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Martin E. Marty
David Kuo's book Tempting Faith will rival, on a smaller scale,
Bob Woodward's State of Denial as a disturber of the peace. "Smaller scale"
does not mean "small scale," since its accusations and revelations refer
to the way the cohort of evangelical supporters and promoters who have determined
recent elections have been taken and used by politicians. Many claims of
the book became public over the weekend, but here's a review.
David Kuo is as well positioned as anyone to give behind-the-scenes
views of how the "elites" in the administration in Washington regard their
most faithful and core supporters: "goofy" and "nuts" are among the in-house
words applied, says Kuo. He was second-in-command of the ill-fated and
"used" "faith-based initiatives," proposals that one had thought might
have some merit. Like his first-in-command predecessor, Kuo has given
up on the post, the venture, and the people with whom he was supposed
to work. It is too soon to see if some of what he says is distorted or
biased because of his hurt, and most of us do not know him well enough
to know fully what his agenda is. Like Woodward, however, he names names
-- and may be even more explicit about sources than was Woodward. And
his is also not a pretty story. The key word is this: "used." The evangelicals
were "used" from the beginning, and consistently.
What to think about it all? We will hear soon from the Schadenfreude
folk who will be understandably ready to gloat over Christian Right misfortunes.
But one might prefer to see this exposť as a lesson that can be part of
the maturing on the Christian Right flank. First, such religious politicos
may find that they wasted some of their fire on "secular humanists" and
"religious liberals," who were finally learning to take them seriously
and often to respect some of them. Evangelicals should have been more
mistrustful of "conservative" partners who cynically used them.
More important in this process of welcoming evangelicals to the "Being
Used Club" is the chance that they will learn the limits of what "Christian"
efforts can achieve in the rough and tumble of politics. Looking back:
President Reagan cultivated them in 1980, and they got almost nothing
in return. He never went to Capitol Hill to promote legal measures to
which he had given rhetorical support (anti-abortion and pro-school prayer,
for example). But Reagan's support has not been exposed as being this
exploitative. Now "Welcome to the club!" might be the word from liberal
Protestants, Catholics, African American church leaders, and others who,
a half-century ago, gave political support but got little yield. You do
not have to be a cynic to note that even well-mannered and forthright
political forces pick up and drop constituencies and philosophies to advance
If the Kuo stories stand up to scrutiny and others with experiences
like his come forward, the current spiritual muscle-flexers might well
turn cynical in frustration. One hopes they will simply become more realistic
and less self-assured about what their witness means and what their weight
can legitimately achieve. Quid pro quo has not worked for their religious-political
For further reading:
Keith Olbermann writes about David Kuo's book Tempting Faith in his
says Bush just using Christians."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications,
and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin
Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Copyright © by the author
All Rights Reserved
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