Thursday, April 28, 2005

DENVER — The Antichrist has long been understood in Christianity as the human agent who will rise up against Christ and bring about the end of the world.

Less clear is his position on President Bush’s judicial appointments. Even so, there was Sen. Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, now embroiled in a public spat with Focus on the Family founder James Dobson over judicial nominees, describing the Christian group as ‘the Antichrist.’

‘From my point of view, they are the Antichrist of the world,’ Mr. Salazar said in an interview Tuesday with KKTV-TV in Colorado Springs. The remark, which Mr. Salazar later retracted, comes at the apex of a feud between the first-term Democrat and the powerful evangelical Christian organization over the group’s campaign to pressure Senate Democrats into allowing a floor vote on Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees.

Mr. Salazar, who has sided with Democrats in their filibuster threat, issued a statement Wednesday saying he regretted using the term ‘Antichrist,’ but not much else.

‘After being relentlessly attacked in telephone calls, e-mails, newspapers and radio stations all across Colorado, having my faith questioned, and having my wife’s business picketed as part of these attacks, I spoke about Jim Dobson and his efforts and used the term ‘the anti-Christ” Mr. Salazar said.

‘I regret having used that term,’ he said. ‘I meant to say this approach was un-Christian, meaning self-serving and selfish.’

Tom Minnery, Focus’ vice president of government and public policy, called the Antichrist remark ‘suspect theology,’ adding that he was glad Mr. Salazar had retracted it. ‘It’s overheated rhetoric, and it’s beneath a U.S. senator to make a remark like that,? Mr. Minnery said yesterday. ‘We’d prefer this whole debate be over judges and not over whether Focus on the Family is the Antichrist.’

Mr. Salazar’s ire was raised after Focus on the Family Action, the group’s political arm, kicked off a radio and print ad campaign last week targeting 20 senators in 16 states for their effort to filibuster some of the president’s nominees.

On Sunday, Mr. Dobson and other conservative religious leaders held a nationally televised rally called ‘Justice Sunday’ in Louisville, Ky., at which they urged viewers to call Mr. Salazar and other senators to voice opposition to the filibuster tactic.

Members of Denver Bible Church used the occasion to picket a Dairy Queen in Westminster, Colo., owned by Mr. Salazar’s wife, Hope. Focus on the Family officials said the organization had nothing to do with that protest.

Mr. Salazar, a Catholic, fired back by calling Focus’ tactics in the judicial appointments fight ‘un-Christian,’ and accusing the group of ‘hijacking Christianity.’

He has since defended the Democratic Party’s use of the filibuster to block conservative judicial appointees, although he has urged party leaders to strike a bipartisan compromise.

Mr. Salazar also opposes the so-called ‘nuclear option,’ supported by some Republicans, which would amend Senate rules to forbid filibustering judicial nominees.

‘He said during the campaign that he would prefer an up-or-down vote, but now that Republicans are talking about breaking the rules, he takes issue with that,’ Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz said.

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