U.S. Christians await president's payback
Posted November 24, 2004
Republican strategist Karl Rove is being credited with the Bush sweep, and rightly so, says analysts, because he ran two campaigns side by side. Rove designed a different strategy, earmarked specifically for socially conservative white southerners and the religious right. Four million evangelical Christians, mainly the south, hadn't bothered to vote in 2000 election; Rove wanted them present and accounted for in 2004 election. Church leaders were enlisted to mobilize them and the lobbies of their churches were duly lined with pamphlets and voting guides.
This is what analysts call a stroke of genius; Rove orchestrated the placing of anti-gay marriage resolutions on 11 state ballots. "People came out to vote against that, and stayed to vote for Bush," said Mark Rozell. Professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia and co-editor of The New Politics of The Old South. In the final days of the campaign, Rove finally allowed the "born – again" Bush to rail in public about his moral convictions on everything from gay marriage to partial birth abortion to "activist" federal judges. And, as per request, preachers spent the last few Sundays inveighing from their pulpits on the importance of picking a morally correct leader.
Richard Land, President of the Tennessee – based Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, explained his approach thus: "I told my congregation that I'd rather have a president who protects unborn babies than cuts my taxes 50 percent." Aiding and abetting it all was the conservative media, notes Joan Hoff, a presidential historian at Montana State University. "They've had 30 years to build up a media infrastructure and it paid off for them big time in this election.
Rove's campaign strategy was brilliant, says Rick Halpern, the American – born head of the Center for the Studies of the United States at the University of Toronto.
In the four years after his Electoral College victory in 2000, George Bush rewarded his supporters on the religious right with a National Day of Prayer, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the White House, and the diversion of foreign aid funds from overseas organizations that promote or perform abortions.
There's no question, says Richard Land of the ultra-conservative 16.3 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, that it was the most receptive White House to evangelical Christian concerns and perspectives of any White House he had dealt with from Reagan on.
With a born-again Christian president back in the White House, the religious right will expect an even more receptive ear from one of its own, given the key role evangelical Christians played in the election and Bush's own brand of political and religious fundamentalism.
Exit polls indicated almost a quarter of the 120 million voters who cast ballots identified themselves as white, conservative "God, family, and country" evangelical Christians. More than three-quarters of them voted for Bush, who claims he speaks to God, believes in the power of prayer, and promotes "cultural change" through faith-based initiatives. It's payback time. Having helped send Bush back to the White House, evangelical leaders are warning they will hold the president's feet to the fire until he delivers
Christian evangelicals are biblical literalists who believe they are divinely called to convert the world to Christ. Not all are politically right wing. Some are social justice activists and peacemakers. Not all subscribe to the extremist views and tactics of the powerful and growing right-wing American religious fundamentalist movement, but a sizable and frightening number do.
What these fundamentalist Christians want is nothing less than the reconstruction of America into a Christian country rooted in the "moral values" they espouse: a biblically inspired country where abortion is illegal, homosexuality is a crime, sex education in the schools is restricted, prayer in schools is encouraged, and creationism - the belief that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago - is taught in schools.
And having reconstructed America along their lines, they want to export their narrow brand of Christianity around the world. They hope and pray that Bush will help them do it. They may not get all they want, but at least, as Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals puts it, "we have a president, who, as an evangelical Methodist, understands the way we think".
Bush has already indicated he is listening by promising to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and by publicly indicating he favours nominating conservative judges to the Supreme Court to overturn the court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion. It's a start, and there may be much more to come as fundamentalist Christians push their "moral values" agenda.
America remains a country deeply divided over moral issues, with a government that's united on them, says Mark Rosell, professor of public policy at Virginia's George Mason University, suggesting that Bush now has an almost unstoppable ability to move his agenda forward.
The term "moral values" has become a rallying cry for conservative Christians. Roughly translated, it means opposition to gay and abortion rights, to tolerance of non-Christian beliefs, and to international cooperation.
It means an unfettered right to bear arms, unbridled free enterprise, and military might to settle disputes. There's lots of talk of faith, flag and country, but no talk of poverty, social justice, love of neighbour, peace on earth, and the protection of a fragile planet from further degradation.
In the 1950s, during the Cold War, when godless Communism was the reigning evil, Americans changed the slogan on their currency from E pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) to In God We Trust. For fundamentalists, this is the vindictive God of the Old Testament who smites his enemies with a mighty sword.
And who better to lead the Christian fundamentalist crusade into the promised land than a born-again Christian who says he speaks for God and believes he has the God-given right to wage an illegal, undeclared, obscene, bloody war in Iraq? A Christian president who does not "nuance war," who does not count the thousands of Iraqi civilians killed or wounded in the carnage.
"Either you are with us, or you are for the terrorists," says Bush. "Either you are with us, or you are against God," say fundamentalist Christians. The two terms have a chilling similarity.