If you are of a certain age and of a certain regionally based faith, the debilitating debate within Republican ranks, one that pits purity against inclusion, might seem more than familiar.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Southern Baptist Convention, then and now the largest Protestant denomination in America, was enveloped in a bitter power struggle between modernists and traditionalists. Biblical inerrancy was the primary litmus test, but there were many others.
Because both sides in the fight claimed the mantle of conservatism, they were dubbed “fundamentalists” and “moderates.” Biblical literalists eventually won, in part because Southern Baptist government is based on convention elections, not unlike the nation’s two political parties. And elections are won by the motivated, the outraged — the activists.
The parallels with the current Republican party, with which the SBC has been closely aligned since Ronald Reagan and the early 1980s, are obvious, even uncanny. While still the second largest religious organization in the United States, half of all Southern Baptists live in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama.
The statistic may have changed slightly over the last few years, but as of 2004 or so, 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches were defined as “plateaued or declining.”
We take this theological turn today because one of the most enlightening debates over Republican ideology is now happening at Macon-based RedState.org, which is run by Erick Erickson.
Erickson has waded shoulder deep into the intra-Republican struggle — which for the sake of metaphor we’ll dub “fundamentalist” versus “centrist.”
Erickson is a fundamentalist, an adherent of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Newt Gingrich.
The RedState editor has attempted to foment a grass-roots war against the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has backed Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — call him a centrist — over former state House speaker Marco Rubio — call him a fundamentalist — in the 2010 race to replace Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate.
On Thursday, Erickson posted an item in which he compared criticism of statements by the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and Gingrich to the apostle Peter’s denial of Jesus:
Peter denied Christ three times. Our goal should be to not deny Christ and also to not deny the valuable members of our own movement.
Embracing them does not mean we embrace every word and every deed. But it should likewise mean we don’t race to the nearest microphone to condemn our own when they do something indiscrete. The people we should shun are the ones who are quick to throw the rest of us out for daring to stand up for our friends.
The vultures in our mist are typically the ones squawking loudest about other conservatives instead of the leftists out to destroy the country.
As Rush Limbaugh says, we should always play on offense. The moment the left gets us to start wringing our hands over one of our own is the moment they advance.
Erickson was followed this morning a with a post, on the same site, from Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the NRSC. Cornyn defended the decision to rally behind Crist. And he reminded Republican readers that politics is about winning — not salvation:
Some believe that we should be a monolithic Party; I disagree. While we all might wish for a Party comprised only of people who agree with us 100 percent of the time, this is a pipedream.
Each Party is fundamentally a coalition of individuals rallying around core principles with some variations along the way.
The NRSC’s endorsement [of Crist] is not a reflection on Marco Rubio; it is a realistic assessment of both the 2010 Florida Senate race and the national map.
With the Democrats standing on the precipice of a filibuster-proof majority, we cannot afford to lose this seat in 2010.
Endorsing Charlie Crist will save the NRSC precious resources that can be used to fight in other states. It will also ensure that the strongest Republican candidate maintains control of this seat, and build our numbers with the resulting opportunity to shape policy.
Last night, on National Public Radio, Cornyn repudiated comments by Limbaugh and Gingrich calling U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a “racist.”
“I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn said. “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”
Presumably, a cock crowed three times after the Texas senator finished.
For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.