When Pat Robertson opened Regent Law School in 1978, its purpose was not simply to provide a Christian environment in which students could study law. Or even simply to provide a Christian perspective on the study of law.
Rather, as Christopher Hayes put it in his article in the American Prospect in 2005:
Robertson didn't want to just train journalists, lawyers, and business leaders who happened to be Christian; he wanted to produce a new class of Christian journalists, Christian lawyers, and Christian business leaders -- well-trained, inﬂuential, and guided in their professional lives by a sense of Christian mission (as Robertson, of course, deﬁnes it). Regent's central insight -- one that's come to dominate Christian higher education -- is that in order to create Christian lawyers or journalists or ﬁlm editors, the school would need to do more than simply augment its professional education with Bible study and group prayer. Students would be given a road map of what sort of life and career a Christian lawyer or journalist or ﬁlm editor might have. They would, in the fashionable argot of evangelical pedagogy, be given a “worldview.”
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with religious beliefs informing the worldview of political leaders. In fact, I think that is a good thing generally, with some obvious exceptions.
The school’s slogan on its Website is “Christian leadership to change the world,” and I think, in the abstract, this is fine, too, even though I don’t share Rev. Robertson’s beliefs. Freedom is all about the exchange of ideas.
The problem arises when a politician seeks public office with the specific intent of imposing his personal religious values on the society at large, as part of a larger design to create a more Christian-oriented nation, without fully revealing to the public what he is doing and why.
And therein lies the tale of Bob McDonnell and Pat Robertson.
I. FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN...
Make no mistake; Bob McDonnell is an inflexible ideologue. Some of it stems from his religious beliefs – his positions on choice and gay marriage, for example – and some of it stems from his reading of the Constitution and his advocacy of a 19th century version of States’ Rights doctrine. And some of it, such as his mantra that tax cuts are the solution to every economic problem and his embrace of George W. Bush’s economic policies, stem from the Conservative/Republican dogma that has attached itself like a parasite to the socially conservative platforms of the Religious right.
Mr. McDonnell, of course, has played the role of the nice guy moderate to the hilt. Still, his record on choice and gay rights exposed at least one aspect of the dishonest divide between McDonnell’s rhetoric and his career-long record, and thus offered some insight into how he was likely to actually govern on these issues, irrespective of his poll-tested public platitudes.
Similarly, Mr. McDonnell has been seeking to downplay his education at Rev. Robertson’s law school, not to mention his relationship to Rev. Robertson himself. The reason is clear: The record of his experience at Regent Law, and Regent Law’s clearly delineated mission, reveal yet another aspect of the kid of Governor Mr. McDonnell will be, and what that future might mean for the Commonwealth.
There is simply no doubt that Bob McDonnell’s run for governor is exactly the sort of thing Pat Robertson had in mind when he created Regent. Here, for example, is part of the school’s mission statement:
“[P]repare students … to assume leadership positions in the fields of communication, education, divinity, law, government, business and counseling, enabling them to influence the thinking, action and policies of their professions and nations from biblical perspectives.”
Further, the school’s website states it seeks to “create and instill a deep tradition that will forever connect alumni and students to Regent Law School and its mission.”
Regent appears to have met these goals when it comes to Mr. McDonnell. McDonnell told Rev. Robertson in a 2006 interview that the reason he chose to attend Regent Law was that he saw Rev. Robertson speak about the school on the 700 Club. Asked by Robertson how he used what he learned at Regent as Attorney General, McDonnell said:
It gave me a great understanding of the limited role of government and the important [role] of the church … and other institution in society and what happens if government tries to take on those roles[.]”
Really? Then perhaps Mr. McDonnell can explain where the Marshall-Newman Amendment fits in. Asked about it by Rev. Robertson in that very same interview, Mr. McDonnell explains, “From the Garden of Eden to 2006, we believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.” Sure sounds like a matter for the Church, not the government, to me. Why are these issues not separate in Mr. McDonnell’s worldview?
Clearly, when Mr. McDonnell talks about the conflict between government and the church, he sees it as a one-way street. Mr. McDonnell obviously favors imposing church doctrine upon, and limiting the power of, government. No matter how one feels about the issue of gay marriage and civil unions, it is beyond dispute that Bob McDonnell took what he admits is a Christian religious belief (“From the Garden of Eden…”) and transformed it into a public policy (an amendment to the Virginia Constitution) foisted upon all citizens, religious and atheistic alike.
If you still have doubts, consider the words of Jason Eige, a senior assistant to Mr. McDonnell and a 1999 graduate of Regent Law. According to Slate, he offered the following career advice in the school’s alumni newsletter, The Regent Remark: "Your Résumé Is God's Instrument."
II. RECLAIMING THE PUBLIC SQUARE
How else does the Regent Law mission manifest itself in practice?
Consider the politicization of the Justice Department by the Bush Administration and Regent Law’s role in that. Regent Law grad Monica Goodling, a senior assistant to Alberto Gonzales, was in the middle of the scandal, engineering the dismissal of several U.S. Attorneys that the Bush Administration deemed insufficiently supportive of GOP electoral goals.
Apart from any individual culpability on the part of Goodling, Daliah Lithwick at Slate reported it turned out that Goodling was one of 150 Regent graduates serving in the administration, “a huge number for a 29-year old school.” (See this article from Huffington Post, as well).
One area targeted by this recruitment scheme, according to Lithwick, was in DOJ’s vaunted civil rights division. As Lithwick explains:
Under Ashcroft, career lawyers were systematically fired or forced out and replaced by members of conservative or Christian groups or folks with no civil rights experience. In the five years after 2001, the civil rights division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans. It brought one employment case on behalf of an African-American. Instead, the division took up the "civil rights" abuses of reverse discrimination—claims of voter fraud or discrimination against Christians. (For an extensive review of how the Bush Administration remade the Civil Rights division, see here)
There is nothing wrong with learning and practicing law from a Christian perspective. There is absolutely nothing unethical or wrong about what Regent is doing in terms of seeking to place its graduates in good jobs. And there is nothing wrong with one’s religious or, for that matter, lack of religious, beliefs informing their policy positions.
But as Lithwick puts it with respect to the Justice Department scandal of which Goodling was a part:
No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God's work with [Bush’s] ... The dream of Regent and its counterparts, like Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square, and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was, in the end, only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power.
III. MORE McDONNELL BAMBOOZLEMENT
When all Is said and done, however, Goodling was a functionary. There is an added concern when one of Robertson’s soldiers is running for public office.
That concern is levelling with the voters about your record and your intentions.
It is a concern with which Mr. McDonnell is familiar, since he is a serial offender, and this matter is no exception.
Just as Mr. McDonnell has been trying to recast himself as a moderate after a career of advancing Conservative causes, Mr. McDonnell has tried to erase Rev. Robertson from his biography. Should anyone raise an issue about the Rev. Robertson’s role in Mr. McDonnell’s career and what that might mean for Virginia’s future, they are accused of being anti-Christian.
I am neither anti-Christian nor anti-religion. In fact, I am quite religious. And the problem is not Robertson’s specific beliefs, although I obviously do not agree with them. Rather, the problem is that by not being upfront with Virginia voters about their shared vision of specifically injecting their conservative Christian beliefs deeply into the policies and processes of Virginia governance, Mr. McDonnell and Rev. Robertson are perpetrating a fraud on the citizens of the Commonwealth.
One clear manifestation of this is Rev. Robertson’s conspicuous absence from the political scene as a McDonnell supporter.
I don’t know whether Mr. McDonnell and Rev. Robertson have appeared together recently, but I could not find evidence of such an appearance on Google (for whatever that is worth). If they did appear together, and I missed it, it was not a highly publicized appearance.
More telling, perhaps, is the money trail, or. curiously enough, the lack of one.
Take a look at the 2006 interview Rev. Robertson did with Mr. McDonnell on the 700 Club. The Reverend is kvelling at his former student, now the Attorney General of the Commonwealth. And toward the end of the interview, Robertson tries, but cannot fully suppress his Cheshire Cat grin as he asks McDonnell about “other opportunities down the road,” presumably the Gubernatorial election and beyond.
So, you would think that Mr. McDonnell's candidacy would generate some financial support from the Reverend. Certainly, when Mr. McDonnell ran for Attorney General, Rev. Robertson gave him $66K, making him the single largest individual donor to the McDonnell campaign.
So, how much has Rev. Robertson donated to Mr. McDonnell for this race - to be governor? Would you believe only $10K? And that was last year. So far, in 2009, Rev. Robertson has not contributed one red cent to Mr. McDonnell.
In comparison, in the last three Gubernatorial elections, Rev. Robertson donated as follows:
-- $47.5K to Kilgore
-- $60K to Earley
-- $50K to Gilmore
But somehow, the candidate to which he is closest rates $10K? And nothing in the actual year of the election?
I can only speculate, but if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect the Rev. Robertson is intentionally laying low, fearful that his name showing up near the top of the VPAP donation would almost certainly generate news...
And that might generate questions…
About the extent to which Mr. McDonnell has been influenced and believes in Regent's mission...
And that might lead to some difficult answers...
And those answers might make many Virginians who believe in the separation of Church and State very uncomfortable with the thought of Governor McDonnell.