A moderate Baptist ethicist said Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s men’s-room arrest–the latest in a string of scandals involving Republican politicians–is further embarrassment for the Religious Right.
“None in our stunned nation are reeling more from the report about Sen. Larry Craig than the Christian Right leaders, who placed the divine blessing on the GOP as God’s Only Party,” said Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “They have constructed a political myth over a 25-year period that Republicans had God’s favor and voting for Democrats was voting against God.”
Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, broke a story that Craig, a conservative Republican with a 100-percent favorable rating from the Christian Coalition, was arrested in June at a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes police officer investigating lewd-conduct complaints in a men’s public restroom.
On Tuesday the Idaho Statesman carried a 3,700-word article about allegations of closeted homosexuality that have dogged Craig, 62, since he was in college.
Craig issued a statement denying any inappropriate conduct and claiming police misconstrued his actions. In hindsight, he said, he should not have pleaded guilty.
“Let me be clear,” Craig, who is married, said in a press conference. “I am not gay. I never have been gay”–a denial that seemed to convince no one.
Craig is the latest in a string of fallen conservative Republicans, the party that in recent elections successfully wooed evangelical voters with claims that it stood for moral values.
Parham said Christian Right leaders and fundamentalist pastors are now paying the price for “flawed theology, which tried to domesticate the divine as the deity of one political tribe.”
“They ignored the biblical witness about the universal reality of human sinfulness,” he said. “They could only construct this political myth by ignoring the truth that God transcends human finitude and human beings are sinful, regardless their party registration.”
“Some of us have warned for many years that the Christian Right was theologically wrong,” Parham said. “Political parties are neither thoroughly moral nor completely immoral. God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.”
Next week the Baptist Center for Ethics is scheduled to release a 35-minute DVD, “Golden Rule Politics: Reclaiming the Rightful Role of Faith in Politics,” challenging the myth that the GOP stands for “God’s Only Party” and a good Christian cannot be a Democrat.
Parham said one thing in clear in light of the Craig scandal: “The Christian Right can hardly claim that the Republican Party is the party of providence.”
Parham said the answer to the moral failure of Christians in politics is not for people of faith to abandon the political process, but instead to “engage in discernment and to ask the question: What is the rightful role of faith in politics?”
The growing list of Republican scandals includes Congressman Mark Foley, who resigned last year over inappropriate e-mail messages sent to underage House pages.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., is still holding on to his job after his phone number appeared on a list of calls to an escort service accused of being a prostitution ring.
Smaller-scale scandals in recent days brought embarrassment to former North Carolina state Rep. Coy Privette, a past president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and former trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission, arrested for prostitution. In Florida, State Rep. Bob Allen stepped down as co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign after being charged with soliciting an undercover cop for prostitution.
On top of sex scandals discouraging the Religious Right are multiple marriages by GOP presidential candidates, gambling scandals involving Ralph Reed and family values czar Bill Bennett, Rush Limbaugh’s drug addiction and hate speech by pundit Ann Coulter.
Last year at a “Stand for the Family” rally at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., Focus on the Family founder James Dobson warned “values voters” not to let Republican scandals suppress them from going to the polls.
“Yes, what Mark Foley did was wrong,” Dobson said, “but it is still important to go to the polls and let our voices be heard.”
But even Religious Right veterans like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council worried that the cumulative effect of scandals might be starting to take their toll.
“I think, increasingly, among social conservatives voters, there is a grave concern over the lack of integrity in the Republican Party,” Perkins said on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
“Exit polls show that was the No. 1 factor in depressing Republican enthusiasm,” Perkins told the New York Times. “There is an expectation that leaders who espouse family values will live by those values. And while the values voters don’t demand perfection, I do believe they want leaders with integrity.”
GOP presidential hopeful, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, has complained that some in his party talk as if Republican candidates aren’t going to be held accountable for standards of personal responsibility in their own lives.
“If that’s true, there are going to be a lot of Republicans who will owe Bill Clinton a great big public apology,” said, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “We can’t have a set of rules that we apply to Democrats that we don’t apply to ourselves.”
“If we apply a different set of rules, then we have exposed one of the greatest levels of hypocrisy in the last generation of politics.” Huckabee said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.