March 9, 2004
'On a Mission From God': The Religious Right and the Emerging American Theocracy
by Maureen Farrell
"The religious right is winning. They've won." -- Howard Stern
In Dec. 2002, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reported that House Majority Leader Tom Delay had openly admitted he was "on a mission from God to promote a 'biblical worldview' in American politics." On Monday, the Washington Times revealed that DeLay "is about to announce his own legislative agenda."
"One goal, [Delay] said, will be to re-establish what he sees as the rightful role of religion in public places. . ." [Washington Times]
In other words, look out.
The warning signs have been in place for quite some time, but went largely unnoticed until the walls started closing in on shock jock Howard Stern. When Project Censored listed "FCC Moves to Privatize Airwaves" as its top censored news story for 2001-2002 and shed its suspicious spotlight on FCC chairman Michael Powell, for example, few noticed. "[T]he mainstream press has raised few warnings about the FCC's squashing of the public interest," Project Censored's Brendan Koerner wrote, while co-author Dorothy Kidd explained that "things have just gotten worse for the US public with regards to media democracy. Mergers are up and the number of dominant players controlling media production and distribution has shrunk to a handful." [ProjectCensored.org] Or, as Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) put it, "The bottom line is that fewer and fewer huge conglomerates are controlling virtually everything that the ordinary American sees, hears and reads."
Fast forward to 2004 and Howard Stern's woes. "What this company [Clear Channel] is doing is buying up every radio station, then they sign someone like me for five years at a time and renew my contracts and then wake up one day and have a whole new attitude," Stern said. "Now why do they have a new attitude with me, but not with that guy [Michael] Savage who sits there and talks about infesting people with AIDS and all that stuff? He's just as controversial, but he backs Bush. They're being intellectually dishonest."
Welcome to our brave new world.
In case you missed this unfortunate paradigm shift, this hypothetical scenario might help: Imagine, for a moment, that Sept. 11 occurred on Clinton's watch. Now, can you imagine anyone being "Dixie Chicked" for criticizing Bill Clinton?
"My days here are numbered because I dared to speak out against the Bush administration and say that the religious agenda of George W. Bush concerning stem cell research and gay marriage is wrong," Stern said. "And that what he is doing with the FCC is pushing this religious agenda."
For those who've been supplementing daily requirements of U.S. news with reports from the foreign press, the ramifications of Stern's honesty are understood. Though it's likely to cost him dearly, he's become the unlikely champion for those who know that the underlying themes are not, as most pundits would have us believe, a matter of liberals vs. conservatives, Republicans vs. Democrats or blue states vs. red, but threats to America itself.
Yet, considering the steady diet of nonsense we're fed by a bevy of clueless pundits, busy citizens are understandably confused -- which is why it is absolutely stunning that Stern sees past the smoke and mirrors and is sounding off. "Does anyone have a problem with a United States senator being funded by a religious organization?" Stern asked, regarding Kansas Senator Sam Brownback's faith-based living arrangement, which is subsidized by the secretive religious organization, The Fellowship. [Charleston Post and Courier] "Now when someone gives you low cost housing – a gift – do you think you have to answer to them?"
As Rev. Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State put it, "What concerns people is when you mix religion, political power and secrecy," which coincidentally (and sadly) pretty much sums up the State of the Union today.
So how embedded is the religious right in our political institutions? In his aptly titled Jan. 28, 2004 Rolling Stone cover story, "Reverend Doomsday," Robert Dreyfuss explains: "It might seem unlikely that the commander in chief would take his marching orders directly from on high -- unless you understand the views of the Rev. Timothy LaHaye, one of the most influential leaders of the Christian right, and a man who played a quiet but pivotal role in putting George W. Bush in the White House."
LaHaye, you may recall, is co-author of the various Left Behind series, which, to date, has sold a reported whopping 60 million copies. A "strict biblical reconstructionist" who takes the Bible as "God's literal truth," LaHaye believes that Armageddon will be unleashed from "the Antichrist's headquarters in Babylon" (i.e. Iraq).
"Of course, there have always been preachers on the margins of the religious right thundering on about the end of the world," Dreyfuss writes. "But it's doubtful that such a fanatic believer has ever had such a direct pipeline to the White House. Five years ago, as Bush was gearing up his presidential campaign, he made a little-noticed pilgrimage to a gathering of right-wing Christian activists, under the auspices of a group called the Committee to Restore American Values. The committee, which assembled about two dozen of the nation's leading fundamentalist firebrands, was chaired by LaHaye." [Rolling Stone]
In other words, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore, and the religious right wants to be the great and powerful Oz. For your consideration, here are some of the means by which they're succeeding:
1) The Council for National Policy
Deemed by ABC News as "the most powerful conservative group you've never heard of," the Council for National Policy, which was co-founded by former Moral Majority head LaHaye, has included John Ashcroft, Ed Meese, Ralph Reed, the editor of The National Review, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Grover Norquist and Oliver North among its members.
As ABC put it, "the council has deservedly attained the reputation for conceiving and promoting the ideas of many who in fact do want to control everything in the world. . . The CNP helped Christian conservatives take control of the Republican state party apparati in Southern and Midwestern states. It helped to spread word about the infamous 'Clinton Chronicles' videotapes that linked the president to a host of crimes in Arkansas." (According to Rolling Stone, "The impeachment effort was reportedly conceived at a June 1997 meeting of the CNP in Montreal.")
Secular-minded folks are likely to be most intrigued by the fact that President Bush made his rumored "king-making" speech before CNP in 1999, fueling speculation that the council was responsible for his presidential nomination. And though the Democratic National Committee and others urged Bush's presidential campaign to release the tape of his CNP speech, the Bush camp refused.
What was on that tape? Depending on who you believe, "Bush promised to appoint only anti-abortion-rights judges to the Supreme Court, or he stuck to his campaign 'strict constructionist' phrase. Or he took a tough stance against gays and lesbians, or maybe he didn't." [ABC News]
As we now know, Bush is endorsing a Constitutional amendment which could change the country forever. As one Republican lawyer told Andrew Sullivan, "[With] one amendment the religious right could wipe out access to birth control, abortion, and even non-procreative sex (as Senator Santorum so eagerly wants to do). This debate isn't only about federalism, it's about the reversal of two hundred years of liberal democracy that respects individuals." Or, as Sullivan put it, "Memo to straights: you're next." [AndrewSullivan.com]
2) The Christian Coalition
On Dec. 24, 2001, the Washington Post featured an article entitled "Religious Right Finds Its Center in Oval Office: Bush Emerges as Movement's Leader After Robertson Leaves Christian Coalition " in which reporter Dana Milbank explained exactly how significant the Supreme Court's selection of George W. Bush was. "For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political movement, the president of the United States has become the movement's de facto leader," Milbank wrote. [Washington Post]
Meanwhile, former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed explained Bush's rise to the White House in revolutionary terms. "You're no longer throwing rocks at the building; you're in the building," he said, adding that God "knew George Bush had the ability to lead in this compelling way."
Bush reportedly made similar statements. According to Newsweek, "As he prepared to run, in 1999, Bush assembled leading pastors at the governor's mansion for a "laying-on of hands," and told them he'd been "called" to seek higher office." And as Bob Woodward wrote in Bush at War: "The President was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's Master Plan," wherein Bush promised, in the President's own words, "to export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil."
"Bush's flirtation with End Times rhetoric makes some suspect that he actually perceives himself as God's instrument," Gene Lyons noted, and his sentiment was echoed in former Nixon aide Charles Colson's observation that, "Some wonder if the president might be influenced by evangelical teachings that envision an end-of-the-world battle between Israel and its enemies. It would be dangerous for a president to take a particular theology like that and apply it to world events."
3) Christian Zionists
Various mainstream sources, from the BBC to the Christian Science Monitor, have long been reporting on ways Biblical prophecy is influencing political reality – and the Christian Zionists' campaign to oust the Palestinians in order to make way for the Second Coming of Christ is one of the most bizarre. In Oct. 2002, The Guardian's Matthew Engel spelled it out:
"American politico-religious wackiness" aside, the conference Engel describes begins "with a videotaped benediction straight from the Oval office," and involves Tom Delay, "the most powerful man on Capitol Hill," addressing the gathering "not once, but twice."
4) Opus Dei
While FBI agent Robert Hanssen brought the Catholic organization Opus Dei to the prominence when he was caught spying for Russia, it is once again in the spotlight thanks to the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code. And while the group's secrecy appeals to some ("I think they really fly under everybody's radar screen and that they're a lot more powerful than a lot of people think," Rev. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine explained. [ABC News]) and its attitude towards pain and suffering appeals to others ("After I joined, they gave me a barbed-wire chain to wear on my leg for two hours a day and a whip to hit my buttocks with," former Opus Dei member Sharon Clasen said. [Chicago Tribune]) in April, 2001, The American Catholic co-editor Catharine A. Henningsen revealed why this highly secretive group might be of concern to average Joes:
"Whether or not an alleged member of Opus Dei, like Justice Antonin Scalia, enjoys a touch of the lash on his prodigious derriere from time to time, is certainly no business of ours," Mike Whitney wrote. "However, the affiliation of a Justice on the highest court in the land to an organization that, for all appearances, is nothing more than a right-wing cult should arouse not only suspicion, but an investigation." [CounterPunch.org]
Scalia's alleged membership notwithstanding, the fact that a mere three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take up the vice president's appeal in lawsuits concerning the administration's energy task force, Scalia traveled with Dick Cheney on Air Force Two to hunt on a private hunting reserve owned by an oil industry executive is unsettling. And Scalia's keynote speech before a Philadelphia-based advocacy group which actively opposes gay rights (during a time when the Supreme Court was weighing a landmark gay rights case) has also raised eyebrows. [LA Times]
5) Christian Reconstructionists
Ever hear of Rousas J. Rushdoony? Didn't think so. Before he died in 2001, he was the leader of the Reconstructionist movement, which, in a nutshell, seeks to toss out the U.S. Constitution and turn the United States of America into a theocracy.
Active in the GOP for quite some time, the movement's greatest influence has been, according to a 1998 article in Reason, "in helping change the terms of discourse on the traditionalist right." Journalist Walter Olson put it this way: "One of their effects has been to allow everyone else to feel moderate. To wit: Almost any anti-abortion stance seems nuanced when compared with Gary North's advocacy of public execution not just for women who undergo abortions but for those who advised them to do so. And with the Rushdoony faction proposing the actual judicial murder of gays, fewer blink at the position of a Gary Bauer or a Janet Folger, who support laws exposing them to mere imprisonment." [Reason]
Though Reconstructionists are deemed "scary," even by Jerry Falwell's followers, considering that Rushdoony, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, was a member of the Council for National Policy (see #1) and Rushdoony's son-in-law Gary North is a current member, it may not be wise to dismiss them out of hand.
In February, when Ashcroft subpoenaed hospitals for the records of patients who had had late term abortions (a move which Philadelphia's Hahnemann's University court filing deemed "vindictive and mean-spirited") red flags sprung up. "No valid justification exists to allow such a blatant invasion of privacy into the reproductive rights of the women whose medical records would be disclosed," the filing read.
"People's medical records should not be the tools of political operatives," Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D., N.Y.) added. "All Americans should have the right to visit their doctor and receive sound medical attention without the fear of Big Brother looking into those records." [Philadelphia Inquirer]
6) The Moonies
In January 1986, Mother Jones featured an article entitled "Unholy Alliance" by Carolyn Weaver which detailed a letter written by Tim LaHaye to Colonel Bo Hi Pak of the Washington Times, (which is owned and operated by the Moonies) thanking him for his contribution to LaHaye's organization, American Coalition for Traditional Values. (Also mentioned was "Concerned Women for America," which is run by LaHaye's wife, Beverly).
In 2001, the St. Petersburg Times opined, "We believe Mr. Bush and his supporters deserve to have their philosophy placed fairly before the public, without the distorting lens of liberal media bias. Therefore, without further ado, we give you the verbatim comments of the President's good friend and spiritual comrade: the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
"You must realize that America has become the kingdom of Satan. Americans who continue to maintain their privacy and extreme individualism are foolish people. The world will reject Americans who continue to be so foolish.. . ."
"We must have an autocratic theocracy to rule the world. So we cannot separate the political field from the religious. My dream is to organize a Christian political party including the Protestant denominations, Catholic and all religious sects. We can embrace the religious world in one arm and the political world in the other."
Coda: "I want to salute Reverend Moon. He's the man with the vision." - former President George H.W. Bush. [St. Petersburg Times]
And, as As journalist Robert Parry wrote in July, 1997, "Despite his virulent anti-Americanism, Rev. Sun Myung Moon still relies on friends in Washington to help him expand his political-and-media power base. Moon's latest reach into South America had the helping hand of former U.S. President George Bush. But the Moon-Bush alliance dates back years and could reach into the future, as Bush lines up conservative backing for the expected White House bid of his eldest son." [ConsortiumNews.com]
Of course the list of religious right organizations goes on and on, but this should be more than enough to present the bigger picture. In other words, yes, Virginia, the religious right is winning, even though most folks believe that life in America proceeds as usual.
And while you may not be able to hear Howard Stern on the radio in the not-so-distant future, you can always tune into cable "news shows," where, chances are, you can catch Washington Times editor Tony Blankley or Concerned Women for America President Sandy Rios.
"I really believe I'm hearing from the Lord it's going to be like a blowout election in 2004. It's shaping up that way," Pat Robertson said on his nationally televised 700 Club. "The Lord has just blessed [George W. Bush]. I mean, he could make terrible mistakes and comes out of it. It doesn't make any difference what he does, good or bad, God picks him up because he's a man of prayer and God's blessing him."
All of this sounds nuts, of course, because, quite frankly, it is. But considering that when John Ashcroft became attorney general, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reportedly anointed him with cooking oil (in the manner of King David), [The Guardian] these are nutty times.
How bad will things get? Stay tuned. But be forewarned. As the Washington Times recently reported, Rep. Mike Pence, (R-IN) said that Mr. DeLay's decision to set his own legislative agenda "signals the dynamics of the president's second term, hopefully very different."
From the tone, it sounds as if an American theocracy may some day be a reality. In the meantime, however, Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State made a prediction we can be sure of. "Pat Robertson in 2004 will continue to use his multimillion broadcasting empire to promote George Bush and other Republican candidates," he said. [USA Today]
Amen and pass the remote.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original