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The Kingmaker's New Subject

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
November 10, 2007


There is an old hymn written by Fanny Crosby, sung at generations of camp meetings, which exclaims: “Crown Him! Crown Him! Prophet, and Priest, and King!” Since the emergence of evangelicalism as a cultural force in the 1950s, three approaches to politics, represented by three personalities, have emerged. They are the prophet, the priest and the kingmaker.

The prophet has been psychologist James Dobson, who dispenses child-rearing advice on the radio from his Colorado ministry, Focus on the Family. On family issues, Dobson’s counsel is moderate and broadly appealing. On politics, his tone sharpens. He rails against compromise on social-conservative issues and seems continually poised to storm out of the Republican Party in protest, threatening to carry his millions of listeners with him.

The priest has been Billy Graham, nonpartisan confessor to presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush and presider at public events from Inaugurals to services of national mourning. His commitment to preaching the simple, undiluted Gospel has been total, but his approach to politics has sometimes been naive; his uncritical ties to the powerful have occasionally left him subject to manipulation. The priest was burned by a misplaced trust in Richard Nixon.

The kingmaker has been Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Robertson has a history of odd and disturbing public statements on issues from the causes of hurricanes to the assassination of foreign leaders. But as the son of a senator, he has generally taken a pragmatic approach to politics, with the goal of being a player rather than a prophet. After his own bid for the White House, Robertson founded the Christian Coalition to give the religious-right grass-roots clout within the Republican Party.

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