Last week, wealthy businessman and political activist Greg Gianforte announced plans to run for governor. You might remember him from a previous announcement, in February, when he told an audience at Montana Bible College that the Bible forbade retirement.
"How old was Noah when he built the ark?" Gianforte asked, apparently rhetorically. "Six hundred. He wasn't cashing Social Security checks. He wasn't hanging out. He was working. So I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical."
These comments are what classical political science calls "crazy." They tended to overshadow Gianforte's main message, which was support for the Bring Our Families Back initiative—a plan to encourage native Montanans who have left the state for high-paying jobs to return and telecommute. That's kind of a shame, because I think Bring Our Families Back is a great idea.
I telecommute myself. With the exception of the Indy, which pays me in jewels and fine fur, most of the people I write for are outside Montana. Thanks to the internet, I can live in this great state but work with alcoholic deadbeats across the country, all while enjoying an economy of scale. I almost never wear pants. So I am a great exponent of telecommuting, and I think more Montanans should try it.
My problem with Gianforte as a candidate is that I cannot support his telecommuting plan without also supporting his belief that a 600-year-old man put two of each animal on a boat. That sounds made up to me. But the billionaire from Bozeman has forced me to buy Bring Our Families Back as a package deal with his [editorial content ahead] dumb, hateful religion.
Gianforte's faith has consistently guided his political activities. In 2006, "in response to God's great goodness," he and his wife founded the Gianforte Family Foundation, which directs money toward "improving education, lifting people out of poverty, protecting the unborn, and Christian outreach." The foundation has given grants to the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, as well as to a group called the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, which raises awareness of "the adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord."
That last one sounds fun and plenty gay, but the Family Research Council has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Policy Law Center. Their "research" includes a steady output of fake studies arguing gay men are more likely to molest children. Focus on the Family, the FRC's parent organization, merely opposes same-sex marriage and supports the teaching of biblical creation narratives in public schools.
- photo courtesy of gianfortefoundation.org
One of the few entities Gianforte has supported that does not have "family" in its name is the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum, which teaches that Earth is 6,000 years old and humans and dinosaurs lived together. Not peacefully, though"Whenever dinosaurs and humans were forced to share an environment," the museum's Facebook page notes, "the natural course was for humans to kill the dinosaurs."
These are not mainstream values. You can make "family" a euphemism for foaming churchspeak, but you cannot convince sensible voters that ignoring science and denying fair treatment to gay people will make Montana great again. These are bugs in the Gianforte platform, not features.
Clearly, Gianforte's faith has been a powerful force in his life. But he is an engineer, and he should know that not every part of a system is integral to its function. Maybe he sold his company to Oracle for $1.5 billion not because he was a faithful Christian, but because he was smart. Maybe his intense belief in an unpopular set of demonstrably untrue values is coincidental, not instrumental, to his success.
I urge candidate Gianforte not to consider that possibility. After 50 years integrating dinosaurs into Biblical literalism, he should probably just leave with the girl he came in with. But he should start practicing his religion in secret and stop talking about it so the voters of Montana are not scared away from his potentially good ideas by his crazy, hurtful, patently ridiculous ones.
This may surprise him, but a lot of people in this state do not list going to church among their favorite activities. What is for Gianforte a thrilling reconnection to his spiritual purpose is, for the rest of us, an intrusion by people whose ignorance is exceeded only by their certainty. "It isn't in the Bible" makes a compelling argument for some, but for the rest of us, it is an excuse to snicker instead of listen.
I would like to listen to candidate Gianforte. I'd like to hear how he can make Montana a better place to work, since it is now such a fine place to live and a bad place to draw a paycheck. This God thing I heard about already, from people older and wiser than him. He should run for governor instead of deacon.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and insulting your deeply-held beliefs at combatblog.net.