"I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God, and I believe in His word. "The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right. "This is my compass. My North Star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what's best for Arkansas. I'm Mark Pryor, and I approve this message because This is who I am, and what I believe."
First up from the God Machine this week is a closer look at one of the more overtly religious campaigns run by a U.S. senator in recent memory, and the unexpected controversy that ensued.
The commercial was launched this week by Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, widely considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the 2014 cycle. For those who can't watch the clip, here's the transcript of his latest ad, which is titled, "North Star."
Throughout the ad, the viewer sees a Bible in Pryor's hands -- open, closed, and with the spine of the book pointed at the camera to make it explicitly clear exactly which text he's holding.
In general, this kind of overt religiosity is uncommon in televised campaign commercials -- it's reminiscent of this 2007 spot for Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign -- and especially unusual for contemporary Democratic officials.
But in an unexpected twist, Pryor was slammed, not by church-state separationists, but by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "So is the Bible Mark Pryor's compass, providing the 'comfort and guidance to do what's best for Arkansas?' Or is it really not a good rule book for political issues and decisions made in the Senate? Guess it depends on which Mark Pryor that you ask," NRSC Director Brad Dayspring responded.
Adding another twist, Rep. Tom Cotton (R), the far-right House freshman running against Pryor, actually took the Democrat's side, calling the NRSC's response "incredibly bizarre and offensive." Cotton's campaign spokesperson added, "We should all agree that America is better off when all our public officials in both parties have the humility to seek guidance from God."
Taking stock, what do we have here? A red-state Democratic senator literally waving a Bible around in a campaign ad and a Republican Senate candidate at odds with the Republican campaign committee trying desperately to get him elected. When religion and campaign politics mix, strange things can and will happen.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins told supporters this week that "homosexual activists like to say that momentum is on their side" when it comes to marriage equality, but as far as he's concerned, "the tide may already be turning" in the right's direction, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. His proof? Indiana will vote next year on an anti-gay ballot measure.
* A variety of prominent voices in conservative media -- including Rush Limbaugh and various Fox hosts -- were deeply critical of Pope Francis this week, stemming from his remarks on economic inequality and the adverse effects of trickle-down economics. In the larger context, note that when the Obama administration moves the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See closer to the Vatican, the right deems it "anti-religion." When conservatives slam the pope's economic views, that's fine.
* On a related note, we also learned this week that Pope Francis used to work as a nightclub bouncer and has reportedly been sneaking out of the Vatican at night to counsel Rome's homeless, dressed as a regular priest.
* And on TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" program this week, a twice-divorced woman wrote in to ask if she'd go to hell if she married a third time. Robertson didn't seem eager to offer his viewer much support, telling her, "You have picked a selection of losers, there is something in your character that draws you to these men who are indigent or abusive. I don't think you're marriage material."