By Rob Boston
Back in 1979, a group of ultra-conservative religious leaders began holding meetings to discuss the fate of President Jimmy Carter.
Many of these leaders had voted for Carter, an evangelical Christian, in 1976 but had soured on him. They were looking for a new political leader – one who would parrot their line on social issues – and found him in Ronald Reagan. Thanks in part to their support, Reagan went on to win election in 1980, and the modern Religious Right learned what it could do when it flexed some political muscle.
Is history about to repeat itself?
Ethicsdaily.com reports that a band of right-wing religious leaders met in Dallas recently to plot a way to oust President Barack Obama in 2012. (The Web site is run by the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville – a moderate outfit not tied to the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention.)
Brian Kaylor, an Ethicsdaily.com contributing editor, reports that “about 40 conservative Christian leaders” attended the confab on Sept. 8-9. The event, Kaylor wrote, was convened by James Robison, a Texas-based TV preacher who was prominent in conservative politics in the 1980s. (Robison has served as a spiritual adviser to George W. Bush.)
Several officials of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) were there, among them Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A number of mega-church pastors were also there, along with: Johnnie Moore, a vice president at Jerry Falwell Jr.’s Liberty University; Doug Napier, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund; Maggie Gallagher, a columnist and crusader against same-sex marriage; Jim Garlow, chairman of Newt Gingrich’s Renewing American Leadership; Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, and Jay Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.
Kaylor contacted a number of attendees, but none would talk to him about the gathering. Earlier this year, however, Robison, who frequently attacks Obama on his blog, talked on the record about the September meeting and compared it to the effort to oust Carter three decades ago.
“I am presently more deeply concerned than I was during Carter’s administration,” Robison wrote on one blog post. “The circle of counsel around our current President is not just disappointing, it’s absolutely shocking.”
There are a number of interesting angles to this. Has American society changed enough since 1979 that a backroom effort like this might meet some stiff resistance? If the economy continues to plod along, will voters look at Obama like they did Carter and swing to the far right, putting the Religious Right in a powerful position?
Most importantly, what exactly do these religious leaders – most of whom lead tax-exempt ministries or churches – plan to do to defeat Obama? If their scheme is to mobilize churches around a candidate to replace the president, one would think the Internal Revenue Service might have something to say about that. Houses of worship and other ministries hold a tax exemption that forbids electioneering.
Interestingly, three TV preachers who took part in the meeting – Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar and Joyce Meyer – already have been the subjects of investigations. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) began looking into the trio’s finances for living high on the hog while running tax-exempt entities.
Are these three itching for another investigation?
In any case, this scheme bears watching closely. Its legality is questionable, and it also looks like yet another power play by the Religious Right, perhaps aided and abetted by their allies in the Tea Party.