Televangelist James Robison recently declared that he’s praying for a merger of the tea party and the religious right. Is he kidding? That merger is well underway. And it’s getting a hefty push from a couple of billionaire brothers.
No, not Charles and David Koch. Brothers Farris and Dan Wilks, who reaped a fortune off the fracking gold rush and cashed in their Texas-based company a few years ago for more than $3 billion. In addition to buying up vast swaths of land in the West, they’re “using the riches that the Lord has blessed them with to back specific goals,” as Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody puts it.
What are those goals? They’ve embraced both the anti-government politics of the Koch brothers and the religious right’s anti-gay, anti-choice cultural warfare. The Wilks brothers belong to Pastors and Pews, an organization connected to Christian-nation extremist David Lane, who wants to make the Bible a primary public school textbook.
Dan Wilks told Brody that we need to “bring the Bible back into the school, and start teaching our kids at a younger age.” Adds brother Farris: “They’re being taught the other ideas, the gay agenda, every day out in the world so we have to stand up and explain to them that that’s not real, that’s not proper, it’s not right.”
The brothers and their wives have followed in the footsteps of other far-right funders and set up foundations. Together they’ve funded them to the tune of more than $200 million. In 2011 and 2012 they gave away millions, both to churches and to culture-war political groups. More than $5.5 million buttressed groups in the Koch brothers’ political networks.
Another $4 million or so funded leading organizations in the religious right political movement, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. Another big chunk — more than $4 million — enriched anti-abortion groups. The brothers support a network of “pregnancy centers” that refuse to talk to single women about contraception and require married women to check with their husbands and pastors before discussing birth control.
The Wilks family also backs conservative politicians. They made a splash in Montana, where they own a lot of land and gave more to Republican legislative candidates than anyone else in 2012. In Texas, they’ve backed both Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican aiming to replace him. At the federal level, the brothers and their wives together contributed $125,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
The brothers’ worldview seems to draw heavily on the teachings of a church founded by their father, which combines biblical literalism with a heavy emphasis on the Old Testament. According to church doctrine, abortion is “murder,” including when it ends pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. And homosexuality is “a serious crime — a very grievous sin.”
Farris is a pastor of the church. In his sermons, he decries “socialism” and argues that the Bible was grounded in the free market. He urges congregants not to vote for candidates who promise “free this, free that,” saying “Yahweh never intended for us as a people to be afraid and reliant on government.” He has suggested that the melting of the icecaps might be punishment for sin, and that President Barack Obama’s re-election may be a harbinger of the “end times.”
Since Obama’s election, conservative political strategists have made him a rallying point in their efforts to merge the energies of two wings of the conservative movement, the religious fundamentalist wing and the anti-government wing. Their success at bringing the tea party faithful and religious right movements together is embodied in funders like Farris and Dan Wilks as well as politicians like Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican elected in 2012.
The result is a more extreme, and more powerful, right-wing movement that threatens our nation’s well-being by seeking to undermine the separation of church and state, opposing equality under the law for all Americans, and limiting the ability of the federal government to regulate corporate behavior and promote the common good.
OtherWords commentaries are free to re-publish in print and online — all it takes is a simple attribution to OtherWords.org. To get a roundup of our work each Wednesday, sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.