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A Country Ruled by Faith

Towey also brought black ministers to the White House to meet the first black woman to become secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.18 The fruits of this campaign for black votes could be seen in 2004, when black voters in Milwaukee received fliers from the influential black preacher Bishop Sedgwick Daniels urging them to vote for George Bush because “he shares our values.” He also shared with Bishop Daniels $1.5 million of taxpayers’ funds for faith-based initiatives. Bishop Daniels had always supported Democratic candidates before 2004.19

The first leader of the faith-based initiative program, a man who had experience in community programs, the Catholic political scientist John DiIulio, resigned after complaining of the political uses the program was being put to. As he explained to a reporter friend:

In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions…. On social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking—discussion by fairly senior people who mean Medicaid but were talking Medicare…. On the so-called faith bill, they basically rejected any idea that the president’s best political interests—not to mention the best policy of the country—could be served by letting centrist Senate Democrats in on the issue, starting with a bipartisan effort to review the implementation of the kindred law (called “charitable choice”) signed in 1996 by Clinton.

For a fact, had they done that, six months later they would have had a strongly bipartisan copycat bill to extend that law. But, over-generalizing the lesson from the politics of the tax cut bill, they winked at the most far-right Republicans [Rick Santorum and J.C. Watts] who, in turn, drafted a so-called faith bill (HR 7, the Community Solutions Act) that (or so they thought) satisfied certain fundamentalist leaders…. As one senior staff member chided me at a meeting at which many junior staff were present and all ears, “John, get a faith bill, any faith bill.”20

When the President was unable to get his faith-based bill through Congress, he just put it into effect anyway by means of two executive orders, going to Philadelphia to sign the second one. One of Karl Rove’s celebratory signs was unfurled over the stage: COMPASSION IN ACTION. It should have read RELIGION IN POLITICS.


Faith-Based Science

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush said that “the jury is still out” on the merits of Darwinism.21 That is true only if the jury is not made up of reputable scientists. Bush meant to place religious figures on the jury, to decide a scientific question. As president, he urged that schools teach “intelligent design” along with Darwinism—that is, teach religion alongside science in science classes. Gary Bauer, like other evangelicals, was delighted when the President said that. Bush’s endorsement proves, Bauer observed, that intelligent design “is not some backwater view.” An executive at the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design, chimed in: “President Bush is to be commended for defending free speech on evolution.”22 By that logic, teaching flat-earthism, or the Ptolemaic system alongside the Copernican system, is a defense of “free speech.”

The Discovery Institute claims that it is a scientific, not a religious, enterprise, but that claim was belied when one of its internal documents was discovered. It promised that the institute would “function as a wedge…[to] split the trunk [of materialism] at its weakest points” and “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.” The institute is mainly funded with evangelical money, and its spokespersons are evangelicals—one, Jonathan Wells, says he was inspired by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon to “devote my life to destroying Darwinism.” Another, Stephen C. Meyer, is a professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, whose faculty “must believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.”23

Since President Bush advocates the teaching of intelligent design, it is not surprising that in his administration, the National Park Service would authorize the sale of a book at the Grand Canyon claiming that the canyon was formed by Noah’s Flood. A group of scientists protested this endorsement by the government of bogus science. In response to that, the Alliance Defense Fund, set up by James Dobson and other fundamentalists, threatened a lawsuit if the book was withdrawn from sale at the federal site. As other religious right figures chimed in, it was discovered that a draft guide for park employees stated that the canyon was not formed in the time period of the Flood; the guide was not released. A survey of Park Service employees in 2003 found that almost nine out of ten felt the scientific message of the Service was being skewed for political reasons.24 That is the very definition of faith-based science.

So is the Bush administration’s denial of global warming. The religious right would seem to have no stake in this position, but for whatever reason—the premillennial lack of concern for the earth’s fate as Jesus’ coming nears, the “dominion” over the earth given Adam—evangelicals have been urgent in denying what most objective scientists have been observing. The White House intervened to have cautions against global warming removed from a 2003 draft report on the environment.25 Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma has called reports of global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”26 His hostility to any environmental concerns is such that he has called the Environmental Protection Agency a “Gestapo,” and likened its female director to “Tokyo Rose.”27 Inhofe is an evangelical who says that Israel was given the West Bank by God—he claimed that the attack on the World Trade Center was caused by America’s weak support of Israel:

One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States was that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.28


Faith-Based Health

One of George W. Bush’s first acts as president—in fact, on his first day in office, signaling its importance to his evangelical supporters—was to restore a gag rule on aid to international organizations that counsel women on the subject of abortion.29 Though abortion is legal in the US, the President was able by executive decree to proscribe its mere discussion in other countries if they are to receive money for their population problems. This was just the beginning of the imposition of moral limits on health measures abroad. Though the President was praised for devoting millions of dollars to preventing and treating AIDS in Africa, 30 percent of that money was earmarked for promoting sexual abstinence, and none of it was for condoms.30 Religion trumped medical findings on what is effective.

Domestically, too, $170 million were lavished on promoting a policy of “abstinence-only” in the schools during the year 2005 alone. The Centers for Disease Control removed from its Web site the findings of a panel that abstinence-only programs do not work. A study of the abstinence programs being financed by the federal government showed how little medical knowledge mattered, as opposed to moral dictation. As Chris Mooney writes in The Republican War on Science:

In evaluating the curricula of these programs, the report found that the vast majority exaggerated the failure rates of condoms, spread false claims about abortion’s health risks (including mental health problems) and perpetuated sexual stereotypes…. Perhaps most outrageously, one curriculum even claimed that sweat and tears could transfer the HIV virus. You might think that this would be a fringe claim even on the Right, but Senate majority leader Bill Frist, himself a physician, repeatedly refused to repudiate the notion of such transmission in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.31

The religious right had for years been spreading the unfounded claim that abortion causes breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute had correctly reported that no study has proved such a thing, but twenty-seven pro-life members of Congress pressured the NCI to remove that from its on-line fact sheet.

Another concern of the religious right was the morning-after abortion pill. Bush put one of the pill’s known opponents, David Hager, on the board of the Food and Drug Administration that was to decide whether that pill could be sold without a prescription. Though Hager voted with the minority of three on the board against over-the-counter sales of the pill, as opposed to a majority of twenty-four, he raised such a clamor about the danger of teenaged girls using it, increasing the pressure from the religious right, that the FDA refused to implement the board’s decision. Hager gave himself and God the credit for this, telling an audience at an evangelical college in Kentucky:

I argued it from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report [sic] to influence the decision. You don’t have to wave your Bible to have an effect as a Christian in the public arena. We serve the greatest Scientist. We serve the Creator of all life.32

For years the Bush administration could not get a director of the FDA confirmed because the acting director kept up the ban on over-the-counter sale of the morning-after pill and the nominee would not promise to lift the ban. At last, to break the impasse, the nominee said that he would lift the ban, but only for girls over eighteen, leaving unsolved all the many unwanted pregnancies of younger girls.

The religious position on health was foremost in the first major domestic issue George W. Bush faced as president. The great promise of using embryonic stem cell research had to be beaten back by the evangelicals, who think that embryos are human persons. Bush spent much of his time working out a way to cut off research without seeming to. The religious right was consulted throughout the decision process, with Jay Lefkowitz as the White House liaison to the evangelicals.33 The President decreed that only stem cell lines already being used could be federally funded—those, he said, “where the life and death decision has already been made.” He claimed there were over sixty of these, but there turned out to be more like sixteen, most of those unusable by American scientists.34 In July, Bush used his first veto since taking office to block a stem cell research bill that has passed both Republican-controlled houses of Congress. Once again, religion trumped medicine where health issues were concerned.


Faith-Based War

The deputy undersecretary for defense intelligence, General William (Jerry) Boykin—a man leading the search for bin Laden—made headlines during the Iraq war with a slide- show lecture he gave in churches. He appeared there not in his dress uniform but in combat gear. He asked audiences (this was after the 2000 election and before the 2004 one):

Ask yourself this: why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there?… I tell you this morning he’s in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world, in such a time as this.

Then he asked the congregation who the enemy is. He showed slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and Taliban leaders, asking of each, “Is this man the enemy?” He gave a resounding no to each question, and then revealed the foe’s true identity:

The battle this nation is in is a spiritual battle, it’s a battle for our soul. And the enemy is a guy called Satan…. Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.35

This was not a momentary lapse on Boykin’s part. He has been an active translator of war into religion for many years. After he led the failed “Blackhawk Down” raid on Mogadishu in 1993, he flew over the city taking photographs. When developed, the pictures showed black smears on the landscape. He showed them to his Sunday-school-teaching mother, and she asked, “Don’t you know specifically what you were up against?” Only then did he get the full supernatural meaning of the pictures. “It was a demonic presence in that city, and God revealed it to me as the enemy that I was up against in Mogadishu.” He remembered, in this light, the first feeling he had experienced in that non-Christian country: “I could feel the presence of evil…. The demonic presence is real in a place that has rejected God.” His task was not simply to defeat an enemy force, but to carry Jesus to the benighted. “It is the principalities of darkness. It is a spiritual enemy that will only be defeated if we come against him in the name of Jesus.”36 The evangelical groups he addressed responded eagerly when he attacked the “godless” courts of his own country. “Don’t you worry about what these courts say, our God reigns supreme.”37

When General Edwin Walker began to promote the John Birch Society to his NATO troops, President Kennedy removed him. What happened to General Boykin after he went around calling Muslims Satanic? He was not silenced, demoted, removed, or even criticized. He has continued to work on the Pentagon’s special intelligence group. His boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, said, “This is a free country,” and that Boykin had “an outstanding record” in his active career as a Delta Force commander. What caused the difference in response between President Kennedy’s time and President Bush’s? Could it be the power of the evangelicals? As soon as Boykin became an object of public criticism, the evangelicals rallied around him.

When President Bush, asked about the content of Boykin’s remarks, said, “He doesn’t reflect my point of view,” Gary Bauer was quick to attack his own leader for this mild expression of difference. He sent a memo to his organization’s members:

I must be missing something. The general has said that America is under attack because we are built on a Judeo-Christian values system; that ultimately the enemy is not flesh and blood, but rather the enemy is Satan, and that God’s hand of protection prevented September 11 from being worse than it was…. Precisely which of those statements does the president take issue with?

The Christian Coalition directed petitions to Secretary Rumsfeld urging him not to knuckle under to the “intolerant liberal mob [that] has castigated General Boykin, a true American hero.” James Dobson, on his radio show, called Boykin a “martyr,” and told his listeners to send in their protests to the White House.

There was nothing surprising in all this. Boykin was just repeating what other evangelicals had been saying about the war in Iraq. Charles Stanley, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote: “We should offer to serve the war effort in any way possible…. God battles with people who oppose him, who fight against him and his followers.” Jerry Falwell put it succinctly in 2004: “God is pro-war.” For some evangelicals, this was a war against the enemies of Israel, who are by definition anti-God. The evangelical writer Tim LaHaye called it, therefore, “a focal point of end-time events.” For others, it was a chance to spread Christianity to the infidels. An article syndicated on the Southern Baptist Convention’s wire service said that “American foreign policy and military might have opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and Marvin Olasky, the inventor of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” agreed.38 Boykin’s was not a lone voice, then, but that of a member in good standing of the community that supported Bush on religious grounds, even in his warfare. Boykin was safe under the sheltering wings of a religious right that the White House did not dare to cross.

God’s war needs God’s warriors, and the White House was ready to supply them. Kay Coles James had been the White House personnel scout for domestic offices. The equivalent director of personnel for the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority (headed by Catholic convert Paul Bremer) was the White House liaison to the Pentagon, James O’Beirne, a conservative Catholic married to National Revieweditor Kate O’Beirne. Those recruited to serve in the CPA were asked if they had voted for Bush, and what their views were on Roe v. Wade and capital punishment.39 O’Beirne trolled the conservative foundations, Republican congressional staffs, and evangelical schools for his loyalist appointees. Relatives of prominent Republicans were appointed, and staffers from offices like that of Senator Rick Santorum. Right moral attitude was more important than competence.40

That was proved when the first director of Iraqi health services, Dr. Frederick Burkle, was dismissed. Burkle, a distinguished physician, was a specialist in disaster relief, with experience in Kosovo, Somalia, and Kurdish Iraq. His replacement, James Haveman, had run a Christian adoption agency meant to discourage women from having abortions. Haveman placed an early emphasis on preventing Iraqis from smoking, while ruined hospitals went untended. This may suggest the policy on appointments that put Michael Brown in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the parallel is insufficiently harsh. Chris Matthews brought it up on his television show while interviewing the Washington Post reporter who had covered the CPA in Iraq, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who said, “There were a hundred Browns in Iraq.”41 But there were Bible study groups in the Green Zone.

There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.


Correction December 21, 2006

  1. 18

    Hamburger and Wallsten, One Party Country, p. 133.

  2. 19

    Hamburger and Wallsten, One Party Country, pp. 129–130.

  3. 20

    Letter of John DiIulio to Ron Suskind, in Esquire, October 2002.

  4. 21

    Nicholas D. Kristof, “For Bush, His Toughest Call Was the Choice to Run at All,” The New York Times, October 29, 2000.

  5. 22

    Peter Baker and Peter Slevin, “Bush Remarks on ‘Intelligent Design’ Theory Fuel Debate,” The Washington Post, August 3, 2005.

  6. 23

    Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science (Basic Books, 2005), pp. 164–174.

  7. 24

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, pp. 91–94.

  8. 25

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 105.

  9. 26

    Mooney, The Republican War on Science, pp. 79–101.

  10. 27

    Michael Barone and Richard E. Cohen, The Almanac of America Politics, 2006 (National Journal Group, 2006), p. 1365.

  11. 28

    James R. Inhofe, speech in the Senate, March 4, 2002.

  12. 29

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 6.

  13. 30

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 6.

  14. 31

    Mooney, The Republican War on Science, p. 213.

  15. 32

    Mooney, The Republican War on Science, pp. 218–219.

  16. 33

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 126.

  17. 34

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 126. Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, pp. 202–203.

  18. 35

    Kaplan, With God on Their Side, p. 21.

  19. 36

    Richard Leiby, “Christian Soldier,” The Washington Post, November 6, 2003.

  20. 37

    Leiby, “Christian Soldier.”

  21. 38

    All quotes in this paragraph are from Charles March, “Wayward Christian Soldiers,” The New York Times, January 20, 2005.

  22. 39

    Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone (Knopf, 2006), p. 91.

  23. 40

    Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, p. 94.

  24. 41

    Chris Matthews, Hardball, MSNBC, September 20, 2006.

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