Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nationalism Dividing the Church

Associated Baptist Press has published a story about how nationalism is becoming an increasingly prominent point of contention in America's culture wars. Terry York, Professor of Christian Ministry and Church Music at Baylor University and Truett Seminary, sees Christians within all denominations dividing into two camps:

"Those who want to try to re-establish Christendom and those who refuse to wrap the cross in the flag."

He predicts that these divisions will be deeper than the divisions caused by changing worship styles. He says,

"Fighting over what songs we sing pales beside the clash of kingdoms, and this is a kingdom clash."

Kudos to York for clearly articulating the most essential decision in Christian discipleship for our place and time. Count me among those opposed to the equation of Church and state. I stand firmly with those who resist all demands for uncritical, idolatrous allegiance to the state.

This entry is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist blog.

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Ignorance Ain't Bliss

For years, a number of us who have studied the evolution of the Christian Right have been concerned about how difficult it can be to have thoughtful conversations about the Christian Right and its various components. Simple ignorance about this large, complicated, religious, cultural and political movement is part of the problem. How can people discuss what they don't know much about, or really understand? And of course, what this movement asserts is rightfully concerning and actually frightening to many.

Over the years, as various sectors of society have struggled to come up to speed about the Christian Right in its many manifestations, the discussion is often reduced to semantics and "messages," in short, what to call "them?" Some forcefully assert that "they" are not "real Christians," and therefore we should not use the term. Some think that analogies to fascists and Nazis make sense. Others think that using manufactured, focus-grouped terms like "religious political extremists" is smart politics. Still others insist that the most important thing is that we offend no one, particularly "people of faith."

It is difficult to talk about the substance of politics, tactics, and strategy -- when people are not well informed, and cannot get past such basic issues of language.

In several essays here at Talk to Action and in comments in the media, Chip Berlet has urged people to stop using "labeling" and demonization tactics that he thinks have proved ineffective and even counter productive. We will be discussing such matters in more detail when we launch the "scoop" based interactive version of Talk to Action (modeled on The Daily Kos, among others) in the next few weeks.

In 1997, I talked extensively about matters of knowledge, language, framing and strategy in Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.

Here are a few excerpts about language issues:

"Serious criticism often requires strong words. But to have a chance at prevailing, such things must be said with the person-to-person persuasiveness that comes from knowledge and conviction. Anything less leaves one open to the charge of religious bigotry. Worse, sometimes the charge may even be true."

"While it is possible that 'theocratic' is not the kind of word or concept that will be widely understood, or play well in polls and focus groups, it is at least necessary for political leaders and journalists to understand this element, lest political analysis be skewed or dumbed down."

"While it is essential to respect people's beliefs, confidence in one's own commitment to and knowledge of the meaning of religious freedom allows one to distinguish between religious bigotry and fair criticism and to defuse the charge -- the Christian Right's skillful exploitation of such matters not withstanding. There is no one word or phrase that will resolve these concerns."

"...progressives and moderate have been scattered by a continuing debate over what to call their opponents... Demonization is a two-way street... sometimes it adds a B-horror movie excitement to the normalcy of politics. Whatever the outcome of the political struggles of the day, people still need to live in the same communities when it is over. This does not mean that debate and political mobilizations need to be meek and mild -- only that those who would speak for democratic values need to effectively and forcefully speak for those values, in ways that demonstrate those values in action."

I offer these excerpts by way of saying that this discussion has been going on for a long time. From where I sit, I think that progress has been made. But I also think we have a ways to go.
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Friday, July 22, 2005

Talk to Action in the News

Talk to Action is getting some media traction -- and we haven't even graduated from our temporary site to our planned, fully interactive site, modeled on such interactive political blogs as The Daily Kos.

First, Z Magazine mentioned Talk to Action in its recent report on a major conference on challenging the religious right.

Then, the prominent, Boston-based gay newsweekly Bay Windows profiles Talk to Action contributor Chip Berlet and his vision of his, and Talk to Action's, niche in the contentious political blogosphere. Here are some excerpts:

"Berlet, who co-authored Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort and edited Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash has joined with a host of other veteran right-wing watchdogs like Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy to create talk2action.com, an umbrella site for likeminded folks that will link to his online musings."

"A bunch of us are trying to organize a response to the Christian right that focuses on being respectful of their right to hold beliefs, but challenging those beliefs," Berlet explains. "Which is basically an argument against labels like 'religious political extremists' or 'radical religious right...'"

"Berlet is clear that while he may be looking to make nice with the right, he's not looking to placate their political views, or even find common ground in the great progressive/right wing divide. 'I think it's a balancing act,' he says of his blogging style. 'It recognizes what the first amendment means when it talks about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. [That] means that I have to acknowledge that people on the Christian right have an absolute political right to hold certain views. But what I want to argue is that there's a way to challenge the content of those views that is not dismissive and disrespectful of people of faith.'"

"While interested in respecting the first amendment Berlet is not about conceding the rights of people targeted by the Christian right. 'I'm not interested in giving an inch on gay rights or women's rights or reproductive rights or immigrant rights or the science of evolution,' he explains 'I'm not interested in finding a common ground with people who reject the basic message of constitutional law in the U.S...."
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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Sacred Text, Progressive Voices

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s I was part of a group of young adults who ran an ecumenical conference for youth concerned about social justice. It was held at a Protestant retreat center on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Some years ago a group of us returned for a reunion, and now we continue to gather every few years to renew our commitment to social justice and to search for ways in which secular ethics and spirituality can co-exist in these turbulent times.

This summer we decided to read a book for discussion, and we picked The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, written by Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. When it came my turn to pick some text to discuss, this is what I selected:

"Anxious because God could not be reduced to a human formula, the leaders of the church contented themselves with the task of enforcing the faith they could not define. If one disagreed with these ever-more-differing explanations, one was simply evil. The problem was not in the words; it was in the hardened hearts of the heretics whose obstinacy and sinfulness prevented them from believing. The stage was thus set not for unity but for a purge. Whenever deviant beliefs were discovered, they had to be rooted out and those who espoused them killed in the service of conformity to the catholic faith. So Christianity turned demonic. Infidels like the Jews were constantly persecuted and Muslims as well as Jews were killed in the Crusades. Heretics were burned at the stake. Religious wars were waged to defeat anyone who did not worship properly. Efforts to force people to conform were accomplished by way of torture first and if that failed by execution" (Spong, p. 228).

For some people this represents the entire history of Christianity—and given this history, I am not surprised when people ask me why I consider myself a Christian. I usually toss off a glib line such as “I am unchurched but not uncouth.” What I mean by saying that phrase is the limits and flaws of all organized religions frustrate me, but I see in each a struggle for the identity of the faith. The lessons I learned from the Christian Bible were about helping the weak and the poor, seeking justice, opposing violence and war, speaking truth to power—all of which led me into the progressive movement. Moreover, I learned to highlight a different history of Christianity based on this perspective. As I learned more about the sacred texts of other major world religions, I came to realize that some members of those faiths highlighted these same concerns. They challenge those in their religion who turn toward demonization and scapegoating.

Spong explains that these different approaches derive from the fact that there are different ways to read sacred text. Peter J. Gomes, a preacher at Harvard University and author of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart makes a similar argument. Gomes urges us to read the Bible carefully and be aware of what passages represent the contemporary prejudices and norms woven into the text by the all-to-human authors.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of several books, explores the need to unpack these prejudices when examining spirituality. She uses an analysis of race, class, and gender that sees them as “interconnected structures that create multiple differences.” The group Equal Partners in Faith is built around this notion.

In the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of media coverage declaring that progressive Christians have finally found their voice. We have had our voices all along, thank you. Glad you folks in the media finally decided to listen.



Ported from Chip Berlet's Blog
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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

John Roberts: Champion of Majoritarian Religious Privilege

The President has nominated John Roberts to serve on the Supreme Court.

Most of the media attention is directed toward his opinion on the Roe v. Wade decision. My own concerns are with his opinions in regard to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

If the report from People for the American Way is reliable, then Roberts is clearly an advocate for the government to extend special privileges and endorsements of majoritarian religious expression.
Roberts was co-author of a brief in the landmark Lee v. Weisman decision that argued in favor of prayers at public high school graduations. He argued that graduates opposed to religious exercises were free to voluntarily skip participating in their graduation exercises. SCOTUS ruled against Roberts opinion in that decision.

Roberts has also argued that the "Lemon test" should be jettisoned. The "Lemon test" is the standard that SCOTUS set forth in the landmark "Lemon v. Kurtzman" decision that gave guidance on how government legislation on religion could be considered constitutional. The "Lemon test" says the government's action must have 1) a legitimate secular purpose, 2) it must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and 3) it must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of government and religion.

In my opinion, Roberts opinions demonstrate extreme insensitivity toward the rights of religious minorities. When the hubris that demands special privilege is coupled with the obsequity that grants it, it inevitably creates enough outrage at such injustice that the privileged become despised and the privileges are rejected.Those who think justices like Roberts will be good for the church are mistaken. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, "Those who wish to save their way of life shall lose it, but whoever loses his way of life for Christ's sake shall find it." (Matthew 16:25)

This entry is cross-posted from the Mainstream Baptist blog.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A Bright Light of Hope in a Dark Time

Here at Talk to Action, we have been laying the groundwork for a far more ambitious version -- and now we need your help.

We are ready to take the leap to an interactive site modeled on The Daily Kos and Booman Tribune. These sites have proved to be unusually conducive to wideranging online political conversation. Our goal is to create a place where the pace is slower and the tone is more considered; a place where people who share our concerns can come to strategize; share research, news, and stories; network; find allies and useful resources. There is no place on the internet or anywhere else in society to do this.

That's why the next phase of Talk to Action will be so exciting. We can engage large numbers of people in thinking creatively about, talking about, and acting on the problems posed by the theocratic Christian Right in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. Imagine a rolling, creative, action-oriented conference on the Christian Right -- of the sort we all wish there were more of, but rarely take place.

Joan Bokaer, founder of Cornell University's Theocracy Watch; Dr. Bruce Prescott, a veteran of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and a leader of Mainstream Baptists; and Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst at Political Research Associates are just a few of the extraordinary writers, thinkers and activists who have already come on board or will be joining us soon.

While we will be rich with expertise, the strength of Talk to Action will be the national community of readers and participants who are engaged in these central struggles of our time. We know the interest is there, and that Talk to Action will enhance and bring visibility to the efforts of the organizations and individuals already working in this general field.

Well, thats the short pitch. Please give us a hand in getting this pioneering project off the ground. All you have to do is hit the "make a donation" button in the left column.

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Keeping Cool

The Dominionists are coming! The Dominionists are coming!

Some contemporary Paul Revere's of the internet write breathlessly about the Christian Right as if the advocates of theocracy have all but won. They conflate a sense of urgency about the situation or concern about the "agenda" of the Christian Right, with the inevitability or even the imminence of victory. I am writing this from the perspective of over twenty years of researching and writing about the Christian Right -- and up front I want to say -- don't believe everything you read. As the song goes in West Side Story: "stay cool, boy."

Has the Christian Right gained great political power? Yup.

Should we take it seriously? Yup.

Do we have a lot to learn? Yup.

Is it over? Far from it.

One more quickie Q&A.

Does this movement have a theocratic political agenda? Yes they do, although most of its leaders deny it, and certainly most conservative Christians would not agree with the more theocratic or "dominionist" elements. They have, however, been sold on a form of historical revisionism that claims that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation," and that this legacy has been stolen -- stolen! -- by those who would betray God and the original intentions of the Founding Fathers. This is a powerful myth. And it is but one element of why the Christian Right is the best organized faction in American politics.

But politics is about many things, and it is always in motion. Many people have a tendency to freeze certain perceptions about political realities in thier minds -- hence the danger of getting the notion of the power of the Christian right fixed in one's mind such that one cannot see outcomes other than a Christian theocracy and a looming inquisition. The truth is that this is the stuff of B horror movies.

Well, OK. There is also The Handmaid's Tale. (Margaret Atwood's novel is much better than the movie.) But whether this tale of a future corrupt theocracy is a warning or a prophesy is entirely up to us.

But there are reality-based ways of evaluating the Christian right. And there are a lot of people who have spent a lot of years acquiring the kind of knowledge that will be useful in this time.

Meanwhile, let's consider that the polls are way down for the GOP -- and that the Christian Right that has bet everything on electing Christian Right pols via the Republican Party and that they may be in for a drubbing in 2006.

But whatever the next elections may hold, the doomsaying style of thought, analysis and writing about the Christian Right, can be deeply discouraging to the point of actually diminishing the capacity of opposing political forces to win elections. Can those who feel all is already lost be able to imagine victorious political and electoral outcomes? Can they participate in civic life with imagination and what John F. Kennedy used to call "great vigor" if they feel hopeless and defeated?

This kind of problem is not new, it just takes on different forms anc character in the age of the blogosphere. In my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, I devoted a whole chapter to the tendency in political and journalistic circles to treat the Christian Right as either a juggernaut or a joke. (There is less of the latter these days, but a good bit more of the former.) I particularly dissected the way that the media hyped and exaggerated the strength and power -- first of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority organization and later Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. Its not that these organizations were not strong and important at the time of these articles, its that they were not nearly as strong as reporting often made them out to be, and they had weaknesses that reporters often did not dig enough to see.

One of the key Christian Right strategists of the era, Colonel Donor (his name, not his rank), later marveled about this. "It was true," he wrote of the late 1970s and early 1980s, "that the Christian Right... was viable and growing; but the media consistently gave the few national Christian Right organizations credit for larger budgets, more memberships, and more 'muscle' than actually existed. Memberships and financial strengths were routinely inflated by both the media and the Christian Right organizations themselves. But the media needed a good story in 1980," he continued, "and the emergence of the Christian Right seemed to be as good as any."

There are many players on the Christian Right, just as there are in any other sector. It can seem overwhelming to take it all in. It can be even harder to discern what is important from what is not. Thanks to the Bush administration, we all know the consequences of "flawed intelligence." And while we know that there is a vast difference between errors and lies, what Colonel Doner is talking about above -- is lies by Christian Right leaders that were printed as fact by the media. (And lets not get huffy about the mainstream media here, the alternative press was not immune from these kinds of errors.)

So lets keep a cool head. (And I say this as someone who is running a fever and gulping chicken soup as I write.) There are many pitfalls in understanding and evaluating the Christian Right in all of its manifestations.

Here are a few pointers from my experience.

Don't confuse the agenda with the outcome.

Consider the sources of whats reported, and who is doing the reporting.

Don't be afraid.

As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address: "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

In short, let's not pyche ourselves out.

Let's learn the things we need to learn to understand, and better contend with formidable opponents.

Let's stay cool.


This is the second in a series of essay based on themes taken from Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. The first was "The Dems Could Take a Cue from Jefferson."


[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Monday, July 18, 2005

Where's the Outrage?

It's my next column for the Lancaster Sunday News, and it goes something like this:


Forgive me if I seem a bit angry today.


Why? Well, you may have heard about a recent attack on a UCC church in Middlebrook, Virginia. The interior was trashed, the walls were spray-painted with hateful, homophobic epithets, and the vandals attempted to start a fire with the congregation's hymnals. The attack came days after the UCC's General Synod approved a resolution affirming same-sex marriage.


As I say, you may have heard about this--as long as you don't rely on news outlets geared to conservative Christian churches.

I've checked. So far, there's been no report on the assault from the Christian Bible Network, none from the Christian Post, nor from Persecution.org or Voices of the Martyrs. The websites of Albert Mohler, Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson are all silent. Christianity Today's Weblog, which carries news of just about everything happening in the Christian world, has yet to carry the news. Nor has Agape Press, which picks up within days stories of persecution--no matter how minor--against Christians around the world.


So I have to ask: why not? Why this silence?


Where is the outrage?


I'd love to be proved wrong on this. Please, prove me wrong. But to date, no major conservative Christian news organization has carried this story.


Again, why not? Why hasn't the religious right spoken out against this offense?


I know what some folks will write in to tell me: same-sex marriage and homosexuality are abominations, offenses against God's clear and concrete moral ordering of the universe. Therefore, this doesn't count as persecution.


Baloney.


First of all, in the United Church of Christ's polity, the General Synod "speaks to, but not for, the church". That the national gathering affirmed same-sex marriage does not mean that local congregations do. The congregation in question in fact had no statement on the question one way or another. Even the suggestion that the crude bigotry perpetrated on this church should be overlooked because of a decision they didn't make is reprehensible.


Nor do I recall it saying anywhere in the Bible that churches being torched is acceptable if they don't agree with a particular doctrine. I do seem to remember Jesus praying "that they may be as one" (John 17:11).


Whatever you may think of the General Synod's actions, vandalizing churches is not a Christian response. The leaders of conservative churches need to stand up and say so, loud and clear.


They need to do so not just as leaders of the Church universal, but as leaders of civil society.


For freedom of conscience works both ways. It protects those who oppose same-sex marriage, and those who advocate for it. It protects conservatives and liberals, traditionalists and postmodernists, and so on. The price of freedom, it is often said, is eternal vigilance--not against the enemies of liberty "out there"--but against our own intolerance and self-satisfaction. If conservative churches want to be free from persecution, as they so often claim, if they want to take their rightful place in the public square, then they need to shoulder the burdens that go along with those things.


They need to say, loud and clear, that violence in the name of traditional values is not a Christian activity. Not now, not ever.


They need to say, loud and clear, that violence in the name of conservative social policies is not a Christian activity. Not now, not ever.


They need to say, loud and clear, that what happened to this congregation in Virginia is unacceptable, and that the offense is not just against that church but against all Christians.


They need to say that persecution against any religious group for any beliefs--no matter how controversial--is unacceptable. That does not constitute an endorsement of those beliefs; only of the God-given liberty to pursue them without fear of harassment, intimidation, or arson.


They need to say that moral authority can only be preserved if one is willing to extend the same freedom to others that one would claim for oneself. They need to say that Christians are called to emulate Jesus, who poured himself out in love and humility on behalf of humanity (Phil. 2:7).


They need to say these things, or explain why they will not.

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Theocratic Cure-All

File this under 'this is what theocracy looks like."

What happens when faith meets a reality that is not included within its world view?

One answer is to try to cure it with evangelism; and then pass off the evangelism as medical science; claim victory; move on. This is what is going on in the area of so-called "reparative therapy," a bizarre profession created by operatives of the theocratic Christian Right to cure homosexuality through conversion.

Reparative, or "conversion therapy" claims that homosexuality can be "cured," and that "faith-based" approaches can do the job. Major medical and psychological organizations think its bunk and potentially harmful. But since a teenager named Zack went public and described the abusive and patently bogus alleged therapy at an ex-gay boot camp in Tennessee, government agencies are taking a closer look as is the media -- notably, Salon.com which has a 4-part investigation that ought to help crystallize the debate.

Salon reports that reparative therapy is "according to virtually all mental health professions, wrong, bizarre and potentially dangerous."

"'I can give you a short answer of where reparative therapy fits in with the modern mental health profession: It does not," says Dr. Douglas Haldeman, president of the Association of Practicing Psychologists, a group affiliated with the American Psychological Association. "These theories have been discredited for years.'"

"Despite their dubious scientific and therapeutic standing, reparative therapy ministries, some of which accept kids and operate like a cross between churches and boot camps, largely function without oversight and licenses."


Calculated Compassion: How The Ex-Gay Movement Serves The Right's Attack on Democracy by Surina Khan is pioneering study of the various ex-gay ministries and the general subject of therapy through evangelism. It was published by Political Research Associates, the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and, Equal Partners in Faith.

The study examines ex-gay ministries in the wider context of the agenda of the theocratic Christian Right. The executive summary of the report reads in part:
"Tolerance and pluralism are bedrock principles of American society. Yet, as this report shows, the ex-gay movement and the Christian Right are attacking these principles and furthering a divisive political agenda which offers fundamentalist Christian dogma and heterosexuality as the only acceptable norms. Challenging the leadership of the ex-gay movement is essential if equal rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are to be defended. To be effective, such a challenge must take into account the broader theocratic agenda of the Christian Right which the ex-gay movement is being used to promote."


It is worth pointing out that the repackaging religious belief and evangelism as science is not unique to ex-gay ministries. This is also what is happening with the Christian Right's strategy of attacking the teaching of evolution in the public schools: disguise creationist beliefs by repackaging them as a scientific theory: "Intelligent Design."

Currently, the Christian Right feels the need to be fairly covert. The law and public opinion are not on thier side in most placees, most of the time. For two decades they have generally had the advantage that their opponents have often vastly underestimated the Christian Right in its many manifestations. But that is changing, even as the Christian Right has been emboldened since George W. Bush came to power.

A thorough debunking of ex-gay, repartative therapy is long over due. It may be happening now. If so, there is much to learn from how the mainstream religious, scientific and medical communities address the matter -- not to mention the media and public officials at all levels.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Saturday, July 16, 2005

O'Conner Nailed It

by Joan Bokaer

Justice Sandra Day O’Conner hit the nail on the head in one of the last opinions she wrote during her tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court:

"Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"


The Supreme Court was ruling on a case regarding the constitutionality of placing the Ten Commandments on public land, June 27, 2005.

Was O'Conner referring to the kind of people Bush has been appointing to the U.S. Appellate Courts who are notorious foes of church-state separation? Justices such as Michael W. McConnell of the Tenth Circuit of Appeals? McConnell is on a very short list for the Supreme Court and would clearly "renegotiate the boundaries between church and state."

When talking about the next Supreme Court appointment, there is much discussion of Roe v. Wade, but something much deeper is at stake. "Twenty-five years ago," explains Pulitzer Prize wining journalist Chris Hedges, "Pat Robertson and other prominent evangelists began speaking of a new political religion that would direct its efforts at taking control of all major American institutions, including mainstream denominations and the government so as to transform the United States into a global Christian empire." (Harper's, May, 2005)

This "new political religion" now reaches far into both houses of Congress and the White House. Their greatest obstacle has been a Supreme Court that supports the principle of separation of church and state.


Joan Bokaer is the founder of Theocracy Watch
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A Black Baptist Minister Takes on the Theocrats

Much has happened in the wake of the first Justice Sunday, a national rally for theocracy led by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family in April. The showdown over the nuclear option came and went. Several judges the theocrats liked were confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Religious progressives have begun to organize. And now, with more federal judgeships up for consideration, including at least one opening on the Supreme Court, Justice Sunday II is planned for August 14th in Nashville.

I wrote a bit about all this yesterday. And today I found an analysis of the first Justice Sunday, titled "On the Brink of Theocracy," written by Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The Religious Coalition "is an alliance of national organizations from major faiths, affiliates throughout the country, and the national Clergy for Choice Network, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, and The Black Church Initiative. While our members are religiously and theologically diverse, they are unified in the commitment to preserve reproductive choice as a basic part of religious liberty."

Here are a few excerpts from Veazy's analysis, but it is worth reading the whole thing -- and spreading it widely. This is a time when some democrats are making noises about abandoning Roe vs. Wade. It is a view not shared by thousands of mainstream religious leaders who are prochoice, prosexuality education, and certain theocratic demagogues not withstanding, obviously pro-faith.

"Progressives who think warnings about 'theocracy' are an exaggeration should take a closer look at 'Justice Sunday: Filibustering People of Faith,' Veazy wrote. The event was "beamed into conservative churches across the country: a political rally from a large, comfortable mega-church in Louisville, with a middle-class audience listening with rapt attention to political operatives who self-identify as religious leaders-and at the bottom of the screen, streaming video with the photos, names and phone numbers of targeted U.S. senators. The visual message was clear: the church is dominant over the state and senators should toe the line on eliminating the filibuster and confirming Bush judges or pay the price."


"There is a right way and a wrong way to engage religious voices in the public square. I believe "Justice Sunday" reflects the latter and highlights several disturbing trends... As a Baptist minister for more than 40 years with a profound respect for religious freedom and pluralism, I fear it will get worse. In fact, I think we are teetering on the brink of theocracy and the Christian Right could conceivably use the battle over the judiciary and weakening support for reproductive rights to push us over the edge...."

"One of the "Justice Sunday" speakers, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary... believes there is only one correct interpretation of the Bible -- his -- and he equated the inerrancy of his interpretation of the Bible with the inerrancy of the Constitution, based on his biblical beliefs. In bringing the Bible and the Constitution together, fundamentalists like Mohler are moving toward mainstreaming their biblically based interpretation of the Constitution. Judges would be held to the standard of biblical teachings, as interpreted by fundamentalists. I don't doubt the sincerity of Mohler and other fundamentalist ministers who share this view that the Bible is literally true and they alone know what it means, but they are on dangerous ground when they then suggest that they alone also know what the Constitution means-and that anyone who thinks differently is anti-Christian. Christians have strong differences of opinion on the meaning of scriptures and most of us don't want to see a particular brand of Christianity held up as the only real Christianity. We certainly don't want a particular brand of Christianity enacted as the law of the land."

"Reproductive justice is an issue on which they hope to divide and conquer progressives."

"In my view, the intensifying battle over the courts has brought progressives face-to-face with the need to take a firm stand on the morality of reproductive rights. Not only must we overcome the polarization generated by the Christian Right, we also must find a way to come together in compassionate concern for women and families. Speaking as a minister, I believe that the realities of women's lives must be included in any vision of a moral society that honors individual dignity and worth. I believe that women, and men, cannot live in dignity and equality if they cannot render for themselves their most intimate family decisions. "



[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Friday, July 15, 2005

On Evangelicals as Military Chaplains

Earlier this week the New York Times published an interesting article about the "growing force" of evangelicals in the military chaplain corps. Today, Mercer University's Baptist Studies Bulletin posted a brief dispatch that I wrote about the aggressive proselytization that is going on at the Air Force Academy. Ironically, as the military grows increasingly diverse, the military chaplain corp is becoming increasingly evangelical.

The NY Times article picked up a theme from the recent report of a task force that discovered "religious insensitivity" at the Air Force Academy. That report seemed to suggest that the problem arose because of the increase in the number of evangelicals in the chaplain corp.

Does blaming the increase in the number of evangelical chaplains address the issue of "insensitive" chaplains or does it merely explain it away? In the past, thousands of "born again" Baptists have served as chaplains in the military without creating such problems. Insensitivity is not a trait peculiar to evangelicals. In fact, the article cites an instance where a liturgical chaplain rudely and insensitively took over an evangelical chaplain's worship service.

I suggest that the problem has less to do with the growth in the number of evangelicals than it has to do with growth of intolerance within the chaplain corp. The article addressed this most clearly when it discussed the case of Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, of the Evangelical Episcopal Church, whose chaplain contract was not renewed due to his aggressive proselytizing.

"The Navy wants to impose its religion on me," he said. "Religious pluralism is a religion. It's a theology all by itself."
What's changed most is the increasing proportion of chaplains, officers and soldiers who are no longer willing to tolerate religious pluralism within the military. Reports from the Air Force Academy indicate that some of the "insensitive" officers at the school recently attended seminars teaching such intolerance on duty hours.

The military is right to decide that the kind of intolerance that Kilingenschmitt expresses is intolerable. When acting in an official capacity, chaplains must be required to be tolerant of and sensitive to the religious convictions of all the soldiers that serve of our country.

It shouldn't be that hard to find chaplains who are tolerant. All they have to do is find people who believe in and practice the golden rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In some form, that principle is common to most faiths.
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Rally for a Theocratic Judiciary

The theocratic Christian Right, this time led by the Family Research Council are portraying opponents of President Bush's judicial nominations -- as well as the Supreme Court -- as opponents of "people of faith" in announcing Justice Sunday II, a rally for theocratic judicial nominees to be held in a church in Nashville on August 14th. The rally, led by such veterans of the Christian Right as James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly and Chuck Colson will be simulcast to churches and they hope on cable networks.

Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council and the principal organizer of the event told The New York Times that the rally will focus on "the court's hostility toward religion and Christianity in particular."

The nadir of the Christian Right's rhetorical assault on the religious character of their fellow Americans was the first Justice Sunday in April. At the time fliers for the event claimed that those who oppose the Christian Right's most extreme judicial nominations were "against people of faith."

"As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the last great bastion of liberalism," Perkins wrote on the Family Research Council web site. "For years, he continued, "activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedom."

The ugly attack on the religious faith of the opponents of the theocratic right, drew outrage and sparked a mobilization in response.

The New York Times editorialized against what they called Bill Frist's "religious war":

"Right-wing Christian groups and the Republican politicians they bankroll have done much since the last election to impose their particular religious views on all Americans. But nothing comes close to the shameful declaration of religious war by Bill First, the Senate majority leader, over the selection of judges for federal courts.... Frist is determined to get judges on the federal bench who are loyal to the Republican fringe and, he hopes, would accept a theocratic test on decisions."

Numerous editorial writers and columnists agreed.

I wrote at the time: "The Christian Right has framed it's battles as against the supposed religion of "secular humanism," but this was always a straw man. It was and is a war of agression being waged by a certain coalition of rightist Christians who hold to overlapping notions of Christian theocracy. They share a common cause in their desire to demolish the wall of separation between church and state, and to be able to utilize taxpayer money and public institutions and infrastructure to build their movement to a position of unassailable and permanent power in the United States."

Once again, the theocratic Christian Right is making a big show of conflating the notion of "people of faith" with membership in he Christian Right of the Republican party. The rhetoric is a tad less strident, but the message is the same.

But the preach-fest of last time has been replaced with a more dramatic production, that will include three country music stars. Notably Lee Greenwood, the singer-songwriter best known for his patriotic hit, "God Bless the USA." This song has been an anthem at Christian Right rallies for years, and no doubt it will be the emotional highlight of what we can expect will be a carefully choreographed program.

Like last time, religious leaders who do not share the theocratic agenda of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and his allies can be expected to be outraged. The first to speak out was the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance:

"Here we go again!" Rev. Gaddy said. "And, this time the imagery and the implications of the message advanced by leaders of the religious right are more offensive, sacrilegious, and undemocratic than those so integral to Justice Sunday I."

"Right now, the most serious threats to the fundamental rights and liberties in our nation are not coming from a lack of God's interest but from a small group of religious right leaders who have assumed the mantle of national religious authorities and seek to impose on the whole nation and its constitution their particular views on religion, the courts, politics, and justice."

Its my sense that the Christian Right's power is cresting, and that with the fortunes of President Bush and the GOP plummeting in the polls, if they want to get more theocrats nominated and confirmed to the federal bench, they will have to pull out the stops. This is just the beginning.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Debunking Christian Nationalism, Cont.

Marci Hamilton, a constitutional lawyer has a fine commentary on Alternet in which she attacks the bogus history undergirding Christian Nationalism, one of the ideological building blocks of the theocratic Christian Right. She is understandably concerned about the clout the Christian Right will exercise in the selection of a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Here is some of what she wrote:

"This country was not founded on a single religious viewpoint, as the far right would have it, but rather on a wide diversity of religious beliefs. The current far right believers are reminiscent of the Puritans who settled what would become Massachusetts and who established their religion as the religion of the colony (and then the state). The Puritans believed in the right to believe whatever one wanted, so long as dissenters left their cities and communities. They believed in a religious culture controlled by the majority. Rhode Island was founded because of the Puritans' rank intolerance."

"Many of the dissenting Christians in Massachusetts were Baptists, whose charismatic preachers, including the Revs. Isaac Backus and John Leland, preached the separation of church and state. Backus declared that the "notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever" while Leland called established religions, 'all of them, anti-Christocracies.'"

"Yet, far right Christians today, many of them Baptists, have no respect for disestablishment principles. They are intent on removing barriers between government and religion, and, in fact, making government the servant to religion. They want their religious messages on courthouse walls, their theology in the science classrooms, their prayers in public schools, and their values to mandate constitutional policy. They even argue that Protestants are a majority and therefore have the right to have the government deliver their religious messages. This is their agenda for the next Supreme Court Justice."


I learned by reading the tag line on Hamilton's piece about her new book -- which sounds like a must read. Here is a bit more about it from the publisher's web site:

"God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law challenges the pervasive assumption that all religious conduct deserves constitutional protection. While religious conduct provides many benefits to society, it is not always benign. The thesis of the book is that anyone who harms another person should be governed by the laws that govern everyone else -- and truth be told, religion is capable of great harm."

"This may not sound like a radical proposition, but it has been under assault since the 1960s. The majority of academics and many religious organizations would construct a fortress around religious conduct that would make it extremely difficult to prosecute child abuse by clergy, medical neglect of children by faith healers, and other socially intolerable behaviors. This book intends to change the course of the public debate over religion by bringing to the public's attention the tactics of religious entities to avoid the law and therefore harm others. God vs. the Gavel will bring much-needed balance to the contemporary, heated debate about religion and its role in society."


Tip o' the Hat to Jesus Politics for alerting me to the post on Mainstream Baptist about Hamilton's article on Alternet. These blogs are increasingly important sources of information and analysis in the struggle with the theocratic Christian Right.


[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

From Talking Heads, to Talk to Action

In April, some will recall that there was a major conference in New York called Examining the Agenda of the Religious Far Right. Z Magazine has just published an article about the conference titled "Taking on the Christian Right" that will be of interest to many. (The conference organizers, by the way, have produced a one-hour DVD of the conference which they will make available soon.)

The Z piece also mentions Talk to Action. This summer, our temporary blog site will evolve into a far more ambitious interactive site that will function much like The Daily Kos and Booman Tribune. (If you are not familiar with these sites, give one or both a try. If you are able to participate in either of those, you will be able to participate in Talk to Action. TTA will be easier.)

Meanwhile, our Talk to Action colleague Scott Isebrand has a fine inaugural post on his new Religious Right Watch blog site. Scott picks up on the theme we have been stressing regarding the need to reclaim American history from the bogus version peddled by Christian nationalists like Dr. D. James Kennedy and David Barton.

Isebrand succinctly concludes: "...the governing document of the United States, our Constitution, nowhere mentions God. The Constitution demands that there will never be religious tests for public office, and Jefferson's ideals of the separation of Church and State were embraced by the day's thinkers."

"But this is no longer the case. These concepts dear to Jefferson are not self-evident any longer. They are not embraced by the majority of our nation's Congressmembers, our President, or many judges. They are in danger of being forgotten and replaced by something altogether different, something anathema to the rational citizen."

This is the kind of thinking and writing that will help to change the terms of debate in America.

If you had to prove to an otherwise informed, but open minded person that the U.S. was not founded as a Christian Nation, how would you do it?

Isebrand sources some of his post the excellent book, The Godless Constitution. I also try to answer this question in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. What are the simplest, best, and most convincing ways to make the argument? How would you tell the story of how the framers of the Constitution approached matters of religion? This is something that I expect we will be discussing a great deal (among other things) when we launch the interactive version of Talk to Action.


[Adapted from FrederickClarkson.com ]
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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Extinguish the Fires of Hate

Hate crimes and violence in America go on all the time. The latest outrage is directed against a Virginia congregation of the United Church of Christ -- whose General Synod endorsed gay marriage this week. Here is a report on that -- and a few others from the past few days.

Thanks to blogger and UCC seminarian Chuck Currie for alerting the blogosphere to a vicious hate crime. Someone set fire to a UCC church in Viginia today. A local newspaper reports that "The outside of the church was vandalized with anti-gay messages and a declaration that United Church of Christ members were sinners. The graffiti's message appeared to be a reference to the national church’s decision earlier this week to endorse gay and lesbian marriages. The United Church of Christ's General Synod voted Monday in Atlanta to approve a resolution that is accepting of gay and lesbian marriages but is not binding on local congregations. A member of the congregation discovered the graffiti Saturday morning when he stopped by to mow the grass. He went into the church building, and when he opened the sanctuary there was still a small fire."

"I have no idea," Currie writers, "whether or not the congregation at St. John’s Reformed UCC were in favor of the resolution passed by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ supporting gay marriage or not. That is irrelevant."

"It is tragic that whoever committed this hate crime did so because they were misled into believing that supporting legal equality for gays and lesbians is sinful. It simply is not."

"The rhetoric of the religious right and their allies in the political right, Currie continues, "who claim that homosexuality is a sin -- must take some of the responsibility for the increase in hate crimes such as this one. Albert Mohler, the prominent Southern Baptist leader, has even compared legal and legislative decisions in support of gay marriage to the attacks against the United States on September 11th. People hear that kind of hateful preaching and believe they are acting as faithful Christians as they torch churches or beat up gays."

The United Church News further reports that "two other churches in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley were vandalized near the time the United Church of Christ's Stillspeaking Initiative began running television ads welcoming all people, including gays and lesbians."

Contributions to help the church can be sent to:

St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ
1515 Arbor Hill Rd
Staunton, Va 24401



The Associated Press is also reporting that two, apparently unrelated black churches were burned to the ground in Tennnessee, as well as a mosque in Indiana. The latter is being investigated as a hate crime.

Meanwhile, a clinic in Palm Beach, Florida was closed following a serious arson attack on Monday. The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal reports that the arson follows a similar attack last year at this time. Terrorists often pick symbolic dates for thier crimes. In this case, the Palm Beach arsonist torches clinics on or about the fourth of July. Domestic terrorism aimed at abortion providers has been going on for a long time, inflamed in part by the rhetoric of the leaders of the Christian Right, in much the same fashion that hate is directed against others.

Hate crimes and domestic terrorism take many forms. Sometimes that hate is directed against people because of their race, thier religion, their sexual orientation, or for excercising thier constitutional right to receive or provide reproductive health services to women.

It is time to extinguish the fires of hate.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Friday, July 08, 2005

Family Research Council Chickens Out

It comes as no surprise that the Washington, DC-based Christian Right lobby -- Family Research Council (FRC) has a difficult time respecting other people's religious traditions. It was the FRC that declared that those who oppose President George Bush's nominees for federal judgeships are "against people of faith" in connection with the Christian Right's widely denounced "Justice Sunday" event in April.

Anyway, this week, in response to the United Church of Christ's stand endorsing marriage equality in the church and in the nation, the FRC unsurprisingly took exception. What was surprising was their line of argument and thier failure to harshly denounce the decision in the way they normally denounce homosexuality in general and marriage equality in particular:

"Ironically, this historic Congregationalist denomination, whose New England churches played a role in the American Revolution, also violated their democratic traditions in the vote of their 884-member General Synod. 'If we had put it to a vote of the people in the pews, it would have failed overwhelmingly,' declared the Rev. Brett Becker, a spokesman for more conservative churches in the UCC."


And what does Becker's opinion (Becker was a sponsor of a competing, losing resolution) have to do with democracy? The United Church of Christ's General Synod voted for this resolution by about 80%. The delegates to this body are elected. Whats more, the resolution they passed is not binding on individual congregations because the polity of the UCC respects the right to difference. Had the Synod passed Becker's resolution would the FRC claim that the vote was a violation of the denomination's democratic tradition? Not likely.

Let's look a the question of democracy in Christian denominations a little further. When was the last time any of the pronouncements of Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church were put to a vote of the entire membership? (How, for example, do we think that the Pope's encyclical on birth control would fare in a plebiscite? How about the Southen Baptist Convention's doctrine that women are to be in submission to thier husbands?) In fact, there is no Christian denomination -- or any major religious grouping I can think of that puts such matters to a vote of their national membership.

The UCC, as the Family Research Council acknowledges, has a democratic polity. What they don't mention is that the UCC has none of the doctrinal police tactics conservatives use in other denominations to enforce their views.

What stands out to me in all this is how muted the Christian Right has been in response to the UCC's clear and strong stand in favor of marriage equality. From where I sit, I see two related reasons for the Christian Right's overall silence on this, and for the FRC's strained and ineffectual response.

One is that the UCC's endorsement of marriage equality demonstrates that there are many Christians who support this, and that the UCC's institutional weight and moral authority is more considerable than many may think. You can hear the fear in the FRC's statement.

Indeed, the descendants of the of the Pilgrims and the Puritans have a long history not only of democracy, but of advances in social justice that were ahead of their time -- such as ordaining the first African-American as a minister in 1785; and ordaining the first openly gay minister in 1972.

And as the UCC writes in its list of "firsts," in 1853 Antoinette Brown was "the first woman since New Testament times ordained as a Christian minister, and perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor. At her ordination a friend, Methodist minister Luther Lee, defends 'a woman's right to preach the Gospel.' He quotes the New Testament: 'There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.'"

The other reason the Christian Right is uncharacteristically silent in the face of this historic development is that they do not want to draw any additional media attention to the UCC and UCC president Rev. John Thomas -- because they want to define Christianity as representing only their point of view. Quick to denounce marriage equality and homosexuality in general, they are afraid to take on the authentic voice of the oldest Christian tradition in America, a tradition that profoundly informed the development of democracy and representative government in the United States.

This is a significant retreat by the Christian Right. Just as their claim that the U.S. was founded as a Christian Nation is bogus, they have no standing to criticize the democratic polity of the United Church of Christ. And in the wake of the overwhelming vote of the General Synod and unequivocal language of resolution, the silence of the Christian Right suggests that they understand the weakness of thier position in the face of strong, clear and credible Christian opposition.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]
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Friday, July 01, 2005

Awaiting Theocratic Fireworks

Chuck Currie marked his second day guest blogging on the new blog site of the United Church of Christ by writing about.... bloggers!

The UCC is breaking new ground this week, using an official blog to provide information and commentary on the proceedings of its biennial conference, or General Synod, to church members not in attendance and to the wider public. Response to the UCC blog is already lighting up the blogosphere, which is always interested in new developments, as Currie shows. He writes: "There will be a lot more in the coming days. Stay tuned." Indeed. And in the run up to the vote on marriage equality, and whatever the outcome, the blogopshere will light up like the Fourth of July. And the fireworks will not all be celebratory.

The UCC is poised to become the first major Christian denomination to endorse marriage equality. Even in considering such a move, it has been under attack by conservative and evangelical groups. The other day for example, UCC President John Thomas endorsed the marriage equality resolution that will be considered by the General Synod. Imediately, a UCC rightwing caucus, the Biblical Witness Fellowship, demanded Thomas' resignation, declaring "He now now longer enjoys the credibility to continue as a religious leader of a Christian church." One can only imagine this outfit's reaction if the General Synod passes the marriage equality resolution.

This group is affiliated with the rightist Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has a twenty year history of external agitation and opposition to the social justice missions of the mainline denominations. IRD sponsors a network of conservative "renewal" groups that oppose the historic social justice mission and democratic traditions of the mainline churches. The annual meeting of this group is held in conjunction with the National Association of Evangelicals.

Last year, when the UCC sought to air a television ad that sought to portray the church as a place of welcome to all during the Christmas season, the Biblical Witness Fellowship joined with IRD in denouncing the ad. The tiny group is often given far more play in the media than they represent in numbers.

The UCC's General Synod is an elected and representative body in the Congregational tradition. As the UCC points out on its web site, "Because every UCC congregation is self-governing, its [the General Synod's] resolutions speak 'to' but not 'for' the local church." In other words, if the synod endorses same sex marriage, it does not mean that local churches are required to perform any. But if groups like the Biblical Witness Fellowship got their way, they would be seeking to create not only conservative doctrine, but to police doctrinal purity.

Religion News Service recently reported that Diana Butler Bass, a senior researcher at Virginia Theological Seminary "worried about conservatives' attempts in the UCC and other churches to centralize authority, discipline and doctrinal standards, especially in the UCC where local congregations relish their autonomy. Such a move violates 'the democratic impulses of American Protestantism,' she said."

"'These denominations are so closely tied to the practice of democracy in this country,' she said. 'If they lose that kind of local meeting-house democratic impulse, it makes me wonder what's going on in the larger culture.'"


[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com.]
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Making Distinctions - Seeing Possibilities

We have learned a few things at Political Research Associates (PRA) over the past 24 years of studying U.S. right-wing political and social movements, and we have captured our best advice in a document titled "Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right." There are three sections--Do Your Homework, Stay Cool in Public, and Keep Organizing--each with several suggestions.

When PRA staff speak in public we often expand on these recommendations, and a blog seems like a good place to enshrine these musings in written form. Over the next few months, I will pick one suggestion and write a short essay around it, with some useful links if I can find them.

To start, let’s look at the following recommendation:

Distinguish between leaders and followers in right-wing organizations.

Leaders are often “professional” right-wingers. They’ve made a career of promoting a rightist agenda and attacking progressives and progressive issues. Followers, on the other hand, may not be well-informed. They are often mobilized by fears about family and future based on information that, if true, would indeed be frightening. This so-called “education” is often skillful, deceitful, and convincing. These followers may take positions that are more extreme than those of the leaders, but on the other hand, they may not know exactly what they are supporting by attending a certain organization’s rally or conference. To critique and expose the leaders of right-wing organizations is the work of a good progressive organizer, writer or activist. In the case of the followers, however, it is important to reserve judgment and listen to their grievances. Do not assume that they are all sophisticated political agents or have access to a variety of information sources.

--
PublicEye.org - Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right

This does not mean that we should think that followers are dimwitted, ignorant, or crazy. That was a common perception promoted by centrist academics during the 1960s, but since the late 1970s sociologists have shown that people who join social movements--left or right--are remarkably similar to the population from which they emerge. And people in social movements are not mesmerized by crafty leaders, cluelessly following the whims of charismatic demagogues. Demagogues exist, to be sure, but they primarily succeed by swaying large groups of people by developing clever ways to frame ideas and issues.
Frames are necessary but not sufficient to build a movement, but frames are an important tool.

That's good news for progressives who want to mobilize a counter-movement. We can examine the frames put forward by the Hard Right and devise alternative frames that drive wedges between specific constituencies. We can do that with topical analysis, for example exploiting the tension between Christian conservatives and libertarians on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. And we can recognize that participants have different levels of commitment and loyalty to social movements.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni has produced a useful set of distinctions that explain this in her AlterNet article The Gospel On Gay Marriage

Aggressive Combatants, who mobilize their followers to go to battle against whatever they consider to be the current threat (most recently, same-sex marriage);

Loyal Followers, who consider the Combatants to be their religious authorities, buying their books, tuning in to their broadcasts, accepting their interpretations of the Bible, and responding to their fundraising pleas;

Thoughtful Questioners, who were drawn to the movement by its emphasis on a personal relationship with God and the importance of the Bible in their lives but are not convinced that all issues are settled or that all the answers are already in;

Hurting Strugglers, sincere believers who earnestly practiced their faith and followed the rules they had been taught, yet were faced with some circumstance that turned their well-ordered world upside down -- a divorce, a gay child, a pregnant teenager, domestic violence, mental illness, job loss, bankruptcy, a suicide in the family.

These are useful names for important distinctions. As Scanzoni observes, we should be focusing our attention of the last two categories: Thoughtful Questioners and Hurting Strugglers, because they are already in a place where new ideas and new frames have a better chance of finding fertile soil.
I happen to think that a commitment to the idea of civil society means we should be treating people with sincere spiritual belief systems with courtesy and respect--just as I think we should be treating secular ethical and moral belief systems with courtesy and respect. In this case, there are hardball pragmatic reasons to be able to talk with Christian conservatives about moral values…we just might change their minds.



Ported from Chip Berlet's Blog
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