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05.20.11

Uproar Over Evangelist Bradlee Dean's Obama Slur

Tattooed evangelist Bradlee Dean, delivering the opening prayer Friday at the Minnesota House of Representatives, said President Obama is not a Christian, triggering a chorus of condemnation—led by the Republican House speaker.

The heavy metal evangelist Bradlee Dean, whose opening prayer Friday at the Minnesota House of Representatives has sparked a firestorm, does not much like Islam, a religion he believes is at war with the United States. 

Dean has long believed that President Obama is a Muslim, and he often insists that Obama has declared America a Muslim nation. So it wasn’t terribly surprising when he snuck a slur against the president into his prayer. The Minnesota House of Representatives, he acknowledged, is a nondenominational chamber, which he takes to mean that all kinds of Christians are welcome. “[I]t’s not about the Baptists and it’s not about the Catholics alone or the Lutherans or the Wesleyans, or the Presbyterians the evangelicals or any other denomination,” he said. The only head of the denomination—i.e., of the government —“is Jesus, as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged.” 

His words provoked an uproar. Rep. Terry Morrow was so angry that he was shaking. “Mr. Speaker, I do trust and I do hope that every member of this chamber understands the gravity and the severity of the offense that had been given to many people within this chamber and out,” he said. “It has been my understanding that part of the justification, part of the explanation for starting our sessions with a prayer was that those prayers would never exclude, never marginalize a Minnesotan on the basis of their faith, on the basis of their beliefs, on the basis of who they are, and those expectations have been crushed today.” 

“There’s a slight possibility they may not know quite how extreme this guy is,” says Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. “But they ought to know.”

But members of the Minnesota House should have expected nothing less from Dean. Muslims are just one of many groups that the tattooed, long-haired preacher reviles. Last year, he even had kind words for the way Islam deals with a group he abhors even more—homosexuals. “Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America,” he said on his radio show, The Sons of Liberty . “It shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination.” 

After his remarks were reported by the Minnesota Independent, Dean backed off and said he did not believe gays and lesbians should be put to death. There is no question, though, that they are his bête noir. He’s spoken in favor of imprisoning them and believes they should be barred from government jobs. In January, when a woman named Sharon Lubinski became the first openly lesbian federal marshal, Dean claimed her appointment was illegal, saying: “Sodomy is against the law in the United States. Homosexuality is against the law in the United States.” 

On average, he says, gay people “molest 117 people before they’re found out.” Like others on the far right, he presents homosexuality as part of a conspiracy designed to erode the United States from its foundations. As one of his mentors, Harry Jackson, said on Dean’s radio show, gay marriage is part of “a satanic plot to destroy our seed.”  

Obama, in Dean’s view, is also part of an anti-American plot. Earlier this month, after Osama bin Laden’s death, he claimed that Obama is a greater threat to this country than the terrorist leader. “Osama bin laden is not the one that is at war with the American governors protecting the American borders, is he?” asked Dean. “Osama bin Laden is not the one who is trying to disarm the American people, Obama is!...No one has attacked this country and its people…more than this man’s administration. Do the math.” 

Even by right-wing standards, then, Dean is extreme. But he is not too extreme for the Minnesota Republican Party. He has long been close to Michele Bachmann, who keynoted a fundraising gala for his ministry, “You Can Run but You Cannot Hide.” Tim Pawlenty appeared on his radio show in January. And on Friday, he was invited to give the Minnesota House’s opening prayer. 

“There’s a slight possibility they may not know quite how extreme this guy is,” says Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison. “But they ought to know.” Ellison, a Democrat and a Muslim, has been singled out by Dean, who sees him as an agent of both the homosexual agenda and of Muslim fundamentalism, which, in Dean’s view, work in tandem against America. Ellison sees the House’s invitation to Dean as evidence of the right-wing takeover of his state’s Republican party. “The people on the extreme have the momentum on their side, and they punish people in the middle,” he says. 

Amid the uproar over Dean’s remarks, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers issued an apology for the whole debacle. “As speaker of the House, I take responsibility for this mistake,” he wrote. “I am offended at the presence of Bradlee Dean on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives. I denounce him, his actions and his words. He does not represent my values or the values of this state.” 

If that’s true, perhaps someone should tell Bachmann and the rest of Dean’s friends in politics.

Michelle Goldberg is a journalist based in New York. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, winner of the 2008 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. Goldberg's work has appeared in Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Nation, New York magazine, The Guardian (UK) and The New Republic. Her third book, about the world-traveling adventuress, actress and yoga evangelist Indra Devi, will be published by Knopf in 2012.