Friday, February 15, 2008

More Family Circus

All is not happy in the land of Christian Fundamentalism. A string of stories that have come up in the past week is pointing to a wonderful class-based schism that is developing in both the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

Back in January, Doug Wead, a religious advisor to the first President Bush, helped leak a story on his blog that Governor Huckabee accepted donations from the Televangelist Kenneth Copeland. The mainstream press dutifully ran with that story, because Kenneth Copeland is under investigation by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), as part of a campaign he is undertaking investigating the finances of six different televangelists. A few days ago, Doug Wead posted again in his blog, criticizing Senator Grassley for his investigations.

So what is that all about? Why is Mr. Wead outing Televangelists one minute and defending them the next, and why is a conservative Republican Senator going after these televangelists in the first place?

Well, guess what, it’s an election year. This is all just a peak at what is going on behind the scenes. Mr. Wead outed Kenneth Copeland as a way of attacking Huckabee, and on how the Governor failed to properly court evangelicals:

‘…When seeking to establish a base among evangelical voters, presidential contender, Governor Mike Huckabee, made a big mistake. It is one that many presidential wannabes have made before him. He went over the heads of the evangelical leaders of influence and talked directly to the people. It works well with most constituencies, Catholics, Labor, Jews, Hispanics, Women but it never works with Blacks and it never works with evangelicals either. It cost Mike Huckabee the presidential primary in South Carolina and it will probably cost him the nomination…’

Pretty fun stuff: proper obeisance wasn’t paid. The connection with Kenneth Copeland is mentioned as a ‘too little too late’ comment. But the press got hold of it, and, lo and behold, Huckabee got to spend a bunch of time on the Sunday chat shows defending his relationship with the preacher Copeland. Clearly the Bush family doesn’t like Huckabee, because the good governor is playing respect to evangelicals, but not their leaders. There’s a proper way to do things, after all…

But where does Senator Grassley fit into all of this? Because just as there is a schism in the party, there is also a fight brewing among the churches. You see, Senator Grassley is not just the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee; he also helps run the International Christian Leadership Council, otherwise know as ‘The Family.’ All of the six televangelists that he is going after are proponents of the ‘prosperity doctrine,’ that God rewards you in this life with health and wealth. As such, they are almost certainly ripe for accounting investigations, though Mr. Wead argues otherwise:

‘…At least the six televangelists are consistent. That is, they truly believe their doctrines, namely, that God wants his people healthy, wealthy and forgiven. It is something they preached when they were poor. Take away their wealth and put them in jail and they would still preach it. And incidentally, six more televangelists would emerge because it is not a concept forced on a gullible public as the media would like to believe, it is driven by millions of Christians who subscribe to this particular Biblical interpretation, rightly or wrongly. The televangelist are in some respects the most accountable of all ministries, they literally rise and fall on their last sermon, which pays all their bills.

But Grassley apparently believes it is false doctrine, a dodge. So why then does he maintain a mansion on the Potomac? As a member of the White House senior staff, I was encouraged to come to Cedars and enjoy its pool and tennis courts and its spectacular view of Washington and use it for my own personal relaxation. It was a place to host important guests coming in for the National Prayer Breakfast. But why is it wrong for Kenneth Copeland, for example, to practice what he has publicly preached all his life and right for Senator Grassley to violate his own conscience?...’

So apparently a class-based fight is brewing between different politically connected fundamentalist groups. We’ve got a series of Bush-family-defended televangelists on one side and ‘The Family’ on the other side. As Jeff Sharlet puts it in the Reveler:

‘…But more important, for those of us interested in seeing beyond the image of a monolithic Christian Right presented by mainstream media, Wead, Grassley, and most of all Posner are revealing the class-based factionalism that pervades the American fundamentalist movement…’