The Common Good

Just how influential is the Religious Right?

Sojomail - July 8, 2004

Quote of the Week Bono loves America
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Just how influential is the Religious Right?
Politically Connect The truth about the transition: Fumbling the handoff
Good News Headlines you may have missed
By the Numbers Horror's index: The cost of the Iraq war
P.O.V. Father of beheaded American speaks out
Culture Watch America the bittersweet
Boomerang Readers write
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"I'm in love with this country called America. I'm a huge fan of America. I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to that. I'm that kind of fan. I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude."

- Bono, activist rock star, in his commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania.

Source: University of Pennsylvania Almanac.

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Just how influential is the Religious Right?
by David Batstone

How has the Religious Right become a powerful sector of the Republican Party, holding veto power over most any GOP maneuver?

The mainstream media typically treat the rise of religious conservatives with derision, commonly depicting them as fanatics out of touch with modern American life. These dismissals do not enable them to see the organic relationship that was developing between the legions of Religious Right constituents and the political establishment.

The Religious Right carefully has nurtured grassroots organizations with a decidedly outsider political mentality. The efforts of groups such as Christian Voice, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Freedom Council, American Coalition for Traditional Values, and the Christian Coalition were linked masterfully to make a strong impact on local political issues. During this period of rapid growth, the movement concentrated on political battles involving its key moral concerns, above all abortion, gay rights, school prayer, teaching creationism in public schools, and support for a regressive tax structure. Any taxing of the rich to redistribute wealth to the poor is equated with socialism. In the process, the movement gleaned valuable insight about how the political structure worked, and how to work it from Washington insiders like Orrin Hatch and Jesse Helms.

Early on, Republican centrists did not like the notion of power sharing with the extreme Right. The image of Jerry Falwell vilifying his political adversaries in colorful biblical language might play to a core audience, but it scared Republican operatives who did not want to alienate moderate voters.

But a new generation of Religious Right leaders - exemplified by Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition and the senior director of Bush's re-election campaign in the Southeast - learned how to make compromises and work in coalitions. The movement also became savvier about how to leverage the power of its voting bloc in order to gain a seat at those tables where important policy decisions are made.

That dynamic unmistakably was at play at the 1998 Values Summit, a gathering of the core of the Religious Right organizations and sympathizers within the Republican Party, including Tom DeLay. Before the summit, James Dobson of Focus on the Family openly had expressed his disenchantment with the Republican Party. "He argued it may be time for religious conservatives to leave the Party because they aren't paying attention to our core moral issues," reports Napp Nazworth, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida who follows the movement intimately. The summit took up that problem, focusing on the lack of coordination between the outside pro-life/pro-family coalitions and similar-minded members of Congress.

DeLay and his colleagues in the Republican Study Committee (RSC) - which, according to its Web site, "is a group of over 85 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives" - were not about to permit an exodus of religious conservatives. Shortly after the summit, DeLay nominated then freshman Representative Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania to spearhead a new inside/outside coalition, which would come to be known as the Values Action Team (VAT). The VAT's primary goal is to link Washington insiders with grassroots outsiders and coordinate their efforts on legislative reform. In practice, the VAT holds weekly luncheons in Washington, D.C., that offer Focus on the Family and the 30 or so other Religious Right member organizations a direct lobbying line to the U.S. Congress. In order to join the VAT, a member of Congress must pledge to be "strongly pro-life" and "must assign one legislative staff member to attend weekly."

The gatherings of the VAT, the Republican Study Committee, and other affiliated meetings, such as the Free Congress Foundation's bi-weekly breakfast, are creating a potent synergy in Washington. "They influence Congress because they represent a united front," says Nazworth, who has participated in these gatherings. "That's the way things work in Congress; you need to have independent enclaves of power," he explains.

Of course, the meetings only take place because the Religious Right movement is busy gathering constituents in local churches who mail their congresspersons, and who support the 'right' candidates to get elected. Once those candidates get elected, then the movement has more friends in Congress. For the Religious Right, the insider/outsider organization is turning into a virtuous circle of influence.

This essay is excerpted from "The Right Stuff," which appears in the July issue of Sojourners magazine.

+ Read the entire article by David Batstone and Mark Wexler

+ Read more commentary by David Batstone

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The truth about the transition: Fumbling the handoff
by Katie Paarlberg

The Coalition Provisional Authority has "handed over" a nation in a state of stunning disrepair, where bloody attacks on both soldiers and civilians occur daily. Its infrastructure remains shattered. Although Congress approved an $18.4 billion aid package last year to finance Iraq's reconstruction, the White House has admitted that only 2% of it has been spent - and none of that on construction, health care, sanitation, or water projects, according to The Washington Post.

Moreover, Iraqi sovereignty has not changed the fundamentals of the U.S. military occupation, or the fact that Iraq is still operating in large part under U.S. jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the handover of power is looking more and more like an election-season public relations stunt.

+ Read the full article

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Headlines you may have missed

A decision by the Israeli High Court to change the route of the West Bank barrier to alleviate Palestinian suffering has set a precedent for further legal disputes.

+ Read the article

"We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen's right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote. "A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens."

+ Read the article

The number of low-power stations broadcasting everything from Pentecostal sermons to polkas could grow by the thousands if a bill to expand low-power service to urban areas introduced last week into the U.S. Senate by Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Patrick J. Leahy (D) of Vermont is approved.

+ Read the article


Politics and Prophecy: Challenging the Idolatry of Empire
July 30 - August 1
Miami, Florida
Rev. Jim Wallis, Fr. Richard Rohr, and more


Horror's index: The cost of the Iraq war

987: Number of coalition forces killed between March 19, 2003, and July 5, 2004
693: Number killed after President Bush declared the end of official combat operations on May 1, 2003
9,436: Minimum estimate of the number of Iraq civilians killed as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation
40,000: Estimated number of Iraqis injured
14: Average number of violent deaths per month in Iraq in 2002
357: Average number of violent deaths per month in Iraq in 2003
30: Percentage of Iraqis unemployed before the war
60: Percentage of Iraqis unemployed in the summer of 2003
$151,000,000,000: Amount spent on the war through the end of this year, pending Congressional approval
$3,415: Monetary cost of war per U.S. household, on average
54: Percentage of Americans polled who felt that "the situation in Iraq was not worth going to war over" (Annenberg Election Survey)
52: Percentage of soldiers who reported low morale, according to a March 2004 army survey
28.2: Percentage of soldiers in Iraq who screened positive for traumatic stress, anxiety, or depression
34: Number of detainee deaths as a result of interrogation methods currently under investigation by the U.S. military
20,000: Number of private contractors performing traditionally military jobs in Iraq
1: Percentage of Iraqi workers involved in reconstruction projects
$160,000,000: Amount spent by major contractor Halliburton on meals that were never served to troops
82,000,000: Number of U.S. children who could have received health care coverage with the funds allocated to the war by the Bush administration

Sources: Foreign Policy in Focus, The Wall Street Journal.


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P.O.V. ^top

Father of beheaded American speaks out

The words of Michael Berg, whose 26-year-old son Nick Berg was beheaded by Iraqi militants:

"People like George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld don't see the pain that people have to bear - they don't know what it feels like to have your guts ripped out."

"What I'm trying to do is show to the American people and the British people...that war has a wretchedly horrible face."

"There are 11,000-plus Iraqi citizens that are dead and each one's family is as affected as I was, but the American media doesn't cover these people. It doesn't cover the people who are suffering the most."

"Observing someone's pain just makes you think just how can they [Bush and Blair] possibly do this. There isn't enough money in the world that could ever make this worthwhile."

Source: Reuters


by Charles Dickinson

If Christianity - without losing its soul - is yet to avoid losing touch with the world, it must constantly update itself by dialogue with all the intellectual currents of today. To this end, the author proposes a necessary two-way dialectic between theology and the world, an ongoing dialectic ultimately essential to both church and world. $25 hardcover. To order call (313) 624-9784. Dove Booksellers, 13904 Michigan Avenue, Dearborn, Michigan, 48126.


America the bittersweet

Jazz pianist Bradley Sowash introduces a special rendition of America:

"With this bittersweet arrangement, I've attempted to capture our collective mixed emotions - on the one hand, a deep sadness and even shame for the loss of rights, allies, and lives that have resulted from the dire choices made by the present administration; on the other, a renewed sense of hope that democracy, love of country, and the common sense of the average American citizen will help put us back on course."

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+ Sowash has been featured in Sojourners' New and Noteworthy section


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Readers write

Dr. Richard Pierard, Stephen Phillips Professor of History at Gordon College, writes:

Thank you for your words of reason and good sense to the Democratic Party's Platform Drafting Committee. There are several of us at Gordon College who are distressed with George W. Bush's and the Republican Party's naked exploitation of evangelical religion for political gain, and this gives us hope and encouragement that people of faith who adhere to a full-rounded gospel may at last begin to be heard. Keep up the good work - we're behind you.


Lindy Beatie writes from Rough and Ready, California:

I have to respectfully disagree with Jim's premise that Democrats should use "moral and religious language" in expressing their party platform. That's why the Republicans rub me, as a Christian, the wrong way. Talk is cheap. You can use any kind of language you want but when it's not backed up with action, that's where the Republican hypocrisy breaks down. My feeling is that Christians should do everything in their power to work for justice in this world, not because it's part of some party platform, but because it's ordained by God, and it's the Christian thing to do.

I resent my religion being used as a wedge issue. If we are to maintain the precious separation of church and state that our founding fathers envisioned for this country, we as Christians should be the first to take that stand and not insist on our politicians using religious language, but rather taking the higher ground in their actions, and keep the party platform open for all - regardless of race, religion, creed, or gender.


Don Hall writes from Okotoks, Alberta, Canada:

I applaud Jim Wallis' efforts to reach out to both Democrat and Republican Platform Drafting Committees. As a Canadian I note with interest how social liberals like Michael Moore and Ralph Nader felt obliged to "warn" Canadians of the dire outcomes if we were to vote conservative. And yes it is true, although unfortunate, that elements within the conservative stream are more vocal about human sexuality issues to the neglect of moral issues surrounding poverty and the environment. My one caution is that it is the same Bible that addresses all these issues. Republicans have a tendency to focus in one area, but it is just as true that Democrats choose other areas. If moral and religious language is encouraged then we have both the language of "you shall love your neighbor" and "thou shalt not...."


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