Limbaugh's disciples: Will he take their calls with marital advice?

rushThrough the years, I have heard many people speculate about the percentage of Rush Limbaugh’s listening audience that would fall into the “Religious Right” camp.

Has anyone out there ever heard a number? My guess would be way over 50 percent.

Yet it was clear that Limbaugh’s call screener has always been careful not to let many questions and comments about faith issues get onto the show. Cigars and football, yes. Salvation and Christology, no.

There was a reason for that. Limbaugh’s own background was on the progressive mainline Protestant side of the church aisle. He is the loyal son of a liberal United Methodist father whose views of the Bible were quite unorthodox.

Limbaugh is kind of an in-the-closet Libertarian, trapped with a Bible-believing audience. In the early radio days, he quietly voiced a modified pro-abortion rights perspective that evolved into a “leave it to the states” position. When hard-right religious conservatives have made it onto the air with the radio superstar, the results have often been tense. Check out this fundamentalist stab at Limbaugh online.

Now, Limbaugh’s dear friends at the Palm Beach Post are getting to glory in the news that his third marriage is on the rocks, adding another layer of legal and personal pain to his battles with authorities over claims that he illegally shopped for doctors to obtain painkillers. This also adds a sour last note to a week dedicated to the legacy of the president who once called Limbaugh the emeging voice of American conservatism.

No news yet on whether it was Marta or Rush Limbaugh who filed for the divorce, according to a spokesman for Limbaugh. But the news media will be all over the story, no doubt led by Limbaugh’s other dear friends at Air America. Inside the Beltway, many will ponder whether this will have an impact on President Bush and the Republican Party’s fortunes in the fall. It will also be interesting to see how the conservative Christian press plays the story. Will Focus on the Family address this?

What a world. The Post not-so-gently offers a foretaste of the stand-up comic barrage to come.

Limbaugh’s divorces haven’t stopped him from dispensing marital advice. “If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do what he wants to do,” he once said.

Limbaugh, who has no children, also has opined about gay marriage. “Marriage is about raising children. That’s the purpose of the institution.”

The press will certainly tune in on Monday to see if Limbaugh retreats with a “Best of Rush” re-run. Millions of his religious listeners will do the same.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Katherine

    Limbaugh’s brother David is an evangelical Christian, in spite of the liberal UM father. Rush has not spent much time on religious issues on his program, so the “hypocrisy” angle won’t go too far among those who actually listen to him. Pending details of the divorce, it’s quite possible it’s not his idea. And it’s also quite possible to defend the rightness of behavioral standards one has been unable to live up to personally. He got through the drug addiction admission with his audience by frankly admitting his failures and getting help. If he’s similarly humble about the marital problems he may be viewed sympathetically.

    Further, it is sadly true that Evangelicals divorce and remarry at about the same rate as the rest of the population.

    My guess is that people will withhold judgment and continue to listen to his politics.

  • MrAcheson

    This is Rush’s 3rd marriage. If they didn’t have a problem with 1 or 2 why is 3 going to break the camel’s back?

  • Wooderson

    I’m not sure the appeal of Rush Limbaugh has ever been the man’s pursuit of holiness (or lack thereof).

  • Mike Herman

    I mostly agree with the comments above, and I don’t think this will put much of a dent into Rush’s listening audience.

    It may sway a few more people to spend more of their time listening to Sean Hannity — at least for those who only have time to listen to one of them each day. But whether it’s Sean, Rush, or whomever else, people will always find something wrong with personalities if they want to.

    So, it comes back to Rush…most people will just overlook this divorce as they did the others, and will continue their daily routine of listening to him.

    We are a people of routines, and we don’t like to move our cheese or have it moved by others. Rush will continue to thrive.

  • Victor Morton

    Yeah, Limbaugh’s never been your man if you’re very pious and inclined to reject an entertainer based on the conduct offstage — he’s long loved double entendres, vaguely-offcolor jokes, and irreverence aimed at things “sacred”; he’s never hidden that he’s a bon vivant, and this is his third divorce.

    Idle, curious question prompted by the last response: isn’t Sean Hannity divorced as well? I could swear he wore a wedding band for a long time on his Fox TV show with Alan Colmes, but now he doesn’t (I’m not a fan of his radio show, so I’ve never heard him discuss that there, if he ever has).

  • David

    Nice essay raising important questions. It certainly has made me think (again) about the degree to which I, as an orthodox Christian, allow Limbaugh to influence my thinking. Thanks! It has always been clear that he has not considered himself a committed Christian. His comments on Jerry Falwell’s response to 9-11 showed a clear lack of theological understanding. But then no one can know everything!

    I disagree with the description of Limbaugh as an “in-the-closet Libertarian.” He has been clear on the distinction between libertarian and conservative, and his rejection of libertarianism. Government must intervene to prevent negative consequences of immoral or socially disruptive behavior (e.g., illegal drugs).

  • airemom

    I formerly respected Rush, but he soon exposed himself as a selfish egotist. He was fuuny and

    entertaining 10 years ago, but much has changed

    since then.

    He is not grownded on Christ and has therefore no foundation in his life.

    I wish I had not spent so much time listening to him.