gallery The Not-So-Bully Pulpit
Rick Perry and Robert Jeffress are only the latest estranged bedfellows in the history of politician-preacher alliances. From Obama to Bachmann to Gingrich, campaigners have discovered that bonds with religious leaders are often more damning than redeeming.
Rick Perry’s losing streak in the now near-weekly GOP primary debates continue, the Texas governor seems ready to pull out his big gun—in other words: the religion card. Reverend Robert Jeffress has praised Perry while simultaneously likening Mitt Romney’s Mormonism to a “cult.” And though Perry has publicly denounced the reverend’s words, The Daily Beast has obtained email evidence suggesting Perry isn’t as opposed to Jeffress’s hostile words as he says he is. Perry is not the first politician to have his campaign questioned because of its association with a controversial religious leader. Here’s a look at some other candidates who’ve had to do some pastor damage control.
Jeremiah Wright-Barack Obama
Perhaps most notable—and notorious—is
Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the Obama family’s Chicago pastor whose inflammatory reaction to the 9/11 attacks came to light during the 2008 presidential campaign. “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” the reverend told his congregation shortly after the al Qaeda attacks, insinuating that the U.S. deserved them. He was also known for saying that people should sing “God damn America” instead of “God Bless America.” Wright married Obama and his wife Michelle and baptized both of their children, but after Wright’s words became the subject of public scrutiny Obama was prompted to insist that the reverend “is like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.” Bradlee Dean-Michele Bachmann
Bradlee Dean is the frontman of a Christian rock and rap group and the leader of a youth ministry who has publicly denounced homosexuality and referred to Barack Obama as more destructive to the country than Osama bin Laden. Republican congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is one of his many admirers and the feeling is mutual. “There is no question Michele Bachmann is an evangelical Christian and believes in the same values we do,” Dean said in an interview in which he endorsed the Minnesotan for president. According to The New York Times, Dean sued NBC, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, and The Minnesota Independent for intentionally attempting to harm Bachmann’s campaign. Unlike other politicians caught cavorting with controversial religious leaders, Bachmann doesn’t show any signs of denouncing Dean, who has accused public elementary-school teachers of trying to “queerify” students, arguing that “we simply try to tell kids that this is not a healthy lifestyle that should be embraced as normal.” Dean’s sentiments echo those of Bachmann, who has called homosexuality a “sexual dysfunction.” Leith Anderson-Tim Pawlenty
Only in a primary election that seems aimed at finding the most hard-line Christian conservative would an evangelical minister be considered controversial for preaching that focuses more on the teachings of Jesus Christ than politics. But in evangelical circles,
Leith Anderson, the two-time president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Tim Pawlenty’s mentor, is considered a liability. Anderson is moderate. He avoids politics but has endorsed several of President Obama’s stances. He’s denounced Arizona’s approach to immigration, signed an appeal to save welfare programs from budget cuts, and even supported environmental protection initiatives—all big no-nos for anyone hoping to survive this race. Pawlenty, of course, withdrew his candidacy before the premiere of his epic action-thriller. It’s unclear whether T-Paw’s association with the moderate minister is what killed his campaign, but it probably didn’t help. Rod Parsley-John McCain
Barack Obama wasn’t the only candidate with a questionable religious leader in his corner in 2008.
Republican opponent John McCain landed himself in hot water by identifying as his spiritual adviser a televangelist who urged a Christian crusade against the “false religion” of Islam. Praise from the Reverend Rod Parsley was valuable for McCain’s connection both to the Christian right and to Ohio—the swing state that’s home to Parsley’s mega-church. McCain received a lot of flak for not denouncing the reverend, whose hatred of Islam is hardly latent. But this wasn’t McCain’s first endorsement by a controversial minister. McCain also refused to renounce the endorsement of Reverend John Hagee, another televangelist, who regards the Catholic Church as “a false cult system” and has called it “the great whore.” John Hagee-Newt Gingrich