which could be a set-up to civil strife. “If Trump is a good man, then I’ve got an entirely different definition of what ‘good’ is,” he said.

In his response, Jackson provided an example of the kind of double standard on truth that Wichterman had talked about. Jackson said Trump ran his primary like a “shock jock,” saying things to get attention, but that he is “growing.” Jackson said that people have been failed by both parties and that Trump can be a “change agent” who can move America forward by “pragmatically” addressing race and class issues.

In his response, Wichterman took on Jackson’s “shock jock” justification for Trump’s comments. What should concern us more, he asked, that Trump means the “profoundly destructive” things he says, or that he doesn't really mean them but says them to get some votes? He thinks Trump’s repeated expressions of admiration for Putin suggest that brute strength is “what he really appreciates and adores.”

He returned to his criticism of Trump’s support for dictators and his dog-whistle on “Second Amendment” responses to possible Clinton judicial nominees. “Is that the kind of society we want,” he asked, “where we’re killing one another over our disagreements?” Wichterman said it makes his blood boil when Trump talks about “knocking the crap out of” people. Trump, he said, is “profoundly reckless” with the rule of law, which is “a precious thing.”

When the NRB’s Johnson started a Q&A session, Parshall responded to Wichterman’s support for McMullin, who is a Mormon, by attacking Mormon theology and Mitt Romney:

What I want to know is why we didn’t have this discussion four years ago. We had a man from Massachusetts who was pro-abortion before he was pro-life, who was supporting Obamacare before he said he opposed it. But far more importantly, because this is an evangelical conversation, I love my friends who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve coalesced and worked with them on many an occasion. But this is an ecclesiastical conversation. That candidate wore underwear that he felt would protect him from harm, believed that Jesus was Satan’s spirit brother and believed that Jesus had returned already to the earth but only to the southern hemisphere. And yet we have a member of our panel who yet again is advocating another Mormon. If we’re going to have an ecclesiastical conversation about evangelicals, then let’s put doctrine on the table and see if that’s our driving factor.

In response to a later “lesser of two evils” question, Wichterman seemingly responded to Parshall’s attacks on Mormons by saying “I know many non-Christians who have wonderful character, and I know many Christians who have deplorable character.”

In response to a question about whether Trump’s comments about immigrants and others had been misinterpreted as “blanket statements,” Erickson said it is troubling that those in the alt-right who embrace a kind of white “tribalism” hear Donald Trump and think he is one of them. The campaign, he says, has made a mistake in “fostering those dog whistles for that group.”

Johnson asked Wichterman about a video created by Catholics for Trump meant to suggest that Trump’s much-criticized mocking of a disabled reporter might have been a more generic form of making fun of people. Even if you give Trump the benefit of the doubt in that specific instance, Wichterman said, Trump has a habit of “unapologetically” making fun of people for how they look, something Wichterman said is “corrosive to our national character” and “says something deeply wrong about the man’s character.”

In his closing remarks, Wichterman said people do not have to give into a binary choice. The founding fathers, he said, didn’t trust majorities, which is why they built in checks on power, including the electoral college. “I think we need to take seriously Trump’s words,” he said, “and we need to stop hoping that he’s just a huckster and a charlatan and just lying all the time.”

Brigitte Gabriel: Stop Refugee Resettlement Because 'More Than 20 Percent Of Muslims Are Radicals'

The anti-Muslim group ACT for America is holding its annual conference in Washington, D.C., this week, where a major priority of the activists is to convince Congress to halt funding to the refugee resettlement program. In a speech to the conference yesterday, ACT’s founder and president, Brigitte Gabriel, said that this is critical because “more than 20 percent of Muslims are radicals” so allowing any Muslims to immigrate to the country, including through refugee resettlement, is like allowing the immigration of people who have a 20 percent likelihood of carrying a disease that is “fatal on contact.”

“Most experts agree that more than 20 percent of Muslims are radicals,” she asserted. “It is practically impossible to identify this group from the 75 or 80 percent who are not radicals. Impossible!” (In fact, “most experts” do not agree with this number.)

“So I’m going to give you an example,” she said. “Let’s say 20 percent of Chinese people are infected with a disease that is fatal on contact. Fatal on contact! Would we just continue to allow Chinese to enter America rather than be called ‘Chinaphobic’ or would we take the sensible approach of holding Chinese entering the country until we can figure out some way to know who was the carrier of the disease that was fatal on contact, such as suicide bombers or terrorists when it comes to the refugee population?“

“And we would want to check also the Chinese people who are already in the country to make sure they are not carriers of the disease,” she added. “That would be the sensible thing to do to protect the country and protect Americans. That’s why Trump’s approach makes sense. He cares about protecting Americans more than being called names. Let’s start being sensible and stop this political correctness that’s going to kill us.”

She urged ACT members, who headed to Capitol Hill today to lobby their members of Congress, to speak up against funding the refugee resettlement programs and “let these supposed nonprofit organizations who are religious charities, let them fund it out of their own pocket if they are so driven to bring refugees into the country.”

How Phyllis Schlafly Paved The Way For Donald Trump

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who died yesterday at the age of 92, was an early and ardent supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one of the few Religious Right leaders who embraced the thrice-married, brash business mogul before they were left with no other option.

Schlafly’s love of Trump was hardly surprising: For decades, she has fought to build a Republican Party that rejects immigrants, stirs up fears of communists (and now Muslims), condemns “globalism,” eschews “political correctness,” and does it all with the veneer of protecting the “traditional family.” Trump was the candidate she had been waiting for.

Schlafly got her start as an anti-communist activist in the 1950s and 1960s, defending Sen. Joe McCarthy’s notorious communist hunt until the end and canceling her subscription to The National Review when it denounced the conspiratorial anti-communist John Birch Society. In 1964, she self-published a book called “A Choice Not An Echo,” urging the GOP to reject moderation and back Sen. Barry Goldwater’s presidential run; that year, Goldwater lost the presidential election in a landslide but made an indelible impact on the Republican Party.

But Schlafly really made a name for herself as the nation’s most famous anti-feminist, leading the successful fight to stop the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Throughout her career, Schlafly denounced “the feminists” and their goals, even as she became a successful career woman in her own right. (Schlafly’s niece later admitted that even as the activist exulted stay-at-home mothering as the natural role of women, she hired domestic help to help her manage balancing her career and childrearing.)

Through her group Eagle Forum, Schlafly remained active in a long list of conservative causes after the ERA was defeated.

Later in her career, Schlafly denounced equal pay legislation, saying that the “so-called pay gap” should actually be increased to help women find husbands who earn more than them. In 2007, she said that it was impossible for a husband to rape his wife because “by getting married, the woman has consented to sex.” A staunch opponent of abortion rights, Schlafly founded the Republican National Coalition for Life to ensure that the GOP remained an anti-choice party.

Hand-in-hand with Schlafly’s anti-feminism was her staunch opposition to LGBT rights. One of her primary arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment was that it would eventually lead to marriage equality and other rights for LGBT people. Her views on the issue didn’t waver even after her son John, who remains active in Eagle Forum, was outed as gay.

In recent years, Schlafly turned much of her attention to fighting immigration, and particularly to fighting efforts within the GOP to be more welcoming to immigrants. After the Republican National Committee responded to Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election by issuing an “autopsy” report that urged the party to stop alienating Latinos, partially by considering immigration reform, Schlafly lashed out, saying that there was no hope for the GOP to win Latinos. Latinos, she said, don’t “have any Republican inclinations at all” because “they’re running an illegitimacy rate that’s just about the same as the blacks are.” She added that Latinos “come from a country where they have no experience with limited government. And the types of rights we have in the Bill of Rights, they don’t understand that at all, you can’t even talk to them about what the Republican principle is.”

Schlafly attacked President Obama for bringing in “foreign ideas and diseases and people who don’t believe in self-government” and repeatedly declared that current levels of immigration are destroying America. In response to people skeptical of Trump’s plan to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, Schlafly scoffed. “In my mind’s eye,” she said, “I see those railroad cars full of illegals going south. That’s what they ought to do.” Schlafly made clear that her objection was not to immigration in general, but to the fact that many immigrants were coming from Latin America, saying last year that while it is “quite true that America was built by hard-working people from all over the world,” today’s immigrants are “not the same sort” as the mostly European immigrants who flocked to the country in the early 20th century.

She tried to square this anti-immigrant sentiment with her Christian beliefs by claiming that the Bible’s demands of “kindness and compassion” to strangers do not apply to the government’s treatment of immigrants.

It’s no wonder that Schlafly loved Trump, who offered to deliver the Religious Right’s policy priorities while putting his heart into fighting immigration and stirring up fears of the supposed radical Muslim infiltration of America. Schlafly stuck with Trump, whom she introduced at a St. Louis campaign rally, even as her support for his candidacy helped to tear apart both her organization and her family. In the month's before Schlafly's death, her daughter joined other Eagle Forum officials in a lawsuit that seeking the ouster of Schalfly’s handpicked, pro-Trump successor. Fittingly, Schlafly’s final book was released today. It’s called “The Conservative Case for Trump.”

Trump may seem like something new in the political system, but he’s exactly the kind of candidate Schlafly spent her life priming the GOP to accept.

Ralph Reed: Evangelicals Will Turn Out For Trump & Keep Clinton From Running Away With Election

Last weekend political operative Ralph Reed appeared on the "Journal Editorial Report" on Fox News to talk about evangelical voters (by which he seemd to mean white evangelicals) and Donald Trump.

Asked by The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot how Trump is doing among evangelicals relative to previous Republican nominees, Reed said Trump is “hitting at the industry standard” and possibly “heading, really, to the highest we have ever seen.” Reed said that George H.W. Bush had gotten 82 percent of the evangelical vote in 1988 and George W. Bush got 78 percent in 2004, which was matched by Mitt Romney.

Reed cited four recent polls that he said have reliable data on evangelical voters, saying that they show an average of 73 percent support for Trump and 18 percent for Hillary Clinton. He called evangelical voters “the largest single constituency in the electorate,” saying they constitute between 24 and 27 percent of the electorate, with Catholics who frequently attend mass adding another nine percent. “So this is bigger than the Hispanic vote, bigger than the African American vote, and bigger than the feminist and gay vote combined,” Reed said.

Reed said Trump is winning support by showing up at evangelical events, asking for their vote, and telling them that he shares their values and wants to see their “role in society enhanced.” Beyond that, said Reed, he is winning their support based on:

“…his fealty to their positions on the sanctity of life, on traditional marriage, on support for the state of Israel, on religious freedom, particularly that progeny of cases before the Supreme Court like Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor, and finally, his full-throated opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, which I think resonates powerfully in this community because they consider Iran to be an existential threat to the survival of the state of Israel.

Gigot asked why Clinton was doing so well in traditionally Republican states like Georgia. Reed noted that Georgia has a large number of African American voters, which makes it competitive. Reed said Trump’s trouble in battleground states reflects that he’s had a rough few weeks, but he said he believes Trump has “turned the corner” and he still believes if Trump gets and stays on message, it’s going to be getting “a lot better for him, not only in those red states, but nationally and in the battleground states.”

I’m not in the prediction business, but based on what we’re seeing anecdotally, these voters of faith are gonna turn out, and they’re gonna turn out in huge numbers, and I think he’s gonna to get north of 75 percent of the vote, and if that is baked into the cake, there is no way that she runs away with this election. I think it’ll be competitive.

In an email touting his Fox appearance, Reed wrote that his Faith and Freedom Coalition “is undertaking the most ambitious voter education effort in its history to educate, inform, mobilize and turn out voters of faith in 2016.”

FFC is training hundreds of volunteers in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and other key states who will staff its 31 field offices in 11 states andknock on over 1 million doors between now and November 8.  Be a part of history!   Sign up for our Volunteer Strike Force…

FFC will distribute 30 million voter guides in an estimated 117,000 churches nationwide, make over 15 million get-out-the-vote phone calls, and reach 2.4 million voters at their homes with personal visits.  If you can’t volunteer door-to-door or do not live or can’t travel to a battleground state, you can still be a part of FFC’s Strike Force by calling voters across the country from your own home…

 

NOM To Its Supporters: You're Pathetic

The latest fundraising email from the National Organization for Marriage is not a happy one; it starts with a graphic of the U.S. Capitol and the text, “This is pathetic.”

 The chastising letter from NOM President Brian Brown complains:

NOM began our critical Summer Membership Drive on July 22nd. We're now three weeks into our drive — the halfway point — and we have only received 256 contributions from our members. We're only 17% toward our goal of receiving 1,500 membership contributions of at least $35.

That is pathetic.

Brown goes on to complain that with only a 17 percent participation rate, NOM can’t convince courts to uphold anti-gay “religious liberty” laws, fight President Obama’s “dangerous gender ‘identity’ agenda,” or “lobby the next President and the US Senate to only appoint and confirm Supreme Court justices who will reverse the illegitimate and anti-constitutional ruling redefining marriage.”

Brown, who recently gloated about NOM’s role in defeating a Missouri Republican state legislator who had voted against a constitutional amendment protecting anti-LGBT discrimination, fumed that unless his supporters start forking over cash, “It means that gutless, turncoat legislators who have betrayed marriage with their votes may get away with their treachery.”

Brown just doesn’t understand—he can’t imagine!why people would be unenthusiastic about continuing to support NOM's anti-gay activism:

I really don't believe — I just can't imagine the thought — that NOM's members have quit fighting for the institution of marriage as a union between man and woman. And yet, only 256 of you have responded with an urgently needed membership contribution during this critical period.

I'm going to be blunt: we need 1,500 people to step up with a membership contribution of at least $35 in order to raise the $52,500 we're short so far this year. Without that type of response, we'll have no choice but to lay people off, cut programs and stop pursuing some of our most important work.

Regardless of what kind of response NOM’s shaming email brings in, Brown will have plenty of anti-equality work to keep him busy, as he recently became president of the World Congress of Families, a network of organizations dedicated to resisting LGBT equality and preserving anti-gay discrimination around the world. 

Desperate Donald Trump Seeks Stronger Support From Christian Nationalists

As his poll numbers plummet, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is doing everything he can to boost enthusiasm for his candidacy among Religious Right leaders and the conservative white evangelical voters who make up an important part of the GOP’s political base.

Trump promised the hundreds of conservative evangelical leaders he met with in June that he would make the Christian Right more politically powerful by doing away with legal restrictions on overt politicking by churches. This week Trump will reportedly be pushing that plan as he heads down the well-trod path to the far corners of Christian nationalism

Trump’s outreach has already gone well beyond Bible-waving and not-very-convincing scripture-quoting. He let Religious Right leaders write an anti-LGBT party platform and he's promised them the Supreme Court of their dreams. He picked as his running mate Mike Pence, an anti-abortion extremist who was the Religious Right’s favored 2012 presidential candidate before he decided to run for governor instead. Trump has even suggested that somehow he’d make people say “Merry Christmas.”

Now, according to news reports, Trump will be joining former foe Marco Rubio and a bevy of anti-gay speakers at a Rediscovering God in America event in Florida this week sponsored by David Lane’s American Renewal Project. Lane has been organizing these political matchmaking sessions for two decades, bringing Republican politicians together with evangelical pastors who Lane hopes will transform their churches into conservative voter turnout machines. Jerry Falwell Jr., Trump’s biggest evangelical booster, reportedly “played a key role in initiating” the appearance in Orlando. 

What is the vision of America that David Lane is pursuing, with Donald Trump and Marco Rubio’s help?

Lane believes that the United States has a covenant with God to advance the Christian faith.  He denounces pluralism, secular government and court rulings upholding the separation of church and state. He wants the Bible to be used as the primary textbook in public schools. He is wildly anti-gay and has demanded the impeachment of judges who rule in favor of marriage equality.

Lane could be drawn to Trump’s for-him-or-against him approach to politics, which fits nicely with Lane’s no-compromise worldview. He wrote last year that “there can be no reconciliation of opposites, particularly the spiritual and the secular. Therefore we need to establish if America is a pagan or Christian nation and get on with it – the sooner the better.”

Trump’s complaint that politicians are “selling Christianity down the tubes” speaks to Lane’s belief that Christians are facing persecution in the United States. On a 2014 trip to Europe he organized for a group of pastors from swing states and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, Lane drew a comparison between 1930s Nazi Germany and modern-day America.

Lane says America’s descent into secularism and other evils is not only the fault of judges and politicians, but also pastors who don’t preach aggressively enough. He has complained, for example, that there was “not a peep from the Christian church” in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, when he says the church “should have initiated riots, revolution, and repentance.”

As a political operative devoted to getting conservative pastors more engaged in politics, Lane must be thrilled by Trump’s pledge to help churches become more powerful by allowing them to use their tax-exempt contributions as political weapons. Perhaps Lane sees Donald Trump as the answer to this question he once posed: “Who will wage war for the Soul of America and trust the living God to deliver the pagan gods into our hands and restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establish a Christian culture?”

Polls suggest that Trump is already doing well among white evangelical voters. But Lane told Bloomberg News that Trump cannot count on endorsements from Christian leaders, and that he needs the kind of direct outreach to pastors that he will be doing in Orlando to “produce a ground game.” Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody, continuing his pattern of acting as Lane’s virtual press agent, gushed that Trump’s plan to show up for Orlando’s Pastors and Pews event shows that he is “well on his way to striking evangelical gold.”

Edit Memo: Weaponizing Religious Liberty: The 2016 State and Federal Record

To: Interested Parties
From: Elliot Mincberg, Senior Fellow, People For the American Way
Date: August 4, 2016
Re: Weaponizing Religious Liberty: The 2016 State and Federal Record

Over the last several years, the increasing recognition of LGBT marriage rights, culminating in the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell ruling a year ago, has accelerated a concerted effort by religious right advocates to “weaponize” religious liberty – to transform it from a shield that protects individuals’ right to free exercise of religion into a sword to attack LGBT and other rights. The vast majority of such efforts failed in 2015, but Obergefell spurred far-right efforts in the states and spread them to Congress as well. With most state legislatures and Congress now in recess for the summer and effectively until after the November election, this is a good time to ask: what actually happened in  federal and state legislatures in 2016, and what does the future hold?

2016 saw a definite shift in tactics on “religious liberty” efforts, as the Religious Right and its allies pushed more targeted and far-reaching efforts to undermine LGBT rights. And far-right advocates scored some successes, with bills signed into law in three states and a Congressional hearing held before the powerful House Oversight Committee. But opposition by state legislators and governors, including Republicans, has prevented most state proposals from being enacted. And the most high-profile “religious liberty” bill that was passed – Mississippi’s – has been struck down by a federal court on constitutional grounds. Although action is unlikely this year on the federal bill that  received a House hearing in July, the future of that bill, as well as this issue throughout the country, will depend in large measure on the results of this fall’s elections and decisions yet to come on the Mississippi case in the higher courts.

A. The Record in the States in 2016

Although more than 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in the states in 2015, that number grew to close to 200 in the first several months of 2016, according to a recent analysis by The Fenway Institute. Many were promoted under the banner of religious liberty, with Religious Right advocates claiming that the combination of legal marriage equality and legal prohibitions against anti-gay discrimination are a dire threat to the freedom of those who hold “traditional” views on sexuality and marriage.

Last year, the focus of these efforts was to pass new state-level versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), with limited success. State RFRAs generally mimic the federal law, which sets up a balancing test: if a law puts a substantial burden on an individual’s exercise of religion, the individual can be exempted from the law unless the state proves that it is pursuing a compelling government interest in the least restrictive way. In the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative majority expanded RFRA’s coverage to for-profit companies and significantly lowered the bar for what counts as a substantial burden on the exercise of religion. That helps explain why social conservatives saw new state RFRAs as a way to give business owners and others a legal means for resisting nondiscrimination laws that would require them to, for example, provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

Mobilization against Indiana’s new RFRA last spring, led by members of the business community, pushed the legislature and governor to approve an amendment stating that the law could not be invoked to defend anti-gay discrimination, a move that religious conservatives denounced as a betrayal. The backlash-to-the-backlash in Indiana stalled momentum for other state RFRAs, and was seen as a significant setback to the use of RFRAs by Religious Right and other advocates.

Since then, the strategy has shifted in at least two ways. One is a more direct legislative approach to “protecting” anti-LGBT discrimination that is grounded in religious belief. Rather than relying on state RFRAs and their balancing of government interests, religious claims, and potential third-party harms, conservatives have been promoting variations on what they call the Government Nondiscrimination Act (GNDA), which creates specific legal exemptions for some forms of anti-LGBT and possibly other discrimination that are grounded in religious or moral beliefs about marriage, sexuality, and gender. GNDA supporters try to claim the moral high ground by portraying its purpose as protecting religious conservatives from government “discrimination” – in other words, from enforcement of laws against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Family Research Council has promoted model GNDA legislation that can be tailored to individual states, while also calling for passage of a federal version, called the First Amendment Defense Act.
The shift in strategy in the states is demonstrated by the bills actually introduced in state legislatures this year. RFRA bills were introduced or carried over in only 11 states in 2016, and none passed. Bills granting blanket “protection” for religious objectors were introduced in 19 states, and 4 passed – in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia.  Interestingly, the bills were vetoed by governors in two states – a Democratic governor in Virginia and a Republican governor in Georgia.

Mississippi’s HB 1523, signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant in April, is a good example of this approach. The law spells out a specific set of religious beliefs to which it applies, stating that government can take no action whatsoever against any individual or business who acts based on the belief that:

  • (a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
  • (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
  • (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

For example, the law would authorize foster parents to require an adopted gay teen to undergo discredited and psychologically damaging “conversion” therapy with no interference by a child welfare agency, allow a court clerk to refuse to issue a marriage license to an LGBT couple, and permit a hospital to decline to provide even emergency shelter or care to an LGBT couple or an unwed mother. The law was largely drafted by another Religious Right group, Alliance Defending Freedom, which also helped write the governor’s signing speech.
Literally on the eve of the law taking effect, a federal judge ruled that HB 1523 was unconstitutional and prevented its implementation. In an extensive 60-page opinion, Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law not only violated equal protection of the law with respect to LGBT people but also held that the law violated the religious freedom guarantee of the First Amendment by giving preferential treatment to specified religious beliefs. Government non-interference is guaranteed by the law, he explained, only with respect to religious beliefs against LGBT marriage, not for those who believe such marriage is permissible and act accordingly. As Reeves concluded, the state improperly decided to “put its thumb on the scales to favor some religious beliefs over others.” Although sure to be appealed, the decision has been recognized as a “landmark ruling” that displays “analytical incisiveness.”

Lawsuits are also pending against the law passed in Tennessee, which limits its “protection” to the religious beliefs of counselors and therapists, and against the sweeping anti-LGBT law in North Carolina, which was based not on religious liberty claims but on animus against transgender individuals. In both these states as well as Mississippi, many business leaders and others have come out strongly against the laws.

B. Congressional Action in 2016

Around the same time that activity in the states began last year on GNDA-type legislation, an equivalent bill was introduced in Congress: the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, later renamed the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Like its state counterparts, FADA would prohibit any negative federal action against any corporation or individual who takes action based on the very conservative beliefs on sex and marriage outlined above in the Mississippi bill. The bill now has 38 cosponsors in the Senate and 172 in the House, all but one of whom are Republicans.

Opponents have explained that the effect of the bill at the federal level would be sweeping. Government employees could refuse to issue checks for survivors or Social Security benefits with respect to LGBT couples. Hospitals could continue to receive federal funds even if they refuse to allow visitation involving LGBT married couples. The current executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination with respect to federal contractors would effectively be repealed for any contractor that objects on religious grounds. And as originally introduced, it was subject to the same constitutional defects that Judge Reeves found with respect to the Mississippi law.

No action occurred in Congress last year on FADA. But this year, literally one month to the day after the tragic Orlando massacre, the House Oversight Committee held a public hearing on FADA. Current and former members of Congress (including openly gay former Representative Barney Frank), law professors, advocates, and others clashed inside and outside the hearing room, echoing the arguments in the states.

Perhaps the most important developments in 2016 concerning FADA, however, occurred just before and after the hearing. The week before the hearing, apparently in an effort to respond to Judge Reeves’ holding that  the similar Mississippi law favored only one religious point of view, FADA was changed so that its “protection” applies both to religious views that marriage should only be between two individuals of the opposite sex and to religious beliefs that marriage should also be open to two individuals of the same sex. The day after the House hearing,   the influential Family Research Council withdrew its support from the bill  because of the amendment to FADA.

Particularly in light of this development, legislative votes on FADA in Congress are unlikely this year. The Republican Party, however, specifically endorsed the original version of FADA in its platform, and Donald Trump has made clear that he would sign it if he were president. The November elections will be very important for future developments at the federal level.

C. The Future

Both at the state and the federal level, what happens in the future on “weaponizing” religious liberty will depend in large measure on the November elections and the outcome of court challenges to the laws in Mississippi and elsewhere. But no matter what happens in these forums, it is clear that the Religious Right has not and will not give up its fight on this issue.

Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson had a book ready to push out after the marriage equality ruling. In it he laid out a short-term and long-term game plan for the movement, which many leaders appear to be following. The first task, he wrote, is for conservatives to denounce the marriage equality ruling as illegitimate. Mission accomplished on that score. Next, win legal exemptions that will allow individuals, institutions, and businesses to act according to their beliefs. That is now under way, but it is also not the end of the road. Anderson envisions a campaign that could extend for decades to “restore” the cultural and legal understanding that marriage must be limited to a man and a woman. He sees the anti-abortion movement’s long-term campaign against Roe v. Wade -- using state and federal restrictions and court rulings to keep chipping away at women’s access to abortion -- to be the model for a generational struggle on marriage.

But some conservatives hope they won’t have to wait that long. They hope that the next president will, as Donald Trump has said he would, appoint conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn marriage equality and uphold laws like FADA.

 

 

Gay American Pastor Expelled From Russia: 'Get Religion' Says What’s The Story?

The website GetReligion.org has been around in various permutations for more than a decade, providing a home for conservative-leaning criticism of mainstream media coverage of religion and, more specifically, news coverage that misses or ignores the importance of religion to a story. “The press…just doesn’t get religion,” is the site’s tagline, a quote from journalist and political analyst William Schneider. But a recent post by contributor Jim Davis seems to fall solidly in the “not getting it” category.

In a post about a gay American pastor who was detained by police and expelled from Russia, Davis writes that the Associated Press “blows a minor incident into a major issue.” Davis may be trying a little too hard to strike a snarky tone. Here’s how his story starts:

Don’t read this yet. Get yourself a chair. Put down that cup of whatever you're drinking.

The Associated Press reports that  Dun-dun-DUNN! — Russia doesn't like gays. And especially pro-gay-rights churches.

I know, right? That might have knocked your socks off.

AP learned this terrible truth as a missionary of the Metropolitan Community Church was arrested, then ordered out of Russia. Try to get through this without fainting...

The Associated Press story strikes me as a pretty straightforward recounting of what happened to Jim Mulcahy, an American pastor with the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Churches. According to the story, Mulcahy was sitting around a table with friends when four uniformed police showed up at the door, took the teacup out of his hand, and took him to the police station, “threatening to handcuff him if he refused to cooperate.” He was ordered out of the country on vague charges of engaging in unspecified religious activity (according to the story, police had said they heard he was planning to conduct a wedding for a gay couple).

Davis responds: “What? They took his teacup? The threatened to cuff him? The monsters!”

If I were unexpectedly arrested in a foreign country, denied access to important medication, and ordered out of the country, I don’t think the experience would feel like a big joke. I don’t know Davis but I expect the same would hold true for him. But Davis goes on with a tone that suggests Mulcahy should have known that the Russians don’t like gays, and so he shouldn’t be surprised at what happened to him. And he says AP is making a mountain out of a molehill.

OK, maybe I've been a bit cavalier with this. I wouldn't be amused if, say, a Jew or Baptist were arrested just for trying to practice their faith. I fully get the right for freedom of expression for everyone, including those with whom I disagree.

Still, on a scale of religious persecution, the Mulcahy-Samara story rates somewhere below a 2. Cloddish cops, stringent laws, a flinty judge, those are all there. But shootings, hate speech, mass expulsions – or throat cuttings, as happened to an elderly priest in France yesterday – this story doesn't come close. I suspect that if it weren't about gays, it might not have gotten AP's attention at all.

This comparison doesn’t make sense. It’s not as if the extensively-covered killings he mentions were ignored by the AP so they could run with Mulcahy’s story. In fact, what got the AP’s attention was that “the arrest was filmed by state-controlled channel NTV, whose reports often take an especially truculent, pro-Kremlin stance.” That suggests the arrest was staged to provide an anti-gay and anti-American propaganda boost for the Russian government. That makes it newsworthy, especially since strongman Vladimir Putin is participating in a mutual admiration society with Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

The AP story doesn’t ignore the religion angle, reporting on Russia’s growing intolerance of free expression by LGBT people, and on new restrictions on public expression of religion by any churches other than the Russian Orthodox Church, which is closely aligned with Putin's government.

As we have noted before, many American religious conservatives have been willing to overlook Putin’s crackdown on dissent, free speech and religious freedom because they admire his anti-gay policies and his defense of “Christian civilization” against the secular democracies of Western Europe.  

To paraphrase Davis, if this story were about the arrest and expulsion of an American pastor who wasn’t a gay man, I suspect Davis and Get Religion wouldn’t have been so dismissive of it.

Jim Bakker: If Trump Loses, Supreme Court Will Shut Me Down

Charisma magazine is highlighting an exchange between televangelist and noted survivalist huckster Jim Bakker and Ramiro Peña, senior pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, that took place on Bakker’s show last week.

While asking Peña a question about the future of the Supreme Court, Bakker said that he believes his TV ministry will be shut down unless Donald Trump wins the presidential election:

If Donald Trump isn’t elected, do you envision America to look good, bad or ugly? What will it look like, say, four years from now if we do not change the court? I know what the last eight years — we have seen the greatest deterioration. I’m afraid if we have another four years we will not even be able to function. I believe that they’ll shut me down. I believe they’re gonna shut anybody outside the church, all religious activity down. What will America look like if we don’t get on the right track?

Peña responded:

Let me speak to the church for just a moment. Just hear me, church. If we don’t elect Donald Trump president, we’re going to end up electing someone who we absolutely know will put justices on the Supreme Court that will be pro-abortion, that will be pro-gay-marriage, that will rob us of religious liberty, will continue to take away and wear away at our right to bear arms. That is the kind of jurist who will be on the Supreme Court and on the federal bench…

Peña noted that Trump has released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees that was vetted by the Federalist Society, and said that if he is elected Trump would have the opportunity to name at least three, and maybe as many as five, justices to the high court:

He has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. So on that point, if for no other reason, even if you don’t like some of the things that he has said or done, for that point alone, for the sake of the Supreme Court, and the future of our nation that Pastor Jim is talking about, that’s why I am so convinced that he must be elected the next president of the United States.

 

Ralph Reed Makes The Case For Donald Trump

One theme of this year’s Republican National Convention is the Religious Right getting fully on board the Trump Train. Even before he vanquished Ted Cruz, his final primary opponent, Trump has been aggressively courting the Religious Right, and he has recently sought to shore up support from the movement leaders who backed Cruz and other candidates.

Yes, Trump is a habitual liar whose Bible-waving and political use of religious is transparently cynical, but that isn’t stopping Religious Right leaders from rallying around him. And why not? He allowed the Religious Right to write anti-gay discrimination into the GOP's platform. His promise to fill the Supreme Court with right-wing justices gives them hope that marriage equality in the U.S. will be short-lived. And he is even promising to overturn the federal law that forbids churches, like other tax-exempt nonprofits, from engaging in direct electoral politics, and to sign legislation defunding Planned Parenthood.

In Cleveland this week for the RNC, Religious Right political operative Ralph Reed spoke with Doug Wright, “Utah’s most listened to talk show host.” Polls show that many of Utah’s Mormon voters are resisting the call to unite behind Trump.

When asked why so many evangelicals are supporting Trump in spite of his “interesting” background, his use of “vulgarities,” and other things that might concern a conservative Christian, Reed said, “You’re not electing a pastor-in-chief, you’re electing a commander-in-chief.”

Reed reminded Wright that evangelicals backed Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election even though they had a different approach to faith, and even though Romney had previously held pro-choice and pro-gay views, something for which some conservatives have criticized Trump. “I thought we were members of a faith where we were supposed to welcome converts,” said Reed.

In fact, said Reed, he thinks Trump “has the potential to be the greatest advocate for our values, and do the most to advance that agenda, precisely because he doesn’t necessarily come from where we come from.” In other words, because people don’t view Trump as a Religious Right activist, they might be more receptive to his call for ending the ban on church politicking.

Here’s Reed’s basic case for Trump, starting with the fact that “he is a professing Christian.”

More importantly…he shares our values. He’s pro-life. He’s pro-traditional marriage, which is very important to us…He’s pro-religious freedom. He supported the Hobby Lobby Decision, supports Little Sisters of the Poor, has placed in the platform, at his insistence, at this convention, for the first time in the history of the Republican Party, a call for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment to the internal revenue code, which threatens churches that speak out politically with the loss of their tax-exempt status. That has been used to harass and persecute the Christian community for over half a century. Donald Trump will end it.

RNC Preview: Dominionists To Hold Pre-Convention Christian Nation Prayer Rally

For the past couple of months, Christian-nation advocate David Lane and dominionst Doug Stringer have been organizing a day-long prayer rally that will take place in Cleveland this Saturday. Timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, the event will be the latest in the series of “The Response” rallies organized around Republican politicians. They are modeled after a series of “The Call” events organized by dominionist “apostle” Lou Engle.

The first Response, which was promoted by some of the most extreme and divisive Religious Right figures, served as the unofficial launch of Rick Perry’s doomed presidential bid in 2011. The Perry event reflected Lane’s perennial goal of uniting conservative evangelicals behind a single candidate. Other Response rallies have been hosted by Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Pat McCrory of North Carolina.

Stringer has been on the ground in Cleveland meeting with local clergy to promote Saturday’s event as a nonpolitical opportunity for Christians to come together across racial and denominational lines to pray for America. That was also the message delivered on a pre-Response conference call last week, on which Stringer and other organizers described the event as a time of unity and prayer so that the Christian church can be a source of healing and hope at this “providential time” in our nation.

That’s the bait part of the bait-and-switch nature of these events. The switch comes at the rallies themselves, which, along with prayer and praise music, promote the Religious Right’s political agendas on abortion, LGBT rights and separation of church and state.

As we noted when the Cleveland Response was announced:

Lane and Stringer took the Response to Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 2015. At this “nonpolitical” event, Religious Right rock star David Benham talked about gay rights groups who he said were out to “force” their agenda on the country, portraying a “spiritual battle that is now waging before us in this nation, the home of the brave and the land of the free.” Lane opened the “nonpolitical” North Carolina Response rally with a prayer that talked about the lack of prayer and Bible reading in the public schools, abortion, and “homosexuals praying at the inauguration.” Another speaker prayed for God to “help us be like Kim Davis, obeying the Constitution and defying federal criminals.”

Event sponsor David Lane is an intensely political operative who believes America’s mission is to advance the Christian faith. He has been trying to organize “an army” of conservative pastors to run for office in hopes that each of them will mobilize hundreds of volunteers to help turn out the evangelical vote.

While Lane’s dream of getting Religious Right leaders to coalesce around a single candidate was, to a significant extent, achieved this year with nearly unanimous backing for Ted Cruz, many evangelical voters did not follow the script. Lane is now putting his faith in Trump, who he believes “can be one of the top 4 presidents in American history.”

Another hint of the “nonpolitical” nature of the Cleveland event comes from its promotional materials, which included a video from E.W. Jackson, a failed Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia; Jackson has called the Black Lives Matter movement “demonic,” said promotion of LGBT equality is “spitting in the face of Almighty God,” and accused President Obama of being more interested in “defending Islam” than “defending America.”

Also gathering in Cleveland before the RNC is the Council for National Policy, a secretive network that brings together activist leaders from right-wing to far, far right. Politico reported this week that Ted Cruz is meeting with the group on Friday, which may act as a quiet launch for a 2020 White House run.

 

House GOP Follows Orlando Tragedy with a License to Discriminate

On July 12, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, an odious anti-LGBT bill that would redefine and hijack the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.
PFAW

Why Newt Gingrich is Christian Nationalists’ Dream Veep

Christian-nation extremist and political operative David Lane declared in TIME this week that Newt Gingrich would be Donald Trump’s “Dream Veep,” calling Gingrich “Churchillian” and “still the most feared Republican in America.”

It might seem strange that Christian Right figures would rally around Gingrich, the thrice-married former speaker of the House who abandoned that office nearly two decades ago after an ethics scandal and clear signs that his colleagues were about to drive him from the office. But here’s why: Gingrich has spent the past decade promoting the Christian Right’s revisionist history, beliefs about a divinely inspired American exceptionalism, anti-Obama conspiracy theories and diatribes about the supposed war on Christianity in the U.S.

For example, Gingrich and his current wife Callista, a former Hill staffer with whom he conducted an affair while married to his second wife, published an op-ed in The Washington Times in May ranting that the “secular left” is engaging in a “crusade against the role of faith in our society.”

Newt and Callista have, following in the footsteps of GOP operative David Barton, made a cottage industry out of pushing similar claims. It is certainly no coincidence that an updated third edition of the couple’s 2006 book, “Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future,” has just been published.

The preface to the new edition warns that “the secular Left’s effort to drive God out of America’s public square” has “only gotten worse” since the book’s original publication. And in another sign of Gingrich embracing the extreme views of Christian right leaders and their political allies, the book echoes right-wing leaders’ rhetorical attacks on the federal courts, which Mike Huckabee made a central theme of his candidacy:

For two generations we have passively accepted the judiciary’s assault on the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans. It is time to insist on judges who understand that throughout our history – and continuing to this day – Americans believe that their fundamental rights come from God and are therefore unalienable….

…Judicial supremacy...only survives due to the passivity of the executive and legislative branches, which have refused to use their respective powers to correct the Court…

If we are to truly secure our religious liberty in America, the people and their elected representatives will need to reject the theory of judicial supremacy and passivity as a response to Supreme Court rulings that ignore executive and legislative concerns and which seek to institute policy changes that constitutionally rest with Congress.

And just to make it clear, Gingrich believes a president who isn’t afraid to act can lead Congress in nullifying decisions, such as the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, that he disagrees with:

A president who believes that judicial supremacy is a threat to our freedoms will use any appropriate executive branch powers, by itself and acting in coordination with the legislative branch, to check and balance any Supreme Court decision he or she believes to be fundamentally unconstitutional.

For the past decade, “Rediscovering God in America” has become a major brand for Gingrich, Inc. It’s incorporated into the title of a second Newt-Callista book about the role of God from America’s colonial era through the civil war, and it’s in the title of not one but two Citizens United-produced “documentaries” based on the Gingrich books, a God TV special, and conferences featuring the likes of David Barton and dominionist “apostle” Lou Engle. In 2009, Right Wing Watch reported on one of the conferences and produced a highlight reel, which includes Engle praying that God will protect Gingrich from “the evil schemes of the enemy.”

But Gingrich has been doing more to win Religious Right loyalty than writing books and giving speeches. In 2008, he started an organization called Renewing American Leadership, which launched a project called Pray and ACT. Among the dominionist figures involved in the effort were Lou Engle and Lance Wallnau, who has been saying for months that Donald Trump is anointed by God.

Renewing American Leadership won fans among anti-gay activists when it poured $150,000 into the successful 2010 campaign to unseat Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in the state. Christian nationalist “historian” and GOP operative David Barton was a founding board member of Renewing American Leadership; anti-gay activist Jim Garlow was brought on as president after he made a national name for himself organizing California churches in favor of California’s Prop 8. Gingrich, Garlow and Barton hosted a conference call for pastors gloating about their 2010 victories. In it, Gingrich said that “taking on the judicial class” and telling judges that “we are not going to tolerate enforced secularization of our country” is “one of the most important things we can engage in.”

Gingrich has stuck with his attacks on secularism. In 2011, he spoke at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church and declared that he was "convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

Gingrich’s personal re-branding as a conservative Christian culture warrior explains why some of the same Religious Right figures who are backing Trump are pushing Newt for VP.

When Gingrich was campaigning for the 2012 presidential nomination, Jerry Falwell Jr. was among those who rallied to the former speaker’s side when other religious conservatives questioned his appeal to evangelical voters. (Gingrich had given the 2007 commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University.) Lane was also among those who vouched for Gingrich during that race, as did Wallnau, who “urged adherents to read an eighteen-page treatise Garlow had written outlining the reasons conservative Christians should support Gingrich,” The Nation reported. “Among them: his ‘Churchillian fortitude,’ his ‘understanding of war’ and his talent for taking ‘a verbal chain saw to the hollow trunks of the trees of radical secularism.’”

During that 2012 presidential run, Gingrich appointed dominionist Dutch Sheets a national co-chair of his Faith Leaders Coalition. In a major 2012 story on Gingrich’s appeal to the Religious Right, The Nation’s Mariah Blake reported on Gingrich’s appearances at David Lane’s events for conservative pastors, where his remarks were “an ideological hand grenade” in the context of Barton’s Christian-nation history:

Gingrich adds that he has studied the founding documents, including the Declaration, and believes they call for “a very bold restructuring of Washington, DC, on a scale that nobody in Washington in either party is prepared to talk about.”

Lane is now making a full-court press. Back in May, he declared that Trump “can be one of the top four presidents in American history” and urged him to pick Gingrich in order to “mobilize evangelical and Catholic pro-life conservatives who stayed home in the last election cycle.” And on July 4, a day before his Gingrich endorsement in TIME, Lane was quoted in a Washington Times story raving about Gingrich:

“Newt may be the only living former legislator who can walk in on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, with the working knowledge to orchestrate and drive an agenda for limited government, deregulation of business, lower taxes and return of control to the states,” Mr. Lane said.

“Besides helping pull the wagon to get Trump elected, Newt may be the only adult in the room when it comes to governing with the institutional knowledge and grit to make the hard decisions to save America,” the Los Angeles-based Mr. Lane added.

It’s not clear what Trump sees in Gingrich, beyond his arrogance, narcissism and appeal to an important part of the Republican Party’s base that Trump is actively courting. But it might just as well be Gingrich’s reputation for cutthroat politics. During his heyday in the 1990s, Gingrich did much to encourage ugliness and bitter partisanship in American politics. A now infamous memo from his political organization GOPAC, “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” urged conservatives to smear their opponents with words such as “betray,” “corrupt,” “decay,” “disgrace,” “pathetic,” “radical,” “sick,” “traitors” and many more.

Sound familiar?

Hispanic Evangelical Group Throwing Immigrants Under The Trump Train?

One legacy of the 2016 presidential campaign may well be a divide between religious and political conservatives who took a principled stance against the racist campaign of the apparently amoral Donald Trump, and those who jumped on board the Trump train in spite of his long record of lies, abusive and divisive rhetoric, and his shameless, transparently cynical use of religion to promote his candidacy.

Those divides may be clarifying in the wake of Trump’s meeting with hundreds of religious conservative leaders on Tuesday in what organizers had laughably described as a nonpolitical conversation.  At least it seems to becoming clearer where Samuel Rodriguez and his National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) are going to stand. And it’s not with the immigrants who Trump bashes as a core of his campaign strategy.

As we’ve noted before, Rodriguez loves positioning himself as someone who is above partisan politics even while acting as a Religious Right culture warrior whose main political goal is to get more Hispanics to vote for conservative candidates. Rodriguez has spent years telling conservative white evangelicals that they’re wrong to want to deport millions of Hispanic Christian immigrants, telling them that Jesus-loving Hispanic immigrants can help save Christian culture in America. Conservatives are hurting themselves, he has argued, by pushing Hispanics away with harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Along those lines, Rodriguez has publicly criticized Trump’s bigoted language about Mexicans, Latino immigrants, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump has accused of being biased because of his Mexican-American heritage. Last November, NHCLC’s Executive Vice President Tony Suarez said, “The only thing more embarrassing than his campaign is watching preachers support Trump and even manipulate scripture to invent false prophecies regarding Trump.” 

In April, Suarez met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House leaders to discuss “the political and spiritual direction of the Republican Party.” According to an NHCLC press conference at the time, Suarez “addressed the importance of the Hispanic electorate in the upcoming election and the spiritual implications surrounding the immigration issue.”

"The members of Congress, specifically those that profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, must prayerfully consider the spiritual implications of mass deportation, as well as the current strategies espoused by both Republican candidates," said Suarez. "If a mass deportation of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country were to take place, it would virtually close most Hispanic churches in our country." 

After Trump’s perfunctory video message to an NHCLC conference in May included no mea culpa for his anti-immigrant demagoguery, Rodriguez said, “I have no plans on endorsing Donald Trump whatsoever.”

Since then there have been no signs that Donald Trump is willing to reconsider, prayerfully or otherwise, his plans for a “deportation force” or his insistence that he will build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it – a centerpiece of his campaign. And he has not apologized for his despicable smear of Judge Curiel, and by extension all Americans of Mexican heritage.

But politics is politics, and now Suarez, despite his past criticism of Trump, is on Trump’s new “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” while officially remaining uncommitted to him. And even Rodriguez is telling the Christian Broadcasting Network that yesterday’s meeting could be “a tipping point” for evangelicals and Trump, praising the candidate’s “very well-defined, articulated commitment to religious liberty and life, the Supreme Court especially….”

If you were paying attention, you could see this coming. Rodriguez has given Trump political cover before, saying that Trump is not a racist and blaming liberal media for promoting the idea that he is. And last month Rodriguez declared that it is every Christian’s duty to vote and that getting conservative justices on the Supreme Court is more important than immigration reform.

Another NHCLC leader, Mario Bramnick, was among evangelicals who met privately with Trump last month; Bramnick emerged gushing about Trump’s “genuineness” and “tremendous understanding and concern for the undocumented immigrants.” Two months earlier, Bramnick spoke at Liberty Counsel’s Awakening conference, where he declared in prayer that “the man you have selected to be our next president, shall be elected president of the United States and shall usher in the Third Great Awakening.”

Reports from and about the most recent meeting seem to show Trump in typical form, calling himself a “tremendous believer,” questioning the faith of Hillary Clinton, and telling people not to pray for political leaders who “are selling Christianity down the tubes.”  Trump pandered to the conservative Christian activists by saying “You really don’t have religious freedom” and pledging to “get rid of” IRS restrictions on electoral politicking by churches. He said he’d make Macy’s put “Merry Christmas” signs in its store windows. And he promised them Supreme Court justices hand-picked by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society.

In putting together this event and building an advisory board without requiring its members to endorse him, Trump’s campaign seemed to be trying to recreate a critical moment in the marriage between the Religious Right and the Republican Party – a day in 1980 in which Ronald Reagan said to thousands of evangelical leaders, “I know you can’t endorse me … but I want you to know that I endorse you and what you’re doing.” In a press release about Trump’s new advisory committee, the campaign said:

The leaders on the executive board were not asked to endorse Mr. Trump as a prerequisite for participating on the board.

Rather, the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed. Mr. Trump has received widespread support from Evangelical leaders, communities and voters, winning the majority of the Evangelical vote throughout the primaries.

The meeting appears to have had its intended effect, and not only with Rodriguez. The conservative Townhall reported that Pastor Michael Anthony felt that God was speaking through Trump to encourage pastors to get more involved in politics to defend religious freedom. “I think that no matter what political party you’re a part of, if you were in this room today, you would have to admit there was a unity and a gentleness in this meeting that were remarkable,” said Anthony. “If we can do this in a room of 1,000, I think there’s hope for the nation.”

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