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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2000 / 16 Adar I, 5760

Cal Thomas

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The religious right emerges from a coma --
LIKE A TERMINALLY ILL PATIENT who awakens from a coma prior to his ultimate demise, the Christian political right showed renewed strength in the South Carolina Republican primary by backing the winner, George W. Bush. But at what cost?

People who are supposed to serve a higher kingdom that is "not of this world,'' and an unelected King who does not seek the approval of any electorate in order to exercise true power, have shown that they can get down and dirty with the best of the pagans before whom they are supposed to be setting an example and pointing the way to G-d.

Conservative religious "leaders'' blast-faxed and e-mailed their South Carolina constituents in an orchestrated "informational'' campaign designed to smear Sen. John McCain. They brought up his first marriage, his alleged affairs, his sometimes bad language, his meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans and, by association, "his softness on gays'' (who have replaced Communists as the Religious Right's No. 1 enemy). They also excoriated Gary Bauer for his "sellout'' -- for bolting from the pack and endorsing McCain while virtually all of the conservative religious leaders have hitched their political horses to the wagon of George W. Bush. Even if all of the allegations against McCain and Bauer are true, the question is whether people who are supposed to be communicating the love of G-d did so by bashing McCain and Bauer in such an un-Christian manner.

Some not associated with religious conservatism don't think so. While not practicing the kind of religion (or politics) embraced by religious rightists, outsiders at least know how Christians are supposed to behave. Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. lamented that Bush's effort to "transform the definition of conservative Christian politics'' has been damaged by Christian conservatives in South Carolina who may have delivered him into temptation: "...the revolution in Christian conservatism that once seemed possible has foundered on the hard rocks of the McCain challenge and interest-group politics. We may have to wait another four years before the word Christian is associated in politics, as it's supposed to be in other parts of life, with civility and a decent regard for the other guy.'' What a rebuke!

Columnist David Broder noted the absurdity of so many people claiming that different candidates were "G-d's choice'' for president. Some of the conservative religious prophets backed Alan Keyes, others Bush and still others McCain. All seemed to have discerned G-d's will in the matter (McCain was said to have been spared death in Vietnam so that G-d could have him run for president). Yet, as Lincoln noted when receiving conflicting advice about whose side G-d was on in the Civil War, all sides could not be simultaneously right.

Christian conservative leaders are using the tools of the world in an attempt to impose a moral code and worldview that many non-Christians and even some Christians do not share. To the extent that lay people wish to indulge in this they are free to do so, misguided though they may be, but when those who are ordained or otherwise claim to speak for G-d do it, they are settling for the mess of pottage that is politics and demeaning themselves and their faith in the process. One leader of a major Christian organization recently justified some of the outrageous claims made in direct-mail fund-raising letters this way: "The left does it.'' I wasn't aware that the pagan left had replaced biblical principles in setting the agenda for the Christian church.

Both the religious and secular left have erred in their own public comments and equally outrageous fund-raising appeals. Conservative Christians aren't a threat to the state. They're a threat to themselves when they adopt the worldly tactics of those who appear to prefer political power to real power. One power changes occupants in Washington. The other changes hearts and lives. There is nothing in their political behavior that would compel people who do not believe in the G-d they claim to worship to begin a journey in search of Him. Since Satan is described in the Christian Bible as an "angel of light'' and a "counterfeit,'' is it possible they might be unwittingly in the employ of the wrong kingdom?

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