Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

Reporter

Tim Murphy is a reporter in MoJo's DC bureau. Last summer he logged 22,000 miles while blogging about his cross-country road trip for Mother Jones. His writing has been featured in Slate and the Washington Monthly. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy [at] motherjones [dot] com.

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Focus on the Family Head: "We've Probably Lost" on Gay Marriage

| Mon May 23, 2011 10:08 AM EDT

Last week, a Gallup poll showed that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. It was the third such survey this spring, and if you add in the number of Americans who support civil unions, public support for same-sex relationships has become the dominant position. Anti-gay marriage activists, though, aren't going down quietly; in Minnesota, a bill to put an anti-gay marriage referendum on the 2012 ballot recently passed the House, and conservatives in Iowa (with an assist from Newt Gingrich) successfully ousted three state supreme court judges who had ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. But this is a far cry from the days of, oh, 2004, when a flurry of anti-gay marriage propositions at the state level helped propel President George W. Bush to a second term.

So how far has the pendulum swung? Even Jim Daly, president of the right-wing group Focus on the Family, seems to be waving the white flag. Here's what he told the evangelical World magazine in its June issue:

We're winning the younger generation on abortion, at least in theory. What about same-sex marriage? We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.

Daly has taken a more conciliatory approach to to traditional hot-button issues than his predecessor at Focus, James Dobson, so perhaps it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to see him speak so candidly. (For more on the shift to a kinder, gentler, skinny jeans-ier Focus on the Family, check out Stephanie Mencimer's piece on the group's hipster makeover.) But it can't help the anti-gay religious right to have such a prominent social conservative say that the crusade against gay marriage has essentially been lost and that it's time to accept that reality and move on.

This isn't a permanent cease-fire; Daly merely thinks that Christians need to get their own marriages in order before lecturing from the moral high ground: "What if the Christian divorce rate goes from 40 percent to 10 percent or 5 percent, and the world's goes from 50 percent to 80 percent? Now we're back to the early centuries. They're looking at us and thinking, 'We want more of what they've got.'" As he puts it, "we should start with how to get dads reconnected to the family and committed to their marriages."

Come to think of it, isn't that what an organization called "Focus on the Family" should have been doing all along?

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Which Politicians are Waiting for the Rapture?

| Fri May 20, 2011 6:25 PM EDT

In just a few short hours, you should know for sure whether or not you've ascended into Heaven, or been left behind (San Francisco, that means you!) to fend for yourselves as the armies of darkness descend upon the Earth in advance of the Tribulation. Politics can seem downright trivial as you nail down the last-minute details—purchasing an insurance policy for your not-so-rapture-ready pomeranian, for instance.

But for a large percentage of the American population, the Rapture's no laughing matter. According to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, 41 percent of American believe Jesus will return by 2050. The belief that the Rapture is not only coming, but coming soon has a very real, if subtle impact on the American political scene—through foreign policy, economics, and social issues like gay marriage. Is your favorite politician bracing for Armageddon? Here's a very incomplete guide:

Sarah Palin: The former Alaska governor has been bullish in her support for Israel—she kept an Israeli flag in her Juneau office, and as a vice presidential candidate said that Americans should never-second guess that nation's policies. In 2009, she told Barbara Walters that "more and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Those ideas didn't come from an international relations textbook; as a Liberty University researcher told the Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg, it seemed to mirror her own eschatological views:

"I've read that Palin has been part of an apparently unique movement I've heard of -- that her pastor, when she was in the Assembly of God, believed based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation. But nevertheless, my understanding from what I've seen is that she holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.): If Bartlett is left behind, he'll at least be well prepared. Earlier this year, the Maryland congressman and Seventh Day Adventist starred in the survivalist documentary, Urban Danger, in which he teaches viewers how to build a root cellar and can vegetables. Although the documentary never explicitly suggests what kind of catastrophe might require an underground shelter and stockpiles of food, interviewees suggest that it could be Biblical in nature. As the narrator puts it, "A storm is coming, relentless in its fury." Writing for the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine Spectrum, Alexander Carpenter called Bartlett's views, "faith-based apocalypticism" that are common among "fringe movements in the denomination."

Dick Armey: In 2006, the former Republican House Majority Leader, and founder of the powerful astroturf group FreedomWorks (which stirred up outrage over health care reform), told the BBC the Rapture was imminent: "We talk about the End Times, the day of Tribulation. Yes there seems to be, if you believe in Bible prophecy, there seems to be a great deal of the circumstances that was prophesised present at this time, and a lot of people believe that this is the time for that prophecy. They also believe that a free and a, what shall I say, well, Israel will be a consequence after those days of Tribulation, but that the whole world goes through a difficult time during those days of Tribulation."

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): She's warned against the implementation of "One World" currency, advocated for a more pious military, and spread fears about the true motives of the smooth-talking leader who considers himself a citizen of the world—all of which feature prominently in Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series (although LaHaye has said that Obama is not the Anti-christ). So perhaps it's no surprise that Bachmann credits her start in conservative politics with a meeting with LaHaye's wife, Beverly. Bachmann has championed apocalyptic causes in the most literal sense, warning that if the United States fails to properly support Israel, a "curse" will be placed on the land. She has also been a regular guest on Jan Markell's "pro-Israel, prophecy-oriented" Olive Tree Ministries radio program.

Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist preacher hasn't talked much about the Rapture specifically; that's what supporters are for. LaHaye was an advisor to his 2008 campaign. Also an advisor? Janet Porter, an Evangelical activist who has argued that former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson might be the Anti-christ, and calls for Christians to take over the government and media to prepare the Earth for the second-coming. Huckabee has also praised the Rev. John Hagee, the influential San Antonio mega-church pastor who mixes End Times eschatology with foreign policy through his organization, Christians United for Israel. (Hagee has called for the United States to "consider" military strikes against Iran).

Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Va.): Inspired by the Book of Revelations, Cole led the fight in the Virginia House of Delegates last February to ban employers or insurance companies from implanting micro-chips in people against their will. As Cole told the Washington Post: "My understanding—I'm not a theologian—but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark." We're not theologians either, but this is what's known in the industry as Too Good to Fact-Check (TGTFC). And for the record: planting micro-chips in people's bodies against their will is definitely poor form, if not actually the work of the Devil.

Bachmann's Anti-Gay Ally: Obama's Not a Christian

| Fri May 20, 2011 12:14 PM EDT

On Wednesday, we told you about the unlikely alliance between Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a possible GOP presidential candidate, and Bradlee Dean, a head-banging, tatooed, death* heavy metal drummer. (The relationship becomes a lot less confusing when you consider that Dean belives that gays are, by defintion, "criminals," and should be prohibited from holding government jobs; that the average gay man will molest 117 people before "they're found out"; and that he runs a ministry called You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, which travels to public schools to encourage students to find Christ).

Today Dean outdid himself. With the Minnesota legislature in the middle of a heated debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the state—the opponents of which, Dean has pilloried on his radio show—the House Republican Caucus invited the controversial hair-metal evangelist to deliver the opening prayer for Friday's session.

How did it go? Well, the grand finale consisted of Dean alleging that the President of the United States is not a Christian. Via the St. Cloud Times:

I end with this. I know this is a non-denominational prayer in this Chamber and it'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 but rather the head of the denomination and his name is Jesus. As every President up until 2008 has acknowledged. And we pray it. In Jesus' name.

That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: Dean recently explained on his radio show that there's no real difference between Obama and Osama bin Laden, and that the President's policies—like those of his predecessors—are part of a plot to bring about the New World Order.

Dean's remarks didn't go over well: legislators had to summon the House chaplain to deliver a new prayer, and Democratic Rep. Terry Morrow immediately took to the floor to denounce the whole affair. From the Minnesota Independent:

"Today hope was crushed by the words of a single speaker," he said. "Mr. Speaker, I do trust and hope that we understand the gravity and the severity of the prayer that has been given to the people within this chamber and out."

"I'm shaking right now because I'm mad," he concluded. "This cannot happen again."

Wow. According to WCCO's Patrick Kessler, Speaker Kurt Zellers, a Republican, has since publicly apologized, saying "I denounce him, his actions and his words." (The caucus did not vet Dean's remarks).

Update: The Independent has the video and a follow-up interview with Zellers. Yes, Dean really wore a track suit:

*Thanks to the readers who pointed out that Dean's music is better classified as heavy metal, or even "rap-core." We regret the error.

DEVELOPING: Shariah Bill Sponsors Still Kind of Clueless

| Thu May 19, 2011 11:18 AM EDT

The South Carolina legislature is debating a bill to halt the spread of Islamic Shariah law in state courts. Because there are no documented instances of Shariah law being forced on the good people of the Palmetto State, the bill has been criticized as superfluous, if not outright discriminatory. The bill's sponsor, GOP state Sen. Mike Fair sat down with Think Progress this week in an effort to set the record straight. Maybe that wasn't such a good idea. Here's Fair explaining the stakes if South Carolina doesn't act:

In Columbia, South Carolina, that beautiful state house right over there...you gotta walk through its gorgeous, but no horns sounding five times a day at times of prayer, which I'm told – haven't been to Michigan in a long time – been told that there are Islamic communities where there have […] in Dearborn, that’s exactly right, where with taxpayer dollars they're doing certain funded, doing certain things to accommodate Islam.

Sounds like he's really researched the issue! The good news is that the United States is in no danger of falling under the spell of a Muslim theocracy. The ACLU, which is a pretty big a fan of separation of church and state, is out with a new report this week that more or less eviscerates the myth that Shariah has unlawfully crept into American courts:

[The report] examines, in detail, the cases repeatedly cited by anti-Muslim groups as evidence of the alleged "Shariah threat" to our judicial system. The report concludes that these cases do not stand for the principles that anti-Muslim groups claim. Rather, these court cases deal with routine matters, such as religious freedom claims and contractual disputes. Courts treat these lawsuits in the same way that they deal with similar claims brought by people of other faiths. So instead of the harbingers of doom that anti-Muslim groups make them out to be, these cases illustrate that our judicial system is alive and well, and operating as it should.

There are lots of problems with the American judicial system. Fortunately, the imposition of Islamic law is not one of them. Or so I've been told; I haven't been to Dearborn in a while, though.

"Discipline" is not Newt Gingrich's Biggest Problem

| Wed May 18, 2011 10:54 AM EDT

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has had a bad week. On Sunday, he criticized GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to phase out Medicare as "social engineering," prompting party leaders to declare his candidacy dead only days after he officially announced it, and forcing Gingrich to personally apologize to Ryan. On Tuesday, Politico reported that Gingrich at one point had a six-figure tab at Tiffany's, the high-end jewlery store. He had a box of glitter dumped on his head at a fundraiser for the anti-gay group Minnesota Family Council. And he co-starred in a viral video clip in which an Iowa Republican encourages him to get out of the race "before you make a bigger fool of yourself."

Not good times, in other words, if you're Newt Gingrich.

So how did things get so bad so fast? 

The emerging consensus seems to be that Gingrich's problems stem from a lack of discipline—his tendency to flip from one idea to the next, possibly contradictory idea, without properly explaining himself. As Rich Galen, a former Gingrich aide, told Mike Allen: "This is what people in Washington knew would be the great weakness of a Newt presidential campaign: that he would say whatever came into his head, the moment it came into his head."

That's true-ish; Gingrich is not incredibly disciplined. But the more fundamental problem is this: The things that Newt Gingrich says are very frequently kind of nuts, and members of both parties seem to agree. The problem isn't so much that he can't keep straight whether the country is under assault from a "gay and secular fascism" or an atheist–Islamist agenda; it's that he thinks either one of those is a distinct possibility. There's a real tendency in covering electoral politics to blame campaign implosions on "discipline." Writing last week on former Virginia GOP Sen. George Allen's comeback bid, for instance, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza explained that Allen's famous use of the obscure racial slur "macaca" demonstrated "a lack of discipline on Allen's part." (Another way of looking at it, given that Allen once kept an actual noose in his office, is that George Allen has, or at least had, a race problem.)

Discipline is a good quality for a candidate to have. But it only counts if you have a quality candidate.

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