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The blog of Frederick Clarkson

Archive for June, 2007

Theocrat of the Week

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It was only a matter of time before Jim Tonkowich arrived in the winner’s circle as Our Theocrat of the Week. As the president of the cleverly named Institute on Religion and Democracy, he has waged theocratic initiatives under cover of “democracy” since becoming IRD president in 2006. Tonkowich’s squad of PR and political operatives seek to assist disgruntled factions in the mainline Protestant churches to be more effective in waging overt and covert theocratic warfare. All this and more might merit recognition — but that is not why Our Distinguished Panel of Judges selected Tonkowich.

Much more.

Written by fred

June 25th, 2007 at 10:13 pm

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A Conservative Crack-up at The American Specator

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When the religious right careens off the road of reason, the crash can be spectacular. Thursday night the sky was lit by the firey embers of the ravings of one Jeffrey Lord a former political director in the Reagan White House; duly recorded at The American Spectator.

On the eve of the national gathering of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut, Lord compared his own church to the former Soviet Union and this comparison is justified he implies, because the leadership of the UCC is somehow analagous to the Talk to Action site guidelines!  As a co-founder of the site, naturally this came as a surprise to me —  as did Lord’s claim that our modest effort and the activities of the national UCC are also somehow like Harvard and contemporary Russia.

Before we examine the smoking wreckage of Lord’s rhetorical vehicle, let’s take a look at tracks of his smear.

Much more.

Written by fred

June 22nd, 2007 at 7:47 pm

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Abortion, the Movies, and the Politics of ’08

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Lake of Fire, the Hollywood documentary film about the politics of abortion has been appearing at film festivals en route to theaters. But its official release in October will be too soon for many. It is one of those large cultural and political events that will set back the unprepared and advance the efforts of those savvy enough to anticipate it. Indeed, those who want to defend and advance reproductive rights, and those who keep an eye on how to best contend with the religious right, will be wise to take the possible impact of this film fully into account. That the film comes out just four months before the early, and perhaps decisive, presidential primaries may be inconvenient for just about everyone concerned. But that’s just the way it is. Forewarned is forearmed.

I have been following the film’s progress in part because I am in it (as a talking head), and in part because I believe the film is a wildcard in the politics of abortion as we go into the 2008 election season. Much more.

Written by fred

June 21st, 2007 at 12:17 pm

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The Religious Right Lost a Big One in MA Today

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The religious right lost a big one today in Massachusetts.

Let me rephrase that.

Today’s vote on marriage equality in Massachusetts was a crushing defeat for the religious right and all who pander to them.

The dark cloud of bigotry that has long loomed on the political horizon has been dispersed; Beacon Hill has lived up to its name — and stands as a shining example to the nation and to the world.

Much more here.

Written by fred

June 14th, 2007 at 9:00 pm

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A Progressive Candidate for the Open Congressional Seat in MA

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Jamie Eldridge seems to be the favorite of progressive Democrats everywhere for the Congressional seat just vacated by Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA) who leaves to head UMASS at Lowell. I will be writing more about his campaign — it’s a long way to the September primary. But as always, a good place to begin to get to know State Sen. Eldridge, is his campaign web site.

Written by fred

June 13th, 2007 at 9:37 pm

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Will MA State Legislators Vote to Invite the Religious Right to try to Make the Bay State the Anti-Gay State in ’08?

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At the international HQ of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado — all eyes are focused on the Massachusetts Statehouse on Beacon Hill. The FOF “Citzen Link” news reports of calls for “God’s intervention” — but turned to quotes and analysis from FOF Action’s state issues analyst; a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Family Institute, (MFI, a state political affiliate of FOF), and a spokesperson for VoteonMarriage, the coalition spearheaded by MFI and can be found on the MFI web site.

“The opposition has decided to use their considerable power and influence to see that the marriage amendment is defeated,” said Mona Passignano, state issues analyst for Focus on the Family Action. “And the people of Massachusetts who want the opportunity to vote on marriage need our help — and they desperately need God’s intervention.

This could be the shape of things to come if opponents of marriage equality succeed in getting the necessary 50 votes to send a referendum to the voters to amend the state constitution in 2008.  There may be a vote on Thursday, June 14th. If cooler heads are unable to peel away enough votes from the anti-gay hot heads the vote may be postponed by legislative leaders.

But if the referendum does, finally go to the voters, the national religious right will pour money and organizers into the state, pitting the citizens of Massachusetts against themselves, the way that they have done in other states, and the way that religious right “renewal groups” have done in the mainline Protestant churches.

The religious right needs only a quarter of the legislature — 50 votes — for the referendum to move onto the ballot in November 2008. As of now, there appear to be 57 votes   Democratic Governor Deval Patrick who was elected as an unequivocally pro-marriage equality candidate last year, is lobbying legislators heavily, and notes that if the initiative makes the ballot, it will be a major distraction from the work of the state.

Peter Dolan, statewide chair of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts reminds us  

There is a high probability that on Thursday the legislature will vote on whether the proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate marriage equality should appear on the November 2008 election ballot.

Mass Equality (one of our partner organization in Mass Alliance) has a tool on their website that allows you to find (State Rep & Senator] contact information if you don’t already know it:

If you have already done this, or still have some time to devote to this issue, take a few minutes to review these maps on the Mass Equality website … and contact people you know in districts where the legislator has not confirmed opposition to this proposed amendment to our state constitution.  Ask your friends and family members in those districts to call their legislators.

Let’s do what can now to preserve this right for same-sex couples, and avoid a costly and needlessly divisive ballot campaign over the next year and a half.

Earlier this year, Gov. Patrick said:

“Above all, this is a question of conscience. Using the initiative process to give a minority fewer freedoms than the majority, and to inject the state into fundamentally private affairs, is a dangerous precedent, and an unworthy one for this Commonwealth. Never in the long history of our model Constitution have we used the initiative petition to restrict freedom. We ought not start now.  

“For practical reasons as well, its time to move on. Whatever ones views of marriage equality, all can agree that we have far more pressing issues before the Legislature and the Commonwealth. It serves no public interest to focus more time and attention on this issue when there are under-served and under-performing schools, an infrastructure showing signs of sustained neglect, gun and gang violence on the rise, jobs and people leaving the state, a growing homeless population, soaring health care costs, a looming deficit and a score of other serious challenges crying out for the attention and the creativity of the government and the people. We cannot in good conscience ask these unmet needs to wait while a few individuals try to insert discrimination into our Constitution.

And more recently, the Associated Press reports:

…on Saturday [Patrick, who] became the first sitting governor to march in Boston’s gay pride parade, has warned of “great passions and great fear and great intolerance” among supporters of the amendment.

“All the (court) did was affirm an old principle that people come before their government as equals, that if the government is going to give marriage licenses to anyone, then they must give them to everybody, even if your choice of spouse is someone of the same gender,” Patrick said.

A very few people hold in their hands an historic opportunity — to end, perhaps forever, the division and hatred over this issue here in Massachusetts. Elected leaders so rarely get an opportunity such as this — to be a profile in courage in the best tradition outlined by John F. Kennedy in his classic book by that title, and to decide to be on the right side of history when it matters most.

Only a handful of votes will decide whether Massachusetts goes the way of another season of hateful division led by the religious right.

Written by fred

June 13th, 2007 at 1:26 pm

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The MA Dem Primary Season is Underway!

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Last week, 25 Massachusetts state legislators were named Theocrats of the Week for their co-sponsorship of a bill that would require teachers and any other school official to get permission from parents in order to discuss homosexuality — and a host of other matters in school.

State Rep. Paul Donato (D-Medford) apparently couldn’t take the heat and dropped his sponsorship (and lost his award to boot) Too late! He has already drawn a primary challenger for September: Cos, at Blue Mass Group reports:  

Patrick McCabe was born in neighboring Somerville, to a working class family; his grandparents were in Medford. He worked three jobs growing up, then went to West Point because “I wanted to go somewhere where they teach leadership.” After graduating, he served seven years in the Army, as a Ranger and then a company commander in the 101st Airborne in Kosovo. He went on tour with his wife in the USO, entertaining the troops for a couple of years, before returning to Medford. He now works as Organizing and Communications Director for SEIU local 1984.

McCabe is running to support health care, higher education, and other things important to working families. He is pro-choice, pro-[marriage] equality and supports funding stem cell research.

Written by fred

June 11th, 2007 at 8:10 pm

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Pics from the Panel in NYC

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Yesterday I moderated a panel discussion in New York hosted by IG Publishing as part of the launch of Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer’s new book Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion.

Freelance journalist Lindsay Beyerstein was on hand to blog John and Sheldon’s part of the panel and shoot some pics of John, Sheldon, Michelle Goldberg, and me.

Written by fred

June 7th, 2007 at 7:48 pm

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25 Massachusetts State Legislators Earn the Coveted Theocrat of the Week Award

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A bi-partisan group of at least 25 members of the Massachusetts state House and Senate have collectively earned the coveted Theocrat of the Week award for their co-sponsorship of a bill requiring teachers to get permission from theocrats in order to discuss homosexuality — not to mention the Catholic priest pedophilia scandal.

Written by fred

June 3rd, 2007 at 6:53 pm

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Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion

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The story of John Dorhauer’s new book, coauthored with his UCC colleague Sheldon Culver, began with Talk to Action. I think that is one of the main reasons why I was asked to contribute an introduction — which I am posting here in its (barring any last minute edits) entirety. As part of the launch, the publisher is hosting a panel discussion in New York City on June 6th featuring John and me, as well as authors Michelle Goldberg and Chris Hedges. (Details below)

In 2005, a few colleagues and I decided to create an international, interactive blog to counter the religious right — one of the most successful and powerful political and social movements in American history. One of my top priorities in picking featured writers was to find someone who could write knowledgeably and authoritatively about the attacks on the mainline churches by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, its satellite groups and those informed and influenced by their activities. The IRD’s operation on behalf of the financiers of neoconservatism and the religious right is an historic and catalytic force reshaping religion in America and in the world. There needed to be a place where people could come to find resources and compare notes — and I wanted the blog we were creating to be that place.

My search led me to John Dorhauer. We talked, and in the course of our conversation, I said that I thought that war had been declared on the mainline churches, a war of attrition, being played out in thousands of churches across the country, but that the churches aren’t acting like they are even aware of it. “If there is a war, and one side doesn’t know it…” John finished my sentence: “You lose.”

John seized the opportunity and started blogging at our new site, Talk to Action. Each week, for the past year and a half, he has tried to describe some aspect of what is going on, to to distill what he–and his colleague Sheldon Culver–have learned through their research and experiences as regional staff of the United Church of Christ. Along the way, John has named names, dates and places, and described the efforts to divide congregations and denominations that he and Sheldon–as well as church leaders across the country–have witnessed and documented.

Eventually, John’s posts caught the notice of the publisher of this book. I’m delighted that the hard work, and the dedication that he and Sheldon have shown for the churches they love is being recognized in this way. But more than that, I am delighted that you now hold in your hands the opportunity to benefit from their knowledge and experience.

Steeplejacking is a primer on how to engage in the battles that are already underway, as well as the ones that are yet to come. Indeed, this book may be most valuable to those who want to head off problems before they begin. You can find herein, information on how to recognize signs that an attack may be underway, and learn what kinds of steps to take to fight it off. John and Sheldon have drawn on an extensive body of scholarship and investigative journalism to help make sense of their own research and experiences — to offer a book of immediate practical use to members and leaders of mainline churches.

I think it is important to stress that differences and disagreements are normal in any democratic polity. The reason we have democratic institutions is not only to avoid tyranny, but to draw on the wisdom gleaned, and the consensus gained, from the fair airing of differing points of view. This is the hallmark of the governance of mainline protestant churches in America. But what we are seeing, and what this book seeks to address, is that there are people aligned with outside political and financial interests who have learned to abuse the openness of democratic polities; undermining and dividing the very institutions that democratic polities seek to mediate and govern. There are two main consequences of all of this. First, individual churches are being divided, and many are leaving their denominations altogether. (And as we have seen in the Episcopal and Methodist Churches, national scale schisms are also being attempted.) Second, the church in general is becoming less able to support the peace and social justice mission that they have so ably led for well over a century.

Wherever you may stand on the theological or political spectrum, may you find the courage to listen, and to learn from the experiences of John Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver. I say courage because what they report in this book may be hard for many to hear. It can be difficult to believe that such a cynical campaign is underway. It can be even harder if you happen to know any of the people involved. But as we all know, sometimes people have bad intentions. To consider the possibility is not to make an accusation; it is merely being open to the world as it is. Where courage comes in, is when we consider being open to things that could change the way we think, and change our relationships with our communities. Faced with just such a situation, we are fortunate to have wise and knowledgeable guides like John and Sheldon to show us the things we might rather not see, to help us cope with what we have learned, and help us become wiser and stronger for having been through it. I commend this book to you in that spirit.

To help kick off the publication of the book, there will be a panel discussion in New York City:  Wednesday, June 6th at 6:30 PM at the Tank, 279 Church Street (between Franklin and White), and is sponsored by Ig Publishing. Joining John and me for the discussion will be Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America; Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism

Written by fred

June 1st, 2007 at 1:53 am

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