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The blog of Frederick Clarkson

How to Beat the Christian Right, Part I

with 15 comments

What can we do about the Christian Right? (I have been asked this, in response to various diaries on The Daily Kos.) This essay is the beginning of an answer. I suppose its directed to everyone, and no one in particular — except you, the reader. There is, as you might imagine, no one short answer to the question. But farther down, I am going to offer one anyway. I am convinced that it is the place to begin; the lens through which to view all other elements of the struggle. It is the foundation. Without it, everything else is unconnected dots.

The good news is that it is simpler than you may think, and you may already be doing it.

But no scrolling ahead!  There are reasons why I save the answer ’til the end.

I was inspired, as I often am, to write this essay in response to the Christian Right itself. It happens that there is a small, but significant Christian Right conference in Atlanta next month. It will not get the national attention that D. James Kennedy’s recent “Reclaiming America” conference received. And it will probably not be as large, or draw very many people from beyond Atlanta. But it is important for other reasons. The conference sponsor, American Vision, is one of the leading hubs of theocratic education and activism in the United States. And I think a look at the conference agenda, tells us much about the theocratic movement, and how it seeks to take power. And because this is so, or at least thats how it appears to me, it offers us some insight into what we must do in response.

The conference, titled  Restore America Rally, looks from this distance like an ideological indoctrination seminar in Christian nationalism, and a pep rally for the political movement that emanates from it. Let’s take a quick look at the featured speakers.

Gary DeMar, is the head of American Vision, which publishes books for the Christian school and Christian home school market. DeMar’s own books tend to be works of Christian historical revisionism, which among other things, seek to persuade young people that the U.S. was founded as a “Christian nation.” His first presentation at the conference, intended for young people, is on “America’s Christian Heritage.” This is one way of framing the basic premise of Christian nationalism. And it is important because it is a central underlying premise of all of the Christian Right, and is arguably a necessary ingredient to their success. But it is also a major weakness, because it is a premise that is more than faulty, it is just plain wrong. I have written about this before, and there is plenty of good source material to support this, so I will not dwell on it here. But its a subject we all need to get very good at. I think it is part of the key to turning the tide.

DeMar’s vision for America, and his widening influence in the Christian Right in Georgia, and nationally, is disturbing. DeMar is a leader of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which believes that the U.S. should be governed by a harsh theocracy and impose what they call “Biblical law.” I happen to have written a great deal about DeMar and his fellow theocrats in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Here is a sample: “Gary DeMar in his book Ruler of the Nations wrote that “The law that requires the death penalty for homosexual acts effectually drives the perversion of homosexuality underground, back into the closet…”. The longterm goal, he adds, “should also be the execution of abortionists and the parents who hire them. If we say that abortion is murder, then we must call for the death penalty.’ DeMar claims that Christians ‘are not to impose a top-down tyranny to ram the Bible down people’s throats.’  However, he insists “we must elect public officials who say they will vote for Biblical laws.” (page 82)

Of course, DeMar probably won’t be talking about the more gruesome and totalitarian aspects of the theocratic agenda for America when he addresses young people at the Restore America Rally. The darker side of the Christian Nation will remain deep in the shadows until they are able to take power; and when they do, they will say they are only doing what God requires, even if it is unpleasant. Smart, if disingenuous politics.

During the evening rally, DeMar will answer a rhetorical question: “Is Reclaiming America a Futile Exercise?” And when he is done, young and old will learn just what they can do to restore America’s Christian heritage — the true intentions of the Founding Fathers that, sadly, have been so twisted and thwarted by secular humanism and the runaway federal judiciary.

They will hear a “challenge” from Sadie Fields, president of the Christian Coalition of Georgia. She will tell the rally goers, assembled in the pews of Trinity Chapel, that they can reclaim America by becoming active Christian citizens; by lobbying, and most importantly, engaging in electoral politics, and learning how to do it well — as has been key to the success of the Christian Coalition, and its historic role in transforming politics in the Republican Party, and in the country.

Finally, they will hear a stem winder from keynoter Roy Moore, who in the program, is referred to as “Chief Justice.” Moore will tell his revisionist and self-serving account of how he violated the order of a federal judge to remove the monument to the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the Alabama state courthouse; and how he was fired for it by a panel of retired judges and how the courts turned down his appeals. Then he will tell his audience how the problem is “judicial tyranny,” and how he is standing tall, remaining righteous, and true to his understanding of his Oath of Office and the will of God. People will see him as a hero of the faith, a Christian patriot, and a role model. He will also seek to persuade his audience that they, and the true intentions of the Founding Fathers have been betrayed, and that they must restore America’s Christian heritage and reclaim America.

Or something pretty close to that.

An aside:  That Moore and his fans continue to use the title “Chief Justice,” tells us much about the culture and worldview of the theocrats. Moore was ousted from his post for his crackpot theatrics and his defiance of a federal court order. But notice in the bio on Moore’s web site, almost every sentence begins with “Chief Justice,” as if he were to the title born.

“Chief Justice Moore served our Country as a Captain in the Military Police Corps of the United States Army. He also served as Battalion Staff Officer at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and Illesheim, Germany, and as a Company Commander in Vietnam. During his professional career, Chief Justice Moore became the first full-time Deputy District Attorney in Etowah County and served in this position from 1977 until 1982. In 1984, Chief Justice Moore undertook private practice of law in Gadsden, until he became Circuit Judge, Sixteenth Judicial Circuit in 1992. Chief Justice Moore served in this capacity until his election as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama in November, 2000.”

It is a similar sense of entitlement that animates the Christian theocrats; they believe that God has anointed them, as Christian Right leader D. James Kennedy has put it, as “God’s vice-regents” The resentment they feel when they don’t get their way, often manifests itself in their political behavior.

There is a tendency, especially among those who are just learning about the Christian Right, to get very worked up about “the dominionists,” “the theocrats” and “the Reconstructionists,” and so on. And this is understandable. (If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have spent so many years learning and writing about these things.) But once you do know, once you do understand, what then? What do we do with what we have learned? How much information do we need to take action? Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that learning about the Christian Right is something we should not do, or ever stop doing. What I am saying is that one does not need to be an expert to begin to take action, and the knowledge that we gain should inform our activism.

Here is the good news. The answer lies in what the what the theocrats themselves are doing to gain power. Electoral politics. Yup. Electoral politics.

The Christian Right spent years systematically raising their constituency’s consciousness about politics and public policy; building a culture that includes, rather than excludes electoral politics, a culture that actually sees electoral politics as a natural outgrowth of their religious and home life. We need to find ways to do this in ways appropriate to our own communities, and our own institutions. I am not talking about big opinions about what the Democratic Party should do; or what the mainstream churches, or organized labor should do. I am talking about what I should do, and what you should do, in our own lives, in our own communities, and in the institutions we relate to. These will be different for most of us. I have been trying to do this in my own life, and this is part of why I write this piece. (My main involvement is Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts.)

So the next time someone starts breathlessly talking or writing about what “the dominionists” (or some other powerful opponents) are up to: Don’t panic. And don’t let that person panic. We know they’re bad. We know they have some considerable political strength and momentum. Take a deep breath. Do what so many of us are doing, or are learning to do. Electoral politics. Collectively, we have great power.

I repeat. The answer to the power of the Christian Right is electoral power of our own. No excuses. Many of us have tended to abandon this cornerstone of citizenship in favor of other things. It is time to get our priorities straight. Less talk, more action. Less entertainment, more citizen involvement. Less TV and sports. More electoral politics. Do we want the theocrats to win? More electoral politics.

Yeah, yeah, framing. Yeah, yeah, message. Yeah, yeah, netroots. Yeah, yeah, statements of principles. These, and more are important, and I am not minimizing them. They are all elements of electoral politics, elements of citizenship. It is the path to power in the United States. Each of us, as citizens has the right and the obligation to learn to do it well, just as the Christian Coalition and their allies have learned to do it well. If we believe that democracy is a good thing, we need to learn to get very good at it. We need to be better at it than those who would destroy it.

I don’t mean to be simplistic or glib. While the foundational idea is simple, I know the rest may be complicated and hard. But once we accept that orienting ourselves to electoral politics is the necessary foundation, everything else falls into place. Electoral politics is integral to citizenship in a constitutional democracy. How could it be otherwise? Voting alone is not enough. The survival of constitutional democracy depends on the active participation of the citizens. Did you know that the typical turnout for special elections for the state legislature in Massachusetts is 25%? Here in the bluest of the blue states? This kind of statistic is typical around the country, and the problem of citizen disengagement and lack of particiaption needs to change. It’s possible; and it’s necessary.

And yes, we have some reclaiming to do ourselves. We need to reclaim American history and develop a better, accurate, competing narrative. And part of that narrative must also be our own stories of reclaiming the knowledge and skills it will take to also reclaim the power of citizenship.

Learning political and electoral skills, developing a good political culture in our communities and in our institutions; establishing networks of political relationships; building for power — all takes time. But it will be time well spent. Let’s get to work.

[Cross posted at The Daily Kos where a lively discusssion ensued.]

Written by fred

March 20th, 2005 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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15 Responses to 'How to Beat the Christian Right, Part I'

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  1. Luis Palau is bringing a huge Christian dog and pony show to the National Mall in DC on October 8-9. I live in Northern VA and some members of my church are helping to organize the “Festival.” From what I can understand, Palau has had some dealings with James Kennedy and his ministry was given a big lift by Billy Graham.

    Do you know if Luis Palau is a dominionist?

    Anonymous

    20 Mar 05 at 10:46 pm

  2. I don’t know about Luis. What I observe is that even the most docile and sincere fundamentalist can be and is being used by the biblical literalists and dominionists.

    Anonymous

    1 Oct 05 at 3:19 pm

  3. Mr Clarkson has provided a thoughtful long term plan for preventing the US being turned into Gilead…but I suspect he is, in the main, preaching to the converted. I have a more radical, short term proposal: the use of ridicle. The RR’s deliciously poor grasp of the nature of the universe we actually inhabit is a weakness which can be exploited easily…we need first to abandon conventional politeness, though, having inducing members of the RR to articulate what it is they actually believe. Then comes the easy part: tearing the ignorant and contradictory nonsense that inevitably spews forth on such occasions into shreds, by contrasting it with cosmological and biological facts. This should be done as publically and brutally as possible, leaving no doubt that the RR spokesperson in question, if sincere, is at best a victim of childhood indoctrination and an intellectual coward, but is more likely simply to be stupid. Those who are not sincere don’t believe a single word of what they are saying, of course, but are very happy to be in the company of the gullible, and they should be denounced as the sleazebags they undoubtedly are. Being tolerant or even deferential in the face of bronze age campfire ravings masquerading as a coherent theory of the Universe gets you the Taliban, the Spanish Inquisition, or Gilead. It’s time to be honest, and blunt enough to call stupid ideas, and stupid people…stupid.

    Dave Forbes

    29 Oct 05 at 4:23 am

  4. There are many good thoughts in the article, but I don’t think it addresses the really tough problem,e.g., voter apathy. I think the frame of mind of the majority is such that we’ll need a lottery or some such with the ticket being a vote. Maybe some right minded foundations would contribute to forming it.

    Anonymous

    31 Oct 05 at 2:13 pm

  5. Hello,

    My name is Paul Hildan. I am collecting quotations for a book – a compilation of reader opinions regarding the existence of God. The book will be divided into 3 sections – one from contributors describing the reasons why they think that God must exist, one from contributors who believe that God does not exist, and one from people like myself, who are undecided.

    People from all walks of life, from all religions (including atheist and agnostics) are welcome to participate.

    The comments or article can be as long or as short as you wish. In order to simplify sorting, please write either “Believe”, “Do not believe” or “Undecided”, as the subject matter.

    At the end, please write the description about yourself which should be included at the end of your article. This can include your name, your town or your country, your religion, or simply “Anon” – Whatever you wish to be included will be fully respected.

    This is not a chain-mail, or any other kind of undesirable nuisance. I kindly ask you to consider writing an article, and if possible, to pass this onto any friend or colleague, who you think would be prepared to participate in this project, but without being unduly burdened or offended by receiving such a mail.

    Thank you in advance,

    Paul

    paul.hildan@vr-web.de

    Anonymous

    4 Nov 05 at 2:40 pm

  6. A suggestion to all:
    Replace the words “Christian Right” with “Christian Reich” ;-) or, perhaps better, “Theocratic Zealots” or best, “Religious Zealots”. The latter would apply equally to any religion.

    Another variation would be: “religious fascists”.

    Naming (branding) is important: it becomes a mental shorthand in the way people think of things. Think of Rove’s, “compassionate conservativism”. Boy, did the GOP get mileage out of that one!

    Rob Barnes

    28 Nov 05 at 5:28 pm

  7. As watchers of the theocratic movement. Those that are cunning amongst us have an even greater power than that of electoral power… That is the power of propaganda, the power of manipulation, the power to coax republicans into voting Democrat officials into office. How? Quite simply, stay plugged into the news. Next when an obvious theocrat movement is about to happen; create ‘official looking’ flyers from the local republicans’ using the factual event, adding in other unsavory elements intended to cause the public audience to vote the ‘other way’. In this way, you cause the masses to move in a way that ends up in your favor… Theocratic republicans use this method of persuasion all the time. Don’t you think it’s time we did the same? After all, it can only help preserve democracy in our country.

    Onikage

    3 Dec 05 at 2:12 am

  8. Well you’ve done it again! You’ve stereotyped, and prejudged American voters, and thereby alienated anyone who does not share your ideology. You also have ignorantly allowed yourself to elevate yourself as being the only right way. The very same thing that the fundamentalists do. Fundamentalists educated themselves about the political process and now are excersizing their political muscle.

    You will never enjoy political majority again until you are rid of those historical early American documents that support the fundamentalist “Christian nation” view and their religous text, the Bible, wich you can never do.

    Anonymous

    6 Dec 05 at 9:57 am

  9. I am a criminal justice student in New Mexico, and after being cornered by a couple of evangelists who tried unsuccessfully to “save” me, I started studying the Christian Right. Needless to say, I was shocked.
    To say that the dominionists’ actions and bills already passed in Congress violate the Separation of Church and State is a HUGE understatement.
    Our founding fathers would indeed be ashamed…ashamed that what they fought so hard to achieve and that which so many have laid their lives down for is being railroaded by a few who wish to turn America into a theocracy.
    As a future criminal justician/forensic scientist, I wonder just what would happen if this country were to become a theocracy, and what I see there frightens me more than any crime scene ever will…

    Anonymous

    11 Feb 06 at 1:53 am

  10. The answer is not only electoral politics; that will only work if we demand paper ballots, by the way, they have the voting machines. The answeris resistance. Go to their damn rallies and protest en masse. Don’t let a dominionist professor or community leader do his “job”. We have to hassle the shit out of these people and never give them a moment’s peace. The only way to do that is in mass numbers, and we had better come up with a way of educating the public about our very own version of the Taliban so we can show up and ruin all their plans and parties.

    Anonymous

    30 Mar 06 at 10:45 pm

  11. I’m glad Mr. Clarkson is here. We need more people like him. This dominionist thing is far enough out of hand that it is now time for me to join up and fight for my country. I’d like to thank Gary DeMar for helping me to make the decision to go to law school. I spent quite a few years considering it. I’m going to make it my career to protect this country from these Christian fundamentalist idiots. I WILL NOT live in a theocracy, and I’d be willing to bet most other people wouldn’t either. I currently reside in a state that is completely controlled by these people. They don’t even know what they believe—they just know they’re supposed to go along with whatever the President and their preacher says. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them could very likely be found murdered. They are deeply entrenched in every facet of life here. Our current administration is fostering this illegal culture, and must be stopped. I’ve had enough. Watch for me in the future as a very hard-working attorney that stands up for The Constitution.

    Anonymous

    30 Jul 06 at 3:43 pm

  12. Personally, I think it is far too late to enact a plan involving the currently broken electoral political system. Far better to plan for the time when these insane religious fanatatics try to seize power, and merely take it back from them by force.

    Thanatos

    24 Aug 06 at 1:58 pm

  13. We need an constitutional amendment that says: “Congress shall make no law respecting the encouragement of religion over non-religion, or encouraging the exercise thereof over the non-exercise”

    On activism, I think an important thing is to organize across party lines. For instance, I find myself in opposition to Democrats on a myriad of issues, and will often vote for a non-religious Republican over a non-religious Democrat. However, if I smell religion on a Republican, that’s enough for me to switch.

    Even within the GOP, there are some who are disgusted with the religious slant their party has taken.

    Also, it is my sense that some Democratic politicians are looking at the number of religiously-oriented voters and toning down their own stands or failing to attack the religious stands of their GOP opponents. This is a very short term outlook: by implicitly accepting the religion is okay in politics, they hand their opponents the intellectual high-ground.

    I really want to hear mainstream Democrat politicians, during political debates say: “my opponent is wrong to want to ban abortion — we want small government — and it’s not a baby, stupid, it’s a cluster of cells”, “my opponent is wrong to support government money given to churchs — that exactly the type of thing the founders were against”, “my opponent’s views on stem-cell research are an echo of the age when the church asked Galileo to recant”…

    Till a few decades ago, it seemed that religion was clearly fading as a political influence. Now that it is back, its important for sensible people in both parties to be extra-vigilant and not to tow a party line if the party-person wants to blur the separation of church and state.

    softwareNerd

    27 Nov 06 at 4:45 pm

  14. Dave Forbes is right: As Sam Harris (End of Faith, 2005) said, we need to stop honoring the worst in us and start pushing it away. Stop honoring religious beliefs: Our survival: As human beings, as individuals, as a democracy, truly depends on it.

    I’m currently reading Reading Lolita in Teran by Azar Nafizi, and I see our future on every page: Under a Christian Ayatollah.

    The Christian worldview is about as valid and useful as holocaust denial, and we, as rational human beings need to act accordingly.

    I’m afraid that it will not be as Margaret Atwood wrote; it will be far worse. If they succeed in undermining our institutions (science, the arts, etc), only theirs will be left, and there will be very little we can do.

    Much worse than anything, David Kuo (Temping Faith) played with the idea that Christian conservative leaders are merely attracted to power. We also explored this in my History class, and concluded that they merely wish for authority, something that they will be quick to abuse.

    My associates feel I am overvaluing the existence and influence of the TheocraticRight, but my research on the Christian Coalition “scorecards” and the behavior and influence of our current president prove me right.

    In two years, when this disastrous era is over, will the Christian Conservatives merely retreat? The rabidity with which they spew their lies and totalitarian agenda says that they will not.

    Do you think people have finally woken up, though it might be too late now?

    My advice: Under the Christian Republic of America (mirroring the title of theocratic Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini), we need to LEAVE. I simply REFUSE to hand over my life to a schizophrenic and his thugs. I will either leave America, or commit suicide (not because of psychiatric illness, but because it is wholly rational, in view of how much I cherish the existence and unwavering freedom of an Individual).

    Whether it is God or the Masses, Dominionism (whether it is Islamic or Christian, there is little difference) and Communism are the same. We must act, before the ability to express rational thought is stripped of us.

    GetMeOutOfHere

    28 Dec 06 at 1:21 am

  15. I understand the need to get rid of these freaks, but the reason voter apathy exists, at least for myself, is that I have never seen evidence that voting is relevant. The (s)elections of 2000 and 2004 just reinforce the idea that voting is a rigged game for losers who are seduced into pretending that it matters. I remain unimpressed and unwilling to play.

    Anonymous

    21 Jan 07 at 9:19 pm

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