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Jewish World Review March 2, 2000 / 25 Adar I, 5760

Cal Thomas

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Unholy war in the GOP --
WHEN PREACHERS of the Gospel get down and dirty with the politicians they can expect to be treated as, well, politicians. Still, Sen. John McCain has gone too far in denouncing Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance.'' In fact, members of the religious and pagan left have been the agents of intolerance -- toward unborn life and objective truth -- who have corroded culture beyond our grandparents' recognition.

McCain said he wasn't criticizing all religious conservatives, just Falwell and Robertson. The distinction will be lost on many. What could have been on McCain's mind when he launched such a nuclear strike? Surely it was an appeal to "moderate'' Republicans in New York and New England states with Super Tuesday primaries on March 7. Knowing that the country-club Republicans have always been embarrassed by religious rightists, McCain apparently thought that attacking Robertson and Falwell would gain him favor among this constituency.

The hypocrisy overflows. Bob Jones was denounced as an anti-Catholic bigot (and by association George W. Bush, who recently appeared at Bob Jones University), but no one called Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole bigots for having visited Jones' university. McCain supporter Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) holds an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, but McCain has not asked him to give it back. Race-baiting black preachers get a free pass from the media. So do liberal preachers who endorse their favorite candidates and criticize politicians from their pulpits -- in violation of the left's sacred "church-state separation,'' to say nothing of the IRS Code.

McCain's attempt to divide his party along religious lines mimics President Clinton's successful efforts at dividing the country along racial lines. But McCain should know that while his alienation of conservative Christian voters might help him win over some "moderates,'' if he were to get the nomination those same voters might stay at home, or vote for a third-party candidate, thus guaranteeing the election of Al Gore.

We are viewing the casualties from a 20-year culture war in which highly visible preachers of a gospel and a kingdom that are not of this world have tried to have it both ways. They seek the spiritual equivalent of conscientious-objector status, but are then surprised when they are attacked for becoming combatants in political warfare. When criticized, they shout "bigotry,'' but what did they expect?

People who take their faith so seriously that they seek to please G-d before any human being, political party or earthly enticement ought to be learning a valuable lesson. This is what happens when what is perceived to be the church is regarded as one more competitor for temporal power. The church then loses its political virginity and -- instead of sending a message that ultimately betters not only individuals, but society as a whole -- diminishes itself by behaving like a spiritual Teamsters Union, riding roughshod over all who get in its way. This is not the way of Jesus. It is the way of James Carville.

The unholy war within the Republican Party is becoming a free campaign commercial for Democrats. The Republicans are setting themselves up for major losses in November if they don't stop this now. Conservative Christians are ignoring a warning issued 16 years ago by former Nixon aide Charles Colson. In his book "Who Speaks for G-d?'' Colson wrote: "It's easy to become enthralled with access to places of supposed power. In time, however, without even knowing it, our well-intentioned attempts to influence government can become so entangled with a particular political agenda that it becomes our focus; our goal becomes maintaining our political access. When that happens, the gospel is held hostage to a political agenda -- and we become part of the very system we were seeking to change.''

That warning is not only to Christian conservatives who tend to vote Republican, but to their more liberal brethren whose fundamental message has been consumed in promises of redemption by the Democratic Party. It is why a too-close association between religion and politics rarely causes damage to the state. The damage is caused to the church, because its primary message is obscured in the rush to crown a head of state instead of bowing before the King of Kings.

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