Deal W. Hudson
Published January 2, 2008
Gov. Mike Huckabee will be a major player in the run for the GOP presidential nomination regardless of whether he finishes first or second in the Iowa Caucus. As in Iowa, Evangelical voters will undergird his efforts in Michigan (Jan 18), South Carolina (Jan 26), and Florida (Jan 29).
Huckabee, however, will need Catholic voters to win in states like Michigan and Florida, not to mention the many Catholic-heavy states on February 5 and 9. Prospects for Huckabee attracting Catholic voters are not good, and they are getting worse.
That’s because Mike Huckabee is developing an anti-Catholic problem.
When the former Southern Baptist minister spoke at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio on December 23, he evidently did not know that the pastor, Rev. John Hagee, has a long record of statements about the Catholic Church that the Catholic League has labeled as anti-Catholic.
Hagee, for example, accuses the early Catholic Church of inventing anti-Semitism; the medieval Catholic Church of creating the Crusades and the Inquisition to “punish the Jews”; of infusing Adolph Hitler with his anti-Semitism; and of not standing up to the Third Reich:
In all of his [Hitler’s] years of absolute brutality, he was never denounced or even scolded by Pope Pius XII or any Catholic leader in the world.
After the controversy hit the headlines, Huckabee distanced himself from Hagee’s opinion about Catholics:
I would certainly never characterize the Catholic Church as being pro-Nazi, never.
Catholic voters surely appreciate that, but it’s not the first time Huckabee has been associated with anti-Catholic rhetoric. Back in June, in the build-up to the Ames Straw Poll, a Huckabee supporter, Rev. Tim Rude, sent out a blast e-mail containing the following:
Huckabee is an Evangelical. He has not learned how to speak to Evangelicals; i.e. Bush 41 & 43. He is one of us. I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002.
Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor’s. I don’t know if this fact is widely known among Evangelicals who are supporting Brownback. (Emphasis added)
In the days that followed, the Brownback campaign asked Huckabee to join them in condemning Rude’s email.
He never did.
It should have been apparent then, as it is now, that Huckabee does not understand the reality of lingering anti-Catholic attitudes among some Evangelicals and other religious groups. If he did, he would never have accepted the invitation to speak at Hagee’s church.
But the problem does not stop with Hagee and Rude. Campaigning with Huckabee in Iowa has been one of the most prominent leaders of the Religious Right, Dr. Tim LaHaye, author of the popular Left Behind novels.
Carl Olson has documented the anti-Catholic comments throughout LaHaye’s writing, including the Left Behind series. The following quote should suffice to represent LaHaye’s point of view:
The Church of Rome denies the finished work of Christ but believes in a continuing sacrifice that produces such things as sacraments and praying for the dead, burning candles, and so forth. All of these were borrowed from mystery Babylon, the mother of all pagan customs and idolatry, none of which is taught in the New Testament (Revelation Unveiled, 1999, 66-67).
Someone needs to ask Huckabee if, along with the “pro-Nazi” label, he would refuse to describe the Catholic Church as “Babylonian.”
Catholics have long formed part of the ground troops of the Religious Right. Leaders like Robertson, Falwell, Reed, and Dobson have made sure that the anti-Catholic element among Evangelicals would not deter Catholics from joining the coalition.
There is nothing that will drive a Catholic voter away from a candidate quicker than a whiff of the prejudice that hounded their ancestors since the days of the Thirteen Colonies. So why is Huckabee tone deaf to this important issue for Catholic voters? Is it because, as one commentator points out, he comes from a state with the third-lowest percentage of Catholics?
Huckabee claims to be very comfortable with Catholics, says that he has worked with Catholics, and has Catholics in his campaign, including his campaign manager.
That is fine and good, but what happens when Catholic voters start to hear that some of his biggest supporters think the Catholic Church “denies the finished work of Christ,” is the product of Babylonian mysteries, and is the source of anti-Semitism, including that of Hitler?
Catholic voters will want more than the stale “Catholics are some of my best friends” explanation.