- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

The Republican National Convention has presented powerful images of minority faiths, the influence of religion in social reform, and an all-embracing "big tent" that included bishops and evangelists, but avoids a "culture war" over religious values.

In a burst of unscripted enthusiasm Monday night, the Rev. Herbert Lusk of Greater Exodus Baptist Church endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president in a video telecast to the convention.

"We are supporting him because we know that he understands that we must give faith a chance," Mr. Lusk, a black clergyman, said from his pulpit in what critics said was an apparent violation of Internal Revenue Service rules against churches endorsing candidates.

Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma Thursday criticized as "shameful" a call for the IRS to investigate Mr. Lusk.

By a GOP convention rule, morning and evening floor business began and ended with prayer. And prime time prayers were said by nationally known figures, such as Steve Young, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.

Thursday night, the nomination session was opened by Mr. Bush's United Methodist pastor in Dallas, the Rev. Mark Craig. It was closed by a benediction from Catholic Cardinal Anthony Bevilaqua of Philadelphia.

Evening prayers also were given this week by Rabbi Victor Weisberg of Northbrook, Ill.; the Rev. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse and son of famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham; and Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

"That's quite a lineup. They're covering all the bases," said Richard Pierard, author of "Civil Religion and the Presidency."

"I wonder if Bush's emphasis on diversity won't be a new twist on civil religion," Mr. Pierard said. "The Republicans have always appealed to religion and patriotism, but then the Democrats began to say they were captive of the right-wing evangelicals."

Civil religion, traced to the nation's founding, is the belief that God, country and the presidency are symbolically united in a bland, nonsectarian way.

The Republican convention downplayed its religious right wing, focusing instead on issues such as faith-based services helping communities, which is a part of Mr. Bush's theme of "compassionate conservatism."

The Rev. Pat Robertson, a Southern Baptist and religious broadcaster who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, spoke this year only at a hotel rally for the Christian Coalition, which he founded.

"I'm so amused when I read these articles that say, 'The Christian Coalition is dead,' " he told more than 3,000 supporters. He said the coalition will distribute 75 million voter guides this fall.

On Sunday, before the convention opened, a national panel on "Religious Faith in the Public Square" convened at Mr. Lusk's church in downtown Philadelphia to hear scholars, ministers and civic officials extol faith-based solutions to social problems.

"The faith community has the vocabulary, language and moral imagination to resurrect hope for a younger generation," said the Rev. Eugene Rivers of Boston.

Former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who is Jewish, warned of "an enormous feeling in government bureaucracy that they know better than pastors what helps the poor."

Thursday, the Republican Jewish Coalition held a salute to Republican governors.

On the Lusk matter, Mr. Watts said the complaints to the IRS were "no less than shameful."

"As a black minister, I am disappointed at this politically motivated intimidation of another black minister who exercised his constitutionally guaranteed right to free political speech," Mr. Watts said in a press release.

Churches and other nonprofit groups that are exempt from federal taxes under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office. They risk losing that status if they do so.

"How many complaints have they made about ministers endorsing [Vice President] Al Gore?" asked Mr. Watts.

Meanwhile, Gore 2000 operatives tried to keep alive the controversy over Mr. Bush's visit to fundamentalist Bob Jones University, which has called Catholicism heretical.

"Governor Bush spoke [and] failed to condemn it," said a Gore 2000 statement.

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