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Gay Bishop Vote Nears

Aired August 5, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: church politics, a proposed gay bishop, threats of a walkout. What will the Episcopal Church's decision mean for all churches?




ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.



This afternoon, leaders of the Episcopal Church will vote on whether to ratify the Reverend Gene Robinson as the church's first openly gay bishop. We'll debate the vote with Baptist minister Jerry Falwell.

But first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Al Gore, he's back. Well, he may be back. The rise of Howard Dean has led the panicky Democratic establishment to float rumors about Gore running for president in 2004. He's going to address Move On, an anti-war group in New York, Thursday, his first speech since September. Since then, the former vice president has been as hard to find as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Gore spokeswoman Kiki McLean says: "He is not a candidate for president. He's made his position known, and he has no intention of changing his mind" -- end quote.

Knowing Al Gore, I would call that a maybe.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, he's speaking, you're right, to, which has emerged as one of the really great new grassroots organizations. This is what Democrats do. And Al Gore is still a leading Democrat. He did get more votes than the other guy in the last election, by the way.


BEGALA: And George Bush's idea of grassroots is to meet with the seven heads of the seven oil companies.

NOVAK: Well, you're avoiding the question, Paul, as you so often do. I want to ask you, look into your blue eyes and ask you, do you want him to run again?

BEGALA: I always want everybody to run. It would be much more interesting. I would like to see him in the White House today. We would not be looking for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. We would have him, if Al Gore was in there.



NOVAK: Well, you can cut out the campaign speeches. Do you want him to run again?

BEGALA: Well, it's not for me to say. Yes, I always want the guy who gets the most votes to be in the White House, but call me old- fashioned that way.


BEGALA: Well, a report released today says that job cuts have reached their highest levels in three months. The study by the outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says that, under President Bush, Americans are suffering the longest job market slump since World War II; 85,117 Americans lost their jobs in July alone, a 43 percent increase over just the month before, this despite the fact that summer is not usually a time of high job losses.

Now, the 85,000 Americans who lost their job last night -- last month, rather -- joined more than 2.5 million more who have lost their jobs since Mr. Bush took office. But cheer up, my fellow Americans. You're going to get your job back when George W. Bush loses his.


NOVAK: Why is it, Paul, that, sitting in this chair, I get the feeling I'm in a constant campaign commercial from the other side of the table?

Because we all know, of course, that unemployment is a lagging indicator. It catches up finally with the recovery of the economy. And wouldn't it be the worst news for you Democrats if the economy really has a good spurt of recovery?

BEGALA: Like I said, it will. But this is the longest no-job slump since the Second World War. He is making his father look like he was competent on the economy. So I just think we ought to have new ideas, a new president, somebody who can get this thing going again (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... create jobs.

NOVAK: You're against Bush for president, huh? What a scoop.


NOVAK: The nine Democratic candidates for president meet their masters tonight, the labor bosses of America. They will appear before the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Chicago, begging for labor's endorsement.

Congressman Dick Gephardt, who never deviates from the labor line, already has endorsements from 10 labor unions, most recently, just today, the steel workers. Gephardt goes down the line with labor on trade protectionism, creating higher prices that consumers have to pay. And other candidates are going in the same direction. Senator John Kerry and Howard Dean are fudging on their past free trade positions.

Now, what will they do when they meet their masters in Chicago tonight? Will they buckle?

BEGALA: You know what they're going to do? They're going to meet in public. We can all go. We can watch them. We know what's being said, as opposed to Bush and Cheney, who meet with Enron behind closed doors and won't even tell us what they talk about when they cut their secret deals to try to ruin the American economy and ruin our energy policy. I think it's a great distinction between the two parties.


NOVAK: Don't you think, Paul, that it is really a little sickening to see these people bend the knee to the masters of labor and say, yes, we have to keep foreign goods out, we have to drive up the prices for the American consumer? Don't you think that is a little nauseating?


BEGALA: Organized labor voted overwhelmingly for Clinton and Gore, even though they were for free trade. So they're not a litmus- test, single-issue group at all. And I love them. I'm a member of a union, by God.

Well, the most important rule in the California recall election is this. It can always get weirder. Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to be backing out of a run for governor, but Schwarzenegger's name may be on the ballot anyway. A Web site called run is encouraging anyone and everyone to run for governor of California, especially people with the same names as famous politicians, like Bill Simon, Darrell Issa, Michael Huffington, Richard Riordan, even Arnold, if there is another person named Arnold in California. Organizers hope to have 1,000 names on the October ballot just to confuse the heck out of the good people of California. Now, the folk behind it say they're appalled by the $60 million price tag of the recall effort. That, of course, makes it the most expensive joke in California history.

NOVAK: Let me try to explain this to you, Paul. We have the situation where we have the law that, if the people, the good people of California, don't like their governor, they can recall him. That may be a dumb way to do it, but that is the law.

And isn't it true that people like this organization trying to confuse the primary are just trying to undermine the law, which I thought you were so opposed to?

BEGALA: It's the law. It's the law. Anyone with 3,500 bucks and a nutty idea can get on the ballot. It's called Everybody in California, sign it, run for governor. Give the people what they want, Bob.


NOVAK: But, Paul, it is their avowed intention to screw up this election. They say so.

BEGALA: It's the Republicans' avowed intention to screw up every election. That's nothing new.

Well, next: the vote that some people say could split the Episcopal Church is taking place in Minneapolis as we speak. We will debate the gay bishop controversy when CROSSFIRE continues.




NOVAK: Leaders of the Episcopal Church will be voting shortly on ratification of the Reverend Gene Robinson as bishop. If he's ratified, Robinson will be become the Episcopalians' first openly gay bishop. It could also split the church. Robinson's opponents have announced they'll walk out of the convention in Minneapolis, hold a prayer service in a Lutheran church across the street, and then meet with reporters.

While we're waiting, we're going to talk with the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a Baptist minister, founder and chancellor of Liberty University. He joins us from Lynchburg, Virginia. And here in Washington is Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign -- Paul.


BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, thank you for joining us, sir.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: I know you're busy. It's very decent of you to take this time in the middle of a busy day.

And as a decent person, which I know you to be, I'm sure you're going to want to join me in congratulating and saluting and praying for Reverend Gene Robinson, as he is about to become a bishop in the Episcopal Church, right?

JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: Well, I certainly will join you in praying for him, but I would certainly not ordain him to be a bishop.

I don't know how the vote is going to come out. And I can only say that I don't know why the hierarchy is all concerned about any possible intervention by him into pornography or involvement in fondling someone. If they're going to appoint a gay bishop, they already ignored the Bible. And if they're not taking the Bible seriously, I don't know why pornography bothers them.

NOVAK: Ms. Birch, I am going to ask you a question I hope you don't think is intrusive, but I think it's important because of the subject. Are you a practicing Christian?


NOVAK: And as a practicing Christian, do you believe that there are Christians in the members of the Episcopalian Church who should have the right to have their own kind of church and, if they don't feel that it's fitting with the Bible, as Reverend Falwell says, to have gay bishops, that they should be able to have a church without gay bishops?

BIRCH: Absolutely.

There came a point in history when Protestants broke from the Roman Catholic Church -- each time a church has to examine its own heart, its own ministry, its own practices. But I'm absolutely thrilled that, after months and months of investigation, that, at a minimum, the Episcopalians are not going to hang Bishop Robinson on some last-minute character assassination charge, which was irresponsible to send over the transom in the final minutes of that vote last night.

And I'll tell you, I'm not an Episcopalian, but as a Protestant and as a lifelong lesbian, I will be so moved and thrilled, as an outsider, if the Episcopalian takes this bold and sacred and wonderful step to allow this very fine man, Bishop Robinson-elect, I hope, to serve.

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, since we're stating it, I, as a lifelong Catholic and a lifelong heterosexual, I have to observe -- and I think you do, too -- that there has been gay clergy since the beginning of the church. Isn't the problem that you and other conservatives have is that Reverend Robinson, soon to be Bishop Robinson, is out in public rather than cowering in a closet? FALWELL: No, no. I don't deny the fact that, in both Protestantism and Catholicism and in all the faiths, there have been adulterers and homosexuals and so forth. That doesn't make it right.

As a Christian, I take the Bible seriously. The Bible says that Christ came to die for sinners everywhere and I'm one of them. And 51 years ago -- I'll be 70 next Monday -- I received Christ as my savior. And when God saves a man or a woman, the person become subservient to what the Bible teaches. The Christ of the Bible teaches that all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, be it heterosexual promiscuity or homosexuality, is forbidden.

And the idea that the Episcopal Church now is considering a gay priest, to me -- I agree your other guest here that it's irrelevant that he might be involved in pornography or fondling some young man or whatever. If they are going to go all the way with gay priests, they're ignoring the Bible anyway. Go to it. But there is going to be a tremendous walkout in the Episcopalian Church. There's no question that many, many, many Episcopalians don't agree with this.

And I think they are going to take a terrific hit. And I agree with your other guest. They have the right to form their own church. And I would invite them to come on down and join Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.


BIRCH: May I comment?

Reverend Falwell, your analysis is as flawed as blaming the 9/11 horrible tragedy this nation on gay people and on feminists and other people.

FALWELL: I want to tell you that I'm not blaming anybody of anything. I'm simply saying that this is absolutely against the Bible.

BIRCH: The fact is, Reverend Falwell...

BEGALA: Just a second. Reverend, just a second. Let Elizabeth answer.

BIRCH: If I may comment, Reverend Falwell, the fact is, is that this church is making its own decision. They take the Bible seriously also. They don't need you to interpret it for them.

And, as a matter of fact, as I've said on this program, this so- called sin of homosexuality didn't make the top ten. You have never, ever answered my question regarding Leviticus and Romans and the other parts of the Bible that do not survive translation from the original scripture. And, frankly, you don't represent...

FALWELL: Oh, my gracious.

BIRCH: Excuse me, Reverend Falwell. You do not represent mainstream Christians, mainline Christians. You represent extreme Christian fundamentalism. We should never forget there was a time that this country burned witches at the stake. Fundamentalism is bad in any form.



FALWELL: And the country was wrong, Elizabeth. That has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches about the wrongness of homosexuality.

The fact is, Elizabeth, that two-thirds of all Christians, not just evangelical, mainline Christians, Roman Catholic and Protestant, in all the surveys and polls disagree that homosexuality is not sin. They believe it is sin. And taking the Bible seriously means you believe what it says. And if God says something once, then of course it ought to be believed. If God says something repeatedly in the Old and New Testament...


FALWELL: I didn't interrupt you -- in the Old and New Testament, if God says something often, then we ought to accept that.

This is all heading towards the legalization of same-sex marriage. I have a Web site, We are putting together one million names quickly to go to the Congress to ask for a constitutional amendment that, like women suffrage many years ago, will put the right of women to vote out of question and put the right of the family to be one man, one woman permanently in this country for our children and children to come., put your name on the petition. I hope you will.


NOVAK: Go ahead.

BIRCH: There you go. I'm sure you'll all be racing to that Web site. But let me say this.

FALWELL: Absolutely. Got 100,000 today.

BIRCH: No one, not a single gay person, not a single gay institution has ever sought to alter the way any religious institution can decide who can marry and when. No one. There's a sacred separation between church and state.

When we're talking about gay marriage -- and, Reverend Falwell, you know this quite well -- we're talking about a civil secular license that represents over 1,000 federal benefits and rights and responsibilities, like hospital visitation and inheritance and Social Security. And when I look in the eyes of my children, I want to be able to say to them, my country treated me as a full mother, as a great parent, as a full citizen. They deserve that. And I deserve that, too.

FALWELL: Elizabeth, I think you should be treated -- I think you should be treated, Elizabeth, as a first-class citizen.

But I believe that homosexuality, while no more sinful than fornication or adultery by heterosexuals, it is forbidden by scripture. If you don't take the Bible seriously, don't believe the Bible is the word of God, it is irrelevant. But if you do believe the Bible and take it seriously, it is not irrelevant. And I would -- I hope you, Elizabeth, will go to and vote.


FALWELL: Put your name on the constitutional amendment to safeguard the family.


FALWELL: ... Human Rights Campaign forever.

BIRCH: We have to go to break.


BIRCH: at the Human Rights Campaign.


BEGALA: All right, Reverend Falwell, Elizabeth Birch, hang on. Hold on to your seats. We're going to plug lots of more Web sites when we come back.

But, first, Wolf Blitzer is going to give us all the latest news. And then we'll come back for "Rapid Fire." Reverend Falwell and Elizabeth will stay with us for what is usually the fastest question-and-answer in politics.

Also, one of our viewers is just downright sick and tired of Bob Novak's constant putdowns of his beloved state of Vermont. We will let him fire back in just a minute.






BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, for those headlines.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where brevity is a blessing and filibustering is a sin. We are talking about the Episcopal Church's impending vote on a gay bishop with the Reverend Jerry Falwell and Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign.

NOVAK: Ms. Birch, the strength of today's Episcopal Church is in Africa. Why are the Africans so much opposed to gay bishops?

BIRCH: I think that it's not all Anglicans. And, in fact, that is the faith in which I was raised. I think, in every mainstream, mainline Christian institution, this debate, this struggle, is going on.

Gay people have been vilified for centuries. And the fact is, is, we have never seen such an enlightened process occur among American people than in the last 10 years, learning about the true hearts of gay people, that we are people of faith, we are spiritual, and we are quite capable of being bishops.

BEGALA: Reverend Falwell, do you believe in the biblical passage that calls for the execution of gays?

FALWELL: Absolutely not.

I believe this, that a fornicator, an adulterer, a heterosexual who is not loyal to his wife, is disqualified from being a pastor or a priest or a bishop. And, for the same reason, I believe that anyone else, a homosexual or anyone who violates scripture, cannot be a leader. We have got to have men of God in those positions. Gene Robinson clearly is not a man of God or he would be following the teachings of scripture.

And the Episcopal Church is damaging itself, losing many of its people. And they'll be going off to churches that take the Bible seriously. Obviously, the hierarchy at the Episcopal Church does not.

NOVAK: Ms. Birch, considering the problems that the Catholic Church has had recently, don't you have a problem with gay clergymen and youth?

BIRCH: No. We have a problem with discrimination.


BIRCH: And the problem is, the Catholic Church has to be realistic about the fact that, when you oppress people and put cement blocks on their heads -- and these are older people -- you're going to get acting out. If we got rid of discrimination, we wouldn't have gay priests hiding in the Catholic Church.

NOVAK: Elizabeth Birch, thank you very much.

BIRCH: Thank you.

NOVAK: Reverend Jerry Falwell, thank you.


NOVAK: It's time to let our audience tell us what they think. Take out your voting devices and tell us, should the Episcopal Church allow gay bishops? Press one for, yes, the Episcopal should allow openly gay people to become bishops, or press two for no gay bishops. We'll have the results right after the break.

And in "Fireback," one of the viewers want to know where Paul Begala keeps his Texas accent. In the closet?




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Fireback," where you get to take potshots at your lovely and talented hosts.

But first, our audience question of the day is an interesting poll. We asked, should the Episcopal Church allow gay bishops? Look at this, Bob. Almost all the Democrats say yes; 69 percent of Republicans say no. But look at that; 31 percent of Republicans say yes.

NOVAK: And 15 percent of Democrats say no.

BEGALA: Well, that is pretty small. Most...

NOVAK: All right. Our first e-mail is from Dan Twenyman of Toronto, Ontario, Canada: "Why do the Democrats seem to have such a problem with democracy? First, they won't allow a vote on federal court appointees. Then they ran away from a vote in Texas. Now Governor Davis is trying to use the courts to deny the will of the people."

Dan, for a Canadian, you're surprisingly perceptive.


BEGALA: But, see, in Canada, they have this odd system where the guy who gets the most votes actually wins. Democrats believe in democracy. That's why we wanted Al Gore to win the White House, because he got the most votes. That's what democracy is.

Dennis in Los Angeles, California, writes: "How can our president have the nerve to go on a month vacation when the country is in an economic tailspin and we have troops being killed daily in Iraq? Doesn't he have more important things to do?"

Dennis, I am not making this up. It's not a joke. I actually support the president taking this or any long vacation. It is a very hard job. He's president wherever he is. I very rarely defend him, but I disagree with you on this one. He is president wherever he is. If he wants to be home in Texas, God bless him.

NOVAK: Pardon me while I faint.

BEGALA: That's right. It doesn't happen very often, but...


NOVAK: John of Perkinsville, Vermont says: "Mr. Novak has unfairly referred to the state of Vermont as the People's Republic of Vermont. Not withstanding the negative slant of that statement, it is with pride that we Vermonters can say that any one of us is urged to contribute to town and state affairs. We come as close to a perfect democracy as possible."

John, last Saturday, I was in Plymouth, Vermont, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge becoming president. Calvin Coolidge said, I love Vermont because of its indomitable people. It was a great state then, not full with ersatz New Yorkers, like it is now.

BEGALA: It was a great state then and now.

Now, from my home state of Texas, James Scott Gilbreath in Waxahachie writes: "When Charlie Daniels appeared on the show, I finally heard Paul's Texas accent slipping into the debate for the first time. Come on, Paul, lay it on thick. We already know that you wear cowboy boots under that table."

It's true, James Scott. I do. And the accent does come back. When I come home to Texas or a guy like Charlie Daniels who was nice enough to come on our show, the accent


NOVAK: First question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. I'm Craig Rahm (ph). I'm from Scottsdale, Arizona.

And my question is, do you feel that having an openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church will have an impact on the gay rights issue, particularly in the upcoming election?

NOVAK: I don't think it has any effect at all, but I do believe Episcopalians who are uncomfortable should vamoose, get out of that. And the doors of the Catholic Church are open.

BEGALA: Yes, they are. And they're open to gays as well, as are the doors of the Episcopal Church. I'm very proud to see Episcopalians recognizing Reverend Robinson.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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