With public support for the war in Iraq collapsing on all fronts, President George W. Bush called in perhaps his last reserve of allies recently: Religious Right leaders.
Bush convened a meeting of religious conservatives at the White House to give them a pep talk on the war, linking success in Iraq to efforts against terrorism. The meeting attracted virtually no attention from the media, and a complete list of attendees has not been made public.
The Feb. 1 event came to light only because a few Religious Right leaders have mentioned it in messages to supporters. Among them are Gary Bauer, the former head of the Family Research Council who now runs a political action committee called American Values, and Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund.
Sears told supporters that during the meeting, “we heard from President Bush and Vice-President Cheney on the war against those who use terror as a tactic.”
Most Religious Right leaders have remained steadfast in their support of Bush’s approach to the war. Bauer’s Web site, for example, includes several opinion pieces backing Bush’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq. Prior to the State of the Union address, Bauer called on Bush to strongly make the case for staying in Iraq.
Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, has compared success in Iraq to the post-World War II reconstruction of Europe.
In a recent column Colson wrote, “[T]o pick up and leave would break the promises we have made to the Iraqi people, would leave hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians defenseless, would lead to massive chaos and bloodshed, and would be an act of moral dishonor. It would be akin to what the Allies did after World War II, when they abandoned Eastern Europe to the Soviets and returned millions of Russian refugees and POWs to lands occupied by the Red Army – even though the Allies knew that, for many, it meant death and, for the rest, tyranny.”
The Christian Coalition has also been supportive. Last month the group issued an alert urging supporters to demand that Senate Democrats allow a vote on a motion by U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to increase troop levels and ensure more funding for the war.
While the Religious Right’s leadership remains firmly in Bush’s corner, there are signs that the rank and file is wavering. A recent poll by Zogby International found that among those who identify themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, 46 percent say he has handled the war poorly. An additional 17 percent gave Bush a fair grade.
Some evangelicals, however, remain convinced that the war will open up overwhelmingly Islamic Iraq as a mission field.
“If this had not happened, the war, they would not have 35 new churches in Baghdad that they know of,” Tom Doyle of the evangelical group E3 Partners said, according to a report in The Christian Post recently.
The newspaper reported that E3 Partners helps ministers evangelize and plant new churches. Doyle claimed that “tremendous” things are happening in the Kurdish area of Iraq and noted that some have likened the activity to “a revival.”