WORLD

Politics from the pulpit

ANN FINLAYSON April 14 1986
WORLD

Politics from the pulpit

ANN FINLAYSON April 14 1986

Politics from the pulpit

The growing number of congressional candidates who are followers of Lyndon LaRouche provides only one indication of the rapidly spreading influence on U.S. politics of right-wing movements. As LaRouche’s fortunes soar, the evangelical new right, for years a powerless fringe group, is also rapidly increasing its influence within the Republican party.

Its current fundamentalist figurehead,

Marion Gordon (Pat)

Robertson, cites scripture to illustrate contemporary political problems. In fact, the amiable 55-year-old Baptist senator’s son applies the teachings of the prophet Isaiah to foreign policy and says that the biblical injunction “Do not forsake wisdom” is an eloquent argument against deficit spending.

The evangelical movement has built a powerful and far-flung communications network— Robertson’s alone reaches 16 million American homes every month. The groups use both radio and TV to broadcast their concerns about the decline of the family, the collapse of traditional Christian values and the imminence of a fiery Armageddon. And the television evangelists who are the movement’s most visible spokesmen have increasingly focused their attention on partisan political goals.

In 1979 Virginia pastor Jerry Falwell launched the Moral Majority, an influential and wealthy conservative lobby group. In 1980 alone the Moral Majority spent $2.5 million to sign up four million members, including 72,000 ministers, throughout the United States. Falwell not only campaigned for Ronald Reagan, he crusaded for private religious schools and took uncompromising stands against homosexuals and abortion. But Falwell stopped short of running for political office himself, and many Republican candidates now consider his endorsement a liability, believing him to have become unacceptably radical.

For his part, Robertson says that he may actually run for President in 1988. As head of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), he appears on its popular daily show The 700 Club and says that he will run “if God tells me that I should.” Last month he overshadowed several other Republican presidential hopefuls, including Vice-President George Bush and New York Representative Jack Kemp, at a meeting at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Robertson also used the occasion to attack Democratic chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. for “virulent anti-Christian bigotry.” Kirk had publicly questioned the 2 propriety of religious 5 leaders using their pulpits for political ends.

Roberston founded ? CBN three decades ago 0 with the $70 he had in his pocket and a $37,000 loan. It is now the third-largest cable network in the United States, and Robertson estimates its yearly income at more than $230 million. On air he often prays that “godly people” will win political office. Robertson, who boasts a grassroots political organization with 40 full-time staff members, was quizzed on NBC’s Meet The Press in December. Replying to panelists, he said: “Harry Truman said, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ I’m just in the pantry and I’m looking to order some asbestos underwear.”

If his Higher Power gives Robertson the go-ahead, his candidacy could create major problems for Republican party strategists. He might gain substantial support from the right wing and focus debate on social issues, such as abortion, that most candidates would prefer to downgrade. But Robertson says that he does not represent a threat to party unity. Said the Yale-educated lawyerturned-faith healer: “I don’t see that I personally would be much different than Ronald Reagan on these issues.”

ANN FINLAYSON in Toronto