The Common Good

Religious Right appeals to fear as election nears

Date: October 30, 2008

Perfect love may cast out fear, but some Religious Right leaders seem intent on scaring the pants off of their followers as the Nov. 4 presidential election approaches.

With Republican nominee John McCain trailing in the polls, some conservative Christian leaders are warning their supporters of nightmare scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama wins.

The political-action arm of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry recently circulated an article written in the form of a letter from an imaginary Christian four years in the future. The “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” attempts to create an image of what the United States might look like at the end of a President Obama’s first term, assuming he wins.

The letter’s author conjures a scenario that includes far-left liberals controlling the Supreme Court by a 6-3 majority, legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, a ban on preaching from the Bible on radio and television, taxpayer-funded abortion and, in some states, a ban on owning guns.

The letter does not claim to "predict" the imagined future events, but says each of them could happen and all are the "natural outcome" of legal and political trends embraced by the left.

The letter envisions liberal justices, after gaining dominance on the Supreme Court, immediately ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Other scenarios include the demise of the Boy Scouts, who would choose to disband instead of obeying a Supreme Court ruling forcing them to accept gay scoutmasters; nationwide compulsory education on “gender identity” for first-grade students; requiring Christian adoption agencies to place children with gay couples; and forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages and to hire openly gay staff members.

In the letter’s scenario, high schools would no longer be able to hold "See You at the Pole" prayer rallies, churches would be barred from meeting on public-school property, campus ministries would be shut down and the words "under God" would be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Doctors and nurses would be forced to perform abortions against their conscience. Home schooling would be curtailed. Pornography would be easily accessible on the airwaves. A “Fairness Doctrine” governing federally licensed broadcasters would require radio programs to provide equal time to opposing views, meaning that any social views expressed by conservative broadcasters like Dobson would be followed by immediate rebuttal from a liberal watchdog group.

The letter’s imagined scenario for U.S. foreign policy turns even bleaker. “Emboldened” by a premature U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the writer says, al-Qaeda carries out terrorist attacks against in American cities. Following a pattern set when it sent troops into Georgian territory in 2008, Russia moves to occupy and retake satellite states of the former Soviet Union. Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel, reducing it to a weaker country with an uncertain future.

The letter has prompted significant backlash from centrist and progressive Christians. Mara Vanderslice of the pro-Obama group Matthew 25 called it "blatant fearmongering in order to influence a political race."

"As Christians, we have been choosing hope over fear for 2,000 years," she said. "Our public witness should reflect our deepest hopes, not provoke unfounded fears."

Jim Wallis, of the Christian anti-poverty group Sojourners/Call to Renewal, said the letter “crosses all lines of decent public discourse.”

In an Oct. 29 press release framed as a letter to Dobson, he continued: “In a time of utter political incivility, it shows the kind of negative Christian leadership that has become so embarrassing to so many of your fellow Christians in America. We are weary of this kind of Christian leadership, and that is why so many are forsaking the Religious Right in this election.”

Wallis told Dobson the letter's fantasies “thoroughly” ignore “biblical teachings against slander” and “not only damage your credibility, they slander Barack Obama who, you should remember, is a brother in Christ, and they insult any Christian who might choose to vote for him.”

Focus on the Family isn't the only conservative Christian outlet alarmed by the prospect of an Obama presidency. Editor Gerald Harris of the Georgia Baptist newspaper Christian Index envisioned "a new ideology" -- marked by a shifting moral compass and view that nothing is wrong except intolerance -- overtaking America.

"I don't know how much our nation will change before the presidential election in 2012, but I expect it to morph into something much different than what we have experienced in our history," Harris wrote. "The prevailing ideology that seems to be gaining new adherents each day will very likely become full-blown by then."

Harris said he can envision a day when sermons are censored, churches lose their tax-exempt status and Christians are ridiculed "if not outright persecuted" for their faith.

"Perhaps, the church will be sifted through persecution so that we will know who the genuine, authentic Christians really are," Harris wrote. "That may be a blessing in disguise, because Christianity has always flourished better in times of adversity than in times of prosperity."

John Pierce, editor of the moderate publication Baptists Today, found both Dobson's and Harris' appeals troubling.

"These are last-gasp efforts to scare gullible adherents who share a fear that the cultural dominance for conservative Christians could be lost," Pierce wrote in a blog entry. He said people who write such "nonsense" do so for one of two reasons: "Either they are being intentionally dishonest in order to persuade voters to their political side or they actually possess such irrational fears."

E-mail rumors have circulated for months alleging that Obama -- who was raised in an irreligious home but professed Christ two decades ago -- is secretly a Muslim or even the anti-Christ. But conservative Christian attacks on Obama and his supporters have intensified of late.

Janet Porter of the conservative activist group Faith2Action said in a column on the conservative WorldNetDaily website that a person cannot be a Christian and vote for Obama, because he is pro-choice on abortion and opposes a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"To all those who name the name of Christ who plan to willfully disobey him by voting for Obama, take warning," she wrote. "Not only is our nation in grave danger, according to the word of God, so are you."

Porter said the election is not about the race or the economy, but rather "obeying God."

"Obama-Biden are pro-death. McCain-Palin are pro-life," she wrote, referencing the presidential candidates and their running mates. "Now choose life that you and your children may live."

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas wrote a piece in June declaring Obama is "not a Christian" but rather a "false prophet" who denies central tenets of the faith.

Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, wrote in August that Obama would not be the anti-Christ, but the enthusiastic reception the candidate received on a recent international tour "provided a foretaste of the reception [the anti-Christ] can expect to receive."

"Everyone uses fear in the last part of a campaign, but evangelicals are especially theologically prone to those sorts of arguments," Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University political scientist, told the Associated Press. "There's a long tradition of predicting doom and gloom."

But evangelical author Margaret Feinberg told the AP that such attempts might backfire with younger voters. "Young evangelicals are tired -- like most people at this point in the election -- and rhetoric which is fear-based, strong-arms the listener and states opinion as fact will only polarize rather than further the informed, balanced discussion that younger voters are hungry for," she said.