The race between Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry is coming down to an old fashioned, Christian, church-going, doctrinal dog fight. One that favors Bachmann in the short run in Iowa, and Rick Perry in the long run across the rest of the South; that is, provided the Texas governor suvives the vetting process of the next few months.
Here's how it shakes out. Rick Perry is the candidate of what I will call "classical evangelicals," that is, born-again Christians who oppose the doctrines of the charismatics who believe in the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing and speaking in tongues.
Some classical evangelicals trace their lineage back to the fundamentalist movement of the 19th century. Jerry Falwell comes to mind. But most resent the comparisons. Gallup shows that only 4 percent of today's born againers would identify themselves as "fundamentalists."
Others have emerged from the holiness movement which was big in the 19th century. They are today conservative Methodists and Nazarenes. But most of what I am calling classical evangelicals are Southern Baptists.
The organizers of the big Rick Perry day of fasting and prayer in Houston, Texas were classical evangelicals.
Paige Patterson is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the heart and soul of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. James Dobson and his wife are Nazarene.
Penny Nance of Concerned Woman of America is a graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Tom Minnery is a Methodist. Tony Perkins is a Baptist. And the behind the scenes organizer, David Lane, is also a Southern Baptist. Rick Perry, himself, is a Methodist.
Now, keep in mind, according to Barna, fully 51 percent of born-again Christians are charismatic. Most of the top 10 Christian television preachers are charismatic. But Rick Perry's big prayer and fasting rally had just one token charismatic on its organizing board. And that was Bishop Harry Jackson — who is not likely a player in the GOP nominating process.
On the other side of this doctrinal divide are the charismatics, who believe in the so called gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit. These include Pentecostals, such as the Assemblies of God, who as their classical evangelical Nazarene and Methodist counterparts trace their lineage back to the holiness movement and the modern neo-pentcostals which include Catholics and other traditional Protestants, such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians who began embracing charismatic doctrines in the 1960s.
This is from where Bachmann hails. She has a Lutheran heritage but ended up at Oral Roberts University, a school founded by a Pentecostal. It was a red flag to the classical evangelicals.
OK, so if 51 percent of born againers are charismatic, Michele Bachmann wins, right?
Not so fast. Now, this gets really, really complicated. Keep in mind that generally speaking, classical evangelicals don't like charismatics. Only one generation ago they believed that Pentecostals were demon possessed. They probably thought that the Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann and the goofy eyes was fully appropriate. But charismatics have no problem voting or supporting a classical evangelical.
The classical evangelicals have been frustrated for some time. They have been casting about for a candidate for years.
They liked Ronald Reagan who irritated them by picking a charismatic as his religious liasion. Bush, Senior did the same. George W. Bush read their books and picked a classical evangelical to run his shop but he was playing them.
By 2010 the classical evangelicals were already in a serious hunt for a candidate. They had rejected Sarah Palin as a charismatic. She had switched to one of their own Bible churches, but they could see through that. She and her family had been Assemblies of God in Wasilla.
They begged for Mike Huckabee to come back, even though they had split with him over some past squabble last time. It had been their best chance to have a classical evangelical in the White House and a former Southern Baptist pastor at that. The charismatics had helped him pull an upset win for him in Iowa but his own classical evangelicals sat on their hands in South Carolina.
At one point they were entertaining the idea of supporting Newt Gingrich. Yes, married four times but at least he didn't speak in tongues. And then sun rose on Michele Bachmann. And they knew she could win it all and drag all of their churchgoers along with her. And they had to act fast. And that is when David Lane found Rick Perry. And came to him with money and churches and support on a tray.
Stay tuned for the rest....
Doug Wead is a New York Times best-selling author and a former adviser to two American presidents. He is senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential campaign.
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