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by Khody Akhavi

Christian Right Warns GOP: No Front-Runners Acceptable

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The nation's most powerful Religious Right organizations gathered last weekend in Washington to decide which presidential candidate most wholly shares their values.

Every single Republican hopeful traveled to the Oct. 19-21 Values Voter Summit to state his case before the right-wing groups. The summit was sponsored by Dr. James Dobson's Family Research Council.

After three days of this wooing, Christian conservatives appeared divided in their reactions to the candidates. Some even called for a third party that would better represent their beliefs, rooted in a Biblical worldview.

Speakers at the summit frequently invoked the Bible to support their arguments.

"Why is homosexuality a bad idea?" asked Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the co-chair of the conservative American Alliance of Jews and Christians, during a speech to the packed crowd of 2,500 attendees in the Washington Hilton.

"Because the Bible said so," audience members responded.

"You see, it's not so hard," said Lapin, who is also president of Toward Tradition, a conservative group that values "faith-based American principles," including "free markets," a "strong military," and "a moral public culture."

Toward Tradition received public attention when it was revealed that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff had served as its director from the early 1990s until 2004.

"The Bible is our blueprint that powers our politics and passion," added Lapin. "Politics is the application of our most deeply held values."

The goal of the Religious Right remains focused on enacting legislation based on "pro-family, pro-marriage" values. The broader movement -- which aims to Christianize society from a grassroots level on up -- rose to political prominence as a crucial base of support for President Ronald Reagan during the 1970s and 1980s. Evangelical Christian voters accounted for two-thirds of Reagan's 10-point victory over Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election.

The Christian conservatives who attended the conference last weekend were most concerned about candidates' opposition to legal abortion and same-sex marriage, according to a straw poll. They also placed an emphasis on abstinence-only sex education, the regulation of pornography and opposition to stem cell research.

The summit showcased influential conservative leaders, advocacy booths and "break-out" sessions decrying everything from "The Homosexual Agenda" to "Radical Islam," highlighting the discomfort of many in the Christian conservative bloc who feel alienated by the Republican Party.

The direction of the base has enormous implications as to whether a Republican candidate will stand a chance against the Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"You are the sand, you are the pebble in the shoe," said former Sen. Rick Santorum, to the ballroom audience on Saturday afternoon. "You are that uncomfortable group in the base of the Republican Party or the conservative movement that most of the leadership of this party and the leadership of this country would just like not to have to deal with."

At a gala event on Saturday night, Dobson lamented the lack of a clear candidate to represent the interests of the crucial constituency of the Republicans. Former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer was more explicit when he said, "Evangelicals have always been against suicide, and a third party is political suicide."

Dobson was introduced by Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, a board member of Family Research Council and the mother of Eric Prince, the CEO of the security firm Blackwater.

The Family Research Council is the political lobbying wing of Dobson's evangelical nonprofit Focus on the Family, and it has exerted tremendous influence in political races, as well as over policy decisions. Seen by many as a successor to evangelical leaders Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Dobson has used television and radio to broadcast his message to more than 220 million people in 164 countries.

The uneasy union between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party was apparent as national frontrunner for the Republican nomination Rudy Giuliani was given an at-best lukewarm reception by the crowd and finished second to last in the straw poll taken at the event.

During his speech, the former mayor of New York and self-styled 9/11 hero assured voters by saying they had nothing to fear from him.

"I'm not going to pretend with you that I can be all things to all people," Giuliani said. "But I believe we have many, many more areas of agreement. And the one thing you can count on with me is I'll always be honest with you."

That wasn't reassuring enough for Charles Mitchell, who works on the "Evangelicals for Mitt" Web site. "Giuliani disagrees with us on the most important issue for some of us here -- abortion," said Mitchell, noting that Giuliani is pro-choice.

Gov. Mitt Romney, Giuliani's main competitor for the Republican nomination, placed highest in the straw poll but was followed closely by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ignited the crowd with a fiery sermon as the last candidate to address the gathering.

For many of the pundits who spoke at this year's summit, the debate was, as it always has been, about the broader "cultural war" simmering at home and abroad. Absent were the most vitriolic pundits and religious figures, such as Bishop Wellington Boone, who took to the podium in 2006 to denounce homosexuals with the pejorative term "faggots."

But the main point of the summit was explicit and coherent: It was a search for a candidate who is uncompromising in his right-wing religious views and who would help reinstitute Christian Conservative dominance over what Dobson described as the "Triple Crown -- the White House, the congress and the judiciary."

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Albion Monitor   October 23, 2007   (

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