Christian right comes apart

The splintering of prominent Christian conservatives over the Republican presidential contenders reflects a schism — between the dogma of God, guns and gays and the desire to beat Hillary Clinton.

Months of disagreement within this important GOP voting bloc culminated this week in a flurry of endorsements:

Televangelist Pat Robertson is backing Rudy Giuliani. Conservative Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas is supporting fellow Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich is going for Mitt Romney.

All the candidates are flawed in the eyes of the Christian right, which is why some evangelical leaders are holding out and might favor a third-party candidate.

“You’ve got a wide-open primary, and you have various people who are ideologically acceptable — not perfect, but ideologically acceptable,” Brownback said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

“If they’re acceptable and can win, that’s better than losing,” Brownback said, speaking by telephone on a campaign swing through Iowa with McCain. “I think you’re seeing a more pragmatic expression taking place.”

For his part, Robertson said he worries not about electability but about terrorists. Also, he feels reassured that Giuliani would appoint Supreme Court justices who view abortion from a conservative stance.

“To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists,” Robertson said.

“I don’t think evangelicals have coalesced around any candidate,” he said Wednesday in Washington, with Giuliani at his side. “I just believe that I needed to make a statement, and I am speaking for myself, that … Rudy Giuliani is, without question, an acceptable candidate.”

There is very little any politician can do about abortion without a major shift in the federal judiciary, Robertson said, and Giuliani has promised to appoint judges in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia.

Not everyone will take a favorable view of Robertson’s endorsement. While his television show, “The 700 Club,” draws an estimated one million viewers daily, many evangelicals have distanced themselves from him. He drew criticism shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for saying they happened because Americans had insulted God and lost the protection of heaven by allowing abortion and “rampant Internet pornography.”

This is not the first time evangelicals have split. In 1996, they were divided for months between former Sen. Bob Dole and conservative pundit Pat Buchanan. Christian conservatives rallied late in the process around Buchanan, but Dole became the nominee and later lost to Bill Clinton.

If evangelicals don’t rally behind a single Giuliani rival, that could help the former New York mayor, who is the GOP front-runner in national polls.

Among voters describing themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, 24 percent have said they would vote for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and 20 percent for Giuliani, according to Associated Press-Ipsos polls. Some 22 percent didn’t have a favorite candidate.

As for Giuliani, “he’s working relentlessly to try and curry favor with conservatives,” said GOP consultant Greg Mueller, who noted that Giuliani made a special trip to Washington last month to ask Brownback for support. “He’s trying to find common ground, because he knows he’s got vulnerabilities.”

Evangelicals don’t seem to feel all that good about any of their choices.

Not only does Giuliani back abortion rights, the former New York mayor has been married three times and has had frosty relations with his children.

Evangelicals still have bad blood with McCain, who has feuded for years with them and in 2000 called Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance.”

And there is mistrust of Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, both because he has changed his mind on issues like abortion and because of his Mormon faith.

Other candidates are trying to take advantage of these flaws; Thompson began running TV ads in Iowa this week promoting his conservative voting record. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, reminds voters he is a die-hard social conservative.

Today, discord within the movement may run deeper than in the 1990s. The Christian right is maturing and has a new generation of leaders interested in issues beyond abortion and gay marriage, such as the environment and Darfur violence.

For example, pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren invited Sen. Barack Obama to speak at an AIDS summit at his mega-church last year, despite Obama’s support for abortion rights.

“Part of this may very well be generational change,” said John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

“The Christian right has been around for about 30 years,” Green said. “Its founders are long in the tooth — Falwell passed away; Robertson is in his 70s. There is a new generation of leaders coming up behind them that see things differently.”

Brownback said he’s been caught up in the generational discord.

“There is a divide within the movement on topics like the environment and, to some degree, immigration,” said Brownback, who has endured criticism for supporting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. “I’ve felt the buffeting from both sides.”

He predicted that in the coming weeks, candidates will start talking about issues important to the new generation of evangelical leaders, such as poverty. Differences are not always bad, he said.

“I think it’s actually a good thing; I think it broadens the movement,” he said. “That probably is a more realistic picture of the faith, too. It’s more faith-oriented, not less.”


Libby Quaid covers the 2008 presidential race for The Associated Press.


  1. Sandra Price

    Gosh, it makes me want to see all their candidates lose! I certainly would not want any of those 3 evangelicals sponsoring me or anyone I know.

    All three of those fools want the prohibitions on abortions, gay marriages, stem cell research and end of life choices. It is a call for government laws to prohibit anything the religious right claims are sins. Vote all of these Evangelical candidates down the drain. We do not need more social laws from those hypocrites.

  2. keith

    Who would have ever thought that the likes of Mr. Robertson and his ilk would actually align themselves with a candidate who, for example, openly advocates abortion and even (gasp!) gay rights?

    If ever we needed more evidence that these people are simply after POWER and the retention of same, this is it.

    But what is so absolutely disgusting is that these clowns now appear so desperate to hang on to their ever-shrinking power to control people’s money, thoughts and lives that they will even stoop to groveling with people they would otherwise label as “sinners” to maintain it.

    You are absolutely correct, Sandy…these people ARE little more than fools, charlatans and hypocrites!

  3. Janet

    I think this will doom Guiliani. I hope so.

    Religious organizations should not be endorsing ANYONE, There is a separation of church and state. Any religious organization that tries to influence politics and public elections should lose their tax exempt status.

    I, for one, don’t want to live in an evangelical Christian controlled country. This lunatic fringe right is out of control, trying to make us all live under their opinions.

    Religion doesn’t belong in government. They should have no say in laws or elections.

  4. Carl Nemo

    The IRS needs to go on a very necessary campaign and pull the section 501 exemption status on the Pat Robertson types that get involved with politics. Nationwide these hit-in- the-butt with a bible preachers are raking in “billions” of dollars all tax free…!

    Excerpt from a professional interpretation of section 501 of the tax code.
    In order to maintain tax-exempt status, churches, like other 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, must forego certain activities. Specifically, 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from engaging in excessive political lobbying and any political campaigning. According to the IRS, Sec. 501(c) of the IRS Code requires that a tax-exempt religious organization “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
    If the IRS were in the business of giving equal and fair treatment to all citizens and organizations they’d weigh in heavily on churches and do what’s necessary;ie., yank their tax exempt status and also go back in time for whatever the statute of limitations provides for assessing back taxes with penalties for their violation of the code provisions. Many feel this is a violation of first amendment rights, maybe so, but they can’t have it both ways; ie., skating on taxes while they shakedown their sheeple followers for donations, influencing political outcomes, all the while ripping off the U.S. Treasury by not contributing their fair share of tax revenues. These modern day mega-churchmen are ripoff artists in more ways than one.

    Carl Nemo **==

  5. Janet

    Thanks for that, Carl – exactly my point.

    Maybe the ACLU should sue the IRS for unfair practices and not enforcing the tax laws. At the least, everyone should be calling the IRS (anonomously, of course)to complain or writing to their congress people and writing to newspaper editors.

  6. CB

    I must tell you that I am would be shocked that religious right wingers would vote for Rudy, except after watching a repub primary focus group last weekend on C-Span, they are just a bunch of hypocrites. On the show all the religious voters said they could never vote for Mitt because of his religion. They went on and on about it. Then the question was asked with match ups (Mitt v every Dem candidate) and they all said they’d vote for Mitt.

    What does that tell you????????

  7. Electric Bill

    Carl Nemo is right on the money about the IRS and CBN. Pat Robertson is just a snake oil salesman to the extremely stupid. He’s also as crazy as an outhouse rat. These people continually get involved in politics but still maintain their tax exemptions. Of course, under born again Bush, the IRS thing isn’t likely to happen. Whatever splits these whackos benefits America. We need to reinforce the wall of separation between church and state. That’s a lot more important than the one separating the US and Mexico.

  8. SEAL

    The ACLU could not “sue” the IRS. Unless you are a victim who has been injured by the defendants actions or have a client who is, you have no standing in law to sue for damages or request an injuction to stop the injury.

    However, what they, or anyone, could do, is petition whichever court has jurisdiction for a “Writ Of Mandamus.” That is a court order directing any public official or agency to discharge their duties properly by doing whatever you claim they are failing to do. In this case, that would be a failure to revoke the religious organization’s 501c3 status.

    You’d have to prove the organization was violating the spirit, intent, and specifications of 501c3. I doubt you could do that and undoubtably the reason their tax exempt status has not already been revoked. Robertson has stated it is “he” who supports Rudy, not his church.

    If the church has not actively campaigned for some political candidate, or if Robertson has not used his pulpit to advocate for a political party or candidate there is no violation. He gets around this by preaching against specific issues like abortion in order to inspire his members to vote for the party/candidate who has that same view of the issue.

    You could argue that, as the owner and leader of the church, that anything or one he supports automatically means the church is supporting it/them, i.e. they are one and the same. But that would need some corroborating evidence such as proving that all the church members voted as Robertson directed. Good luck with that.