Huckabee Seduced by Cop Killer’s Christianity?

by Valerie Tarico

Seattle was still reeling from the cold blooded execution of a police officer on Halloween, when the news hit on Sunday that four more officers were dead. Monday, as I was trying to weave my way through a city swarming with blue cars and uniforms, and drenched with anxiety and grief, I couldn’t help wondering about how an erratic serial criminal like Maurice Clemmons ends up on the streets. And since Clemmons was released by Mike Huckabee, the Arkansas governor and presidential hopeful who has made fundamentalist religion the center of his politics, I couldn’t help wondering if religion played a part.

It turns out that, in fact, religion may have played several different roles in the tragedy, just as it did in the recent slaughter at Fort Hood. This time, though, Islam had nothing to do with it. At Fort Hood, fundamentalist Christianity created an adversarial, proselytizing, holy war atmosphere, while Islam released the trigger lock. In the Seattle killings, Christianity stands as the one theological ingredient in the lethal brew. It consumed the mind of the killer, who possibly had apocalyptic delusions. A Seattle Times headline today quoted his uncle: “He was all about money . . . suddenly, he was all about God.”

One of the challenges in identifying and responding effectively to religious delusions is that we all have been taught to turn off our critical faculties when people spout dogma. In Religulous, Bill Maher put an actor on the streets of London to recite the tenets of Scientology while pretending to be a London street crazy. He sounded . . . crazy. But when those same ideas are promoted by Tom Cruise, polite society smiles and nods, and no one makes a move to get him meds. The kind of clean slate that evangelicals and career criminals are looking for is, in my mind, a dangerous delusion.

When it comes to their own religion, moderate people of faith often defer publicly to even the wildest fellow believers. Most mainline Christians maintain downcast eyes while fundamentalists rant about demons and witchcraft and spiritual warfare. Mainstream Muslims are painfully quiet about terrorism in the name of God. The Rick Warrens and Joel Olsteens of the world go mute when the book of Psalms is used to invoke God as a celestial hit man against Mikey Weinstein (Military Religious Freedom Foundation) or Barack Obama. Christian Science lobbyists make straight-faced attempts to get “prayer treatments” paid for by any national health plan, and somehow lawmakers maintain straight faces.

Social psychologists have pointed out that we humans often fall prey to a “similar-to-me” bias. When assessing job applicants for example, we give higher ratings to people who are like us in superficial and irrelevant ways: people who went to the same school, who look like us, who cheer the same sports team, or who share our religion. The same may be true of applicants for penal clemency.

What role did religion play in how other people responded to Clemmons, in the “system breakdown” that cost four people their lives? Let’s look at just Mike Huckabee’s role. Was Huckabee influenced to pardon Clemmons because of their shared Christian belief? We cannot read Huckabee’s mind. What we do know is that Clemmons certainly played that card, pointing out his Christian upbringing and telling Huckabee that he was praying that Huckabee would grant him clemency. This approach would make sense given Huckabee’s reputation. Per Joe Conason at Salon, “Huckabee granted mercy to prisoners whom he chanced to meet, to prisoners who had personal connections to him or his family, and especially to prisoners who were vouchsafed to him by the pastors he had befriended during his years as a Baptist minister and denominational leader.”

Mike Huckabee’s Christianity is the same kind I grew up in: Evangelical fundamentalism. One of the core aspects of Evangelicalism is that if you are saved, the past is wiped clean. The worst murderer can go to heaven as long as he accepts Jesus as his savior through a deathbed conversion. The most thoughtful, compassionate Buddhist will be tortured in hell. It’s all about being born again. Once you are born again, you are a new man in Christ.

In general, Republican biblical literalists like Huckabee (sometimes called “Rebiblicans”) talk about being tough on criminals. But an appeal from a fellow believer can complicate the tough-on-crime thing. Christians seek to be godly in their behavior which can take you in the direction of advocating the mortal equivalent of eternal punishment – or in the direction of a pardon, especially for those who claim the blood of Jesus (which is, after all, the only way any of us can demonstrate real repentance.) As one Huckabee fan said, “I can not in good conscience condemn Huckabee for this. He was doing what Jesus would want done. You know forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is one thing. Religiously motivated lethal ignorance is another. Ironically, neither of the two biblical approaches to immorality (blanket condemnation or blanket forgiveness) is a particularly good fit for the real world complexities that lead to murder. The one ignores how much each of us is a mixed package of genetics and life experiences, hopes and fears, failings and strivings, growth and continuity. The other ignores----well, actually, it ignores the same package.

In psychology, there is an old adage: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” There’s no such thing as a clean slate. That is not to say that people can’t change. But it is to say that the past is relevant, and that change usually is an evolutionary, incremental, complex process. People can and do have transformative, born again experiences. These occur in small counter-cultural cults like scientology as well as Christianity. (SeeJim and Flo Siegelman’s excellent book, Snapping.) But what can toggle in one direction can toggle in the other. The kind of clean slate that evangelicals and career criminals are looking for is, in my mind, a dangerous delusion. Would Huckabee have been so forgiving if Clemmons was a Wiccan or an atheist or a Muslim? That depends on how much he was driven by his Evangelicalism. Evangelicals of Huckabee’s sort think that morality comes from belief. That is why they are passionate about taking “dominion” and ruling the country according to biblical principles. They ignore the fact that the lowest crime rates and teen pregnancies in the world are in the nations that also happen to have the lowest rates of religious belief. They ignore the fact that the lowest rates of divorce and teen pregnancy in the U.S.A. are in the least religious regions. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they think that the problems we face as a nation are caused by our increasing godlessness.

Conversely, in their estimation, a born-again Christian can be counted on to be a good person, to run an ethical business, or to make good decisions about war. That is why evangelical businesses often display a Jesus fish or another Evangelical symbol. It is their way of saying this business can be trusted. It is also why, for many Evangelicals, it is irrelevant that G.W. Bush or Sarah Palin might know little about foreign policy. That they know Jesus is enough.

I for one am weary of “Christian” ignorance posing as righteousness and “Christian” tribalism posing as compassion. We will never know for sure if either played a role in Huckabee’s decision to commute the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, but we shouldn't have to even wonder. Clemency decisions should be based on the best evidence available. It is long past time for articles like this one to become irrelevant.


webmdave said...

Old Huck, Shara, and other such people are simply out to make a buck.
Does anyone really think Palin is President material?
Does she say things that she knows are out and out lies?
Oh come know she does.
She's out to make a buck.
Lot's of bucks.
They've all got book deals.
They want to make a butt load of money.
People with any brains can see that.
Like anyone with any brains could see that no matter who ran against the Republican candidate for the Presidency in 08 was going to win.
These types always hide behind the bible and similar things.
But they all live in very frail glass which they have a good supply of stones ready to be thrown.

webmdave said...

Maybe all you should rather ask about the two Judges who let him out on 15K bond after years and years of a violent adult life including raping a 12 year old girl. That's right, gool old fashioned liberal Judges without an ounce of Christian belief. How incredibly deluded by hatred of Chrisitanity you show yourselves to be when you rant about Huckabee making a decsion when this person was a 16 year old juvenile with little or no record. What a bunch of hypocrites!

webmdave said...


As usual your article was very interesting and thought provoking.
CNN had a TV story today on this whole matter and the prosecutor that put Clemmons in jail with the hundred year sentence was outraged when with ," just the a stroke of a pen Huckabee let him out of jail after only 11 years." The criminal behavior of Clemmons before being sent to jail and even while in jail just horrible and the file on him was thick with evidence to show he was and should always be a bad risk to release on society. It was a shock to everyone who knew this criminal history of the man that he was released by then Gov. Huckabee.

The CNN camera crew found Huckabee in Florida and he responded by saying he did indeed remember the case and had read the whole horrible file. He said his reason for the release was that Clemmons was 16 years old at the time of being given the 100 year sentence and Huckabee thought life sentence was out of line for such a young person. He said it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time but of course went on to say he had no knowledge of what the future would bring.

I have no clue if Huckabee is telling the truth but he did actually admit to "God and the world" that he knew exactly how bad Clemmons was and that the release was not based on his criminal behavior but on the young age of Clemmons at the time of the big 100 year sentence that sent him into the prison system. Huckabee said he thought 11 years of hard time was enough for someone sentenced at age 16.

Like you, I think almost everything Huckabee thinks, feels and does is sure to be informed by his fundamentalistic Evangelical Christian perspective. No question that worldview was involved in this whole situation as well.

webmdave said...

If Huck is sued and needs legal representation, he can get it @:

webmdave said...

In the bad old days, when the legal system made SOME kind of sense, that was indeed the view. A guy convicted and sentenced to prison or death was reminded that God would easily forgive him if he was truly repentant, BUT he still bore the responsibility for his crime and was expected to pay for what he had done.

But Hucksterbuck thinks nothing of cutting out the personal responsibility part and inserting sweet widdle Cheezus.


webmdave said...

"As one Huckabee fan said, 'I can not in good conscience condemn Huckabee for this. He was doing what Jesus would want done. You know forgiveness.'"


webmdave said...

huckabee is,was,and always will be an ass-hole,whose misguided loyalties have cost 4 lives,and caused terrible grief for the officers' families.He should be charged with accessory to murder,as he knew exactly what kind of scumbag he set free.Hiding behind religion and claiming naievety and ignorance just won't cut it.What a JERK.

webmdave said...

Forgive 'im. Just don't let 'im out of prison.

webmdave said...

I wonder if Mr. Huckabee is praying for Mr. Clemmons to ask forgiveness so they both can go to heaven?

webmdave said...

My biggest complaint is that, he didn't go for Huckleberry Hound and mow him down first.

What would jeebus do? He would kiss him and tell him what a good xtian he is and that he's destined for heaven and to turn the other cheek.

Judge not, least ye be judged.
Do unto others that do unto you.
Baby jeebus loves everybody.

You're exactly right Valerie, When I see a religious symbol on a business, I immediately go the other way, because I already know I'm going to get screwed.

My fundy mother and sister will patronize and support any business or affiliation that professes jeebus as their lord and savior whether they need the product, service or not, just exactly as you said, but when someone claims jeebus and fouls up they just overlook it as, well they were not a "True Christian" like them...they are all mentally ill as long as they support jeebus or allah and his clan.

Another great article Val. thanks!

webmdave said...

Mike Huckabee can be counted on for a rationale that deflects the responsibility for his clueless Xian behavior. But it Will resonate in 2012- hopefully.

webmdave said...

So did I!

webmdave said...


Forgive but don't forget.

webmdave said...

That's why if I see a "Jebus fish" on a sign or business card, I will not use that business unless absolutely necessary. And only then with caution.

webmdave said...

I once worked for a "Christian" business and the guy that owned it was a lying embezzling con-man.

webmdave said...

Well kids, you better get your murdering done now while your young!

This is truely pathetic; and I am "so sure" that 11 years in our wonderful penal system will straighten him right out too. Providing, of course, he makes parol.

The judge rightly took Clemmens criminal history, particulars of the current crime, the jury's verdit, and the law into account when he pronounced sentencing. What is the point of having judges if their rulings can be overturned by a politician?

The notion of a clean slate, the magical etch-a-sketching of your supossed soul, is a crock. What's done is done and can not be made as though it never happend. Fix it, yes; change it, yes; but you can't undo it. You can stitch the wound up, but there will still be a scar.

webmdave said...

My grandfather looked for the fish, because that's who he wanted to do business with. He was under the false conclusion that one got better and honest service from Xians and Xians only shopped with Xians, according to him. *rolling eyes*

webmdave said...

There's a "Christian Law Firm" in my city, but it turns out the name actually came from one of the partners--Bryan Christian. With a name like that on the sign though, you just know that had to have attracted clientele just as divorcing spouses who wanted to declare their soon-to-be-ex an unfit parent for not being Christian, or some church trying to prevent a local restaurant from getting an alcohol permit.

webmdave said...

"But when those same ideas are promoted by Tom Cruise, polite society smiles and nods, and no one makes a move to get him meds."

I am sure I'm not the only one who lost any respect I had for Tom Cruise when he went public with his religious beliefs.

I usually don't care what an actor does in his private life (as long as no minors are hurt), but his nutsy behavior about Scientology really turned me off.

webmdave said...

We had a "Christian Car Repair Shop" in my town briefly.

Turns out people don't care if the guy working on their car is Christian. They just want him to be a good mechanic.

I have never even considered asking a surgeon or plumber what his or her beliefs were. I just want to know that my knee will be replaced correctly and my kitchen will not end up under water.

webmdave said...

I thought the cop killer was Islamic, just like the psychologist at Ft Hood. There is a website, I think it was Islamic, that claims him as a Muslim. Whatever the case, I do agree that religion is once again at the bottom of it all.

webmdave said...

Valerie: Your point is so well stated. I grew up lodged between crazy catholics and tongue speaking charismatics. Wisdom always comes 20 years too late.

webmdave said...

Some bargaining points are made in this article...

But there is a major fallacy here as well

Huckabee did not and could not act alone in this case. He had to work in conjunction with a parole board and judges McArthy and Fienagle. His decision alone did not grant full clemency or pardon, he only granted a commutation, which cut his sentence by 40 years and granted him access to a parole board.

Do I agree with that...No!!

However, that being said, what did fail is our justice system as a whole. Why didn't the writer of this article mention the judges that set this creep free in Washington? The humanistic tendency that all men are good and that the moral guidelines and standards are right in every man's own eye is what is dangerous.

Are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Krishna's, Atheists ...etc to blame for what this man did.....No

The blame goes to Maurice Clemmons and our justice system. Instead of spending time on health care reform... we might ought to spend a little time in Justice reform

May peace rest upon the families of those Police victims and their families


webmdave said...

Again thanks Valerie. As for your wish for this type of article to become irrelevant... well we have a way to go. Let's take it one step at a time :-)

webmdave said...

Yeah, but you know, "Being a Christian doesn't mean I'm perfect. It just means I'm saved." Which means that nothing else is relevant.

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