The Religious Right’s Secret Candidate ‘Forum’

by Dan Quinn

If anyone needs more evidence that the religious right’s ringleaders see voters as sheep, we present a new exhibit: Rev. Rick Scarborough’s secret candidate-screening in East Texas.

Scarborough, head of the Lufkin (Texas)-based group Vision America, orbits the fringes of the far right. For example, he’s a “birther” who doubts President Obama was truly born in the United States and, thus, isn’t eligible to occupy the White House (and here). He also argues that proposed health insurance reforms will lead to “death panels” and rationing care for handicapped children.

Scarborough also works to mobilize conservative evangelical clergy to support the religious right’s political agenda. To that end, this week he put together a closed-door “candidate forum” at a Nacogdoches (Texas) church, the city’s Daily Sentinel newspaper reports.

Now, it seems rather odd to have a closed-door candidate forum. After all, aren’t forums an opportunity for voters to learn more about candidates for office? Yes, of course — unless your forum is put together by Scarborough.

According to the Daily Sentinel, dozens of state and local candidates subjected themselves to an inquisition before Scarborough’s panel of 15 pastors. Questions reportedly focused on a variety of issues important to the religious right, such as candidate’s positions on same-sex marriage and teaching “intelligent design”/creationism alongside evolution in public schools.

Scarborough said he plans to publish the results of the interviews in a document for distribution to church congregations before the March 2 primary elections:

“We believe Christians have a real responsibility, and we pastors especially, to find out where the candidates stand and what they believe, and then give those answers to the people. We want them to vote not as Republicans or Democrats, but as we like to say, followers of Jesus Christ. We’re trying to mix church and state God’s way.”

Of course, pastors have every right to question candidates on their positions and to call on congregations to, as Scarborough puts it, “vote their values.” (We certainly vote ours.)

But why the closed doors? Couldn’t voters be trusted to ask their own questions and spend time hearing for themselves what candidates say about the issues? For that matter, couldn’t they be trusted to decide which issues are important to them? It’s interesting that Scarborough and his partners believe they should decide what voters need to know.

The reason for this, of couse, is that the religious right has thrived by twisting and distorting the positions of candidates in campaigns. What better way to do that than by controlling the information voters receive? Doing so makes it easier to persuade followers that their values are somehow under siege. In short, it becomes easier to use faith as a weapon to divide people in the service of a political agenda they might not otherwise support.

Read the Daily Sentinel’s story here.

UPDATE: Is Rev. Scarborough changing his hateful ways? Right Wing Watch from People for the American Way posts a new video featuing a supposedly contrite Scarborough. You be the judge — but we’ll believe it when we see it.

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