Jesus Wouldn't Do That

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Opponent Murphy is genuinely worked up over the hypocrisy. He and his family have been involved in veterans' issues for years. His wife co-founded, and he works on behalf of, American Heroes, a group that purchases fully equipped vans for handicapped vets. Murphy's daughter is the legislative liaison for the veterans' organization.

In our recent conversation, Murphy said you don't send men into combat and cut their benefits. You have to find another way to balance the budget.

"They are playing outrageous games with people in the military right now," explained Murphy. "Guys who get called up who are in the reserves need 24 months of consecutive service to get full benefits. But they take them off duty before the 24 months. Then, when they are reactivated, the earlier duty does not count. You still need 24 consecutive months."

I am as skeptical of Republicans who run for office from a church pew as I am of Democrats who launch from public housing. I think the issues are far too nuanced and divisive to benefit from the sort of zealotry that seizes upon symbols, such as a crucifix, as code talk.

Congressman Trent Franks clutches a Bible to his breast as justification for holding office the way that a swashbuckler uses a parrot as part of the get-up.

Franks' loud Christianity prompts him to challenge laws separating church and state. He is insistent that prayer, Christian prayer, specifically, must be reinserted into the classroom. More alarmingly, he supports a pro-life stance that is breathtaking in its virulence.

Here is an example of what I am talking about:

In his first bid for Congress in District 2, he distributed a faith-based tape to selected households. The film carried a note from the candidate's wife who wrote that Franks' "deep Christian faith and courage have always sustained our family."

The video featured a speaker from Mission Media.

Mission Media is interesting on a number of fronts. Based not in Arizona but in Idaho, records at the Secretary of State's office in Boise show that it is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that, amongst other things, makes religious videos about missionary work.

In 2002, the Franks campaign paid Mission Media $3,000. In the campaign video, Mission Media's board officer, Michael Boerner, appeared urging viewers to vote for Franks.

Yet the articles of incorporation state clearly that as a 501(c)(3), the business "shall not participate in statements, any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

Mission Media apparently violated both the spirit and the letter of the law. On July 7, 2003, Mission Media was administratively dissolved by the state of Idaho "for failure to file the required annual report . . ."

Though reinstated this year, the company and the Franks video are a stark reminder of what happens when church, state and demagoguery mix.

In the video, Franks declared that abortion is "the greatest human holocaust in the history of mankind."

In a choreographed video, there are no slips of the tongue. Nor is this the first time that Franks shed any pretext of civil discourse.

In 1987, within weeks of his appointment as director of Governor Mecham's Office for Children, Franks informed a women's group that Planned Parenthood engaged in "murder for profit."

After September 11, 2001, I think decency ought to compel religious zealots to loosen the grip upon public microphones, legislative ballots and incendiary rhetoric. Franks mailed his "holocaust" tape less than a year after the terrorist attack.

Murphy, for the record, is pro-life except in cases of rape, incest and threats to the mother's life. But he finds Franks' "murder for profit" crack simply "unreasonable."

"How do you respond to something like that?" wondered Murphy.

You might well wonder how someone who is such a thoughtless exemplar of Christian values could win a seat in Congress. The answer is that Franks' election flabbergasted most. In a crowded primary in a Republican district, 73 percent of the voters chose someone else; he prevailed with only 27 percent of the vote. His appeal rested upon relentlessly selling his faith as well as his fiscal restraint.

Here was God's servant, a man who would not accept money from PACs, a man who would always vote to lower taxes, entitlements, and debt because special interests had no claim upon his soul.

Yet during his first year in Washington, his sermonizing about the hereafter was quickly replaced by a quiet respect for the here and now.

Facing six-figure personal debt, Franks abandoned his moral stand on PACs and took checks from big business lobbyists like a Dan Rostenkowski staffer. At one point, Franks had a higher percentage of PAC funds in his war chest than any member of Congress.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey