Congress and Pastors: A View from the Summit

Article excerpt

I was recently invited to attend a Congressional Pastors' Summit sponsored by Rep. Jay Dickey, a four-term House member from Arkansas. On the fax machine, along with the invitation, was a letter from Pastor Wiley S. Drake of Buena Vista, Calif., the head of a group (I am not making this up, Dave Barry) called "Americans United for the Unity of Church and State."

The Drake letter seemed to be a personal plea to his friends to show up at the summit. Now, why would I be on that list? I am not sure, but I do know that I am on another of Pastor Drake's lists: the list of people he is praying to die. He has sent me several messages announcing that he is offering up "imprecatory" prayers against me, literally hoping that God strikes me down. It seems likely that Pastor Drake got his lists mixed up.

But who am I to turn down an invitation to a summit? It only cost $65 and I assumed I would find the event "informative." The first session was a reception with members of Congress. I went up to Pastor Drake and said hello. He appeared to be turning to stone as he recognized me. Numerous other attendees realized that a skunk had arrived at their picnic.

After a pleasant chicken meal, we were addressed by the Rev. Charles Wright, a Presbyterian minister best known as the House chaplaincy candidate favored by members of the Republican leadership last year after they rejected a Catholic priest who was the bipartisan committee's choice. Wright's sermon was quite powerful, and at that point, the summit didn't seem particularly controversial. Then, things took a turn for the worse.

Rep. Dickey began discussing why Wright had been forced to withdraw in favor of a third "compromise" nominee. See, the selection committee contained only five "godly men" and a sixth who was having trouble being consistently "godly" even though he tried; that number of "godly" folks was a few votes short of a majority. Thus, said the congressman, a "conspiracy of Satan" had deprived Congress of Wright's services. The other summiteers seemed to find no problem with the idea that the "godly" among us were so easily identified.

I got up early for the next day's breakfast with Rep. Joe Pitts, the Lancaster, Pa.-area congressman and "Values Action Team" leader who works with the Religious Right to get "moral" issues to the House floor. Pitts combined Bible study with sage political advice, suggesting that the Amish and Mennonites are registering to vote in droves because of a bill he is pushing to exempt them from federal labor laws. Current law forbids children from working in places with potentially dangerous machinery like that employed in their furniture factories. …