By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
There are those who would say Tom DeLay lost his job as House majority leader because he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of money laundering and conspiracy, or because of his extensive ties to lawbreaking lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But they would be wrong.
In fact, the Texas Republican fell from power because he is a Christian.
That, at least, is the view of Rick Scarborough, convener of a conference this week called "The War on Christians."
"I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ," Scarborough said, introducing DeLay yesterday. When DeLay finished, the host reminded the politician: "God always does his best work right after a crucifixion."
This would seem to be an odd time to declare Christianity under siege. A Christian conservative president has just nominated two Supreme Court justices who take an expansive view of religious rights, and religious conservatives are ascendant in a Republican Party that controls both chambers of Congress.
But, as Scarborough knows, believers will be more motivated to go to the polls in November (and to contribute money to his group) if they feel threatened. And so his forum offered all sorts of books and pamphlets proclaiming dire warnings: "The Criminalization of Christianity," "Liberalism Kills Kids" and "Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household at Risk."
Gary Bauer, a Christian activist and former presidential candidate, argued in a speech that the "War on Christians" in America was even emboldening al-Qaeda. "They believe they can win, because they believe you and I are decadent; they think our civilization is fat and lazy," he said. "I believe they're wrong, but I understand why they're confused."
And why are they confused? Because American Christians are attacked by "elites" who think America is "a country of unbridled liberty, different strokes for different folks."
The agenda was similarly ominous, with forums on the threats from Hollywood, the judiciary, gays and, worst of all, the news media. "I can tell you that there probably is no greater megaphone for anti-faith values," conservative activist Paul Weyrich said in introducing a panel on the subject.
But when it came to providing evidence about this war on Christians, the examples were a bit stale. Don Irvine of the conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media led off. He cited a "Jesus freaks" slur by former CNN boss Ted Turner (from 2001), a CBS employee's description of Bauer as a "little nut" (1999), a columnist's description of "Taliban-like" conservatives (2002) and a radio report linking conservative Christians to the anthrax attacks (2002).
Irvine's most recent example was an item Monday in USA Today taking issue with the name of the "War on Christians" conference. "I'm so relieved that USA Today has found this wonderful religion reporter," Irvine said, neglecting to mention it was an op-ed by somebody not on the paper's staff.
Also on the panel were Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, another conservative watchdog (he cited a 2001 survey of journalists), and Janet Folger of a group called Faith2Action. She cited a 13-year-old Washington Post article and a 17-year-old remark by Turner, and she tearfully recounted a bad experience she had on ABC's "Nightline" -- eight years ago.
Bill Fancher, an American Family Radio journalist, sought to explain the media's obtuseness. "The media doesn't understand [conservative Christians'] inability to compromise on principles," he said, adding: "I don't apologize for being narrow-minded."
Largely absent from the discussion was a mention of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and the like. It fell to one of the questioners to point out that the fabled liberal media is "a shadow of what it once was."
Graham acknowledged: "We're making some great inroads."
These were only warm-up acts for DeLay, whose entrance caused a ripple of applause that spread into an extended standing ovation.
"This is a man that I believe God has appointed," Scarborough said, a view that might surprise the voters of the 22nd District of Texas. Scarborough, in his introduction, said DeLay had been "virtually destroyed in the press," and he urged the crowd to campaign for DeLay -- though he said nonprofit tax rules prevented him from actually "endorsing" DeLay.
The congressman started with a profession of faith, then went on a tour of the religious views of great presidents. He seemed to be on the verge of discussing his own troubles when he recalled Lincoln's view that men should "confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow."
But this was not the time for a DeLay confessional. Instead, he gave his view on the War on Christians. "Sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance!" he warned. "The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will. . . . It is for us then to do as our heroes have always done and put our faith in the perfect redeeming love of Jesus Christ."
DeLay basked in the rapturous ovation that followed. "Keep your eyes on Jesus," Scarborough called after the fallen leader as he departed the stage.