Conservative Christians don't know how to react to the surprising vice of one of their own.
Religious conservatives were in a bind. On one hand, theylove
William Bennett. The Book of Virtues is standard reading for most conservative Christians, particularly inChristian schools
. The book is sold on Pat Robertson'sChristian Broadcasting Network
site, among others.
On the other hand, most of them view gambling as a serious problem.
So after revelations that Bennett has a multi-million gambling habit, the question arose: what would we hear from religious conservatives?
The answer: silence. No Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on television jumping to his defense. No Gary Bauer or James Dobson criticizing him. A few less-famous Christian figures expressed dismay, such as Joe Glover of theFamily Policy Network
, who called Bennett's gambling "disturbing" in an interview with Beliefnet. But untilBennett admitted he had a problem
late Monday afternoon, no major Christian figure was willing to comment.
"The fact that we're hearing nothing may suggest that this is a difficult issue to deal with and they don't know which way to go," saysJohn Green
, an expert on conservative Christians and politics at the University of Akron. "It may be because of the role Bennett plays. He's an intellectual, and he's respected inside and outside conservative Christian circles."
Green said it's likely in the end that conservative Christians will say, "Nobody's perfect and we want to help Brother Bennett with his problems." But the controversy could also end up reducing his influence among conservative Christians-and could even cause some of them to rethink their own commitments.
One conservative Christian leader said privately he'd witnessed a couple of teenage girls crying over the issue on Sunday at church, where Bennett's gambling was the hot topic at the post-worship lunch.