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Opinion: Thompson, Rove and religion

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Debates continue over the Christian credentials of two prominent Republicans.

Earlier this year, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson questioned whether Fred Thompson, who’s expected to officially enter the GOP presidential contest any day now, is really a Christian.

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‘Everyone knows he’s conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for,’ Dobson told U.S. News and World Report. '[But] I don’t think he’s a Christian; at least that’s my impression.’

Dobson and Thompson have reportedly talked, but Dobson has not backed off the comments.

Now comes Andy Brown, Thompson’s pastor during the 1950s. Brown has watched Dobson’s comments follow Thompson around, and he tells Times reporter Joe Mathews that he’s upset about it. Brown even dug out the Dec. 15, 1954, church bulletin from the First Street Church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., that reported Thompson’s baptism by full immersion.

‘Two more fine young men baptized,’ the headline said. Thompson was 12 at the time.

‘He’s a Christian,’ said Brown, who has kept up with the lawyer, actor and politician. ‘Dobson owes Fred an apology.’

Brown, 81, recollects that ...

Thompson and his family were regular churchgoers, which meant attending services on Wednesday night and at least once on Sunday. He also recalls that Thompson and other young people often sat in the back of the church and didn’t always pay close attention.

Brown says he wonders if Thompson’s nearly 20 years as a bachelor -- between his two marriages -- might have spurred Dodson’s comments. The pastor himself is a bachelor and has been confronted by Christians who, because of that, say they don’t want to hear him preach. His reply: ‘If the Apostle Paul came back to life and came through town, you’d miss something.’

Meanwhile, Fox News’ Chris Wallace and PBS commentator Bill Moyers are at odds over Karl Rove’s religious beliefs.

As part of a wide-ranging -- and often pointed interview -- on his Aug. 18 Sunday talk show, Wallace had asked Rove about a Moyers claim that the controversial Republican strategist was a closet agnostic who had manipulated the Christian right in guiding President Bush’s political career.

Rove replied that he is a practicing Episcopalian and that Moyers, a onetime aide to President Lyndon Johnson, ‘ought to do a little better research before he does another drive-by slander.’ (For the entire transcript of the interview, go here.)

Wallace revisited the subject this last Sunday, saying he had gotten a letter from Moyers that cited news stories backing up his contention and added: ‘Obviously, Rove wanted to blow smoke because his version of reality is undermined by his own previous statements and by the reporting and analysis of journalists who have done their homework and don’t take his every word as gospel, no pun intended.’

Wallace, on his show, responded: ‘Well, to save on postage, Bill, here’s my response. If you want to find out about someone’s religious beliefs, a good first step might be to ask him. If you had talked to Rove, as I did, you would have found out he reads a devotional every day, and the biggest charitable contribution he ever made was to his church. Of course, you never called Rove. That’s reporting 101, but it would have gotten in the way of a tasty story line about a nonbeliever flim-flamming the Christian right. I guess, Bill, reporting is easier when you don’t worry about the facts.’

For more on the back-and-forth on the matter, as well as the full text of Moyers’ letter to Wallace, you can go here.

-- Don Frederick


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