Is Bryan Fischer the new kingmaker?

Yesterday, Newsweek’s Ben Adler posted an article featuring Bryan Fischer, Issues Analyst for the American Family Association. In it, Adler portrayed Fischer as a provocative imp who has crafted a media shtick filled with offensive and outrageous positions designed to get ratings and offend liberals. He may or may not mean what he says, according to Adler, but it doesn’t matter because the Christian political business rolls with outrage – requiring a sanctified shock jock to shake things up. Fischer is just doing his job.

To support the tone of his column, Adler referred to Fischer’s protests (oh, the horror!) that “President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.” Adler also picked up on some anti-gay, anti-Muslim and yes, the anti-bear comments (you’ll have to click the link for more on that one) but he left out the worst and least entertaining, to wit:

Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.

Adler said Fischer was both threatening and entertaining – I call it “hatertainment” – but Fischer’s reference to the Holocaust doesn’t seem very entertaining to me. Neither do disparaging remarks about Catholic Latinos and Muslim inbreeding (click the links to be hatertained).

To me, Adler’s article points to a new low in the culture war. Is the AFA cynically putting out shocking positions in a manipulative effort to entertain an audience? If that’s true, that is scandalous. If it is not true, then he and the AFA really mean all of those things and deserve the scrutiny given to them recently by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Either way, the audience is clearly there. According to Newsweek, right wing politicians have taken notice:

Fischer’s program, “Focal Point,” reaches about two million listeners and has featured guest appearances from a number of prominent Republicans such as Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, and Mike Huckabee and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who on Wednesday told Fischer he would be in favor of reinstating Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

All of those guys are or have been at various stages of positioning for a run at the GOP nomination. Herman Cain, who just declared his intent to run for the nomination, was just on the show as well. Does this mean that the road to the GOP nomination runs through Bryan Fischer’s radio show?

I hope not.

It is certainly possible that none of Fischer’s GOP guests know of the outrageous positions he promotes. However, that was little defense for John McCain when he was endorsed by megachurch pastor John Hagee in 2008. Catholic groups were outraged. Why? On one occasion, Hagee accused Catholicism of being ”a godless theology of hate” which during the Nazi’s reign, promoted “a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews.” Over time, reporters dug up more statements by Hagee which embarrassed McCain. McCain said he didn’t know Hagee’s views and if he had known, he would not sought his endorsement. After months of being dogged by the matter, McCain explicitly rejected association with him.

To date, Fischer has given his stamp of approval to Herman Cain and Mike Pence. However, those not inclined to support these candidates are already questioning the wisdom of even appearing on Fischer’s program. For instance, Andrew Sullivan asked about Fischer yesterday:

More to the point: is embracing a man who believes this kind of bile now essential to being viable as a primary candidate for president in the current GOP? If a Democrat had gone on a radio show with anyone as far out on the left as Fischer is on the far right, his or her career would be over.

Talk about burying the lead: Now I have come to the question which is the title of this post and which echos Sullivan’s question – is Bryan Fischer the new GOP kingmaker? Let me add some questions for discussion – is it fair to evaluate candidates based on friendly appearances with people who express incendiary views? Is Sullivan correct about a Democratic candidate who made a comparable appearance?

These questions are political but I am also interested in reader feedback on the religious matters involved. Applying Bryan Fischer’s evaluation of the President (“either he means what he says or he is a bald-faced liar”), how should we evaluate the positions promoted by the AFA? Is being shocking as a means to an end good practice for a Christian ministry?

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  • http://www.talk2action.org Bruce Wilson

    Hi Warren,

    Thanks for shining a spotlight on Fischer’s antics. On the McCain/Hagee rift, I’d have to note that it was not until I posted an audio clip from a late 2005 sermon in which John Hagee declared “God sent a hunter. Hitler was a hunter” that John McCain renounced his long-sought endorsement from Hagee. See that post at: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2008/5/15/141520/281

    A number of mainstream media outlets (such as the NYT) credited the website I co-founded with Frederick Clarkson with precipitating the McCain/Hagee break, and some even credited me personally (you can read a list at my bio, here). In any event, Catholic outrage was insufficient, it would seem, to pry McCain away from Hagee.

    Best,

    Bruce Wilson

  • http://wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Hey Bruce: Thanks for those links and for pointing out your work. Here is a significant section from that Times article:

    “This is a perfect example of when politicians and religious leaders try to use each other, both of them end up getting hurt,” said the Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a liberal religious group. “The reason that many of us talk about separating religion and politics is that they are two different parts of life, and they operate with different values and methods.”

    Hagee said that his sermon had been “mischaracterized” and that he had always spoken harshly about Hitler and the Holocaust.

    Hagee, 68, is not as well known as other evangelical leaders, but he is powerful among strongly conservative evangelical Christians, thanks to a vast media reach.

    The impulse to reach the audience of religious media people must seem hard to resist. The only way I saw it work well in 2008 was the Rick Warren hosted debate where both McCain and Obama answered the same questions.

    I certainly am watching to see who else, if anyone, goes on the AFA network in a friendly, good ol’ boy way. What I would like to see is for more religious conservatives to say enough is enough.

  • Dan

    Christian Ministry? You’re joking, right?

  • Gregg F

    Kingmaker? More like jester…

  • Richard Willmer

    Queen-maker?

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  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Okay, a question from someone who was raised Roman Catholic (and thus I have a somewhat hazy grasp of the “Taxonomy of American Evangelical Protestantism”):

    Is it correct to place Fischer in the Reconstructionist tent, or does he belong to a separate tradition despite possibly having some views that happen to overlap with the Reconstructionists? And for that matter, are Christian “theocrats” who purportedly want to see homosexuals hanged from lampposts properly described with the term Reconstructionist, or should they be called Dominionists, or what?

    I realize that American Protestant history is vexingly complicated and that there may not be a simple two-sentence answer to my question, but I’m just trying to avoid blatant misuse of terminology!

    P.S. I do understand that “Evangelical” is not an exact synonym for terms like “born-again Christian” or “Pentecostal”, and that none of these terms are freely interchangeable with “Christian Fundamentalist.” For that matter, I know that “Christian Fundamentalism” has a complex history — some of the early “Fundamentalists” were primarily concerned with re-affirming such utterly central doctrines as the literal physical Resurrection of Christ, but other “Fundamentalists” were obsessed with seemingly secondary matters, such as attacking the hypothesis that multiple authors had contributed to the “Five Books of Moses.”

  • OneOfTheWatchers

    About two years ago on a comment thread, I had responded to someone who used the term ‘American Taliban’. I told them it would be better to say, “Christian Taliban”, and Mr Fischer and his ilk are grouped into that class. It boggles the mind to wonder how someone who supposedly espouses the teachings of Our Lord can spew disillusioned vitriol, with NO facts to back it up. He sounds a lot like Perkins and Sprigg of the FRC.

    This is the furthest from the Christianity that I have been taught.

  • David Blakeslee

    …and yet, there is no unified condemnation within the Christian community.

    Crickets.

  • OneOfTheWatchers

    I think it’s about time the FCC pays this imp’s radio program a visit.

  • ken

    OneOfTheWatchers# ~ Mar 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    “I think it’s about time the FCC pays this imp’s radio program a visit.”

    Why? what is it you think the FCC should do?

  • OneOfTheWatchers

    Are there not laws?

  • ken

    OneOfTheWatchers# ~ Mar 31, 2011 at 9:46 am

    “Are there not laws?”

    yes, in fact there is a constitutional amendment that allows Fischer to spout whatever nonsense he wants. However, there are no laws that require Fischer to be truthful, correct or inoffensive. I doubt there is anything the FCC or any other government agency could do to stop Fischer from spouting his nonsense, nor would I be comfortable with any trying.

  • OneOfTheWatchers

    Yes, I’m well aware of the 1st.

    Why would you be be afraid of the FCC trying to shut him down, what is there to fear from the devil’s imp.

  • ken

    Because I believe in the freedom of speech, even for those who say things I don’t like. If the FCC were to (even try to) shut down fischer, it sets a very bad precedent. It says the government can decide who gets to say what they want. what if the FCC (or some other government agency) were to decide that portraying gay relationships was also inappropriate, should the FCC be able to ban that from the airwaves as well?