Oklahoma’s God botherers
The self-proclaimed martyrdom of Todd Lamb and Scott Pruitt
Let us begin at the Renaissance Waterford Hotel in Oklahoma City where Republican Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb, even though he has been the state’s lieutenant governor for eight years, even though he was running against a moderate OKC mayor and a Republican businessman who doesn’t vote, and even though he had the backing of Donald Trump and the GOP establishment, still somehow managed to finish third in his party’s gubernatorial primary, thus missing the August runoff.
That’s some underachieving.
Worse, even this guy let him down.
Jesus Christ is still Lord and the sun will come up tomorrow. That’s my belief, that’s my theology, but I’m quoting somebody. I’m quoting my dad, Norman Lamb, when he was not successful on election night years ago. I lost my dad this past January and I thought about him a lot tonight and I remember him saying that on election night when he wanted to win—he should have won—and he did not.
All right, let’s leave his dad out of this.
What was infuriating about the concession speech was the immodesty of it all, the thanking of his “prayer warriors,” the nativist dog whistle, and the smug attempt to school the rest of us on his particular Christian perspective.
As Adam Shatz wrote in a blog for The London Review of Books, this is actually standard fare these days on the American right, which is why it’s so dangerous and polluted.
Chasing after Evangelicals—or the fabled ‘white working-class’—sounds a lot like compromise with the forces of social conservatism, if not a resurgent white nationalism.
Lamb was speaking in code—the entitlement and arrogance (and false modesty) that comes from believing in the exclusivity, superiority, and rewards of one’s faith over all others’. Thirty-eight percent of the electorate in Oklahoma are non-Christian (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu), unaffiliated (atheist or agnostic) or “Nothing in Particular,” and they have one thing in common: They do not believe Jesus is still (or ever was) Lord.
Should that have mattered to Lamb?
Let’s go to the adding machine for this one: 452,194 people cast votes in the GOP primary. Even if 95 percent of those voters are evangelical Christians, that still leaves about 26,000 voters who aren’t.
Lamb lost by 2,451 votes.
It doesn’t take Euclid to figure out you have a better chance of winning elections, at least statewide, by expanding (not contracting) your base.
Mocking Lamb’s self-serving fatuousness is easy for those who aren’t and don’t want to be Christian, but what of the people who are? What of those whose faith is strong and genuine (and dare I say quiet?) and are convinced of Jesus’ footprint in modernity, in the everyday moments? Are they not outraged when politicians, like Todd Lamb, prey on the prayerful, make outlandish claims—like State Senator Nathan Dahm—about God and governance, and declare God, in fact—like Senator James Lankford—is a campaign adviser?
Jesus, it seems, not only works in mysterious ways; he always, fortuitously, seems to get his work done before the filing deadline.
One day after praying, Lankford read that his local congresswoman, Mary Fallin, was running for governor.
“It’s as if it jumped off the page and I heard God say, ‘That’s what I want you to do,’” he recalled. “And it wasn’t audible; it wasn’t a big boom. It was just this overwhelming sense: ‘You asked me before what I was looking for. That’s it.’”
For centuries, mankind has been searching for God, longing for a connection, a word, a sign, and we are to believe He came to Edmond to advise a camp counselor to get into politics?
Pat Campbell, who hosts conservative Talk Radio 1170’s (KFAQ) morning show, and does take matters of faith seriously, is leery of politicians who channel Jesus. This was especially the case, he believes, in the Republican Primary in Oklahoma’s First Congressional District where it played a “big, big role.”
(Full disclosure: he’s been adventurous and gracious enough to have me as a guest on his show a number of times.)
Senior Pastor Danny Stockstill, Brookside Church, who ran in that primary and, arguably, one of the candidates you could have excused for actually tethering himself to Christ, admirably didn’t. I profiled Stockstill in an earlier column this year and found him to be a sane breath of GOP fresh air.
He finished dead last.
He agrees with Campbell on this, though, and they don’t agree on much.
“At times we all—and I have been guilty of it in the past—use God as the ultimate endorsement,” Stockstill said. “Jesus becomes our top job reference and I am qualified because I am a Christian. I am usually leery of candidates for a job or a political office that lead with their religion. When I am following the example of Christ, it will become most obvious by my actions and not by my words.”
Here’s Campbell again:
“As you correctly pointed out,” he reminded me in one of our rare moments of agreement, “God is being used as a prop. It cheapens Jesus, it cheapens religion. I’m often fond of saying on the program, ‘Don’t listen to what people say. Watch what they do, because their actions always betray them.’ You should be able to tell somebody is a Christian by the way they behave, by the way they conduct themselves. It’s like when the used car salesman tells you he’s a Christian. That means hold on to your wallet with both hands. You’re about to get screwed.”
Speaking of holding on to your wallet, we now head to Washington to peruse the resignation letter of Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, a breathtaking piece of self-aggrandizement not seen since former Senator Tom Coburn wrote last in his own diary. Pruitt let us know he suffered mightily for his public service, reminding us all of God’s plan to free power plants from the undue burden of controlling the arsenic, benzene, dioxin, and mercury in the air, and of His love for, admiration of, and belief in . . . Scott Pruitt.
My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people. I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service. I pray as I have served you that I have blessed you and enabled you to effectively lead the American people. Thank you again Mr. President for the honor of serving you and I wish you Godspeed in all that you put your hand to.
And then signed it “Your Faithful Friend.”
Pruitt’s “desire” has always been to “bless” the president? Later, Pruitt writes of the presidency of the Two Corinthians-loving, thrice-married Donald Trump: “I count it a blessing to be serving you in any capacity.”
Let’s take a break. I need a cigarette, a Diet Dr. Pepper, and a nap.
For Pruitt and Lamb, God was a scrim in which they covered themselves when things got hinky. In Lamb’s case, the Almighty was used to bathe the lieutenant governor in succor when he revealed himself to be an incompetent empty suit who lost an immensely winnable race; in Pruitt’s, the Almighty was carted out to deflect the EPA administrator from the criticisms of those who rightfully believed he was a two-bit sycophant who saw government as a bottomless trough full of treats for the taking.