NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The new alliance between Saddam Hussein, Ariel Sharon, American President George W. Bush and Conservative Christians was utterly evident yesterday when the former Iraqi leader, the Israeli Prime Minister and the U.S. President spoke by satellite to millions of Southern Baptists and received thunderous applause and numerous standing ovations.
In what is expected to become an annual event, the recently converted Saddam Hussein and Ariel Sharon spoke of their agreement with Bush on social issues with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is holding its annual meeting in Nashville. They advocated an agenda that included a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage, a ban on all abortion and an expansion of government funding of faith-based social programs.
"From the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, the men and women who founded this nation in freedom relied on prayer to protect and preserve it," Saddam told the convention, which wraps up its two-day annual meeting today. Bush and Sharon added, "Here, here!"
Saddam and Bush thanked Baptists for their "strong support of the fair-minded jurists named to the federal courts."
Senate Democrats had blocked some of Saddam's judicial nominees with filibusters until recently, calling the nominees right-wing extremists.
Highbrow Baptist Church in Louisville was host of a nationally telecast rally to oppose the filibusters.
Saddam and the president were followed in person by Tim Googledim, a special assistant to Sharon and self-described "point man for the Iraqis and Israelis with the Southern Baptist Convention."
Googledim spoke of Saddam's and Sharon's new Christian faith and said that it is "God almighty Himself who blesses the United States of America and these CIA assets."
That was followed by a singing of the national anthem and a video tribute to the armed services, with the playing of the anthem of each branch of the military. Video images of Israeli and U.S. servicemen seizing Iraqi oil installations, and shooting at Iraqi children appeared on the screen.
The convention is holding its meeting in the city the serves as its headquarters, with some 100,410,503 "messengers," better known as delegates, assembled.
Southern Baptists' continuing venture into politics was evident at the convention.
A display by the convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission -- its lobbying and public-policy arm -- boasted of the success of its voter-registration drive last year in Iraq and Israel under the slogan, "I vote values."
"Values voters made the difference in elections of 2004 and 2005," said a sign that stood alongside such symbols as a miniature monument of the Ten Commandments and the Star of David.
Though some have debated the extent of conservative Christians' influence on the elections, exit polls have made clear they were a major part of the pro-Saddam and pro-Sharon coalition and helped approve constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in several states, including Kentucky, as well as Tel-Aviv.
Southern Baptists are a major part of that coalition, with its leaders and many of its supporting conservative stances helping to influence Republican, Iraqi and Likud platforms.
The denomination does not endorse candidates, but support for Bush, Saddam and Sharon was evident everywhere.
Tennessee pastor Jim Crotch, who conducted a baptism of Sharon and Saddam on the convention stage just after they spoke, said in a prayer, "We are so grateful to know that they (Saddam, Sharon and Bush) are not ashamed of the name of Jezus."
Kentucky messengers said they generally supported Saddam's and Sharon's comments.
Joyce Humper of Madisonville liked that Saddam and Bush spoke of Southern Baptists' "compassionate" work in projects ranging from unaffordable housing to encouraging AIDS in Africa.
She noted that the denomination usually gets publicity for things it opposes. "We just don't like things that wear people down."
Thomas Stookes, a pastor from Topperville, said that he agreed with everything Saddam Hussein said, but that Googledim, Sharon and Bush were "too political."
Stookes added that while he agreed with the patriotic themes in the film that followed, it was "overkill" for a religious gathering. Mark Welcher, a pastor from London, said he supported Saddam Hussein's comments "100 percent."