Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said his campaign did not authorize or condone statements by an Iowa supporter criticized as anti-Catholic, but a spokesman for fellow candidate Sen. Sam Brownback said the former Arkansas governor’s statement didn’t go far enough.
An Atlantic Monthly blog on Tuesday posted an e-mail from Huckabee supporter Tim Rude, a pastor at Walnut Creek Community Church in Windsor Heights, Iowa, urging two fellow pastors to switch allegiance from Brownback, a Roman Catholic, to Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and former pastor.
“Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002,” said Rude. “Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor’s. I don’t if this fact is widely known among evangelicals who are supporting Brownback.”
Catholic League president Bill Donohue called it Catholic bashing and a “stealth campaign” against Brownback, a second-tier GOP presidential hopeful competing with Huckabee for evangelical votes.
“Discernment–evangelicals have it, and Catholics do not,” Donahue characterized Rude’s message. “But are those evangelicals who express themselves this way capable of discerning the difference between persuasiveness and abrasiveness? Do they really think all Catholics are rote-minded robots who let the Vatican do their thinking for them? We thought we’d gotten beyond such nonsense, but apparently some stereotypes are proving hardier than others.”
Brownback’s campaign called on Huckabee to denounce what it called an “anti-Catholic” e-mail.
Rude tried to explain away the dustup. “All I was trying to say is that Protestants should vote for Protestants,” he said.
He said the e-mail was meant only for the two recipients, and if he had anticipated wider distribution he would have chosen his words more carefully in order not to offend anyone.
“But I do apologize for my statements, because it could be taken as anti-Catholic,” he said, “which isn’t the case at all.”
Huckabee said he is glad Rude issued a clarification and apology for his statements, adding, “They were not authorized by, disseminated by, approved by, or condoned by the campaign.”
“I consider Sam Brownback a Christian brother and know that he feels likewise toward me,” Huckabee said. “Like Senator Brownback, several key members of my staff are Roman Catholic. As believers, we don’t have time to fight each other. We need to focus on having a servant’s spirit and bringing hope to those who have given up.”
John Rankin, Iowa communications director of Brownback for President, said the statement from Huckabee’s campaign evaded the question of whether or not the candidate denounces the remarks.
“What’s holding them back from a straightforward denouncement of the bigoted, anti-Catholic contents of Pastor Rude’s e-mail?” Rankin asked.
Huckabee’s Southern Baptist Convention has in the past had a rocky relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. The SBC ended an official Baptist-Catholic dialogue after fundamentalists gained control of the denomination in the 1990s. Two Baptist officials were forced to remove their signatures from an Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement seeking political common ground, amid protests they were endorsing false teaching. A Southern Baptist seminary president went on national TV to call the Catholic Church a “false” church that teaches “a false gospel” and the papacy a “false and unbiblical office.”
Rankin also dissected Rude’s apology. “So, let me get this straight–if Pastor Rude knew his anti-Catholic comments would become public, he wouldn’t have put them in an e-mail for the world to see?”
He also disagreed that Rude’s comments were “taken” as anti-Catholic but really weren’t.
“Is he trying to say that he wasn’t being anti-Catholic when he said that Brownback’s ‘discernment’ should be questioned because of his faith?” Rankin asked. “Is he trying to say that he wasn’t being anti-Catholic when he suggested that once evangelicals learn about Brownback’s Catholicism, they will do as they should and support Huckabee, a fellow Protestant? Is he trying to say that he wasn’t being anti-Catholic when he referred to Catholicism as something that one ‘recovers’ from, like a disease or addiction?”
“Pastor Rude’s ‘apology’ might be an admission that he offended people, but it is certainly not an apology or recognition of the bigoted substance of his remarks,” Rankin said.
The flap is the latest in a race for the GOP nomination where religion has been a frequent issue as the various candidates try to win over a conservative evangelical voter bloc that overwhelmingly backed President Bush in 2004.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a frontrunner in the polls, has been dogged by questions about his Mormon faith. Another frontrunner, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is pro-choice on abortion, a non-negotiable for many Christian Right voters. Religious conservatives haven’t forgotten that Sen. John McCain, an Episcopalian who attends a Southern Baptist church when he is home in Arizona, once criticized Religious Right leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as agents of intolerance. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson put a question mark on former Sen. Fred Thompson, who has yet to formally announce whether he is running, when he questioned if the “Law & Order” star is really a Christian.
Lesser-known hopefuls like Brownback and Huckabee have sought to fill that void.
Huckabee also is going after the homeschool vote. A video on the candidate’s Web site touts his support of legislation benefiting homeschooling while governor of Arkansas and his appointment of a homeschool mom to the state board of education.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.