Huckabee in the holy lands

Last week we looked at a piece by Newsweek that suggested Sarah Palin was the new leader of the religious right. I suggested then that Newsweek should have at least mentioned one of Palin’s potential contenders: Mike Huckabee.

This week we considered Ariel Levy’s lengthy profile in The New Yorker that examines several angles surrounding Huckabee’s policies and faith.

The reporter makes a pronouncement that may seem shocking to some but a silly comparison to others: “This is the defining paradox of Huckabee: his adamant resistance to being branded a zealot paired with his insistence that faith defines character and, consequently, has an essential place in government.”

As a whole, the reporter lets Huckabee tell the story through quotes as she gives background for context. She leads with his trip to Israel as a way to discuss his policies while exploring his background as a pastor and politician. On occasion, though, I wish she would have probed her subject a little bit more.

Huckabee’s formulation is considerably more politic. “If somebody asked me, How do I get to Heaven, I would tell them that the only way I personally am aware of is faith in Christ, because I believe the New Testament,” he said. “That’s the only map I got. Somebody says, Well, I got a different map. O.K.! You know what? If it works, I’m not going to argue with you.”

I would love to hear the full context for this quote because this sounds pretty universalistic. Is Huckabee suggesting that he won’t try to persuade others towards believing the same thing he does or is he saying that everyone needs to choose his or own path?

When Huckabee was fifteen, he encountered an alternative. A young couple in his neighborhood offered Bible study at their home on Wednesday nights, and these meetings changed the way he saw his place in the universe. “For them, Christianity was not a cultural expression — it was a personal relationship with God,” he said. “It wasn’t about behavior.”

It wasn’t about behavior? How does this mesh with Huckabee’s beliefs about homosexuality?

It was a revelation. Huckabee realized that what was happening to him was happening to a generation of Christians. “I saw myself mentally and philosophically as part of the growing Jesus movement,” he said. These young people were invested in a transformative experience of divinity; the Jesus movement challenged the conventions of the Church for many of the same reasons that other young baby boomers were rebelling against the secular establishment. They were all seeking “more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living,” as Hillary Clinton put it in her commencement speech at Wellesley, in 1969.

It is pretty noteworthy that Huckabee considered himself part of the Jesus movement, though the reporter glosses over this tidbit and pretends like it was just a cultural phenomenon that countered church traditions.

“The way the Moral Majority movement was actually started was there was a rally that James Robison did in 1979 that I helped coordinate,”

I wonder whether this needs further fact checking; was James Robison connected with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority organization, or is he talking about the so-called religious right?

Conservative Christians are desperate for a leader who will govern according to their values. Some feel betrayed by George W. Bush, who, though stalwart on social issues, increased debt and spending, consolidated federal power, and bailed out the banks, all in violation of small-government principles.

Wait. I thought the general consensus was that all these conservative Christians are two-issue voters who care about abortion and gay marriage? When did they start caring about other issues?

Kidding aside, where is proof behind this alleged bitterness? I’m not suggesting it’s not there; believe me, I know it’s there. I’d like to see some evidence to suggest that the said reasons are the ones conservative Christians might feel betrayed by Bush.

Huckabee is contemptuous of the “pompous patrician” wing of his party. “I grew up having a lot more in common with the people working in the kitchen than with the people at the head table,” he said. “I had to learn how to sit at the head table. He likes to think that he represents “Wal-Mart Republicans, not Wall Street Republicans.” To him, someone who is conservative only fiscally is ethically impoverished. Huckabee has criticized the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for his shifting position on abortion, and for promising to be better for gay rights than Ted Kennedy (which he decidedly did not turn out to be).

I wonder if the reporter could have asked a little bit about how his faith plays into being contemptuous of people. Does he see this as being inconsistent at all with his beliefs?

Even if you find his politics repugnant, you can still find yourself drawn in by his relentless niceness.

Despite his contemptuous attitude, he’s nice? And is his “niceness” really what draws people in? What a limp, nondescript word for The New Yorker to choose.

But in the Old Testament polygamy was commonplace. The early Christians considered marriage an arrangement for those without the self-discipline to live in chastity, as Christ did. Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century. And, before 1967, marriage was defined in much of the United States as a relationship between a man and a woman of the same race.

I’m not really sure what to do with that last paragraph. Does polygamy’s appearance in the Bible even remotely suggest endorsement? Do these sentences even really connect to one another, especially the last one?

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the story. Of course, pundits are busy discussing what this means, whether Huckabee could be a viable candidate for the tea partiers and/or evangelicals, whether he can raise enough money, whether he’s gained too much weight, etc. If Huckabee’s presidential aspirations become more serious, I hope journalists consider looking at the regional demographics of Huckabee’s appeal.

Perhaps the most odd comment about the piece came from Nicole Allan of the Atlantic:

People are sometimes caught off guard by Huckabee’s intellectual competence because of his rural Arkansas habits (he and his wife lived in a trailer while the governor’s mansion was being renovated) and his outspoken evangelical views.

Say what? That sentiment reminds me of how a major newspaper long ago called evangelicals “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”

Thankfully, The New Yorker does not take this tone. The profile was interesting, colorful, well-reported, researched, giving appropriate context and history in several places. Unlike Newsweek, thankfully, the magazine does not make any preliminary declarations about his impending leadership of some fluid religious group.

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  • Martha

    Running off at a tangent for a moment, let me just pick this plum out of the pudding:

    “Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century.”

    Well, now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yes: arguments on Episcopalian websites about gay marriage, where one of the grounds put forward by the progressive wing is that same phrase, along the lines of “anyway, marriage wasn’t even defined as a sacrament until the twelfth (or sometimes it may be) the tenth century” or even “the church didn’t get involved in marriage until the tenth/twelfth century and it invented monogamy as a means of property transfer”, the claim being that objections to blessing gay unions in church thus do not have a leg to stand on.

    I wonder where the reporter got this little factoid that she slipped in? It couldn’t possibly be that she’s just regurgitating talking points cribbed off a PR release, hmmm?

  • Martha

    Oh, I also mean to pick up your point about “It wasn’t about behavior?”

    Could this be another time when needing to know the language is relevant? I wonder if Mr. Huckabee is referring to “works righteousness” when he talks about “behaviour”, that is, the notion many Reformed/reformed like to bash us RCs over the head with – that we allegedly believe in works righteousness, or earning salvation by good behaviour, rather than justification by faith alone.

  • Steve Thorngate

    Yes, it’s silly to imply that one can’t both not be a zealot and feel that faith has a place in government. (The latter gets fairly close to the vision of faith in public life articulated by President Obama, no one’s zealot.)

    As for questions about how particular quotes mesh with Huckabee’s views on things, I think the answer’s simple: sometimes they just don’t. Huckabee’s 2008 campaign made something abundantly clear: his comfort talking to a wide variety of people brings with it a willingness to say a wide variety of things.

  • John D

    “Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century.”

    Context is everything. These are Levy’s own words as she discusses Huckabee’s views about gay people at length. It’s quite clear in the context of the article that she’s having a one-on-one on this subject.

    The New Yorker often gets into more personal pieces, so I doubt they would be telling her to keep more detachment. Further, while she counters his views, in every case, he gets the last word.

    This is, of course, not a hard news piece, but a New Yorker profile. I suspect that Levy in many ways acts as a stand-in for the typical New Yorker reader. She certainly asks the questions that I would ask if I were a New Yorker writer and not just a subscriber.

  • Jerry

    I also found the New Yorker piece very interesting and informative including allowing a three-dimensional portrait of Huckabee to emerge.

    One thing I wanted to comment on:

    Wait. I thought the general consensus was that all these conservative Christians are two-issue voters who care about abortion and gay marriage? When did they start caring about other issues?

    I know you intended this as a joke but it seems that there is a reality behind it. In some minds a Christian is required to be an economic conservative as well: that’s the wing of the Republican party which is ever ready to accuse someone of being a RINO if they deviate from a rigid POV even slightly.

    I was glad to see that the Huckabee piece explored that territory and let the reader understand what his outlook really is.

  • Russ Pulliam

    A minor historical perspective on the comment about Huckabee seeing himself as part of the Jesus movement of the late 1960s or 1970s. Many of us who came to faith in that time period may have some vague sense of being part of the Jesus people of that era. It was a time when many were coming to faith and could identify at least with the spirit of the movement because we had not heard the gospel clearly(and perhaps did not listen well) in the churches we grew up in. I can sense where Huckabee could have a similar identification without ever being part of that movement in a formal way.