Tempt Faith and You’re Bound to Get Burned

1976 was the “Year of the Evangelical,” with the election of President Jimmy Carter and the emergence of this “new” (at least to the American public) Christian movement onto the political scene. 1980 heralded the year of the New Right, which essentially gutted Jimmy Carter of his presidency, elected Ronald Reagan, and solidified the entrance of conservative evangelicals into American public life. (There are some liberal and moderate evangelicals by the way, Carter being only one of them.) They played a big part in the new Congress of 1994, and they have risen to a place of power, perhaps hubris, that led them to claim that they essentially single-handedly re-elected George W. Bush to the presidency in 2004. The past 25 years have in many ways belonged to that group, but there are signs of a change coming – 2006 could very well be remembered as the year that group lost its dominance in American politics.

Moderate Democrats are rising to the top in Congressional races across the nation over their radically conservative peers. As if that alone weren’t a sign of this change, a book that is hitting the shelves today could very well help to seal the coffin for the Religious Right. David Kuo, the former “#2” staffer in the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, has published Tempting Faith, a scathing indictment of the religious compromise and political manipulations that have characterized this movement and, according to him, the Bush White House. Kuo’s basic claim is that the White House has knowingly used conservative evangelicals as political pawns.

The American Progress Action Fund published its “Talking Points” on the subject on Friday, and I would point you to it for the details. But those details include:

  • Accusations that the President, Karl Rove, White House political director Ken Mehlman and others used the language of conservative evangelicals to win their support while providing them remarkably little actual support in return and referring to them as “the nuts,” “ridiculous,” and “just plain goofy.”
  • According to Keith Olberman’s report on MSNBC (watch it below), Rove told Kuo: “Just get me a f—ing faith-based thing.”
  • The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was manipulated by Mehlman toward explicitly partisan political ends, helping to elect Republican Congressmen in contested races around the country.

Aside from that, news coverage around the book (from Boston Globe, registration required) is bringing up some of the loony actions of the major players from the Religious Right on reproductive health issues, including a story of James Dobson from Focus on the Family essentially chasing the USAID global health director (a Bush appointee) out of office for saying that she believed condoms were effective and an important part of public health strategies.

So what’s up with Kuo? He must be a disillusioned defector to the Democratic party campaign machine, right? Actually, not at all. He proudly claims to be a conservative evangelical, and he has all of the experience, language, and Republican Party bona fides to prove it. He is not upset that the Bush Administration has given to conservative Christians, or that it hasn’t given enough. As a committed person of faith, he’s upset that he and his fellow Christians have been duped and used by their government. He said as much last night on 60 Minutes which also reported that he has a brain tumor, focusing him and his wife on what is really important, and that the politicization of faith was something that was "weighing on (his) mind." Without having read his book, it sounds more like Kuo’s complaint is that his faith was polluted by his government, rather than the more-familiar other way around.

And that should be a very, very interesting bit of information for people interested in this subject matter. Fervent religious faith scares many Americans, particularly when it gets wrapped up in political interests. But even more frightening for those political interests should be the moment when the faithful wake up and realized they’ve been taken advantage of. For as we’ve seen before, when the faithful become aware that their faith is under attack, they are catalyzed to action with an unrelenting dedication.

For the first time in 25+ years, that action may well mean very bad things for the Republican party.

Watch Keith Olberman’s 2-part series on the book below.

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