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Religious Right in Republican Blame Game

But what will Christocrats be blamed for?

by, October 24, 2006

Before the votes have been cast and counted, right-wing Christian leaders are participating in a Republican blame game over responsibility for the party's impending loss of a majority in one or both houses of Congress. The loss --if that's what it will be -- calls into question the future relationship of the GOP with its religious right "base," which many expect to sit out the November 7th election. Meanwhile, fissures have opened in the Christian right over moves by some evangelical leaders to broaden the movement's narrow anti-choice, homophobic agenda.

Religious right leaders are angry at the Republicans for failing to pass legislation to further that agenda. A last minute rush of votes on gay marriage, stem-cell research and public religious displays did little to mollify these leaders. Christocrat leaders are denying that their issues are dragging down the party and ascribing disaffection in their own ranks to the Mark Foley congressional page scandal.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council told the New York Times that voter enthusiasm on the religious right had begun to revive when the Foley scandal surfaced. Perkins has suggested that "the social agenda of the GOP [has] been stalled by homosexual [Congress] members and or staffers." (See our coverage.)

James Dobson (pictured here), head of Focus on the Family, has been warning Republicans that the religious right could desert the party if it doesn't act on their issues.

Armey calls Dobson bully
Dobson has also been tangling with former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who contends the Republican Party panders to Dobson and “his gang of thugs.” Armey has also called Dobson a bully. (Click here for more.) Last week, the New York Times reported on Armey's critique and Armey told the paper that catering to Dobson and the religious right could cost the Republicans congressional seats, especially in Ohio.

Armey said, "The Republicans are talking about things like gay marriage and so forth, and the Democrats are talking about the things people care about, like how do I pay my bills?”

Dobson gave a statement to the Times saying Armey had an old grudge against him.

Gary Bauer, the former Reagan aide and presidential candidate who now runs the American Values group, alleges that the media wants the Democrats to win and "they're not going to tell you" how "liberal" the Democratic candidates are. The media, apparently all in collusion, are also knowingly "undermining American resolve" on the Iraq war, according to Bauer.

Will patriot pastors turn out their flocks?
It is unclear how religious right leaders plan to respond to Republican hopes that they will turn out their organizations and churches to vote for Republican candidates. As they have in previous elections, churches could trump the opinion polls with massive turnout for Republicans. Some of the current complaining could be to chastise the Republicans before activitating the church-based electoral operations.

Media Matters faulted a CBS News report on the election in Ohio for failing to mention the news last week, that Bush officials mocked their religious right allies, according to a new book by Bush staffer David Kuo. Significantly, though, the report speculated that the "patriot pastors" who were activated in the 2004 election (see our earlier coverage) would exhort their congregations to go vote.

Expanding agenda
Meanwhile, sectors of the religious right are moving to shore up their membership by expanding their agendas Last week, two dozen evanglical leaders, ranging from Jim Wallis of Sojourners to Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, signed on to advertisements calling on President Bush to move on getting peace-keeping troops to Darfur.

Even more significantly, many on the religious right are getting active against global warming. Hundreds of churches have screened a documentary called "The Great Warming." Earlier this month, a coalition of evangelicals began advertising a call to action against global warming.

Bill Moyers reported on this growing movement in his recent PBS documentary Is God Green? Some evangelicals, according to the documentary and news reports, are taking up environmentalism because of its importance to young people, who they worry, are drifting away from their childhood religion.

But sharp divisions have emerged. Focus on the Family and other powerful religious right groups oppose the environmental initiative. Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, Focus on the Family, and the Traditional Values Coalition disparaged the new president of the Christian Coalition, Rev. Joel Hunter, who plans to diversify that near-moribund group's issues.

Several state chapters of the Christian Coalition broke away from the main organization in opposition to Hunter's participation in the global warming advertisements and his other moves to broaden the organization's focus.

In a poingnant moment of his PBS documentary, Bill Moyers relates how a major leader of the global warming initiative, Richard Cizik, could not sign onto the advertisements; the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, where Cizik is a vice president, were just too divided on the issue.

Talking to National Public Radio, Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center , described the ferment on the religious right: "You're seeing something of the circulation of the elite leadership off the stage," he said. "So there's less dependency on big name personalities like Pat Robertson, or James Dobson or Jerry Falwell but instead there's a dependency on the local pastor or the local leader in the state wide chapter."

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