Biblical Law in Central Florida House Race

Central Florida’s heated House race between incumbent Democrat Alan Grayson and his Republican challenger Dan Webster is in the news again as Grayson, apparently as part of a more aggressive Democratic advertising strategy, released his own ad this weekend labeling his opponent “Taliban Dan.”

The ad, which claims that “religious fanatics are trying to take away our freedom, in Afghanistan, in Iran and right here in central Florida,” replays clips of Webster endorsing fundamentalist views on women’s submission when he spoke at a conference sponsored by Bill Gothard’s Institute for Biblical Life Principles (IBLP):


 

The hard hitting ad is a continuation of Grayson’s no-holds-barred approach in which he has called Republicans “knuckle-dragging neanderthals,” and has denounced the GOP plan for health care as “die quickly.”  

While CBS News is reporting that Webster’s response to the ad is that the submission quote is “taken out of context,” it would be easy to dismiss Grayson’s charges as negative campaigning and even demagoguery. That is, if you don’t know much about the authoritarian Gothard and the IBLP.  

Gothard’s seminars focus on “seven basic principles” designed to help you learn to view all of life from “God’s perspective.” Thirteen of these seminars (basic, advanced, and anger management) are scheduled between now and mid-November. You can watch the first session of the seminar on-line for free here.  

But I already have done that for you. Gothard promotes an integrated world and life view drawn from the Bible, which he claims speaks to all areas of life. Especially prominent are his views on financial matters and marriage and family matters. For example, Gothard teaches that debt is unbiblical and “a hidden judgment of God; debt is always a judgment.” He claims that financial problems are also God’s judgment and ”just a symptoms of deeper problems.” He cites Deuteronomy 28 to argue that failure to follow Biblical law results in inescapable negative consequences for an individual and for society. Sounds an awful lot like theonomy, doesn’t it?  

He asserts that there seven steps to “conquering habits” and tells a story about a woman who had the habit of biting her nails for her whole life. Having “tried everything” she went to this seminar and is “now free.”  Gothard immediately follows the nail biting story with this conclusion: “so that means. . . conquering habits of sodomy of smoking of drinking. . . we’ve got excited people around the country that give testimony that by following these principles in God’s word they have lasting freedom.” He argues that God says, “I will make you more wealthy than the nations around you” and, mentioning IBLP “medical seminars” promises that “none of the diseases of the world around will affect you if you follow (God’s) principles.” Now there’s a health care plan and the mother of all bailouts.

Time magazine considers this one of the top house races to watch this November. The St. Petersburg Times has described it as a clear-cut choice between “Webster’s Mayberry vs. Grayson’s slash and hammer.” At issue here, though, are questions about the role of religion in civil society that might be even more important than who controls Congress in January.

jingerso@unf.edu'

Julie Ingersoll is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. She is the author of Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles and is currently writing a book on the influence of Christian Reconstructionism.