Bush's hotline to Jesus

By Michelle Goldberg
Published October 24, 2004 8:49PM (EDT)

With little to run on but a flight-suit photo op and threats of lupine mayhem under a Kerry administration, the Republicans' grass-roots campaign has resorted to touting their boy's personal hot line to Jesus. To help, the RNC has employed the services of a Texas theocrat named David Barton, founder of an organization called Wallbuilders, which is dedicated to remaking -- or "restoring" -- America as a Christian nation.

As the Web site Beliefnet reports, Barton has been "traveling the country for a year -- speaking at about 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors. During the lunches, he presents a slide show of American monuments, discusses his view of America's Christian heritage -- and tells pastors that they are allowed to endorse political candidates from the pulpit." In fact, such endorsements can cost a church their tax status -- an IRS rule that the religious right is ardently trying to change. This weekend, Barton spoke at a "Patriotic Rally and Celebration" at the Potters House Church of God in Ohio, which served as one of the headquarters of the push to get the anti-gay state constitutional amendment Issue 1on the Ohio ballot.

Beliefnet reports that, in addition to Wallbuilders, Barton is on the board of directors of the Providence Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist group. The article links to an explanation of Christian Reconstructionism from Political Research Associates, a think tank that tracks the religious right. "Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of 'Biblical Law.' Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools."

That may sound extreme but Barton is part of the mainstream of today's GOP. Indeed, as Beliefnet points out, he's vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party.

People like Barton are a large part of the reason that the Republicans, for all their optimistic predictions, never get more than a fraction of the Jewish vote. The Jews for Jesus vote, though, is another story. As an e-mail alert from the National Jewish Democratic Council points out, Bush recently reappointed Lon Solomon, a pastor at McLean Bible Church and leader of Jews for Jesus, to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (he has a severely retarded daughter, which appears to be his sole qualification in the field).

"Mr. Solomon takes his work proselytizing American Jews very seriously," NJDC writes. "In August, the Washington Times reported on an extremely well-organized effort to convert Jews in the Washington, DC area -- and Mr. Solomon's church was 'the hub of the evangelistic effort.' The Times called it the 'largest evangelistic effort in Washington in the 31-year history' of Jews for Jesus. To add insult to injury, the campaign was timed to coincide with the High Holidays."

Solomon's bio on the government Web site doesn't mention any of this, though it does say, "As a pastor with a strong Jewish and Christian tradition, he values the President's personal courage and interest in promoting his Faith-Based Initiative."

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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