Last week The Insider reported on increasing unease among Republican judges over the possible political influence of a nonprofit religious group called Vision America. In response, Vision America president Rick Scarborough, pastor of First Baptist Church of Pearland, offered assurances that the group was nonpartisan and would not endorse candidates.
A tipster forwarded us an envelope full of Vision America promotional materials for congregations. A piece titled "Vision America: Blueprint for Reformation" begins with an 1835 quote from the Reverend Charles G. Finney:
"The church must take right ground in regards to politics The time has come for Christians to vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them Politics are part of a religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to God. God will bless or curse this nation according to the course Christians take in politics."
The blueprint then lays out the ways good Christian pastors can roll up their sleeves and jump into the political process. They include articulating issues from the pulpit, motivating and registering all church members to vote, and educating them on candidates' positions on basic moral issues.
Vision America is nondenominational, according to the brochure, but the only affiliates listed are Assembly of God, Church of God in Christ, Southern Baptist, Nazarene, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Evangelical Free and independent charismatic.
Affiliates "are unashamedly pro- life, pro-traditional family, and believe that God, not the government, is our source and provider."
Just what sort of issues Scarborough and crew have in mind are laid out in a brochure with cascading headlines. These decry judicial and legislative decisions restricting the teaching of creation science, banning student-led prayer and sanctioning gay marriage.
The type of politicians intended to be role models may be inferred by endorsements and pictures of Vision America board member Jerry Falwell and Tom DeLay, the Sugar Land congressman and U.S. House whip.
"I have so much respect for Rick Scarborough," wrote DeLay in one endorsement. "There are people all over this country that understand what this country needs, and Rick Scarborough is going to lead them to great things."
Another mailer features this quote from the Reverend Charles Spurgeon: "I often hear it said, 'Do not bring religion into politics.' This is precisely where it ought to be brought."
So much for separation of church and state. Isn't it reassuring to know that all this is going on under the guise of a nondenominational, nonprofit, tax-deductible moral education program partially funded by millionaire Houston plaintiff's lawyer Mark Lanier?
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As reported last week, Lanier told guests at a Vision America fund-raiser recently that bad judges should be removed from the bench. According to several GOP judicial sources, Lanier already has targeted one jurist, Patricia Hancock, who voided a multimillion-dollar judgment originally intended for one of Lanier's clients. Sounds like a very bad judge indeed.
Lanier did not respond to a phone inquiry, but Pastor Scarborough praises his influence in Vision America.
"Mr. Lanier is a close personal friend and a member of our board," says the minister. As to reports circulating in GOP circles that Lanier had given Vision America $1.2 million, the pastor laughed. "No, I'm afraid not, but I wish he would."
Hey, if it's all tax-deductible, why not?