Bush is new Christian Coalition Leader

From: Clint O'Dell (clint@freethoughtradio.com)
Date: Wed Jan 02 2002 - 14:56:19 MST

Freethought Radio SignatureHi Guys and Gals. I just read this article from
the Washington Post about Bush being the new leader for the Christian
Coalition. Sounds interesting.

Religious Right Finds Its Center in Oval Office

Bush Emerges as Movement's Leader After Robertson Leaves

By Dana Milbank

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, December 24, 2001; Page A02

Pat Robertson's resignation this month as president of the Christian
Coalition confirmed the ascendance of a new leader of the religious right in
America: George W. Bush.

For the first time since religious conservatives became a modern political
movement, the president of the United States has become the movement's de
facto leader -- a status even Ronald Reagan, though admired by religious
conservatives, never earned. Christian publications, radio and television
shower Bush with praise, while preachers from the pulpit treat his
leadership as an act of providence. A procession of religious leaders who
have met with him testify to his faith, while Web sites encourage people to
fast and pray for the president.

There are several reasons for the adulation. Religious conservatives have
regarded Bush as one of their own since the presidential campaign, when he
spoke during a debate of the guidance of Jesus. At the same time, key
figures in the religious right -- Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson,
Billy Graham and Franklin Graham -- have receded in political prominence or
influence, in part because they are no longer mobilized by their opposition
to a president. Bush's handling of the anti-terrorism campaign since Sept.
11 has solidified his standing by painting him in stark terms as the leader
in a fight of good against evil.

"I think Robertson stepped down because the position has already been
filled," said Gary Bauer, a religious conservative who challenged Bush in
the Republican primary. Bush "is that leader right now. There was already a
great deal of identification with the president before 9-11 in the world of
the Christian right, and the nature of this war is such that it's heightened
the sense that a man of God is in the White House."

Ralph Reed, who once led the Christian Coalition and now is chairman of the
Georgia GOP, notes that the religious conservative movement "no longer plays
the institutional role it once did," in part because it succeeded in
electing Bush and other friendly leaders. "You're no longer throwing rocks
at the building; you're in the building."

Conservative Christians tend to view Bush's recent success as part of a
divine plan. "I've heard a lot of 'God knew something we didn't,' " Reed
said. "In the evangelical mind, the notion of an omniscient God is central
to their theology. He had a knowledge nobody else had: He knew George Bush
had the ability to lead in this compelling way."

Bush himself dismisses the notion that he is part of some divine plan. "He
does not believe he was chosen for this moment," a senior aide said. "He
just views himself as governing on his beliefs and his promises. He doesn't
look at himself as a leader of any particular movement."

Still, some of those around Bush say they have a sense that a higher purpose
is involved. "I think President Bush is God's man at this hour, and I say
this with a great sense of humility," Bush aide Tim Goeglein, described as a
"strong evangelical," told World magazine, a Christian publication.

Partially a victim of their own success, groups such as the Christian
Coalition are finding fundraising difficult. Some leaders, such as Focus on
the Family's Dobson, have retreated from political involvement.

Some religious conservative leaders have inflicted wounds on themselves.
Falwell was roundly criticized, even by supporters, for saying on
television, with Robertson's agreement, that "abortionists and the
feminists, and the gays and lesbians" and civil libertarians were to blame
in part for the Sept. 11 attacks. Franklin Graham produced a furor by
declaring Islam a "very evil and wicked religion."

Voting patterns also show a declining religious right. Karl Rove, Bush's top
political strategist, said that only 15 million of the 19 million religious
conservatives who should have voted went to the polls in 2000. "We may be
seeing to some degree some return to the sidelines of previously involved
religious conservatives," he said.

And Bush, his advisers acknowledge, deliberately circumvented the power of
the leaders of the religious right, appealing to conservatives himself
rather than paying homage to the Christian Coalition during the campaign.
"In the old days, Republican presidential candidates went to religious
conservative leaders to seek their imprimatur," said a Bush adviser. "George
W. Bush was able to go directly to those who sat in the pews."

Bush's effort succeeded. "He is the leader of the Christian right," said
Marshall Wittmann, a former Christian Coalition figure now with the Hudson
Institute, a think tank. "As their institutions peel away, he can go over
the heads" of religious conservative leaders.

Bush, aided by speechwriter Michael Gerson, himself a religious
conservative, speaks the language of religion better than any president
since Jimmy Carter, religious leaders say, and Bush's policies appeal more
to conservatives. To many outside the religious conservative movement,
Bush's faith-infused words may sound sanctimonious; to those within it, the
words sound familiar and comforting. Across the country, churchgoers share
Bush's "testimony," his discovery of God 15 years ago with the help of Billy
Graham. "Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew
over the next year," Bush's memoir recounts. "He led me to the path, and I
began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life."

As Bush had embraced religious conservatism, religious conservatives have
openly embraced him. The Internet has several sites offering prayers for the
president's success. One example: "Call on the name of the Lord to hedge him
in from terrorists and violent people. Psalm 91:11-12; 1 Corinthians

World magazine, which is edited by one-time Bush adviser Marvin Olasky,
named Bush's attorney general, John D. Ashcroft, its "Daniel of the Year."
Ashcroft himself considered running for president in 2000 as the candidate
of the religious right. "Just as the biblical Daniel faced an established
idol-worshiping religion in Babylon, so our Dans must not back down in the
face of deadly persecution abroad or the scorn and harassment that comes
domestically from the academic and media high priests of our established
religion, secular liberalism," Olasky wrote.

The top Daniel, of course, is Bush himself, a view liberally offered by the
many religious figures who pass through the White House. In an account of
one such meeting, Jean Bethke Elshtain, a professor at the University of
Chicago Divinity School, wrote of a "powerful and moving moment" with Bush
and an ecumenical group of religious leaders. "One of our group asked, 'Mr.
President, what can we do for you?' He indicated that we could 'pray for me,
for our country, for my family.' He believes in the efficacy of prayer and
needs wisdom and guidance and grace, he said. A Greek Orthodox archbishop
was invited to lead us in prayer. We all joined hands in a prayer circle,
including the president."

2001 The Washington Post Company


Clint O'Dell

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