IFAS | Freedom Writer | September/October 2000 | bush.html

Bush's secret religious pandering

By Skipp Porteous
Adapted from Penthouse, November 2000

"If Al Gore met privately with a motley left-wing contingent the Socialist Workers Party, radical civil-liberties types-and then suppressed a tape of the discussion, imagine the reaction.Yet this fictional scenario isn't really much different (just reverse the extremes) from a session that GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush had with far-right Christian political leaders. Intolerance and bigotry are pervasive in this crowd."
Albert R. Hunt, The Wall Street Journal

George W. Bush's barnstorming appearance at ultraconservative Bob Jones University earlier this year was condemned by moderate Republicans who did not want anything to do with the fanatical religious fundamentalists who run the school. Bush's supporters immediately put out the word that their candidate was only "solidifying his voter base" to offset attacks from John McCain. But the fact is that George W. secretly continues to woo top leaders of the religious right, promising them his abiding faithfulness. As America prepares for the first, fateful election of the new millennium, here are some disturbing truths behind W's "compassionate conservatism."

On March 1, 1999, the Nashville-based Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission chose Austin, Texas for its annual conclave. They met at the Great Hills Baptist Church, in an exclusive section of north Austin. Governor Bush dropped by to welcome the born-againers to the Texas capital. Mary O'Grady, a radio news reporter and producer for WINGS (Women's International News Gathering Service, a public affairs program syndicated on community and public radio stations) attended the daylong conference.

Bush's welcoming speech was scheduled after the dinner break. During dinner, an alert functionary noticed O'Grady's press ID. O'Grady recalls that she was apparently the only person there with press credentials. She was promptly informed that the governor's talk was closed to the media, and that she had to vacate the premises. O'Grady tried, unsuccessfully, to sneak an associate into the meeting.

Later, O'Grady requested a copy of Bush's speech from the governor's office in Austin. But when she received a written transcript of the talk, it was clearly not the one from which she was ejected. It did not mention anything about the Baptists coming to Austin it even had a different date.

"There's no telling what he promised those bozos," O'Grady related to Penthouse. "I don't think the country club Republicans here in Texas like his association with those people."

On September 24, 1999, Bush huddled with a motley group called the "Madison Project" at the posh Hay Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House. Among those gathered were: Michael Farris, of the Home School Legal Defense Association; John C. Wilke, MD, president of Life Issues Institute, an antiabortion group; Paul Pressler, a Southern Baptist honcho and former judge; the Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-founder of the Moral Majority, and successful co-author of scary end-time novels; Beverly LaHaye, his wife, and founder of Concerned Women for America; Marlin Maddoux, the radio evangelist; Paul Weyrich, of the Free Congress Foundation; and the Rev. Peter Marshall, an author and lecturer who promotes "Christian America."

Michael Farris heads the Madison Project. The group examines potential conservative candidates and, once identifying those worthy of support, it raises money for their campaigns through a nationwide network of right wing activists.

A man who wouldn't give his name answered my phone call to the Madison Project's office in Washington. When queried about the little gathering at the Hay Adams Hotel, he said that anyone who attended that meeting "would be reluctant to talk about it." Nonetheless, before they decided to keep mum about the meeting, a couple of them did divulge to Scripps Howard and Church & State magazine some of the things Bush touched upon. "He spoke of the need to protect human life in terms that were consistent with our values," asserted Mike Farris. "He talked not only about abortion, but euthanasia and issues like Dr. Kevorkian, and expressed the preciousness of human life in all stages, which was warmly received."

George W. Bush has never been known as a "religious right candidate," a fact well understood by the right wing Christians who gathered to hear his confession of faith. "He's not rising out of the social conservative ranks so he's not going to be 100 percent harmonious with us," Farris said, "but the question is whether he is reasonably harmonious. The answer is yeah, we thought he was."

Bush gave his account of how Jesus came "into his heart." According to Bush, it occurred a year after a 1985 personal encounter with evangelist Billy Graham at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Basically, he admitted that he then had a drinking problem, but, according to Bush, "Billy Graham planted a seed in my heart, and it grew."

Bush's personal testimony about his salvation delighted the gathering. "He was not a bit ashamed or reticent to do that," Rev. Marshall gushed. "That was very encouraging to all of us."

The Reverend Marshall, an outspoken opponent of gay rights, elaborated on Bush's position on homosexuality. "He said to us, 'Rest assured, I would not start somebody, I would not appoint somebody, to a position who was an open homosexual.' At the same time, he said that if he found out that somebody who was already doing a good job was a homosexual, 'I wouldn't necessarily can him because he's a homosexual.'"

Since sitting down with the Madison Project, Bush came together in a well-publicized meeting with the gay Log Cabin Republicans. In the aftermath, we wondered what the Madison Project people thought of him now, so this writer reached the reverend at his home in Cape Cod.

When asked about Bush's reluctance to take a public stand on some of the issues important to religious conservatives, particularly abortion and gay rights, the Reverend Marshall replied, "I think he's being careful and cautious. He's being tactful, he's just being careful." Bush's position on gay rights is okay, Marshall said, "I haven't a problem with it."

On October 9, 1999, the secretive Council for National Policy (CNP) held its fall meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Governor Bush was invited to address this influential group. This time precautions were taken to see that no information leaked to the press.

Founded in 1981, under the inspiration of the Rev. Tim LaHaye, and funded by some Texas billionaires, the little-known CNP exists as a networking vehicle for right wing leadership. CNP meetings enable members to become acquainted with one another and plan short-term and long-term strategies. Morton Blackwell, CNP's executive director, stated that the rules governing the meetings are designed "to allow open, uninhibited remarks from our speakers" (emphasis added). These remarks are "off the record and not for circulation..."

CNP meetings are, in fact, "closed to the media and the general public," according to documents obtained by Penthouse. The group makes every effort to conceal from the media when or where it meets, or who participates in its programs. Any member desiring to bring guests may only do so in advance of the meeting, pending the unanimous approval from CNP's Executive Committee. Members are issued special badges which are emblazoned with holograms. Uniformed guards posted at the doors carefully scrutinize each person entering the meeting hall.

The organization's "confidential" membership is a virtual Who's Who of the religious and political right wing in the United States. Among the approximately 500 members are: Senator Jesse Helms; Congressmen Dick Armey and Tom Delay; Rich DeVos of Amway; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; Oliver North; Beverly LaHaye; Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum; the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association; James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Gary Bauer, formerly of the Family Research Council, and recent presidential candidate; the Rev. Pat Robertson of the "700 Club" and Christian Coalition; Ralph Reed; and Christian Reconstructionist Rousas John Rushdoony.

Comments about the organization from its zealous members are telling. "If you want to be in the know about the real scoop, that you don't read in the newspapers," Pat Robertson says, "this is the organization to be part of."

Former U.S. Attorney General, and CNP past president, Ed Meese, boasted that the council "encourages its members to be activists. And, that is not just to learn something about the issues, but [to] do something about [them]. It is so important to get involved."

Years ago, Ralph Reed came into the CNP through its Youth Council. He praises the group because he was able "to sit at the feet of our elders and learn from them."

According to James Dobson, "There are very few organizations left that say 'yes, we believe.' And we're out to implement that policy in every way we can. We need those people out there who are considering linking hands and arms with us in this battle."

So, this is the aggregation that invited George W. Bush to link hands and arms with them in battle. To find out what the Republican candidate for president had to say to such a group, the Institute for First Amendment Studies (IFAS) ordered a set of audiotapes of the sessions. Using an approach that had worked several times in the past tapes are available to members only the tapes finally arrived, sans the Bush speech.

IFAS contacted Skynet Media, the recording company hired to record CNP meetings. IFAS then learned that it wasn't the fanatically secretive CNP that decided to delete the Bush tape from the package the deletion was done on direct order from the Bush campaign. When asked if they actually have the Bush tape, Skynet spokesperson Curt Morse said, "We do," and also noted it wasn't available at any price.

When asked about Bush's speech at CNP, Scott Sforca, a press officer for the George W. Bush for President campaign office, claimed that the meeting "doesn't ring a bell" with him.

When contacted by The New York Times, CNP executive director Blackwell put it as follows: "[T]he Bush entourage said they preferred that the tape[s] not go out, though I could not see any reason why they shouldn't." Blackwell claims that it was a standard speech that he had heard before and since.

Ari Fleischer, a Bush campaign spokesman, told The Times that if anyone was "hoping to hear something that the governor would say that he hasn't said publicly, then they're on a wild goose chase." Fleischer declined to characterize the speech, but said, "When we go to meetings that are private, they remain private." He added, "As far as we know, there is no tape."

Albert R. Hunt, a Washington-based columnist for The Wall Street Journal, recently reported that there have been other meetings between Bush and religious right leaders at different times and places over the past year, including get-togethers with notables Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

What should these closed-door meetings between a significant presidential candidate and the leaders of a theocratic movement mean to the American people? Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, lays it out: "Whenever a presidential candidate has secretive meetings with people with an agenda to subvert the Constitution it reeks of private deal-making and promises announced only after an election," Lynn said. "If a candidate meets with a group, he should have the courage to announce what he agrees with and what he does not."

But Bush's secret meetings are not the only things that are disturbing. Some of his closest advisors embrace the agenda of the radical religious right. Most politically aware Americans know of Ralph Reed from his days at Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Since Reed's departure, the organization has faltered, losing members, financial support and much of its staff. Some observers believe that, after this year's election, the Christian Coalition will collapse completely. (Last March, a coalition of religious right leaders held a meeting in Dallas to develop strategies to fill the anticipated void being left by the Christian Coalition.) Now Reed runs Century Strategies, a political and corporate consultant firm in Duluth, Georgia. His most important client is George W. Bush.

Considerably less well known is the professorial pundit Marvin Olasky. Working mostly behind the scenes since 1993, Olasky has probably, more than any other individual, influenced George W. Bush's recent direction in politics.

Olasky is the only conservative mentioned in this article that is not a member of the Council for National Policy. A 1971 Yale graduate and prolific author, he probably wouldn't have time for its meetings. Olasky has written 13 books and co-authored a half-dozen others. His latest, Compassionate Conservativism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America (Free Press), came out this year. George W. Bush wrote its foreword.

Olasky, a bearded professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, believes that abortion is murder, and serves on the board of the Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center, an antiabortion counseling facility. Antiabortion activist Dr. John Wilke refers to Olasky as "my good friend."

As an elder in the Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Olasky embraces a Christian Reconstruction worldview. Calvinist/Presbyterian theologian RJ Rushdoony, founder of Chalcedon, instituted Christian Reconstruction in America. Chalcedon, based in northern California, is the leading center of the Christian Reconstruction movement, and its literature has had a profound impact on the politics of the Christian right. Named after the Council of Chalcedon of 451 ACE, in which the Lordship of Christ was proclaimed, the organization's purpose is to establish Old Testament biblical law as the standard for society.

Christian Reconstructionism mandates Christ's dominion over the entire world, believing that the Kingdom of God on earth is built not only by evangelism, but also by the implementation of Biblical law.

Born into a Jewish family in the suburbs of Boston, Marvin Olasky, who is now 50, became an atheist and Marxist before converting to Christianity in 1976. He quickly made up for his waywardness. Today, in addition to his aforementioned accomplishments, Olasky serves as editor for World magazine.

Similar to Time and Newsweek in format, World is the only weekly newsmagazine that covers current events and politics with a biblical perspective. Every week, from January of this year, right up to the election, this tax-exempt magazine is being hand-delivered to every member of Congress. The slick magazine's corporate name is God's World Publications, and it is owned by Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Of course, Bob Jones University is where George W. Bush caught flak because of the university's racist past and its teachings that, among other things, Mormonism is a cult and Catholics won't go to heaven.

In his book Compassionate Conservatism, Olasky carefully crafts an argument in favor of government funding for "faith-based" (religious) organizations as a cure-all for the nation's ills. In the beginning of the book he points to a study done in the 1980s by Howard Ahmanson, "a Christian conservative."

According to Jerry Sloan, president of the California watchdog group Project Tocsin, Howard Ahmanson was a member of Rushdoony's Chalcedon board of trustees for almost 23 years, until his retirement in 1995. Sloan reports that over the years Ahmanson gave the Christian Reconstructionist group over a million dollars from his own pocket or through his Fieldstead Foundation (Olasky has served as a consultant for Ahmanson's Fieldstead & Company.). Sloan told Penthouse that Ahmanson is most noted for telling the Orange County Register that he wanted to use his fortune to see "biblical law integrated into our everyday lives."

In his book, Olasky writes approvingly of Ahmanson, saying that his study "found that poverty around the world is a spiritual as well as a material problem most poor people don't have faith that they and their situations can change."

Governor Bush agrees. He told Christianity Today that faith-based organizations succeed where others fail "because they change hearts.they convince a person to turn their life over to Christ."

Red flags should go up while reading Olasky's book on Bush's compassionate conservatism. When Olasky endorses Bush's allowing the evangelical Prison Fellowship to run a program in a Texas prison, where the inmates attend bible classes instead of watching television, some might wonder what happened to the separation between church and state. Olasky argues that the First Amendment's "primary goal was freedom for religion, not freedom from religion," and that there's nothing about separation of church and state in the Constitution. He quotes a certain Olgen Williams, an elderly part-time preacher: "Separation of church and state is for people who went to law school, and all they got to do is argue constitutional law."

Although Olasky claims that "no one today is proposing a move toward multiple establishment of religion worship services are clearly activities with which the state should not be involved," he believes that faith-based groups that receive government funding for their social work should be allowed to proselytize their charges.

In his interview with Christianity Today, Bush was asked point-blank about government funding for faith-based organizations: "Won't this plan blur the line between church-state separation?"

Bush replied, "That's the big question. I don't think it will. And the reason is that we're funding people and programs, not institutions. Some of my opponents worry about proselytization. I believe the power of the church is its capacity to change the heart, and we should not force the church to change its mission."

Olasky admits that, "Even evangelically oriented funders are well aware that faith in Christ is not sufficient in itself to build a successful organization. They know that not every faith-based organization is a winner and that Christians can be as bad at charity as anyone else." But he offers a solution to this potential dilemma if government were to fund such groups. "A White House office of advocacy for faith-based organizations could use the presidential bully pulpit to shine a spotlight on the good groups."

But what Olasky and George W. Bush the man who wants to be America's president are ignoring is the obvious fact that our government already recognizes the value of churches and other faith-based organizations. That is why they are tax-exempt which translates into billions of dollars a year in taxpayer support.

We asked Olasky, who is friendly and personable, to explain exactly where his candidate stands on the abortion issue. "He's against abortion," Olasky told Penthouse, "but for some reason he doesn't want to talk about it. He's particularly interested in compassionate alternatives to abortion, like adoption. He's said his favorite Supreme Court justices are [Antonin] Scalia and [Clarence] Thomas." As these two are the most extreme conservatives on the court (and neither one is especially known for his compassion), Bush's choices of judicial heroes should be of little comfort to the vast majority of Americans who believe that a woman has the right to control her own body.

Not surprisingly, Marvin Olasky's first choice for the White House was Alan Keyes, the ultraconservative talk show host. But Olasky told Penthouse, "I think Governor Bush is the only realistic alternative for Christian conservatives He's been trustworthy in Texas; we need to pray that, if he is elected, he won't 'go Washington' like so many folks do."

While this is their prayer, the leaders of the radical right are meanwhile practicing patience. If they just stay "below the radar" and let George W. do his thing until Election Day, they hope to reap the rewards in the end.

Reprinted by permission of Penthouse
© 2000 General Media Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2000 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.