THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is the ongoing division among Republican Party leaders over whether, and to what extent, the GOP should embrace a religious right agenda going forward.

For years, Republicans accepted a religiously based wish-list, pushed by the party base, as the driving force behind the GOP social agenda. As a practical matter, that meant legislation to ban abortion, punish gays, encourage government promotion of prayer, encourage government promotion of the Ten Commandments, and publicly-funded programs on abstinence and marriage.

Growing contingents within the party are beginning to look askance at this agenda. This reached a new level a couple of days ago, when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), a possible presidential contender, went so far as to tell the Weekly Standard that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues.”

The religious right threw a fit, and yesterday, pastor/politician Mike Huckabee issued a statement siding with the movement.

Let me be clear though, the issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues. They are moral issues. I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and cut spending though I believe in both and have done it as a Governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.

Are you ready to stop fighting for traditional marriage? I cannot. I will not.

Can you let the tragedy of abortion go unchecked while we get our financial house in order? I cannot. I will not.

This has been simmering in the Republican Party for months — the religious right didn’t appreciate it when the party started caring more about Tea Partiers than the GOP’s theocratic wing — and now that some of the party’s most prominent voices are getting engaged, expect the religio-political debate to grow more intense.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* In the wake of devastating scandal surrounding the Roman Catholic church and the sexual abuse of children, Pope Benedict XVI “begged forgiveness” from abuse victims yesterday “for the sins of priests and promised to ‘do everything possible’ to ensure that Roman Catholic clerics never rape or molest children again.”

* As a White House lawyer, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan seemed to take a broad view of religious freedom during her tenure on the Clinton team.

* Christian evangelical leaders are generally on the conservative side of the American political spectrum, but the National Association of Evangelicals are now pushing policymakers “to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path for undocumented immigrants to attain legal status.” The Southern Baptist Convention agrees. (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* The White House hosted a discussion this week on Interfaith Service Projects on college campuses. For the first time ever, non-religious students were included in the discussion, with Obama’s team inviting the Secular Student Alliance to participate.

* And finally, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson was asked by a supporter this week what he recommended she do about her husband, who flirts with other women. Robertson told his viewer she should “make yourself as attractive as possible,” and shouldn’t “hassle” her husband.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.