By DeWayne Wickham
Bereft of new ideas and at risk of backing themselves into a corner that may prove to be a political black hole, Republicans have been spoiling for a fight with Democrats they think they can win – one that will breathe new life into the Grand Old Party.
That battle seems to be shaping up over religion.
On Monday, during a speech to Turkey’s parliament, President Obama said Americans do not consider this country a Christian nation. Shortly after that former Newt Gingrich called the Obama administration “intensely secular” and “anti-religious.” While the former GOP House Speaker’s attack came in response to Obama’s of Harry Knox, an unabashed gay rights activist, to the White House faith-based council, the president’s words must have set off a chorus of hallelujahs in Republican ranks.
Christian conservatives, once the bulwark of the Republican Party, have backed away from the GOP. Some evangelicals like Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, pin this break on the GOP’s failure to work hard to block gay marriages after the 2004 election.
There was “great emphasis by the Republicans and (George W. Bush) on the need to protest marriage,” Perkins said of that campaign, during a February interview with U.S. News & World Report. “It was used to secure a second term for President Bush and to expand Republican control of Congress. And after the election, the issue was basically dropped,” he complained.
Since then the breech has widened as Christian conservatives soured on the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican John McCain and expressed discomfort with the Party’s recent choice of former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Michael Steele as its national chairman. Both McCain and Steele are viewed as social moderates.
So, not surprisingly Gingrich, who was House Speaker during a time when Republicans and Christian conservatives were kindred souls, is trying to use religion – or more accurately, his charge that the Obama administration is “anti-religious” – to renew that old bond.
“I think their goal is to have a very secular America in which government dominates everything,” Gingrich with a foreboding that seemed to warn of an apocalyptic end to religion in this country, if the Democrats hold on Congress and the White House isn’t broken.
Obama may have inadvertently played into Gingrich’s hand when he told Turkish lawmakers that one of the great strengths of Americans is that we do not consider our country to be the political manifestation of Christianity, or any other religious faith. While it certainly seems that creation of a secular nation was the intent of the drafters of the Constitution, by saying as much, Obama probably angered many Christian conservatives who think otherwise.
But the president is not without powerful allies in the faith community. During an address four years ago at a conference of black journalists, Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of America’s “super pastors,” said didn’t think the United States is a Christian nation.
“As we continue to try to politicize God, or market God, or say that America is Christian, or that God is with one party, or that God is here and not there, it only further point to the fact that we don’t understand how big God is – and how great God is,” said, who Time magazine once called “one of religion’s most prodigious polymaths.”
Having failed to reduce Obama’s job approval rating by branding the steps he’s taken to fix the nation’s broken economy the work of a closet socialist, the Gingrich now suggests that the president is an enemy of religion.
That’s an act of political desperation that will plunge the GOP deeper into the abyss.