How the Right Wields Faith as a Weapon

by Dan Quinn

Religious-right leaders often use faith as a weapon to divide people for political gain. An essay from Dave Welch, head of the far-right groups U.S. Pastor Council and Houston Area Pastor Council, offers another stark example.

In his July 17 essay for World Net Daily, a website that wallows in the dirty waters of the fringe right, Welch attacks both the faith and patriotism of pastors who don’t agree with him politically. His major targets are pastors who refuse to drag their houses of worship into political warfare. Writes Welch:

“(I)f a pastor is clearly shown that he can legally do anything in relation to influencing public policy, informing and registering voters, educating on candidates’ positions, etc. – with the only exception being directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate as an organization (pastors may clearly do so individually) – and the pastor is doing none of the above … there must be another reason.

There is. His biblical worldview is incomplete, his theology is fragmented, he has been ‘seminarianized’ into the seeker-friendly, market-driven, church-growth mindset and/or he simply is not a leader.”

Welch also insists that pastors can be good American citizens only if they politicize their pulpits:

“(T)here is no ‘exception’ clause for Christians in general or for pastors in particular. If you are an American citizen, these are your duties, period.”

Like everyone else, of course, pastors have the right to speak out on political issues of the day. What houses of worship cannot do — at least not without risking their tax-exempt status as nonprofits — is endorse or call for the defeat of partisan political candidates. Clearly, some pastors — conservatives and liberals — have decided to do neither from their pulpits. That irritates Welch.

But deciding not to turn their houses of worship into battlegrounds in our nation’s divisive culture wars surely is their right, isn’t it? Perhaps these pastors want to open their doors to everyone instead of making political beliefs a litmus test for exclusive membership in their faith communities. And, in any case, by what right does Welch consider himself their judge?

Nevertheless, Welch has long made it clear that he thinks such pastors are bad Americans as well as poor faith leaders. He has been sharply critical of pastors who he said refused to speak out forcefully against the mayoral candidacy of Annise Parker, who is openly lesbian and won election last fall to be Houston’s mayor. He has also questioned the faith of pastors who see no conflict between their belief in God and accepting the science of evolution. And he doesn’t limit his criticism to pastors — everyone is open game for Welch’s self-righteous attacks. He even calls President Obama, who has publicly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, “anti-Christian.”

This is always important to remember: the religious right is really a political movement, not a religious movement. As such, politics is the driving force for its foot soldiers, and faith is a weapon for bludgeoning opponents in the service of a political agenda. In short, Welch and others like him believe that being a good Christian or a good American means agreeing with them — on everything. If you stray from the party line, they will come after you with vengeance.