This post has been updated
By Alan Cooperman
The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; Page A04
Ten teachers of Christian ethics at leading seminaries and universities have written a letter to President Bush criticizing his campaign's outreach to churches, particularly its effort to gather church membership directories.
The Aug. 12 letter asked Bush to "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy." It also urged both presidential candidates to "respect the integrity of all houses of worship."
The letter's signers included evangelical Christians who teach at generally conservative institutions, such as the Rev. George G. Hunter III of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky and Richard V. Pierard of Gordon College in Massachusetts. Other signers included the Revs. Paul Raushenbush of Princeton University, Walter B. Shurden of Mercer University in Georgia, James M. Dunn of Wake Forest Divinity School in North Carolina and Ronald B. Flowers of Texas Christian University.
Anyone with much credibility would describe those who signed this letter as relatively conservative or at least moderate in their theological and social views. That hasn’t stopped Focus on the Family, the Religious Right group aligned with the Bush reelection campaign, from claiming the signers of this letter are actually liberals in disguise:
A group of mostly liberal seminary teachers is blasting the Bush campaign for its outreach to churches.
In a letter to Bush, the group demands Bush "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy" by urging members of churches to get involved in the electoral process.
But Kevin Madden, a spokesman for the Bush/Cheney campaign, said the president and vice president aren't doing anything wrong.
Actually, the Bush campaign has done plenty wrong. They’ve urged churches to hand over membership lists and recruit volunteers for the reelection campaign during services, for example. Focus on the Family can make up all the stories they want, but the truth is that even some conservative evangelical Christians are questioning the motives and tactics of George W. Bush.
Update: One of the misstatements by Focus On The Family is that:
News reports in the mainstream media have referred to the letter's signers as evangelical Christians who teach at conservative schools. But a check of the names shows many are members of the Clergy Network for National Leadership Change, a group that attacks Bush administration policies and says it will do whatever is appropriate to get the president tossed out of office.
As a member of the Clergy Leadership Network, I know the people involved and have attended their meetings. Only three of the people who signed this letter are members of CLN. The fact that three evangelical Christians would join with more liberal members of the clergy speaks volumes about this president. However, the clear majority of the people who signed this letter are not members of CLN.
The full letter reads:
August 12, 2004
President George W. Bush Bush/Cheney 2004 Campaign Arlington, VA
Re: Playing Politics with Church
Dear President Bush,
When certain church leaders acceded to the request of the Bush/Cheney campaign to hand over the names and addresses of their congregants they crossed a line.
It is proper for church leaders to address social issues, but it is improper, and even illegal, for them to get their churches to endorse candidates or align their churches with a specific political party.
Christians, individually, should prayerfully seek God's direction when voting, but when any church leaders contend that they speak for God and have the right to tell congregants how to vote, such leaders have assumed prerogatives to which they have no right.
Whenever the Church follows such a path, it engages in a scandalous secularizing of the sacred. Whenever political parties use the church, they invoke absolutes in the passing parade of politics. Whenever the church has engaged in partisan politics, it has compromised its moral authority.
In the light of these developments, we call on church leaders to stand vigilant against entanglement in partisan politics. Likewise we urge both candidates to respect the integrity of all houses of worship. In that spirit, we call upon you to repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign, which violated a fundamental principle of our democracy.
Jimmy R. Allen, Former President, Southern Baptist Convention (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, Eastern University (Pennsylvania)
The Rev. Dr. James M. Dunn, Wake Forest Divinity School (North Carolina)
Dr. Richard V. Pierard, Gordon College (Massachusetts)
The Rev. Dr. Ronald B. Flowers, Texas Christian University (Texas)
The Rev. Dr. Walter B. Shurden, Mercer University (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. George Hunter, Asbury Theological Seminary (Kentucky)
Dr. James T. Laney, Faith and the City (Georgia)
The Rev. Dr. Paul Raushenbush, Princeton University (New Jersey)
Rollin O. Russell, Lancaster Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania)