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by Peterr

Is James Dobson Repenting for His 2007 Interview with Newt Gingrich?

9:17 am in 2012 election, Religion by Peterr

James Dobson’s slam on Newt Gingrich at the recent behind-closed-doors meeting of evangelical Christian leaders grabbed a lot of attention in the press — almost as much as the group’s eventual vote to get behind Rick Santorum. Grace Wyler at Business Insider described Dobson’s comments like this:

Influential evangelical leader James Dobson set off the fireworks at this weekend’s Christian Right summit, giving a speech that lavished praise on Karen Santorum and asked whether Americans really wanted Callista Gingrich — “a woman who was a man’s mistress for eight years” — as their First Lady, according to sources who attended the meeting.

Sources told Business Insider that Dobson’s speech was a “startling moment” that left many in the audience — particularly those who support Gingrich — floored. One source described Dobson’s tone as “angry,” and said it seemed like Dobson was blaming Callista Gingrich for the couples’ affair, which began while the former House Speaker was still married to his second wife (this is Callista Gingrich’s first marriage).

“It was clear that, to him, the villian in this story is Callista Gingrich,” the source said. “And he was announcing it to 170 ministers with huge mailing lists and television ministries.”

That’s gotta sting. What no one seems to remember — not Wyler or anyone else — is that five years ago, when Gingrich was looking to reenter the political fights but knew he needed to address the adultery issue, it was to James Dobson that Gingrich turned. Gingrich and Dobson had a memorable radio conversation in which Newt admitted his adultery publicly for the first time (you can listen to the audio at the link). Folks like the late Jerry Falwell clamored to commend Gingrich for his confession:

“He has admitted his moral shortcomings to me, as well, in private conversations,” Falwell wrote in a weekly newsletter sent Friday to members of the Moral Majority Coalition and The Liberty Alliance. “And he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God’s forgiveness.”

CNN’s Bill Schneider speculated at the time that this was a signal from Gingrich that he wanted in the presidential race and wanted the whole adultery question neutralized. In contrast to Rudy Giuliani’s interview with Larry King admitting his own rather substantive marital problems, Gingrich went to a major — perhaps the major — figure in the TheoCon movement, looking for absolution and a blessing.

And he got it.

But three weeks after that radio broadcast, Dobson made an unsolicited phone call to author and blogger Dan Gilgoff (then at US News), adding another layer to the conversation with Gingrich:

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson appeared to throw cold water on a possible presidential bid by former Sen. Fred Thompson while praising former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also weighing a presidential run, in a phone interview Tuesday.

“Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,” Dobson said of Thompson. “[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression,” Dobson added, saying that such an impression would make it difficult for Thompson to connect with the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base and win the GOP nomination.

At the time, Fred Thompson was the up-and-coming flavor of the month. Very Serious People asked questions like “Will he get in the race or won’t he? Can he save the GOP from the likes of Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain?” A couple of days later, Dobson’s spokesperson tried to backpedal a bit on the Gilgoff interview, saying

[Dobson's] words weren’t intended to represent either an endorsement of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich or a disparagement of former Sen. Fred Thompson. Dr. Dobson appreciates Sen. Thompson’s solid, pro-family voting record and his position that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided.

In his conversation with Mr. Gilgoff, Dr. Dobson was attempting to highlight that to the best of his knowledge, Sen. Thompson hadn’t clearly communicated his religious faith, and many evangelical Christians might find this a barrier to supporting him.

Still, the implications were clear. For whatever reason, Dobson was clearly more comfortable supporting Newt Gingrich, a repentant serial adulterer, than Fred Thompson.

That was then, but my how things have changed.

Today, it seems as if Dobson is repenting a bit for his 2007 comments about Gingrich. In that Business Insider piece that I linked to at the top, Wyler goes on to describe a division among the participants:

In the wake of the conference, Christian Right leaders have publicly split into two camps — a bad sign for a coalition whose strength has always come from its solidarity. In one camp, powerful evangelical scions like Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Family Research Council President Tony Perkins; and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, have thrown their support behind Santorum. On the other hand, influential California megachurch pastor Jim Garlow, evangelical activist David Lane, and Christian marketing guru George Barna have teamed up to support Gingrich.

So what’s changed?

(a) Not much. In 2007, Dobson used Gingrich as a way to undercut Fred Thompson, hoping to energize the TheoCon community to get behind someone more religiously acceptable. He wasn’t praising Gingrich as much as slipping a knife into Thompson, to try to build up support for a candidate the TheoCons could really get behind. Not necessarily Gingrich in 2008, mind you, but perhaps someone like Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback. In 2012, Dobson’s found a more acceptable candidate, and is quite willing to use Gingrich again, this time to derail Mitt Romney’s campaign.

(b) Everything. In 2007, Dobson allowed Gingrich to use Dobson’s radio show as a means to reenter politics, proclaiming himself to be a reformed, repentant, and renewed Christian. Those are words to warm every TheoCon’s heart. But in the five years since then, what has Gingrich done to show his faith credentials? What has he done to promote the TheoCon cause? He’s done lots of lobbying and consulting, promoting the bank account of Newt and Callista Gingrich, but nothing to get the TheoCons cheering. Neither Dobson nor Gingrich has said much publicly about the other since then (until recently, that is), but there is one little public thing that might be in play. In 2009, Gingrich left the Baptist church and became a Roman Catholic — not something that went down well with many TheoCons. If this was part of Dobson’s problem with Gingrich, it’s not as simple as saying “TheoCons don’t like Catholics.” After all, Dobson recently endorsed the very Roman Catholic Rick Santorum. Instead, it may be that Dobson sees Gingrich’s conversion to Catholicism as yet another sign that Gingrich views religion as a political tool to be used to manipulate others, not as a way of life for one’s self, and yet another indication that the 2007 interview was more calculated than sincere. In other words, Dobson now sees that he got played in 2007, and doesn’t like that one bit.

(c) Both of the above. Dobson used Gingrich in 2007 to torpedo Thompson, and wants to do the same now to torpedo Mitt Romney. If Dobson thinks he was played by Gingrich in 2007, that would certainly explain the anger with which Dobson spoke out against Newt and Callista last week. Being able to pay Gingrich back for being fooled by him in 2007 while at the same time trying to boost a “real Christian conservative” like Santorum as the alternative to Romney is icing on the cake.

It’s mostly a wild guess, but put me down for (c).

_______

photo of a portion of the John the Baptist window in Glasgow Cathedral h/t to Glasgow Amateur

by Peterr

No, Cardinal Mahony, Judge Walker Got it Right

3:26 pm in Judiciary, LGBT, Religion by Peterr

Dear Cardinal Mahony,

I saw your recent blog post entitled Judge Vaughn Walker Got it Wrong, in which you wrote:

[Walker's] decision fails to deal with the basic, underlying issue–rather he focused solely upon individual testimony on how Prop 8 affected them personally. Wrong focus.

There is only one issue before each of us Californians: Is Marriage of Divine or of Human Origin?

Judge Walker pays no attention to this fundamental issue, and relies solely upon how Prop 8 made certain members of society "feel" about themselves.

Those of us who supported Prop 8 and worked for its passage did so for one reason: We truly believe that Marriage was instituted by God for the specific purpose of carrying out God’s plan for the world and human society. Period.

That may be what you and many others believe about marriage, but that belief has no standing in court. Judge Walker was not placed on the bench to decide whether laws and conduct in the United States match up to the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or other religious writings. His job is to measure the disputes that come to his courtroom against the laws and constitution of the United States of America.

Period.

Maybe even Exclamation Point.

The sacred text for Judge Walker is the US Constitution, and nowhere in the Constitution and its twenty seven amendments is God mentioned. Nowhere. Not even once.

Religion gets only two mentions in the Constitution. Article VI says there can be no religious test to hold office, and the First Amendment restrains Congress from establishing an official religion and abridging the free exercise of religion. That’s two mentions of religion, and both in the negative.

If the defendant-intervenors in the Prop 8 case tried to raise the issue of the divine institution of male-female marriage, any federal judge would have been right to throw the argument out. Judge Walker summarized this in two sentences in his decision (pdf p. 10), distilled from two of the most on-point Supreme Court cases:

A state’s interest in an enactment must of course be secular in nature. The state does not have an interest in enforcing private moral or religious beliefs without an accompanying secular purpose. See Lawrence v Texas, 539 US 558, 571 (2003); see also Everson v Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 US 1, 15 (1947).

The state is not in the business of making religious judgments — and I’m surprised that you, the soon-to-be-retired Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic church would want a secular judge to be passing judgment on whose religious views are correct. You and your brother bishops seem very passionate about claiming that kind of authority only for yourselves.

Cardinal, if you don’t like Walker’s ruling and want someone to blame for it, you might look in the mirror. It was likely money from Roman Catholic and Latter-Day Saints individuals and institutions that paid for the work of the defense-intervenors, and from where I sit, they did a pretty poor job.

Judge Walker gave them every opportunity to lay out a non-religious rationale for their position, and they failed. Miserably.

They did not build a case on facts, but merely asserted that one existed. They did not put forth credible expert witnesses, they did not bring forward peer-reviewed scientific studies, and they did not put forward a single convincing secular purpose for the kind of discrimination Prop 8 sought to enshrine in law. Wrote Walker (pdf p. 11):

[Prop 8] proponents in their trial brief promised to “demonstrate that redefining marriage to encompass same-sex relationships” would effect some twenty-three specific harmful consequences. Doc #295 at 13-14. At trial, however, proponents presented only one witness, David Blankenhorn, to address the government interest in marriage. Blankenhorn’s testimony is addressed at length hereafter; suffice it to say that he provided no credible evidence to support any of the claimed adverse effects proponents promised to demonstrate.

That’s the sum total of the case put forward by the defenders of Prop 8. One witness, and not a particularly good one at that. Walker weighed that poor excuse for a case against the strong, vigorous, and well-supported arguments of the plaintiffs, and (surprise, surprise) sided with those seeking to overturn Prop 8.

Indeed, your blog post proves the wisdom of Judge Walker’s ruling. You declare that there is one and only one reason you and others backed Prop 8 — your religious beliefs about the divine institution of marriage. Indeed, by the end of Walker’s decision, he seems to agree that this *is* what the case is about. After dismantling the six purported rationales for Prop 8 put forward by the DIs, Walker writes (pdf p. 134):

what remains of proponents’ case is an inference, amply supported by evidence in the record, that Proposition 8 was premised on the belief that same-sex couples simply are not as good as opposite-sex couples. FF 78-80. Whether that belief is based on moral disapproval of homosexuality, animus towards gays and lesbians or simply a belief that a relationship between a man and a woman is inherently better than a relationship between two men or two women, this belief is not a proper basis on which to legislate. See Romer, 517 US at 633; Moreno, 413 US at 534; Palmore v Sidoti, 466 US 429, 433 (1984) (“[T]he Constitution cannot control [private biases] but neither can it tolerate them.”).

Walker believes that you and your fellow Catholics believe that gays and lesbians are "objectively disordered" and sex between people of the same gender is a "grave depravity." He’s read the materials put out by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (see Finding of Fact #77, points i and j on pdf p. 104). By the end of his decision, he agrees with you that this is why you want to enshrine this belief in law.

Thank God, however, that he believes this is "not a proper basis on which to legislate."

You may be free to discriminate against gays and lesbians within the Catholic church as a matter of faith, but the state of California is not free to do the same as a matter of law.

Thank God.

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Peterr