c. 1996 Religion News Service
HATFIELD, Ark. _ “They don’t look like bikers,” said Herbie Shreve Jr., an Arkansan who has ridden thousands of miles this year on his motorcycle, including three 850-mile days.
Shreve was talking about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth.
Here’s the connection, and admittedly it’s not obvious. The list the Doles gave the Internal Revenue Service of their 1995 charitable contributions included some expected names. The bulk of the money went to the American Red Cross (Elizabeth Dole is on leave as president), and there were three-and four-figure gifts to various scholarship funds, the American Diabetes Foundation, the Salvation Army.
But one name on the list of 20 or so really stood out: The Christian Motorcyclists Association.
Granted the donation was only $100, and a $100 contribution doesn’t loom large for a two-income, no-kids couple who pull in about a half a million dollars a year, but the biker connection tells us something about the Doles.
The link with the Doles must be evangelical Christianity, not, so far as we know, a passion for Harleys. Dole has been taciturn about his spiritual beliefs, but his wife talks easily about spending at least 30 minutes a day in Bible study and prayer. She was a featured speaker, along with G. Gordon Liddy, at the Christian Coalition’s “Road to Victory” conference in 1994.
The Doles obviously don’t have to identify with every CMA message.
“He was a lot like you and me,” reads “Jesus the Biker,” one CMA tract. “The government didn’t like him. The church thought he was weird. His friends were few.”
For 21 years the Christian Motorcyclists have been carrying this message, and the Gospel, to lost souls at biker rallies. The group has 30,000 active members, an annual budget of more than $1 million, and headquarters on 10 acres in Hatfield (pop. 415).
At big rallies like Bike Week in Daytona Beach, Fla., or the Sturgis Rally and Races in South Dakota, a team of 500 or so Christian Motorcyclists demonstrate that they’re good guys by helping to run races and dole out food and water.
“It’s a real dirty job,” said Shreve. “When we come off the track, looking like we rolled in clay, it takes away that idea that Christians are just out to get something _ the televangelist mentality.”
Their own events, including the yearly “Run for the Son,” raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to send motorcycles to native pastors in Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Since beginning their own run for the biggest political prize, the Doles have forsaken Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, where the Clintons still go. Friends say the Doles are seeking a church with an evangelical slant.
But the Doles and Clintons are alike in following the good Christian custom of tithing; each family gave close to 10 percent of their income to charity last year _ much more than most Americans do. The average American household gives 1.8 percent, according to Giving USA, an annual philanthropy report.
The Christian Motorcyclists Association doesn’t depend entirely on tax-deductible donations like the Doles’; about a quarter of the budget comes from product sales.
The CMA motto, on T-shirts and jackets, is “Riding for the Son.” Shreve’s personal favorite is the framing quality print (also available as a T-shirt) that shows gloved hands on bike handlebars, a rear-view mirror on which there’s an image of Jesus on the cross with the familiar phrase underneath: Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.
MJP END CASEY