Bachmann & Associates

I often tease my friend who will run for president some day that our friendship will end up costing him dearly. Reporters will dig up our connection and will explain what a freak I am and how that disqualifies him to be president. That’s kind of how it goes now if you run for office, apparently, no matter where you fall politically.

We see this kind of guilt by association throughout a new piece on Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) from The New Yorker, a much talked-about profile that includes some bizarre connections and strange inferences.

Apparently this is the week for targeting Bachmann, as there is much talk about the notorious Newseek cover, which we’ll deal with in a later post. Some of you may resonate with Slate‘s Jessica Grose when she says, “I hate it when Michele Bachmann makes me defend her,” but hold on to your hats for a Leblancian edit (bolded phrases are my own) of the religion-related parts of New Yorker‘s smear by Ryan Lizza.

Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.

Oh really? What’s his basis for this claim?

Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared. Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is “personal enslavement,” and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, “little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.”

Bachmann wasn’t the first to consider sin enslavement, even if you might agree or disagree with her interpretation. How does Lizza know that her campaign will be focus on a set of beliefs? Is the media making this the focus?

…The trip [to Israel] gave her a connection to Israel, a state whose creation, many American evangelicals believe, is prophesied in the Bible. (St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, says that Jews will one day gather again in their homeland; modern fundamentalists see this, along with the coming of the Antichrist, as presaging the Rapture.)

Who are modern fundamentalists and what do they have to do with Bachmann? Is there any evidence that Bachmann holds the idea of pretribulation, midtribulation, or posttribulation rapture? Or maybe she’s postmillennial or even amillennial.

These ideas get complex, so things get muddy while trying to summarize an entire belief system on eschatology in a paragraph when the reporter doesn’t offer evidence for those beliefs.

In the fall of 1975, Bachmann enrolled at Winona State University, a small school in southeastern Minnesota, where she became more devout and tried to lead her dormmates to Christianity.

Regular readers know we hate the d-word. And, of course, part of being an evangelical often means evangelism, so this isn’t exactly breaking news or terribly unusual.

Then the reporter examines the beliefs of the late Francis Schaeffer, who was kind of a big deal for many evangelicals. Now, Bachmann has said before that Schaeffer has strongly influenced her views, so the association here makes sense. What’s strange is how the reporter portrays him as fringe. Here’s the reporter’s explanation for part of a video Schaeffer produced.

In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city’s water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs.

How much of that video consisted of speculation? Is there any indication that Bachmann holds this belief?

Lizza uses Schaeffer’s son Frank to explain his father’s beliefs, but he should at least acknowledge that Frank has also taken his own ideological shift. For example, Frank recently blamed the shootings in Norway on conservative evangelicals and warns that evangelicals could be planning similar attacks in the U.S. Hmm.

In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.

I’ll defer to Ben Domenech.

… I find this depiction of Schaeffer’s position is just a vicious smear.

What Schaeffer called for were acts of civil disobedience if Roe v. Wade was not overturned. He repeatedly and specifically stressed that violence was not justified – “overreaction can too easily become the ugly horror of sheer violence”, he wrote.

Oops. You don’t have to agree with Schaeffer to wonder whether he is unfairly maligned in this piece. The reporter then jumps to Bachmann time at Oral Roberts’ former law school.

For several years, the school could not get accreditation, because students were required to sign a “code of honor” attesting to their Christian belief and commitment.

Does anyone know whether this is really the reason why the school couldn’t get accredited? This surprises me, considering that lots and lots of colleges that have variations on a religious “code of honor” are accredited (BYU anyone?).

The law review published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.

Here are more attempts to prove guilt by association. I’m guess that, for example, our friend Mr. Brad Greenberg does not believe everything a professors who write for a law review from UCLA produces, but maybe he does. Did the law review publish essays calling to execute homosexuals and adulterers? Did she believe these claims in any way?

Lizza quotes professor John Eidsmoe whom Bachmann worked for at Oral Roberts (ORU).

When I asked him if he believed that Bachmann’s views were fully consistent with the prevailing ideology at O.R.U. and the themes of his book, he said, “Yes.” Later, he added, “I do not know of any way in which they are not.”

That’s a pretty generic question he’s answering. It doesn’t get into if she believes in criminalizing adultery or homosexuality, which seems to insinuate. Then Lizza touches on Bachmann’s foster parenting.

Bachmann’s motivation seems to have been to save the girls, in the same way that she had been saved.

Again, not terribly shocking for a Christian foster parent, but even if this was her motivation, how she did this would be more relevant. Is there any evidence that she coerced the children in any way?

In the late nineteen-nineties, William Cooper, a wealthy bank executive and conservative activist, became chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and started to demand more ideological purity. “He began a purge of people like me,” Laidig said. “No abortion, so if your daughter is raped or if you find out your child is going to be permanently a vegetable you have the kid. Not every abortion is birth control, O.K.? So really hard-core stuff.”

Maybe he did, but did this Republican leader really want to “purge” people that supported abortion in cases of rape and if child is a permanent “vegetable?” How does this apply to Bachmann?

Here’s another journalist using guilt by association with a very tenuous basis on reality to take shots. I could go on and on about the problems in the piece and how it could have been improved, but for now, we’ll ponder why these sections weren’t edited more thoroughly.

Pieces like this do little to illuminate Bachmann’s beliefs or how they apply to her policy stances, but NPR doesn’t mind highlighting it (audio will be available later today). Better watch out who you’re friending on Facebook. You never know what they said 20 years ago that will come back to haunt you in your next job interview.

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  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “this is the week for targeting Bachmann”

    Every politician who might become president goes through this. Every single one. Some could argue that conservative-minded news outlets never stopped digging into Obama’s past and relationships. So, we may critique whether an article was fair, or what mistakes it made, but we should also acknowledge that this isn’t unique or exceptional.

    “What’s strange is how the reporter portrays him as fringe.”

    Actually, I think that Lizza does a good job connecting Bachmann’s worldview to Schaeffer’s, and having recently re-watched “How Should We Then Live” for my own coverage (it’s all available on Youtube), I found it littered with exaggerations, conspiracy theories, and outright revisionist history. So “fringe” is probably a good way to portray this material (at least I hope it’s fringe). Lizza also notes Bachmann’s admiration of Nancy Pearcey, a Schaeffer protegee. Maybe Schaeffer seems mainstream and Milquetoast to you, but to me his vision for America is chilling.

    “Reporters will dig up our connection and will explain what a freak I am and how that disqualifies him to be president.”

    Who we listen to, and are inspired by, matters. From the standpoint of someone who’s in a religious minority, it matters greatly to me who’s counsel a powerful Christian politician keeps. How much room in a “Christian” nation headed by Bachmann or Perry is there for contemporary Pagans? What’s Bachmann’s view of the Establishment Clause? It’s not about how much of a “freak” you are, it’s about how your theology and ideology are enacted when granted executive power. The chances for frank and honest answers to these questions from Bachmann seem small, so some journalists are left reading the tea leaves of who she says are big influences on her life.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jason, I agree with your assertion that everyone goes through this if they run for president, which is why I began with that and acknowledge that it happens on both sides. Bachmann seems to be getting it particularly on religion (which Obama did too in 2007-2008). I also did acknowledge that Bachmann has said she was heavily influenced by Schaeffer, so that connection is warranted. I would love for someone to pull the numbers on books, videos, etc. for Schaeffer’s influence, because he’s hardly fringe within evangelicalism from what I can tell. I’m guessing that people like Billy Graham and Chuck Colson cite him as influencing their views as well. Whether or not his views are fringe for America isn’t really for a reporter to decide (show, not tell). What frustrated me was whether his depiction of Schaeffer’s “A Christian Manifesto” was accurate or not.

    I agree, who we listen to and are inspired by does matter. But can you tell me whether we know if Bachmann was actually influenced by the chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party or someone who wrote for her law school’s law review? Are any of these connections a stretch for you?

    it’s about how your theology and ideology are enacted when granted executive power

    Agreed, but do we know how these might play out? The references are so vague that we are supposed to infer she might concur with everyone ever connected to Oral Roberts. In general, I think we agree here on points of influence, but I just think this piece stretched connecting the dots.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “What frustrated me was whether his depiction of Schaeffer’s “A Christian Manifesto” was accurate or not.”

    While Schaeffer does indeed stress civil disobediance against abortion, he also says stuff like this:

    “I would now repeat again the word I used before. There is no other word we can use for our present situation that I have just been describing, except the word TYRANNY! TYRANNY! That’s what we face! We face a world view which never would have given us our freedoms. It has been forced upon us by the courts and the government — the men holding this other world view, whether we want it or not, even though it’s destroying the very freedoms which give the freedoms for the excesses and for the things which are wrong.

    We, who are Christians, and others who love liberty, should be acting in our day as the founding fathers acted in their day. Those who founded this country believed that they were facing tyranny. All you have to do is read their writings. That’s why the war was fought. That’s why this country was founded. They believed that God never, never, never wanted people to be under tyrannical governments. They did it not as a pragmatic or economic thing, though that was involved too, I guess, but for principle. They were against tyranny, and if the founding fathers stood against tyranny, we ought to recognize, in this year 1982, if they were back here and one of them was standing right here, he would say the same thing — what you are facing is tyranny. The very kind of tyranny we fought, he would say, in order that we might escape.”

    That’s from the sermon version of his Christian Manifesto.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Founding Fathers start a revolutionary war? So while it’s apt for Schaeffer’s defenders to point out that he advocated civil disobedience, he also used some rhetoric that could easily be interpreted as calling for violent overthrow as a last resort.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    So….maybe he was sending a bit of mixed messages, but didn’t he explicitly said he was against violence? I’m not out to defend Schaeffer, but again, this is about showing and not telling. What you quoted is much more helpful than Lizza’s mini description.

  • http://www.abbottepub.com/tyndale21gospels.html Stephen A.

    Thanks, Jason for that information about Schaeffer. I’ve heard Tea Partiers use the “tyranny” and “revolution” comments before and it’s typical of the rhetoric, which can quickly degenerate into calls for violence, though that’s obviously not what Ms. Bachmann has ever advocated.

    The media must tread lightly when making McCarthy-like connections when no connections may really exist. I remember Glenn Beck casting aspersions on an Obama associate on his blackboard, linking him to another saying, “This one… goes to church with THIS ONE. ‘Nuff said.”

    It’s just as wrong for an ACTUAL reporter to use those tactics.

  • Mike

    I love the line that Bachmann belongs to a generation of conservative Christians whose views were shaped by those “not commonly known to secular Americans.” This is nonsense. What do you expect? By definition, secular Americans have no interest in anything Christian so how would they know who they are? They don’t seek them out and when they do, it’s generally to ridicule them. Conservative Christians know far more about secular Americans than secular Americans know about conservative Christians.

  • Friend who will run for president

    I’m defriending you on Facebook right now Sarah.

  • http://www.faithandgeekery.com Justin

    True, every politician gets put through some sort of ringer when they get popular enough.

    Yet I’m trying to think of any situation when the Washington Post smirked that they dangled a “piece of Scripture” in front of Obama to get a reaction out out him as they did with Bachmann. They both are clearly people of faith, (and both known to use Scripture in speeches), but I fail to remember all but the most virulent of atheists mocking his Christian faith — by a reputable news outlet nonetheless.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    About how the media looked at Obama before his election–I don’t recall him ever telling, or even being directly asked by his media buddies–where exactly he disagreed with extremist minister Rev. Wright or former terrorist Bill Ayres.
    But we can be sure Ms. Bachmann will be well vetted, cross-examined, and probed by the mainstream media about every person she ever smiled at during her life.

  • Sarah

    It should be noted though that much of the religious kerfuffle with Obama was not primarily smearing done by conservatives, but rather by Democrats.

    The issue blew up during the primaries and it was Mrs. Clinton doing a lot of that stuff, not just conservatives.

    Bottom line is the media once again fails to understand that beliefs that are overwhelming mainstreams in the largest streams of Christianity, are what they see as “extreme” or “fringe.”

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com R.F. McDonald

    “So….maybe he was sending a bit of mixed messages, but didn’t he explicitly said he was against violence?”

    Is Schaeffer’s just a nudge-nudge, wink-wink message, the sort of thing that would provide him with an escape? “I don’t _want_ this to happen, but if something like that did happen I’d understand the reasons.”

    Schaffer may have written in favour of peaceful protest against a sin, yes, but he also wrote in favour of violent revolution against a government made illegitimate because of that sin. By secular and religious standards, calling for violent revolution against a government that is recognized by most others as legitimate is rather extreme. That call just can’t be balanced out.

  • Friend who will run for president

    To the 12 who hit “like” on my initial comment, will you vote for me someday? To the 1 person who hit “dislike,” I won’t need your vote anyway.

  • http://www.abbottepub.com/tyndale21gospels.html Stephen A.

    re: Friend’s comment above (12) I’m growing annoyed with the “voting” mechanism altogether.

    Why is that appropriate for a news critique site, anyway? If someone doesn’t like their sacred cow being questioned, they vote down the critique? If someone calls “bull” on a reporter by questioning their political bias with which they agree, they are booed down by negative ratings? I don’t get it, and think it’s silly.

    A determination of a “hot debate” will be the excellence of one’s arguments, not how popular they are with one side or the other, which is what these buttons seem to be gauging.

  • Mark Tardiff

    Over at First Things Joe Carter weighs in on the same New Yorker article. He focuses especially on what is said about Schaeffer and offers a “journalism lesson” to Lizza.
    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/08/a-journalism-lesson-for-the-new-yorker

  • str

    “…The trip [to Israel] gave her a connection to Israel, a state whose creation, many American evangelicals believe, is prophesied in the Bible. (St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, says that Jews will one day gather again in their homeland; modern fundamentalists see this, along with the coming of the Antichrist, as presaging the Rapture.)”

    Who are modern fundamentalists and what do they have to do with Bachmann? Is there any evidence that Bachmann holds the idea of pretribulation, midtribulation, or posttribulation rapture? Or maybe she’s postmillennial or even amillennial. These ideas get complex, so the paragraph gets muddy trying to summarize an entire belief system on eschatology in a paragraph when the reporter doesn’t offer evidence for those beliefs.

    Not only that. If a reporter makes a claim about what St. Paul supposedly said, one would at least imagine that she checked the verse. How often do tenets of Christianity, e.g. Christ was crucified at Golgotha come with gratuitous
    disclaimers like “according to Christian tradition”. Then the writer should have at least added “these evangelicals believe that St. Paul said this and that” – I for my part cannot find St. Paul saying anything about Jews gathering their homeland. Such a verse would have been silly anyway since when Paul penned this epistle, the Jews actually lived in their homeland in masses.

  • str

    From the standpoint of someone who’s in a religious minority, it matters greatly to me who’s counsel a powerful Christian politician keeps.

    So for the sake of the minority you belong to you are applauding the powers that be for using discrimination and unfair treatment against another minority? Logic?

  • VRain

    Sarah – quite simply: you are brilliant.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “So for the sake of the minority you belong to you are applauding the powers that be for using discrimination and unfair treatment against another minority? Logic?”

    Oh, I’m “applauding” the “powers that be,” that’s an interesting spin.

    “against another minority”

    If I can get only once concession from Christians, could it be that you are not a minority in the United States? That you are, in fact, economically, politically, and culturally powerful? That you regularly turn films into blockbusters, books into bestsellers, have candidates court you regularly, and are often seen as presidential king-makers? George W. Bush didn’t make regular phone-calls to Hindus or Buddhists, and every “faith-based” governmental council I’ve seen is dominated by various forms of Christianity. Did I enter some counter-earth where the inaugural invocation was given by a Wiccan instead of someone who made a great show of saying “Jesus”?

    The claims to “minority” status by Christians in North America only holds water in the most academic and tenuous of senses. Yes, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are a “minority” in the sense that Wisconsin Synod Lutherans are the predominate form of Christianity in this country, but they are still Christians. Christianity still dominates religion here. So spare me the theological hair-splitting that denominational differences creates a hundred-thousand “minorities” that suffer from persecution, because it doesn’t wash with this Pagan.

  • Steve

    Jason,
    What people are reacting to is the demarcation of historic, orthodox and trinitarian Christian views as “fringe” by the mainstream media. It means that either the country has become thoroughly pagan in culture or that a vast number of people’s voices are not represented in modern culture. If these views are “fringe” then one has to speculate that perhaps Christians are a small minority in the United States.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “If these views are “fringe” then one has to speculate that perhaps Christians are a small minority in the United States.”

    No, one doesn’t *have* to speculate that. One chooses to. It’s a choice that is insulting to actual religious minorities in the Unites States, groups who almost never see their opinions, views, or moral realities reflected by any large-scale media whatsoever. Also can we stop using “pagan” as a synonym for “secular”?

    By any yardstick you want to use, Christianity is the dominate faith-choice by a majority of Americans. What you perceive as mainstream media distortions don’t suddenly eliminate your privilege or power.

  • Steve

    Jason,
    Perhaps I was writing a bit above your level. I restate: if Christian ideas are considered “fringe”, then it logically and clearly follows that Christians are a minority (by definition). As Daniel Moynahan stated, “you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” If the yardstick is historic, orthodox and trinitarian Christian beliefs (Bible, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc.), the facts are these are not “dominate faith-choice by a majority of Americans.”

    BTW, I choose my words with great care. We are not a secular nation (most citizens are quite religious); we are a pagan (in the original sense – folk religion) nation of syncretic views. You make too many assumptions in your discussion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “Perhaps I was writing a bit above your level.”

    Nice. So the personal insults start to creep out.

    “I restate: if Christian ideas are considered “fringe”, then it logically and clearly follows that Christians are a minority (by definition).”

    Let me restate: Having some Christian political ideas and beliefs labeled as “fringe” by a smattering of media sources do not automatically make “historic, orthodox and trinitarian Christian views” fringe views. It does not eliminate the collective economic, social, or political power of Christianity in the United States.

  • str

    Jason,

    this is neither about mainstream or classical Christianity – those are not attacked in the above, which is strictly directed against the supposed fringe.

    Fringe – whether Christian or (neo)Pagan – are both minorities.

    And neither is it seasoned or reasonable criticism but plainly fearmongering and slander. Maybe fringe evangelicals even poison wells and kill children. /sarcasm off

  • Christine

    I think that what Jason’s getting at here is that while the views of specific sects of Christianity may be considered on the “fringe” in relation to the rest of Christianity within the US, the fact remains that Christianity AS A WHOLE dominates within the US and holds vast amounts of political, economic and social power. Which gives this “fringe” group access to power that many other minority religions don’t have.


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