Jon Huntsman Jr, a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, isn't a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination. And that's too bad, because Mr Hunstman has been willing to say the unsayable about the Republican party in the United States, namely, that it is becoming the "anti-science party". This is an enormously important development. And it should terrify us.
To see what Mr Huntsman means, consider recent statements by the two men who actually are serious contenders for the Republican nomination:Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
Mr Perry, the governor of Texas, recently made headlines by dismissingevolution as "just a theory", one that has "got some gaps in it", an observation that will come as news to the vast majority of biologists. But what really got people's attention was what he said about climate change: "I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. And I think we are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."
That's a remarkable statement – or maybe the right adjective is "vile".
The second part of Mr Perry's statement is, as it happens, just false: the scientific consensus about man-made global warming – which includes 97% to 98% of researchers in the field, according to the National Academy of Sciences – is getting stronger, not weaker, as the evidence for climate change just keeps mounting.
In fact, if you follow climate science at all, you know that the main development over the past few years has been growing concern that projections of the future climate are underestimating the likely amount of warming. Warnings that we may face civilisation-threatening temperature change by the end of the century, once considered outlandish, are now coming out of mainstream research groups.
But never mind that, Mr Perry suggests; those scientists are just in it for the money, "manipulating data" to create a fake threat. In his book Fed Up, he dismissed climate science as a "contrived phoney mess that is falling apart".
I could point out that Mr Perry is buying into a truly crazy conspiracy theory, which asserts that thousands of scientists all around the world are on the take, with not one willing to break the code of silence. I could also point out that multiple investigations into charges of intellectual malpractice on the part of climate scientists have ended up exonerating the accused researchers of all accusations. But never mind. Mr Perry and those who think like him know what they want to believe and their response to anyone who contradicts them is to start a witch hunt.
So how has Mr Romney, the other leading contender for the Republican nomination, responded to Mr Perry's challenge? In trademark fashion: by running away. In the past, Mr Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has strongly endorsed the notion that man-made climate change is a real concern. But last week he softened that to a statement that he thinks the world is getting hotter, but "I don't know that" and "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans". Moral courage!
Of course, we know what's motivating Mr Romney's sudden lack of conviction. According to Public Policy Polling, only 21% of Republican voters in Iowa believe in global warming (and only 35% believe in evolution). Within the Republican party, wilful ignorance has become a litmus test for candidates, one that Mr Romney is determined to pass at all costs.
So it's now highly likely that the presidential candidate of one of our two major political parties will either be a man who believes what he wants to believe, even in the teeth of scientific evidence, or a man who pretends to believe whatever he thinks the party's base wants him to believe.
And the deepening anti-intellectualism of the political right, both within and beyond the Republican party, extends far beyond the issue of climate change.
Lately, for example, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page has gone beyond its long-term preference for the economic ideas of "charlatans and cranks" – as one of former president George W Bush's chief economic advisers famously put it – to a general denigration of hard thinking about matters economic. Pay no attention to "fancy theories" that conflict with "common sense", the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyse things like financial crises and recessions?
Now, we don't know who will win next year's presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world's greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges – environmental, economic, and more – that's a terrifying prospect.
What I believe has happened (and please give me your feedback on this) is that evangelicals have gravitated to the worst aspects of the secular articles—namely, the underlying fear of any type of religious presence in the public arena and the ignorance of the complexity and diversity of evangelicalism—to dramatically underplay the legitimate concerns over Perry’s and Bachmann’s religio-political vision. The Christian writers who I mentioned (and there aremany others) are either focusing too narrowly on specific errors in the secular media (Groothius, Allen do this I believe) or too broadly on the question of religion and public life (Miller, Gerson and McKnight do this). What they are missing is the mountain of serious scholarship and thoughtful writing that is the foundation of genuine concerns over the types of ideas and spiritualities that have had, according to Bachmann and Perry themselves, a significant influence on them and their staff.
We are at an important time in the 2012 campaign when reporters and citizens are taking their first serious look at the candidates. These initial impressions can be significant. I am genuinely concerned that evangelicals who are in positions of leadership, and are opinion shapers, are moving too quickly to construe the questions over Perry and Bachmann’s religio-political worldview as “just another example” of the secular media’s ignorance of or disdain for traditional religious beliefs. They risk papering over profound differences that moderate evangelicals have had with the authors and institutions that have shaped Bachmann and Perry. What I am providing here, then, is a link to resources for thoughtful people who want to think again about Bachmann and Perry. What the evidence shows in plain sight is the influence of aspects of Protestant thought that many evangelicals have traditionally found troubling and suspect. Whether it should be labeled "dominionism", "reconstructionism", "fundamentalism" or "neopentecostalism" is a question beyond my expertise, but that it not be confused with mainstream evangelicalism or conservative Christianity is imperative. If we allow the likes of George Grant and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) to be confused with mainstream evangelicalism we risk damage to our credibility, damage to the gospel, and damage to the broader argument that religion and religious institutions have a vital role to play in promoting the global common good. And we risk legitimizing and even encouraging aspects of thought and action that some of us have spent much of our professional lives resisting and challenging. Reading Ralph Reed this week is a case in point. He is clearly seeking to interpret the recent controversies as evidence of a decades long pattern of misunderstanding the “evangelical vote”. I think Reed has made a career out of misrepresenting evangelicalism, and I think he is doing it again. Before we cede the ground to Reed, lets be sure that we have examined these new leaders carefully, and be sure that we really want to help frame them as evangelicals to the broader culture.
QUALITY RESEARCH OF DOMINIONISM
I know that some of you probably have closed your minds to the signficance of dominionism and others of you have probably not even heard of the term. If you are going to properly understand Bachmann and Perry you need tothink anew about dominionism and its current enthusiasts in what is called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). So far as I can tell the lead researcher on this is Rachel Tabachnick. A very helpful interview by Terry Gross gives an excellent overview of her research.
This is a key quote from the interview:
"Having the Southern Baptist background and growing up in the Deep South has helped me to be able to do this research and has also helped me realize something that might not be apparent to some other people looking at the movement," she says. "This is quite radically different than the evangelicalism of my youth. The things that we've been talking about are not representative of evangelicalism. They're not representative of conservative evangelicalism. So I think that's important to keep in mind. This is a movement that's growing in popularity, and one of the ways they've been able to do that [is because] they're not very identifiable to most people. They're just presented as nondenominational or just Christian — but it is an identifiable movement now with an identifiable ideology." [Emphasis added]
This interview has given her scholarship a broader audience and she has prepared a summary of her work here. She has a devestating critique of Lisa Miller's analysis of dominionism here. I am not speaking for the quality of all of the work done by the organization that she works for because I don’t know enough about it, but she has done her homework, she knows the broader religious landscape and she is onto something vital that some of the Christian reports have been woefully ignorant of. The complete layout of the 150 articles she and others at her organization have done in the last three years on the NAR is here. She is also the leader of NARwatch, a great resource that many of us (including me!) have been ignorant of for too long. You won't agree with everything there, but Rachel and her colleagues are the premier source for information if you really want to know what this movement is about and why it matters to the broader questions around religion in public life.
BACHMANN, WALDRON AND DOMINIONISM
I know that many of you are, like me, leery of guilt by association arguments. Tangential connections and obscure linkages is the stuff of conspiratorial thinkers on each side of the political spectrum. That is not the point of this next section at all. Peter Waldron is not an obscure, third tier adviser. Any of us who know politics know the importance of staff, particularly in the formation and development of a campaign and its theme. Peter Waldron is a central figure in the development of Bachmann’s campaign in Iowa and now in South Carolina. The Atlantic has an overview of his past work and Richard Bartholomew details his connections to the global church. Fred Clark looks at Waldron’s writing and Warren Throckmorton provides basic evidence of Waldron’s take on “dominion”. Kyle Mantyla goes into greater detail than Rizza did about Bachmann’s mentor, John Eldsmoe, and pushes back against efforts to downplay the influence of dominionism on Bachmann's politics.
PERRY AND THE RESPONSE
For Governor Perry the best place to start is with a profile of him for the Texas Observer. I know that magazine is to the left of most of us, and I know that this article suffers from some of that malady, but it does lay down some important benchmarks for understanding Perry and his decision to hold The Response prayer rally just days before announcing his run for president. In discussing The Response I want to be clear that I do believe in spiritual warfare and in the power of prayer. Having said that, I have often been around people who hold very different understandings of prayer and spiritual warfare. I try not to judge them and I hope they don’t judge me. My point in digging into some of these beliefs is because the way that the people in the network around Perry do “spiritual warfare” is directly relevant to their relationship with Perry and his with them. I believe reports about the principal individuals and institutions that shaped The Response are important to understanding the worldview of Perry and to raising the question of whether his spiritual politics is just “more of the same” or whether it is something we should be cautious about labeling evangelical. Here is an important article by Tabachnik on how controversial this type of prayer is even among folk who are way more charismatic than the average evangelical. Sometimes we can forget how difficult reporting on this type of spirituality can be for a non charismatic and we assume that the person is being condescending. Read this reporter’s genuine struggle to explain in these twoposts what these NAR folk mean by “spiritual warfare” and ask yourself if this is “more of the same” debate over religion and public life.
The institutions that support these beliefs and spirituality are not distantly connected to Perry. It is not as if Perry has in any way distanced himself from or tried to explain carefully his relationship with them. If Perry wanted Christians and the national media to not view him as linked to this movement then he would have organized his famous “The Response” prayer rally much differently than he actually did. I know some evangelicals think the media made to much of his prayer rally, but I think that when you actually look at the national coverage the opposite is true. The national media at the event was too ignorant of the individuals and institutions represented there to really grasp who it was that Perry was embracing (literally) at this event. That is why the best immediate report on the event came from a Texan who is fully immersed in the religious landscape of the state. He had this to say about it:
there were plenty of moments that should've startled the national press corps. For example, right before Perry's sermon he hugged and thanked one Alice Patterson, an "apostle" from San Antonio who Perry says he frequently prays with.
Who was this woman, one of two people he had next to him as he began speaking?
Patterson was active in the Texas Christian Coalition in the 90s but has since flung herself into the New Apostolic Reformation movement…[she has written that] [t]he Democratic Party… is "an invisible network of evil comprising an unholy structure" released by Jezebel (emphasis in the original). Yes, that Jezebel.
And she knows because she saw her – literally – in 2009 at a prophetic prayer meeting.
I saw Jezebel's skirt lifted to expose tiny Baal, Asherah, and a few other spirits. There they were–small, cowering, trembling little spirits that were only ankle high on Jezebel's skinny legs.
Elsewhere in the book, Patterson writes that the "Church is not to provide for widows less than 60 years old. ...If she is younger than 60, this scripture says that she should return to the home of her parents with the object of getting married." She also writes that the "minimum wage is against the Word of God" and that taxes should be no more than the biblical tithe (10 percent) for all Americans, rich or poor.
Imagine for a second that Barack Obama had been a close prayer partner with someone who had the equivalent of Patterson's beliefs. Further imagine that Obama had "initiated" an exclusionary religious event and put someone like Patterson on a short list of organizers. Imagine that Obama had then embraced this person on stage before launching into a 12-minute sermon that suggested that a majority of the world's population was condemned to hell. [emphasis added]
The more you dig into The Response the more convinced you will become that these types of stories are going to go from a trickle to a current in the months to come. Evangelical writers, and the broader media, have to decide how they really want to frame these stories and how they want to engage the debate that these stories will fuel, because they are not going away. Perry and Bachmann are tied to aspects of Christianity in America that many of the evangelicals I know would have serious reservations about and would not want to feel obliged to defend or own. As Rachel Tabachnik puts it:
"It is those dismissing the threat of Dominionism who threaten to paint all evangelicals with one brush. I agree that it is true that most evangelicals have no theocratic intentions, but as the New Apostolic Reformation's activism becomes more widely publicized (and it will), some Americans may assume that the apostles are representative of American evangelical belief. Lisa Miller and the other naysayers are not helping to educate the public on the differences between the New Apostolic Reformation and the majority of conservative evangelicals and this is tragic, most of all for evangelicalism."