The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for July, 2005

The Candidate and the Bloggers

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MA democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick continues his conversations (aka the blog blitz) with political bloggers around the state. This time, he called up Michael DeChiara, of Wonk NOT! whose blog is devoted primarily to matters of framing, in the manner advocated by linguist George Lakoff.

Here is an excerpt from DeChiara’s account of the conversation:

“Deval said that he wants his campaign to re-inspire people to see ourselves as citizens. This is a powerful statement and I am in agreement here as well. He used a powerful example (which was also a totally great frame!). He said that when he was working in Washington he’d see young people come down in the spring and visit the national monuments. Beyond the external “cool” clothes and attitudes, you could see the ones who were impressed deep down by the philosophy and values reflected in the monuments and institutions. He used for examples the writings at the Lincoln memorial, being in the Rotunda of the Capitol or on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.”

“My wife and I took our 9 and 6 year olds to DC this spring, and my nine-year old took pictures of all the inscriptions of Lincoln’s speeches. And then to stand on the monument steps, overlooking the Reflecting Pool where the March on Washington took place, standing above an inscription that read “I Have a Dream” — this was deeply moving for her (and me).”

Deval Patrick is an unusual candidate. He talks with people. He listens well. “That willingness to listen,” DeChiara says, “separates him from 99% of the politicians. It also signals that while he’s clear what he thinks, he’s open to considering various perspectives and new information. How refreshing.”

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July 29th, 2005 at 10:19 pm

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Patrick’s Summer Blog Blitz, Cont.

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Deval Patrick’s latest interview with an MA political blogger is at Left in Lowell.

Patrick’s summer blog blitz in many ways epitomizes his blend of traditional and innovative approaches to politics and public policy. He is campaigning, but he is actually having conversations with people. “… [B]ringing the bloggers into this conversation is key,” Patrick said. “There are lots of new ways that people have of talking with each other, not just talking at each other.”

Lynne says that like other bloggers who have interviewed Patrick, she plans to contact Tom Reilly and William Galvin, Patrick’s ostensible rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor. And she plans to talk to local politicians and elected officials as well.

Here is the quote that Lynne highlights from her Patrick interview:

“….The way in which we have to rebuild our sense of community, in neighborhoods in cities and towns across the state – has got to be top of the mind for anybody who’s serious about leading this state, because much of the leadership we have had has helped this notion penetrate that we, each of us, is in this on his or her own. And that’s wrong. You know, personal responsibility includes shared responsibility, and we haven’t had leadership in my view for too long now that is willing to call up the question of what shared responsibility entails, and I think it’s time for that. And that is not a platitude, that has something to do with how we practically live our lives, and how we practically make public policy decisions…. So I’m trying to bring that theme forward not just not for purposes of the campaign, but to help alert people to the way I want to govern. And why it’s so important that we govern differently.”

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July 28th, 2005 at 10:44 am

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Ignorance Ain’t Bliss

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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 and 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 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.

These matters will take on heightened importance as we contend with “Justice Sunday II” in a few weeks, and in the run up to the 2006 elections.

Written by fred

July 27th, 2005 at 12:18 pm

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A Progressive Reformer for MA State Senate

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Whether its a race for the state legislature or for Congress, in most places most of the time around the U.S. — incumbents rarely lose. That makes special elections to fill unexpected vacancies, a rare opportunity to change the composition of legislative bodies.

There is one such special election going on to fill the unexpired term of the late Charlie Shannon for the Massachusetts State Senate, 2nd Middlesex District, that includes all or parts of Medford, Somerville, Winchester, and Woburn

There are four candidates currently in the home stretch of a hotly contested Democratic primary that will be held on August 30th. The candidates are Governor’s Councilor Michael Callahan of Medford; former state Rep. Joe Mackey of Somerville; state Rep. Paul Casey of Winchester; and Rep. Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) — the apparent frontrunner and the favorite candidate of progressive reformers. She has racked up a remarkable list of endorsements including the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, Massachusetts Nurses Association, Democracy for America; numerous education, environmental, labor, gay rights and women’s organizations; many current and former statehouse colleagues and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.

“Pat Jehlen is the kind of principled, progressive Democrat we need in the State Senate,” said Reich. “She has spent her adult life fighting for education funding, better jobs, affordable healthcare, and a fair playing field for working families. She has been a leader on child labor issues, raising the minimum wage, and boosting local aid to help cities and towns.”

Jehlen is unequivocal on other key issues as well: “…I support equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. I support a woman’s right to choose, and increased access to family planning options. And I oppose the death penalty in any form.”

She is an advocate for clean elections and reform in the Democratic Party, which she says “will be stronger if it embraces new activists — especially with such a groundswell of new progressive energy in recent years — and I support efforts to ensure those who are fighting for progressive values are welcome at the table.”

The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Republican Bill White, a Somerville alderman in the general election on Sept. 27th.

Jehlen’s latest endorsement comes from Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts, (PDM) — by the unanimous vote of the nine-member Statewide Coordinating Committee. (Full disclosure: I was one of the nine.) PDM is a statewide, grassroots organization that grew out of Robert Reich’s 2002 campaign for governor. It now has five chapters and a number of organizing committees at varying stages of development, and a statewide network of experienced activists dedicated to electing progressives to office. PDM was also active in a special election for state representative last spring.

“A four way primary election a few days before Labor Day means that voter turnout is almost certain to be low,” wrote PDM statewide chair Peter Dolan in an email to members. “A new State Senator could be chosen by a relative handful of Democratic primary voters.”

Its an aphorism of politics that endorsements, like lawn signs, don’t vote. So when PDM makes an endorsement it wants it to really mean something. Reflecting PDM’s strategy of targeting resources and volunteer help where they are most needed to take advantage of opportunities for progressive pick-ups in the statehouse, Dolan urged PDM members to contact the Jehlen campaign directly — or PDM — to participate in planned PDM-sponsored campaign activities.

Note to progressive reformers: Unexpected vacancies occur all the time. Expect the unexpected.

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July 25th, 2005 at 9:53 pm

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Talk to Action in the News

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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, 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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July 22nd, 2005 at 3:54 pm

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Deval Patrick Lights Up MA Blogosphere

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Democratic candidate for governor of Massachussetts, Deval Patrick is lighting up the blogosphere this summer.

Patrick’s summer “blog blitz,” so dubbed by sco at .08 Acres and a Donkey, is an innovation in Massachusetts politics, and a recognition of the growing importance of bloggers in public life. Sco thinks “Patrick’s reaching out to us here on the Internet is a reflection of his campaign’s focus on youth outreach — after all, Internet users taken as a whole tend to be younger than the general population.”

I think its also true that we have a very politically interested and thoughtful bunch of bloggers here in Massachusetts. Patrick was asked good questions in the first round of blogger interviews, and he gave interesting answers. What’s more, the bloggers have clearly done their best to report their conversations honestly and fairly.

This time David Eisenthal of the The Eisenthal Report who writes about “politics, public policy, and culture, with particular emphasis on western and central Massachusetts” questioned Patrick, who is running as progressive, reform candidate for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican Mitt Romney in 2006.

Among other things, Eisenthal reports, “In discussing public corruption in Springfield and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, Patrick took the opportunity to criticize rival Democratic candidate and state Attorney General Tom Reilly, saying ‘I can’t tell you of a single anti-corruption investigation by our Attorney General anywhere in Massachusetts.’ Patrick feels that the state Attorney General’s office is well-placed to be able to take the lead in such investigations, because it is more insulated from political pressures that face local District Attorney’s offices.”

Lynne at Left in Lowell interviews Patrick next week.

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July 22nd, 2005 at 9:19 am

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Theocrat of the Week

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This week, we at have conducted a diligent and thorough national search to find the most qualified nominee for Theocrat of the Week. We are proud to announce that we have found that person: Karen Stewart, the Mississippi state director of Bethany Christian Services.

Stewart captured the attention of Our Judges by making national news with her dramatic micro-demonstration project to show Catholics what sectarian protestant theocracy looks like.

Bethany, an evangelical protestant adoption agency, receives funds from the State of Mississippi through a “Choose Life” vanity license plate program advocated by antiabortion groups, many of them Catholic. Unbeknownst to the advocates of this program, using choose life program funds would be limited to those who choose a life that is evangelical and protestant and, umm, not Catholic.

Bethany routinely declines to allow Catholics to adopt children, because, as Stewart put it in a letter to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper, “It has been our understanding that Catholicism does not agree with our Statement of Faith,” Bethany’s state director Karen Stewart wrote. “Our practice to not accept applications from Catholics was an effort to be good stewards of an adoptive applicant’s time, money and emotional energy.”

One Catholic couple that Stewart turned away asked their priest about the Bethany Statement of Faith. The Clarion-Ledger reports that the priest told them “it did not conflict with Catholic teaching.”

But wait a minute! Should a Catholic priest get to determine for a state-funded evangelical Protestant agency whether the evangelical Protestant Statement of Faith is consistent with Catholic teaching?

Our question is moot, of course, because Stewart did what a good theocrat does: She interpreted the state-funded Statement of Faith and made a decision. That’s why Stewart is our Theocrat of the Week.

We here at here at feel that this micro-demonstration project is particularly notable because there are those who think that all Christians, and all creedal statements are the same. Karen Stewart has made clear that there are important distinctions — and that state-funded religious agencies will act on them. We are glad that this matter is now clarified. (Jews, Muslims and heaven forbid, Unitarians would have known better than to seek to adopt from a state funded evangelical Christian agency. No doctrinal interpretation to be done there!)

Of course, if Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Seminary was making these decisions, things might have gotten complicated. The Wikipedia listing for Mohler states that even tho he told talk show host Larry King, “I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel…and indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office,” Mohler maintains that much of Catholic doctrine is compatible with his views. Hmm. So if one parent was a Catholic and one a Southern Baptist, maybe that would pass the Mohler test for adoption.

But we digress.

We also admit we find this whole area rather confusing.

Its a good thing there are people like Karen Stewart who know how to make theocratic decisions.

One matter that in no way affects our selection of Karen Stewart as Theocrat of the Week, nevertheless warrants attention. Our Judges think that Bethany Christian Services should update the About Us section of its national web site. It states in part: “Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bethany is a not-for-profit, pro-life, Christian adoption and family services agency. Bethany’s support comes through reimbursement for services, and from gifts received from individuals, churches, corporations, and foundations…”

In the interests of transparency and full disclosure, please add: “the State of Mississippi.”

Thank you.

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July 20th, 2005 at 6:20 pm

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A Bright Light of Hope in a Dark Time

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Some colleagues and I have been posting essays at a temporary group blog site about aspects of challenging the theocratic Christian Right. We call it Talk to Action. We have also 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 proven themselves 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.

Thats why 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.

My Talk To Action colleagues include 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. And these 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 at Talk to Action.

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July 19th, 2005 at 9:51 pm

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Keeping Cool

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The Dominionists are coming! The Dominionists are coming!

Some contemporary Paul Reveres 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 at Talk to Action]

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July 19th, 2005 at 3:15 pm

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Theocratic Cure-all

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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, 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.

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July 18th, 2005 at 10:46 am

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