White House

'On Religion' flashback -- Pat Robertson, evangelicals and the White House (column No. 1)

'On Religion' flashback -- Pat Robertson, evangelicals and the White House (column No. 1)

Some friends have asked to see "On Religion," column No. 1 -- which predates the Internet by about five or six years. So here it is, typed into the system, working from a copy printed at the time on a newsroom dot-matrix printer. Remember those?

There may have been a few edits in DC, because the column format was about 100 words shorter in the early days.

-- tmatt

 

WASHINGTON DESK: Terry Mattingly's religion column for 4/11/88.

On the morning before Easter, Pat Robertson stood in a pulpit under an American flag and a banner that read, "King of Kings, Lord of Lords."

The press was barred from the meeting in the Harvest Christian Center, in a Denver suburb.

One of the last stops on Robertson's first try to reach the White House was at a luncheon here with about 200 clergy and church activists. Days later, he stopped active campaigning, but pledged that he would try again.

Still this 1988 scene held pieces of the puzzle that is Robertson's future.

The faithful raised their hands high in praise to God and sang familiar hymns with a man that they knew well, a fellow "charismatic" Christian who believed in miracles, prophecy and "speaking in tongues." A nearby table held tapes on a subject close to Robertson's heart -- healing.

It was a scene from his past. And Robertson's aides were trying to keep it out of his public image in the present and future.

Trump dominated 2016 news, but was not named Religion Newsmaker of the Year?

Trump dominated 2016 news, but was not named Religion Newsmaker of the Year?

While Donald Trump's crusade to win the White House was the top story of 2016, journalists in the Religion News Association saluted the brash billionaire's opponents by giving their top honor to the Muslim parents who made headlines by denouncing him.

Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq, shared the Religion Newsmaker of the Year honor. The Khans made a dramatic Democratic National Convention appearance to proclaim that Trump's proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country would be unconstitutional.

The RNA description of the annual poll's No. 1 story stressed that Trump received "strong support from white Christians, especially evangelicals. … Many were alarmed by his vilifying Muslims and illegal immigrants and his backing from white supremacists. GOP keeps majorities in Congress."

The No. 2 story continued: "Post-election assaults and vandalism target Muslims and other minorities. Some assailants cite Donald Trump's victory as validation. Critics denounce the appointment of Stephen Bannon as White House strategist over his ties to white supremacists." News related to Trump appeared in three other RNA Top 10 stories.

While white evangelical votes were crucial, I would have stressed two other religion trends linked to Trump's stunning win.

Donald Trump and his angry, working-class Catholic men in the Rust Belt

The Diocese of Rockville Centre had to know the calls were coming, after Bishop William Murphy's letter was read in Sunday Masses.

"Support of abortion by a candidate for public office, some of whom are Catholics, even if they use the fallacious and deeply offensive 'personally opposed but …' line, is reason sufficient unto itself to disqualify any and every such candidate from receiving our vote," the bishop advised Catholics in Long Island and other communities east of New York City.

Murphy added, "Let me repeat that," and did so -- word for word.

The bishop also said he believes America is "heading in the wrong direction" -- especially on religious freedom -- and asked each believer to "examine your conscience" before voting.

A diocesan spokesman stressed that Murphy was "absolutely not" signaling support for Donald Trump for president.

This unusual Rockville Centre salvo was news, in part, because U.S. Catholic leaders have been surprisingly quiet in 2106 -- even with Sen. Tim Kaine, a Catholic progressive, in the vice-president slot for the Democrats. Some Catholic leaders have even received flak, from left and right, for noting that both major-party nominees have disturbing track records on matters of character and honesty.

Meanwhile, many Catholic voters will remember an earlier war of words between Trump and Pope Francis on immigration, with the pope noting that "a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel."

All of this matters, of course, because it's almost impossible for Republicans to take the White House without winning the "Catholic vote" in Ohio, Pennsylvania and other swing states.

Seeking Christian solidarity in, for starters, a few American voting booths

Seeking Christian solidarity in, for starters, a few American voting booths

Michael Maturen is a Catholic writer, a businessman, a grassroots political activist, a former evangelical Anglican priest and a professional magician.

Seeking the presidency of the United States may not have been the next logical move for this self-proclaimed "nobody" from the tiny town of Harrisville, on Lake Huron in Northeast Michigan.

"I'm a magician, I sell cars and I'm running for president," said Maturen, laughing. "I am not delusional. People in the American Solidarity Party don't think we can win the presidency. Our goal is to promote the ideas behind our party and the idea that it's time to change our political system. … Two parties are not enough when you look at the reality of modern America."

This would have been more obvious if the party's founders had kept its original name, as in the Christian Democracy Party-USA. That would have linked it to major political parties -- primarily in Europe and Latin America -- with the "Christian Democrat" label.

Maturen said the name was changed because, while the party is built on Catholic social teachings, America has become such a diverse culture. The new name does offer a nod to Saint Pope John Paul II and Poland's Solidarity movement.

"Lot's of people are pretty disgusted with where we are in America," said Maturen. "What changed my own thinking was the ugliness of this election cycle. As a simple matter of ethics, I knew that I couldn't support Donald Trump and, since I am pro-life, I knew I couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton."

It's tricky: Donald Trump tries, once again, to nail down a personal Christian testimony

It was a tricky question when Jesus asked his disciples: "Whom say ye that I am?"

This was still a tricky question when conservative columnist Cal Thomas posed a version of it to Donald Trump, while interviewing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

"You have confessed that you are a Christian," said Thomas.

Trump responded: "And I have also won much evangelical support."

"Yes, I know that," said Thomas. "You have said you never felt the need to ask for God's forgiveness, and yet repentance for one's sins is a precondition to salvation. I ask you the question Jesus asked of Peter: Who do you say He is?"

Trump responded: "I will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won't have to be asking for much forgiveness. As you know, I am Presbyterian and Protestant. … We have tremendous support from the clergy. I think I will be doing very well during the election with evangelicals and with Christians. … I'm going to treat my religion, which is Christian, with great respect and care."

Thomas repeated the question: "Who do you say Jesus is?"

Trump tried again: "Jesus to me is somebody I can think about for security and confidence. Somebody I can revere in terms of bravery and in terms of courage and, because I consider the Christian religion so important, somebody I can totally rely on in my own mind."

Voting-box nightmare -- many religious conservatives face 'lesser of two evils'

Voting-box nightmare -- many religious conservatives face 'lesser of two evils'

The nightmare vision focuses on a stark, painful moral choice.

It's Election Day. A Catholic voter who embraces her church's Catechism, or an evangelical committed to ancient doctrines on a spectrum of right-to-life issues, steps into a voting booth. This voter is concerned about the social impact of gambling, attempts at immigration reform, a culture fractured by divorce, battles over religious liberty and the future of the Supreme Court.

In this booth the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Period.

"That's the scenario people I know are talking about and arguing about," said Stephen P. White of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., author of the book "Red, White, Blue and Catholic."

Many religious conservatives believe they "face a choice between two morally repugnant candidates," he added. "The reality of that choice is starting to drive some people into despair. … I understand that, but I think it would be wrong for people to think that they need to abandon politics simply because they are disgusted with this election."

This nightmare for religious conservatives is especially important since, in recent decades, successful Republican presidential candidates have depended on heavy turnouts among white evangelical Protestant voters and on winning, at the very least, a majority of "swing votes" among Catholics who frequently attend Mass.

While this year's election is in some ways unique, traditional Catholics and other moral conservatives need to realize that they are engaged in a debate that has been going on for centuries, said White. The big question: "Can Christians be good citizens?"

Historic fault lines emerging in evangelical camps in American politics

This hasn't been a run-of-the-mill academic year for Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Everett Piper. 

In December, he made news when he addressed the concerns of a student who told him that a chapel sermon "made him feel bad." 

"Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a 'safe place,' but rather, a place to learn," noted Piper, writing online. "This is not a day care. This is a university."

Weeks later, he was a symbolic guest at President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address. Republicans welcomed Piper because his school is part of the U.S. Supreme Court fight about the Health and Human Services mandate requiring many Christian institutions to cooperate with health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives.

Now, in response to press inquiries, Piper has made it perfectly clear -- in a post called "Trumping Morality" -- that there is one thing Oklahoma Wesleyan will not do that would make headlines. 

"Anyone who calls women 'pigs,' 'ugly,' 'fat' and 'pieces of a - -' is not on my side," he wrote. "Anyone who mocks the handicapped is not on my side. Anyone who has argued the merits of a government takeover of banks, student loans, the auto industry and healthcare is not on my side. Anyone who has been on the cover of Playboy and proud of it, who brags of his sexual history with multiple women and who owns strip clubs in his casinos is not on my side. … Anyone who ignores the separation of powers and boasts of making the executive branch even more imperial is not on my side." 

Piper concluded: "No, Donald Trump will not be speaking at Oklahoma Wesleyan University." 

The young Jerry Falwell meets the old, high-flying Donald Trump

When the late Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979, one of his main goals was to oppose President Jimmy Carter, the Southern Baptist who forced American politicos to learn the term "born again."

Months later, Ronald Reagan coyly told a flock of evangelicals: "I know you can't endorse me. But I want you to know that I endorse you."

People may have forgotten how odd that marriage was back then, recalled the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., as he introduced Donald Trump at Liberty University.

"My father was criticized in the early 1980s for supporting Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter for president because Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor who had been divorced and remarried and Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher," said Falwell, Liberty's president, at a campus Martin Luther King Day convocation.

"My father proudly replied that Jesus pointed out we are all sinners. … Dad explained that when he walked in the voting booth, he was not electing a Sunday school teacher or a pastor or even a president who shared his theological beliefs. He was electing the president of the United States and the talents, abilities and experience required to lead a nation might not line up with those needed to run a church."

The GOP frontrunner's campaign trail pilgrimage to Liberty was a two-act drama -- Falwell's sermon-length introduction and then Trump's stump speech, with a few extra shots of faith. Falwell stopped short of endorsing Trump, but the New York billionaire and reality-television icon did everything he could to endorse Liberty.

Into the depths of USA's church-state Inferno

IRS Commissioner Steven Miller was already having a rough day at the House Ways and Means Committee when one particularly hot question shoved him into the lower depths of a church-state Inferno. The question concerned a letter sent by IRS officials in Cincinnati to the Coalition for Life of Iowa, linked to its application for tax-exempt status.

"Please explain how all of your activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, are considered educational," said the letter, which was released by the Thomas More Society, which often defends traditional religious groups.

"Organizations exempt under 501(c)(3) may present opinions with scientific or medical facts. Please explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings. Also, please provide the percentage of time your organizations spends on prayer groups as compared with the other activities of the organization."

Welcome back to the religious liberty wars of 2013, in a scene captured by the omnipresent eye of C-SPAN.

Questioning this government entanglement in issues of doctrine and even worship, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) asked: "Would that be an inappropriate question to a 501(c)3 applicant? The content of one's prayers?"

Miller, already on his way out as IRS leader, had stressed he would not address individual cases. Thus, he replied: "It pains me to say I can't speak to that one either. ... Speaking outside of this case, which I don't know anything about, it would surprise me that that question was asked."

IRS officials have, of course, confessed that they inappropriately targeted conservative groups -- especially those with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names -- for extra scrutiny when they sought non-profit status. Allegations of abuse or harassment have since broadened to include groups conducting grassroots projects to "make America a better place to live," to promote classes about the U.S. Constitution or to raise support for Israel.

However, it now appears the IRS also challenged some individuals and religious groups that, while defending key elements of their faith traditions, have criticized projects dear to the current White House, such as health-care reform, abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

At the heart of these fights are questions often raised about a variety of groups on the left and the right. Was it partisan politics when African-American churches worked to promote economic justice, during campaigns when those efforts helped President Barack Obama? What about liberal religious groups that stressed voting green on environmental issues, during campaigns when those efforts often led to support for Democrats?

In recent years, religious conservatives have been accused of turning projects linked to their teachings on abortion and marriage into vaguely partisan efforts to oppose Obama, while indirectly supporting his opponents.

Thus, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the global Samaritan's Purse humanitarian project faced IRS review -- for the first time ever. During the most recent White House campaign, the Graham organization ran adds against gay marriage in North Carolina. In one, the elder Graham was quoted saying: "I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

In a letter to Obama, the Rev. Franklin Graham claimed: "I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical -- indeed some would call it 'un-American.' ... I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence -- or justifiable."

Meanwhile, on the religious left, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is convinced that the younger Franklin is -- no coincidence at all -- drawing justifiable scrutiny because of "his disgust with President Obama."

While the Graham ads didn't mention politicians by name, this was "clearly an effort by one of the Graham families' tax-exempt groups to directly affect the outcome of the election, he argued, in the "On Faith" forum at The Washington Post website. "If this brazen action led to IRS scrutiny, I'm fine with that. My only regret is that the agency didn't yank the BGEA's tax-exempt status for doing so.

"The problem isn't that the IRS is being too aggressive in this area. It's that its enforcement efforts have been sporadic, unfocused and tepid."