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Will Glenn Beck's New "Black Robe Regiment" Use Churches to Influence Elections?

This post first appeared on Media Matters. Glenn Beck recently announced that he would leave a church that "preach[ed] who to vote for," while discussing his 8-28 "Restoring Honor" rally. However, Beck is working with James Dobson on the formation of his "Black Robe Regiment," who, along with his organizations, has a history of trying to influence elections through churches, including advocating for pastors to endorse political candidates.

Beck says he "would leave [his] church" if it "started to preach who to vote for"

Beck: "If my church started to preach who to vote for, oh, the Republicans are better than the Democrats or vice versa, I would also leave my church on that." On the August 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, discussing his 8-28 rally, Beck said, "If my church started to preach who to vote for, oh, the Republicans are better than the Democrats or vice versa, I would also leave my church on that." From The O'Reilly Factor:
BILL O'REILLY (host): Now let's talk about the theocratic theme of the event. So there's -- do you think America should be run with a Judeo-Christian model of behavior? Is that what you want in the halls of power? BECK: That's what we've -- well -- O'REILLY: We had it at one time? We did have it? BECK: For our behavior? Yes. Does that mean that I want -- for instance, I've gotten in a lot of trouble for saying if my church is teaching social justice the way that Jeremiah Wright teaches social justice, leave your church. Let me say the same thing. If my church started to preach who to vote for, oh, the Republicans are better than the Democrats or vice versa, I would also leave my church on that. Teach people correct principles that all rights come from God.

Beck noted that he was working with Dobson in forming Black Robe Regiment

Beck said that he discussed with Dobson formation of Black Robe Regiment. Discussing his Black Robe Regiment initiative earlier in the day on his radio show, Beck said that there were religious leaders he met with who were wary of the initiative and were concerned that if they joined him they would "lose half [of their] congregation." However, Beck said, Dobson endorsed the initiative. According to Beck, Dobson "looked [Beck] right in the eye ... and he said; 'I will start tomorrow.' "

But Dobson and his organizations have history of using churches to influence elections

ADF, which Dobson co-founded, encouraged pastors to endorse candidates in 2008 and "challenge IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt churches from engaging in partisan politics." In a September 2008 post onThe Washington Post's On Faith blog, David Waters wrote that the Alliance Defense Fund, which Dobson co-founded, "is recruiting preachers to challenge IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt churches from engaging in partisan politics, step up to the pulpit ... and endorse a candidate." From the blog post:
The ADF is recruiting preachers to challenge IRS rules that prohibit tax-exempt churches from engaging in partisan politics, step up to the pulpit Sept. 28 and endorse a candidate. ADF officials say this will be a courageous act of civil disobedience to defend free speech. It's really just a stunt by a conservative Christian organization to get evangelical Revs. to rev up the base for the Republican Party ticket. ADF was founded years ago by leaders of more than 30 Christian groups, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, a born-again convert to the McCain-Palin Republican Party ticket. Not that conservative evangelicals are the only churchgoers who appreciate a good stump speech under the cross on Sunday morning. Democratic candidates have been known to increase their church attendance in campaign seasons, especially in African-American churches. In too many churches, the long liturgical season between Easter and Advent isn't "Ordinary Time," it's "Campaign Time." It's clearly Campaign Time for the ADF. "The (Sept. 28) sermon will be an evaluation of conditions for office in light of scripture and doctrine. They will make a specific recommendation from the pulpit about how the congregation would vote," ADF attorney Erik Stanley told the Post. "They could oppose a candidate. They could oppose both candidates. They could endorse a candidate. They could focus on a federal, state or local election."
Beck recently promoted ADF's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" initiative, in which "several hundred preachers" say to IRS: "[C]ome after me. I dare you." On the August 27 edition of his Fox News show, Beck hosted former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party and evangelical minister David Barton, who touted this year's "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" initiative, saying that "you'll have several hundred preachers standing up and saying, 'IRS, come after me. I dare you. Come get me.'" Beck later told Barton that "you've got to come back next week ... because we have to talk about that" and stated: "Oh, America, oh, tell your preachers and your pastors and your priests and your rabbis about this. Please." Beck has credited Barton as suggesting the formation of the "Black Robe Regiment," and Barton spoke at Beck's August 27 "Divine Destiny" event. In 2006, Dobson's group sought "'church coordinators' who would encourage pastors to 'speak about Christian citizenship,' conduct voter-registration drives, distribute voter guides and run get-out-the-vote efforts." An August 16, 2006, Washington Post article reported that Dobson's Focus on the Family organization sought "'church coordinators' who would encourage pastors to 'speak about Christian citizenship,' conduct voter-registration drives, distribute voter guides and run get-out-the-vote efforts." The Post reported also reported that Focus on the Family "said its efforts would be nonpartisan." From the Post:
Conservative Christian radio host James C. Dobson's national organization, Focus on the Family, said yesterday that it will work with affiliated groups in eight battleground states to mobilize evangelical voters in the November elections. In targeting individual churches the way political organizers traditionally pinpointed certain wards, Focus on the Family is filling a void left by the near-collapse of the Christian Coalition and stepping into an area where recent Republican Party efforts have created resentment among evangelicals. As a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, Focus on the Family is barred from endorsing candidates. Tom Minnery, vice president of the Colorado-based group, said its efforts would be nonpartisan. [...] In an e-mail message to supporters last week, Focus on the Family said it would partner with its state-level "family policy councils" to "combat voter apathy and encourage Christians to go to the polls" in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee. Minnery, in a telephone interview, said those states were chosen for their "live, hotly contested races." The e-mail said Focus on the Family is looking for volunteer county coordinators whose duties would include "recruiting key evangelical churches." It also is seeking "church coordinators" who would encourage pastors to "speak about Christian citizenship," conduct voter-registration drives, distribute voter guides and run get-out-the-vote efforts.
In 2006, Dobson reportedly "work[ed] with ministers around Minnesota to mobilize in time to influence the Nov. 7 elections." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported in September 2006 [accessed via Nexis] that "[a]s part of a campaign to rouse Christian conservative voters, Dobson is coming to the Twin Cities next week to speak. His group also is working with ministers around Minnesota to mobilize in time to influence the Nov. 7 elections." While the article noted that Dobson had previously "stressed that they wouldn't tell people how to vote," he also said that"[w]hether Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening." From the Star-Tribune:
As part of a campaign to rouse Christian conservative voters, Dobson is coming to the Twin Cities next week to speak. His group also is working with ministers around Minnesota to mobilize in time to influence the Nov. 7 elections. Republicans counting on a strong turnout of Christian conservatives at the polls may have other reasons for concern. Midterm elections often do not excite the masses. A signature issue, such as a ban on same-sex marriage, is on the ballot in fewer states this year. And the federal government has promised to crack down on church-based partisan politicking after complaints about such behavior in 2004, which could suppress religious leaders' involvement and dampen turnout. Dobson and others are working hard to counter that possibility, though they acknowledge their disappointment. "Whether Republicans deserve the power they were given, the alternatives are downright frightening,"Dobson told more than 3,000 attendees at a recent "Stand for the Family" rally in Pittsburgh. The event was the first of three designed to energize Christian conservative voters. All three are in states that have hotly contested Senate races: Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. The Pittsburgh event was part political rally, part church revival. Held at a downtown hockey arena, it featured entertainment by the Christian pop group the Sounds of Liberty. An enormous U.S. flag hung behind the speakers, who included Dobson, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Gary Bauer of American Values. All warned of threats to religious liberty, to marriage and, as Perkins put it, of "our children being indoctrinated with homosexuality in our public schools." All the speakers stressed that they wouldn't tell people how to vote. But if a politician shares his principles on issues from judges to marriage "and is committed to the God of the universe, and from my perspective, Jesus Christ his only begotten son ... it would be a sin not to go to the polls and vote for him or her," Dobson said.