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No president in American history played the "God card" any better than George W. Bush. Early in his 2000 presidential campaign, Bush convinced fundamentalist/evangelical Christian leaders that he was "their" man. Those Christian leaders went on to promote and support Mr. Bush to the tune of two successful presidential election victories. To this day, they comprise his most loyal base of support.
But was it all a sham? Did G.W. Bush and Karl Rove simply dupe the Religious Right? A Bush insider now says that is exactly what happened: GOP strategists played evangelical believers for suckers.
David Kuo has a long record of Christian conservatism. His resume includes tenure with such notable Republican leaders as William Bennett, John Ashcroft, Bob Dole, and Congressman J.C. Watts. Most recently, he served as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
In his column, Shooting from the Heart, Kuo wrote that receiving President Bush's invitation to become Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives "was a dream come true for me." Kuo believed he had teamed with a man who sincerely intended to promote Christian conservatism in and through his administration. Now Kuo believes that he (and the entire evangelical community) had been duped.
Kuo has written a new book entitled Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. He also sat down with CBS reporter Lesley Stahl for a 60 Minutes interview that aired this past Sunday.
Kuo writes in his book that White House staffers would roll their eyes at evangelicals, calling them "nuts" and "goofy." Asked if that was really their attitude, Kuo told Stahl, "Oh, absolutely. You name the important Christian leader and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places."
Kuo said that people in the White House referred to Pat Robertson as "insane," Jerry Falwell as "ridiculous," and James Dobson as having "to be controlled."
Kuo believes that GOP strategists successfully convinced Christian leaders "that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda-as if this culture war is a war for God. And it's not a war for God, it's a war for politics. And that's a huge difference."
Kuo points out that President Bush would use catch-phrases to convince believers. For example, in one speech Bush said, "There's power, wonder-working power in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people."
The phrase "wonder working power" sailed over the heads of the media, but most evangelical Christians recognized it immediately from the great old hymn, Power In The Blood.
Kuo went on to say that "God and politics had become very much fused together into a sort of a single entity. Where, in a way, politics was the fourth part of the trinity. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and God the politician."
Kuo now feels badly for allowing politicians to use Christians (and the issues they embrace) as they did. He said, "I feel like it was more spiritually wrong. You're taking the sacred and you're making it profane. You're taking Jesus and reducing him to some precinct captain, to some get-out-the-vote guy." Kuo added, "[T]he name of God is just being destroyed in the name of politics."
Kuo is calling evangelical Christians to take a "fast" from politics. He said, "People are being manipulated. Good, well-meaning people are being told, 'Send your money to this Christian advocacy group or that.' And that's the answer. It's just not the answer. It's not the answer."
Kuo expects strong attacks from the White House and its supporters. He knows he will be viewed as a betrayer and that they will "go after him." He expects that he will be labeled as a "liberal" or an "idealist." But David Kuo says he is fine with that. He said, "I felt like I had to write this."
David Kuo's book should serve as a wake up call for America's evangelical community. We have been had. It's time to admit it.
From the cover-up of Congressman Mark Foley's debauchery (a cover-up that continues), to federal spending that is out-of-control, to an unprovoked, preemptive invasion against Iraq, to the "No Child Left Behind" education monstrosity, to the Patriot Act's decimation of the Fourth Amendment, to the building of an Orwellian surveillance society, the Bush administration has trampled on virtually every principle upon which America was founded.
No matter how badly evangelical Christians want to believe President Bush, no matter how desperately they want to enjoy access to the White House, no matter how deeply they feel obligated to support the Republican Party, it is time to face the truth that the GOP's only interest has been to use them for the simple purpose of winning elections.
Yet, there is an even greater lesson that evangelical Christians need to learn, and that is the lesson taught us in our own history. America's founders fought this battle more than 200 years ago and found that the greatest protection for religious liberty and principle was the implementation of, and loyalty to, the U.S. Constitution.
As Thomas Jefferson said, "In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
Christians need to be less enamored with the religious professions and promises of politicians and much more committed to making sure that their elected representatives uphold their oaths of office to the Constitution. Fidelity to the Constitution will successfully address most of the issues evangelical Christians care about. It will even address the ones they don't care about, but should. It's not a "fast" from politics that Christians need, it's a rededication to constitutional government.