Peter Montgomery's blog

Putin Ally Builds New Orthodox News Network On Fox Model

Slate’s Joshua Keating is out with a profile of Konstantin Malofeev, the Russian oligarch who has become a full-time activist and benefactor to “traditional family” causes in Russia and Europe. Malofeev worked with the Illinois-based World Congress of Families to organize last month’s social conservative conference at the Kremlin. In fact, Malofeev sounds a lot like an American Religious Right leader when he argues that Christians are facing totalitarian persecution in the U.S. and western Europe:  

“Just as Christians in the West in Ronald Reagan’s time helped us against the evil of communism, we now have to return our debt to Christians who are suffering under totalitarianism in the West,” he says. “This so-called liberalism, tolerance, and freedom, these are just words, but behind them you can see the totalitarianism.” 

Asked for examples of this totalitarianism, he cites legal battles over U.S. businesses not providing flowers or cakes for gay weddings and the use of tear gas against anti-gay-marriage protesters in France. “We saw all of this in the 1920s in the Soviet Union. We know how it starts when the protection of minorities becomes the policy of the state,” he says. 

Keating’s profile makes it clear that Malofeev, currently under sanctions from the EU and Canada for allegedly financing Ukrainian rebels, has big ideas. He is monarchist who wants to see a return of the Czars and the reconstruction of the Russian empire. “We the Russian people are a divided nation, just as the Germans were after the Second World War,” he told Keating.

One of his Malofeev’s big ideas is a new Orthodox conservative television network modeled on the Fox News.  “We want to show the news in the way that Orthodox people, who are 70 to 80 percent of the population, see it.” The Orthodox Church has been a valuable ally for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s nationalist and anti-gay policies, and it seems likely that Malofeev’s openly propagandist channel will not meet the same fate as other independent news networks under Putin’s regime.  

The new network is just a YouTube channel for now, but Malofeev has hired as a producer enigmatic former Fox News employee Jack Hanick. We first encountered Hanick when he joined National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown last year at a Moscow roundtable organized by Malofeev and opined that “God called on” Russia” to “stand up for traditional values” where the rest of the world had failed.

Hanick was part of the planning committee for the World Congress of Families event although he said in a recent interview that he was there as a journalist, not an activist. (World Congress of Families dropped its official role in the event after Russia invaded Crimea, although top officials from the group remained involved in their personal capacities, and other Religious Right leaders like Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage were not deterred from attending.)

In an interview with the Russian website Colta earlier this month, Hanick voiced his support for a Russian law banning the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors and said that he had thought that gay rights organizations would also support the law. He also praised Fox News founder Roger Ailes for pioneering of unabashedly biased journalism, envisioning a world where journalists act as lawyers, presenting either side of a case and clearly stating their allegiances.  Ailes, he gushed, “changed television forever.”

Ted Cruz, the Houston Hype, and the Dishonesty of the Anti-Equality Movement

Conservative religious leaders have a long track record of hyping supposed threats to religious liberty in America  specifically, to the religious liberty of conservative Christians. In fact, portraying Christians as a persecuted minority under siege by anti-freedom LGBT activists and secular humanists has become the right's primary strategy for reversing the advance of equality in America. But even in the long context of crying wolf over threats to religious freedom, Sen. Ted Cruz and his religious right allies have set new records for dishonest hype in their response to this week's controversy over subpoenas sent to a few religious leaders in Houston.

Cruz told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody that there is a "real risk" that preachers will be hauled off to jail for preaching against homosexuality, recycling an old and equally ludicrous charge that hate crimes laws would result in pastors being dragged from the pulpit.

Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now.

Cruz is lying. And he has lots of company promoting the Houston hype. Todd Starnes of Fox News charged, "There is a war over religious liberty in Houston, Texas." The Family Research Council's Ken Blackwell said it smacked of totalitarianism and said it suggested that it was "a domestic version of the terrorists outside of our country" who think "America is evil." Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared, "This is how religious liberty dies."

As exciting as it is to hear the alarm bells and read the hyperventilating emails, the truth is far less dramatic. Sorry, Sen. Cruz, but the government is not policing sermons for political correctness. It's not going to start tossing anti-gay preachers in jail.

So what is the real story?

The immediate cause of the ruckus was a subpoena sent by attorneys for the city of Houston to several pastors who had been active in opposition to the city's new anti-discrimination law. Conservatives ran a signature-gathering campaign to put the law before the voters, but city attorneys ruled that so many of the signatures were not valid that the effort did not qualify for the ballot.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right law firm, stepped in and sued the city over that decision. As part of the discovery process in the lawsuit, attorneys for the city sent subpoenas to five prominent pastors asking for sermons and other communications they had about the ordinance, the signature gathering effort, and the controversy over homosexuality and gender identity.

Here's the problem. The subpoena was sent to pastors who are not party to the lawsuit, and it asked for some materials that do not seem directly relevant to the determination of whether signatures were collected in accordance with the law. By giving pundits something to scream about, the subpoena was a gift to Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who thrive on promoting the myth of anti-Christian religious persecution in the U.S. And they have run with it.

On Friday the city narrowed the scope of their discovery request somewhat. And it's entirely possible that a judge will further limit the amount of materials the city can collect in the Religious Right's lawsuit. That's how our legal system works.

It's terribly inconvenient to the Religious Right's narrative that progressive religious leaders are among those who have criticized the Houston attorneys' subpoena. Among those who criticized the city's subpoena as troubling and overly intrusive were supporters of LGBT equality and church-state separation. Baptists of all stripes weighed in. Both progressive religious leaders and atheists publicly agreed. Even the ACLU! So much for the supposed enemies of religious freedom.

Even some religious conservatives have denounced the Houston hype. In reality, the entire episode undermines right-wing claims that religious liberty is hanging by a thread in America. Indeed, it demonstrates that Religious liberty is widely respected as a core constitutional principle and a fundamental American value — by people across the religious landscape and our fractured political spectrum. If only Ted Cruz and his allies were as committed to the constitutional and legal equality of Houston's, and America's, LGBT citizens.

This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post. 

Becket Fund Pretends It's Not Fighting The Culture Wars

Politico is up with a profile of the Becket Fund, one of the Religious Right legal groups that has pushed, via Hobby Lobby and related cases, to expand the definition of “religious liberty” to allow corporations and individuals as well as religious institutions to opt out of laws they say violate their religious beliefs.

The article by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux quotes Stanford Law School professor Michael McConnell saying nice things about Becket, but it doesn’t mention that Becket steered $1.6 million to Stanford and McConnell for a religious liberty law clinic that opened at the school last year.

In Politico, McConnell attributes to Becket the idea that religious freedom “is not – in most contexts – a culture war issue.” At a forum on religious liberty at the Newseum last year, Becket’s Mark Rienzi also suggested that religious liberty is not a culture war issue.

In reality, redefining “religious liberty” has become the central culture war issue and the primary legal and public relations strategy chosen by conservative evangelicals and their allies in the Catholic hierarchy to resist the advance of LGBT equality and restrict women’s access to reproductive care. Becket is at the center of this strategy. A corollary strategy is portraying Christians in America as the victims of religious persecution; Becket lawyers appear in Rick Santorum’s latest movie, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty.”

While it is true that support for religious freedom crosses political and religious lines, and it is admirable that Becket, unlike some other Religious Right legal groups, defends the freedom of religious minorities as well as conservative Christians, it is hard to accept with a straight face the idea that Becket’s lawyers are not culture warriors.

Let’s review some of Becket’s culture-war credentials:

  • In addition to Robert George, the intellectual force behind the Manhattan Declaration and the Catholic bishops’ “religious liberty” strategy, Becket’s board includes culture warriors like the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell and right-wing mega-funder Sean Fieler.
  • Earlier this year, Becket celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the Court upheld sectarian prayer at official public meetings and narrowly defined what would amount to unconstitutional religious coercion of people attending those meetings. Becket signaled that it hoped the decision would lead to the further dismantling of court rulings that uphold church-state separation.
  • Last year a Becket blog post about a legal victory for a Colorado voucher program that diverts public education funds to religious schools was headlined “Needy Kids 1, Anti-Catholic Bigots 0.”
  • In the fall of 2012, Becket co-sponsored an event for the Manhattan Declaration — itself a call to the culture-war barricades. According to an admiring report by Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, Becket President William Mumma “noted that in today’s culture wars ‘religion is not an accidental victim, it is the target’ for radical secularists. ‘When government tries to murder religion it may murder religious liberty but not religion,’ he promised, as faith will survive amid persecution.”
  • Becket’s executive director Kristina Arriaga joined hard-core culture warriors in supporting the Pray and A.C.T. group created by dominionist Lou Engle in advance of the 2010 elections.
  • In 2008 Becket ran a full-page ad in the New York Times charging that anti-Prop 8 protesters were “thugs” engaged in a “religious war” of violence and intimidation against the Mormon church; founder Kevin “Seamus” Hasson responded to criticism with a comparison of “radical secularist” Prop 8 protestors to radical Islamist terrorists.

Winners of Becket’s Canterbury Medal over the past decade include Robert George; ultraconservative Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who has waged what a local columnist called a “war on Obama” over the HHS mandate; Eric Mataxas, the author whose 2012 prayer breakfast speech delighted right-wing activists with its thinly veiled attacks on President Obama’s faith; and Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, a strong defender of the LDS Church’s anti-equality efforts.

One more quibble with the Politico story: its headline – “God’s Rottweilers” – does give a sense of the group’s intensity, but it also implies that Becket is working for God. Media coverage all too often portrays culture war issues as a struggle between religious people and “radical secularists” when in fact there are also many religious individuals and organizations actively opposed to the Religious Right’s agendas on LGBT equality, women’s access to reproductive care, and the relationship between church and state.

GOP 2016 Candidates Have Busy Religious Right Schedule Post-Values Voter Summit

The Values Voter Summit is thick with Republican presidential wannabes and members of Congress — a potent counter to recurring claims that the Religious Right is dead or dying as a political force. And the VVS is not the only place Republican candidates and politicians court Religious Right leaders and activists. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition had a pile of elected officials at its “Road to Majority” conference this summer. And, as we’ve reported, Republican presidential hopefuls make regular appearances at events convened by Christian-nation extremist David Lane and his Pastors and Pews network.

It’s a trend that isn’t slowing down any. David Catanese at US News & World Report reported this week that at least five potential presidential contenders — including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — will be appearing at David Lane events this fall.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister himself, is slated to participate in three of the upcoming "Pastors & Pews" settings, maintaining his close connection with religious conservatives.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has been the subject of increased White House speculation, will also travel to a "Pastors & Pews" event in Troy, Michigan next month. While Pence has said his focus remains on the first-term of his governorship in Indiana, the move shows his interest in testing the waters with an important Republican primary constituency.

Organized by conservative political consultant David Lane, the gathering of local pastors in cities across the country is designed to encourage and motivate them to participate in the political process.

“We have a constituency that we’re mobilizing. My goal is to restore America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and reestablish a Christian culture," Lane tells U.S. News.

Lane insists that America was founded as a Christian nation and believes the Bible should be made a primary textbook in public schools. But none of that is keeping prominent Republicans from courting the evangelical pastors that Lane wants to turn into a right-wing voter turnout machine. Lane told Catanese that he has Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal signed up for New Hampshire this week; Huckabee and Rand Paul in North Carolina next week; Pence and Rick Santorum in Michigan October 6-7, and Huckabee and Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford in Arkansas Oct 20-21. Huckabee and Ted Cruz already went to Michigan for a David Lane event in August.

Tim Sheets: Time For God's Chosen Ones To Rule And Reign With Him

As Religious Right activists descend on Washington, D.C., for this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, dominionist and self-described apostle Tim Sheets is calling on God’s chosen ones to be ever more bold and aggressive. Sheets is an Ohio-based pastor who, like his brother Dutch Sheets, is a partner of self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs. And while the Sheets brothers and Jacobs are not on the Values Voter Summit agenda, VVS host Family Research Council has partnered with their ministries in the Freedom Federation and its Awakening conferences, and in a 2012 campaign meant to influence the 2012 elections.

In a new Prophetic Insight column for Charisma Magazine, Tim Sheets delivers a call to arms:

The alarm clock of heaven is now ringing on the night stand of a sleeping church; time to rise, time to rise to the occasion, time to get up! The Lord says, "I have lions hidden in My remnant, not wolves. They will now rise to patrol and remove the defeated ones, wolf packs, that have come to scatter My flocks. My lions will be fierce, bold, aggressive and unintimidated. They will not flinch when adversaries advance. They will stand strong," says the Lord, "and fearless. 

"A new roar will be heard from My tribe announcing territorial dominion. A roar claiming geographical and spiritual jurisdiction shall now sound from My remnant; a roar establishing that the throne of the territory is occupied and guarded. A rule against hell's power shall be sounded. A roar of authority in My Name shall come against hell's intrusions. My called-out ones, My sent ones, will now become step-forward ones.

"They will move forward in My power. They will manifest their rights as sons and daughters of God ruling and reigning with Me. As intended, My heirs are stepping from the shadows of cultural bondage. They shall now display disdain of enemy princes, mights, thrones, dominions and rulers of darkness. No longer will they compromise in shared rule; no longer settling for cohabitation, no longer accepting shared occupancy.

For people not familiar with this kind of rhetoric, it is at the heart of the dominionst notion of a new generation of anointed followers “ruling and reigning” with God. Tim’s brother Dutch Sheets preaches that the church is meant to be God’s government on earth. Lou Engle, who has gained infamy for traveling to Uganda to “encourage” anti-gay leaders there, has said,

“The church’s vocation is to rule history with God…The same authority that has been given to Christ Jesus for overwhelming conquering and dominion has been given to the saints of the most high…We’re God’s rulers upon the earth…We will govern over kings and judges will have to submit…We’re called to rule! To change history! To be co-regents with God!”

That’s the same Lou Engle who introduced Rep. Michele Bachmann at the Family Research Council’s 2009 “prayercast” that called on God to defeat health care reform.

Back to Tim Sheets’ new column, where he channels a God who is ready to clear the decks of humanism and anti-Christ dominions:

"Passive appeasement has now been replaced with backbones of steel, lips set on fire with Holy ingots, and a shout of the King is in their voice indeed. Jericho's shout decree is in their mouth. Determined faith shall now be seen in My faithful ones as they march to remove demon philosophies and doctrines of devils from the land. No shared rule," says the Lord.

"My rule, My rule shall prevail. My words shall prevail. Power to prevail is being poured out. Power to prevail is soaking My remnant. Power to overcome hell's strategies; power to overcome demon doctrine and rebel government; power to more than conquer demon tactics is being released. Those who stand with Me shall see hell's fire misfire.

"So arise and rule. Rise and roar with My authority. I will fill your enemy's mouth with sand and their hearts with quicksand. They will find themselves stuck in their own mire. Roar with My freedom. Roar with My liberty. Let rejoicing roar out of Zion. March in to battle with confident peace.

"Great revival fire will now begin to burn through intercession-soaked regions as My awakening begins to roll. The regions will now become activated by My glory. My shaking has come. I am shaking earth. I am shaking heaven. Walls, strongholds, obstacles and hell's defenses are being shaken down, and My remnant is being shaken free. My shaking will open ancient wells of revival. The revival in the womb of My intercessors will now be birthed.

God, writes Tim Sheets, is also “removing arrows” of betrayal, deceit, and gossip from his “royal priesthood” in preparation for the coming battle:

"I am now coming to My remnant. And I am now coming as Lord Sabaoth-Lord of Angel Armies. Because of alignment with My purpose, I will now align My hosts to assist aggressively. There is now a convergence of the angel armies and the church's prayer army into a divine coalition; the coalition of My willing; those who run to battle, not from it.

"My earth and My heaven's armies will now challenge thrones of iniquity, thrones of idolatry, thrones of rebellion, thrones of witchcraft, thrones of humanism and antichrist dominions. Battalions are dispatched and await the decrees of My word through the saints to overthrow iniquitous thrones so My saints can sit with Me.

"My greatest campaign on Earth is due. Decree it," says the Lord. "Align your words with Mine, and angel forces shall align with you. Align with angel forces in your regions, and I will accelerate an alignment within your nation. Yes, revival is now. The harvest is now," says the Lord. "Victory is now," says the Lord. "Arise and pursue My cause. Arise and roar. Arise and fight. Arise and shine. Your light has come, and the glory of your God shines upon you."

If all this whets your appetite for more Tim Sheets, you can find more of him on YouTube.

Tony Perkins Uses Meriam Ibrahim To Promote Anti-Obama, Anti-Gay Agenda

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has excitedly touted a big “get” for this week’s Values Voter Summit: Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was persecuted by the Sudanese government over charges of apostasy. Evangelicals in the U.S. were part of the international chorus of voices who worked to keep a spotlight on Ibrahim’s plight, and Ibrahim may wish to thank some of the activists who advocated for her freedom.

But Perkins and FRC have another agenda entirely: They have been using Ibrahim as a prop in their relentless, over-the-top attacks on the Obama administration — and their claims that Christians in America are themselves facing government persecution.

Ibrahim’s vividly compelling case — for being a Christian, she was shackled to a prison floor with one small child while pregnant, then gave birth in jail — drew worldwide attention. Ibrahim had a Muslim father but was raised by a Christian mother, and in 2011 she married a Catholic American, Daniel Wali.  She was arrested last September after being charged with apostasy — abandoning the Muslim faith — and for adultery given that the court didn’t recognize her marriage to a Christian.  This May she was sentenced to receive 100 lashes and be hanged.

An Amnesty International campaign on her behalf generated more than a million signatures. European leaders condemned her treatment and called for her release. In the U.S., religious and political leaders called for her freedom. A petition on the White House website pushed by Perkins and others gained more than 50,000 signatures.

On May 15, the White House condemned her sentence in a statement by National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden, which urged the government of Sudan to respect Ibrahim’s religious freedom andto respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.” The State Department also expressed concerns in May; Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement in June.

Ibrahim was freed on June 23, then re-arrested and detained briefly when she tried to leave the country. She was sheltered by the U.S. embassy for about a month until she was permitted to leave Sudan in late July. She is now living with her husband and children in New Hampshire.

Perkins has repeatedly used Ibrahim’s plight as a way to hammer the Obama administration. 

In late May, Perkins fumed:

While many international groups have taken up efforts to pressure the Sudanese government to release Meriam and her children, the Obama administration has said little, and done nothing.

Think about this: two innocent American children are imprisoned abroad as their life hangs in the balance. If President Obama will not act in a situation like this, what will he act upon? Does Obama care?

Fox News’ hosts got in on the act, even as its own website was contradicting those claims.  A May 31 Fox News story by Joshua Rhett Miller was headlined, “US 'fully engaged' in case of Sudanese woman sentenced to die for Christian faith.” It included a quote from the State Department:

Through the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department, we have communicated our strong concern at high levels of the Sudanese government about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson wrote FoxNews.com in an email. “We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight. We have conveyed these views to the Government of Sudan.”

Yet the video at the top of that very story on the Fox News website featured Perkins saying the U.S. government was doing “so far, nothing that we can tell” other than condemning Ibrahim’s treatment. Megyn Kelly fumed that the State Department had “refused to say bupkis” about what the U.S. government was doing. If Perkins or Kelly were aware of the possibility that U.S. officials may have believed that quiet diplomacy would be more effective, they gave no hint of it.

Other conservatives piled on: On June 11, Nina Shea at the Hudson Institute wrote, “And, as Ibrahim looks toward an appeals court review of her case, President Obama and the U.S. State department have been silent about it.”

On June 12, FRC and Concerned Women for America held a rally in front of the White House. Perkins was joined by Obama-bashers Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Trent Franks. Perkins’ remarks were wildly inflammatory.  “There was a time when people of faith could sit down inside the White House and talk about these issues,” he said. Claiming that administration inaction was threatening the lives of Ibrahim’s children, Perkins said, “If this president is content with the blood of small children on his hands, then God help him.”

Perkins continued throughout the summer to complain that the Obama administration was doing nothing to help Ibrahim, even though he was told otherwise on his own radio show by a Republican congressman. On June 23, Perkins had Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., on his radio show to talk about the case. As Brian reported in RWW, Meadows undermined Perkins’ attacks on the administration:

Asked if the State Department was working to help Ibrahim and her children, Meadows reported that the U.S. has in fact worked vigorously behind the scenes to free Ibrahim: “I got off of a call not more than an hour or so ago and a number of agencies across the board are working hand-in-glove to make sure that this is handled quickly and efficiently. And I am heartened by what I heard on that phone call and really encouraged that this is a government that cares about people. Sometimes I wish they would speak up louder and quicker, but I can tell you behind the scenes a number of agencies are working to make sure that they are safe.”

In July, Perkins testified about the case at a congressional subcommittee hearing. One of his fellow panelists, Grover Rees, who served as a U.S. ambassador during the George W. Bush presidency, said that even though Ibrahim’s husband had said he was rebuffed by a U.S. consular officer when he sought help, Rees believed that government agencies were doing what they could. Rees said that “the State Department seems to be making amends, supplying appropriate attention and care.”

Perkins has even kept up the Obama-bashing rhetoric since Ibrahim’s release and safe passage to the U.S. In August, Perkins cited the case as a reason people think Obama is a Muslim.

Perkins isn’t alone. In August, the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer allied himself with ISIS’s characterization of Iraq’s Yazidi minority and griped, “Obama will fight for Satan-worshipers but not for Christians!”

ISIS has been beheading Christian children and crucifying Christians by the side of the road. Christians for months have been fleeing Iraq in droves ahead of the murderous hordes of Al Qaeda. And Obama yawns.

When Christian wife and mother Meriam Ibrahim is imprisoned in Sudan for being a Christian, and forced to give birth in a filthy jail cell while shackled to the wall, Obama yawns. While Christian pastor and American citizen Saeed Abedini languishes in the hellhole of an Iranian prison, Obama yawns.

But when worshipers of Lucifer get in trouble at the hands of the same blood-thirsty savages, suddenly Obama springs into action.

What this reveals about the president’s religious sympathies I will leave for others to decide. But it can’t be good.

Real Persecution vs the Religious Right’s Persecution Complex

We have previously suggested that American religious conservatives should be ashamed of equating their policy disagreements or losses in legal disputes with the kind of brutal religious persecution experienced by Meriam Ibrahim and so many Christians and other religious minorities around the globe. But Perkins and others have been happy to use her case to promote their narrative that Christianity in the U.S. is on the verge of being criminalized.

Advocates for LGBT equality are often portrayed as persecutors of Christians, as in Perkins’ statement in June that he was wondering, “When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?” As part of FRC’s announcement that Ibrahim would be speaking at the Values Voter Summit, Perkins said: 

"Meriam's bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death has touched the hearts of people in every nation. Her incredible example of courage should inspire Christians in America to be bold and courageous in their faith as we witness growing religious hostility here in our country.”

At a July 23 hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, Perkins said:

“It is difficult to look at these facts [about Ibrahim’s case] and not understand then in the light of the current administration’s unilateral reinterpretation of religious freedom domestically. This administration believes religious beliefs should be quarantined to private spaces and excluded from the public space. This truncated view of religious freedom domestically, more accurately described as the freedom of worship, is matched by the administration’s failure to even address the growing threats to religious freedom internationally.”

In August, Dusty Gates, who works for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, wrote in Crisis magazine that liberals were uncomfortable supporting Ibrahim because they don’t support religious freedom in the U.S.

Naturally, this victory for freedom (liber) is being celebrated, at least to some degree, by liberals of all kinds. A human being freed from oppression, especially from such extreme persecution as Ibrahim faced, seems to be a grand slam for the liberal cause. But with the Ibrahim case, as well as the larger situation of global anti-Christian persecution, is causing liberals to sweat a little. Just as they stand up to cheer, it seems that their impending jubilation is cut short; subdued by a palpable fear that maybe they shouldn’t be celebrating the thing they want to celebrate. “A victory for freedom? Hoora… Oh wait, for religious freedom? Uh oh….”

Gates even slammed the welcome given Ibrahim by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, saying the Nutter’s comparison of Ibrahim to Rosa Parks rather than to other religious martyrs was “a subtle attempt to hijack Ibrahim’s story: taking it out of its full context and using it as a vehicle for the liberal agenda.”

In June, Christian author Benjamin Corey called out right-wing claims of religious persecution in the United States:

Meanwhile in the United States, we’re going about our daily lives panicking with cries of religious persecution as well…although, they’re not the cries one would think. Instead of a collective focus on wide-spread human rights abuses and religious persecution in places like Sudan, North Korea where an estimated 33,000 Christians have been incarcerated in prison camps, or the estimated thousands who actually die for their religious faith each year, we’re focused on a first world version of persecution that’s not really persecution at all.

When A&E temporarily made the decision to disassociate with Phil from Duck Dynasty over anti-gay comments he made in the media, it was labeled as “persecution”.

When public business owners in the baking industry have insisted on the right to discriminate and faced just accountability, it becomes another example of “persecution”.

We even have potential presidential candidates perpetuating such a persecution complex, with figures like Rick Santorum falsely stating that people who oppose same sex marriage are being sent to re-education camps.

With all of the legitimate and horrifying human rights violations occurring in the world, some in America have sadly adopted a very first world, privileged, and self-centered version of persecution. Instead of doubling efforts to shed light on international abuses, we’ve seen a flood of first world persecution claims– from internet trolls right up to the right wing members of government.

…Let’s reserve the “persecution” word for the real thing– such as what we saw in the case of Meriam Ibrahim.

Using Ibrahim to Attack LGBT Human Rights

Perkins has also used Meriam Ibrahim’s case to promote his attacks on the Obama administration’s advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people who face brutal persecution in many countries. In June, he wrote,

President Obama, who can't find a few minutes to call for Meriam Ibrahim's release from a Sudanese prison, had plenty of time to fly to New York and fundraise for homosexual activists.

In a late August direct mail piece, Perkins complained angrily about the “utterly shocking” fact that the rainbow flag was flown over the US embassy in Israel during a gay pride celebration.

“This would be outrageous enough all by itself—but the reality of the big picture is more frightening by far. The global Obama crusade for gay rights is happening against a backdrop of the total collapse of his real foreign policy responsibilities. We are witnessing an unprecedented level of anti-Christian persecution around the world, a colossal, international, multifront assault on religious freedom. Yet in response to these atrocities, the administration has remained all but silent….This administration is pressuring other nations to adopt Barack Obama’s radical gay agenda—but not to observe the most basic universal human right of religious freedom.”

The rest of Perkins’ letter goes back and forth between portraying the administration as fixated on gay rights and unconcerned about persecuted Christians. “We had no choice but to stand up for Meriam — because the Obama administration wouldn’t, and didn’t.”

“I urge you to stand with FRC Action again today as we fight back against the Obama administration’s outrages — their devotion to the cause of sexual immorality and their simultaneous indifference toward Christians suffering persecution for their faith.”

All the while Perkins portrays advocacy for the human rights of LGBT people — who certainly face brutal persecution in many parts of the world — as extremism.

When we see the rainbow flag of the homosexual movement flying over our embassies in Tel Aviv, London, and Prague, we can see with our own eyes what an extremist is sitting in the Oval Office.

Similar language appears in a September 6 fundraising email from Perkins, which says in part:

With President Obama promoting the homosexual movement around the world through the Obama administration, yet not working to prevent Christians from being persecuted, jailed, even tortured and killed for their faith, FRC Action’s work has grown more important than ever before.

As far as we can tell, Perkins and other Religious Right leaders haven’t raised much of a ruckus about the persecution of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who faces 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes after being convicted of “insulting Islam” by calling for religious tolerance, or about the imprisonment in Indonesia of Alexander Aan for publicly declaring himself an atheist.

The Values Voter Summit

Meriam Ibrahim may consider an appearance at the extremism-heavy Values Voter Summit as an opportunity to thank the thousands of Americans who advocated on her behalf while she was suffering in a Sudanese prison cell, and to celebrate the freedom of religion that she and her family enjoy in America.

Unfortunately, her attendance at the Values Voter Summit will put her in the company of people like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, who argues that the First Amendment does not protect religious minorities in the U.S., and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who argues that Christians whose beliefs on the equality of LGBT people differ from his do not deserve “true religion freedom.” And it will include many activists, like the Benham Brothers, who cry anti-Christian persecution despite their own record of working to restrict the religious and political freedoms of others.

Americans of every political and religious stripe can admire Ibrahim’s exceptional strength and courage in the face of real persecution. The same cannot be said for those who are trying to exploit her moral authority to advance their own political agendas.

Two Million Bikers Fall 99.9% Short

The group Two Million Bikers to DC organized its second annual rally on the National Mall yesterday, which, like its predecessor, fell far short of the goal expressed in the group’s name. Organizers said the event was meant to honor people killed in the 9/11 attacks as well as first responders and veterans – presumably that’s how they sold it to corporate sponsor Budweiser – but rally speakers also used the event to rail against President Barack Obama, Congress, and an array of right-wing targets, including gun control, Common Core educational standards, the EPA, regulation of small businesses, the destruction of free enterprise, the Bundy Ranch standoff between the BLM and armed protestors, and Obama’s purportedly fraudulent re-election.

Although organizers got pre-event press promising “thousands” of bikers – not 2 million – descending on the nation’s capital, I didn’t see more than a couple hundred at the event’s peak. Fewer than 50 were left to hear the final speakers. More than one speaker took note of the dispiritingly small crowd.

Those who made it to the Mall did get to hear some personal remembrances of 9-11 from a New York firefighter, a paramedic, and a clergyman who worked at Ground Zero, and a mother whose son joined the military in the wake of 9/11 and was killed overseas.

But uniting them and other speakers was hostility toward the Obama administration and anger at the perception that the president will not clearly identify Islamist extremism as the nation’s enemy. Among the conspiracy theories heard from the podium were the claim from Second Amendment activist and self-described “gun chick” Jan Morgan that the U.N. small arms treaty was about disarming Americans, and the assertion by “Pope” Dan Johnson that “NATO came together in a meeting and this administration signed that NATO pact to tell Christians or to tell any religion what they can and cannot do.” Morgan said she didn’t believe Obama had actually won re-election because she knows about votes counted in Barcelona, Spain, and dead people who voted six times.

Johnson, a Kentucky coordinator for the biker group, contrasted his remarks with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “I have a nightmare,” he yelled. America, he said, is living a nightmare at Ground Zero and a nightmare in the White House. The mother of a fallen serviceman said of President Obama, “We must get rid of him…we must get him out of our White House before he takes this nation down.”

Right-wing pundit Wayne Dupree railed against the media, which he said has given Obama a pass for six years. He complained that conservative activists have been demonized as racists. “This administration is racist,” he said. “Everybody in there is racist.”

“Entertainment” was provided by Madison Rising, a metal band that played songs they describe as patriotic. One in their first set contained the chorus, “We don't want to have to bring out guns but we're ready if it goes there.” That sort of rhetoric mirrors the theme of Larry Klayman’s failed revolutionary rally in D.C. last year, at which Two Million Bikers organizer Belinda Bee spoke. Manny Vega, a Marine vet and self-described “Three Percenter” also spoke at both rallies.

Vega, who as one of the final speakers faced a very sparse crowd, seemed bummed out by the small turnout. “There should be millions of people,” he said, recalling photos of Vietnam War protests filling the entire mall. “What are we doing? A couple patriots out here.” Vega said more truck drivers, waitresses, bikers, and mechanics need to get involved and get elected.

“I’ll be damned if I am 30 years old and I’m cursing the politicians in that Capitol Hill. My son’s going to be 30 years old gearing up, buying weapons, buying their armored vests. Who’d have thought that we’d live in a country where the American citizens are arming up to fight a tyrannical government, ‘cuz that is what it is. Who’d have thought? How many people here have aligned themselves with militias or are already prepping to go to war with the federal government? [Someone shouted ‘don’t raise your hands,’ but some folks did] To go to war? Who should go to war?  No American citizen should go to war. I’ll tell you something, it’s changed. The relationship between the people and those bastards over there that are supposedly supposed to represent us. And they are not doing it.”

The event was also sponsored by Dinesh D’Souza’s “America: Imagine the World Without Her.” The day before the rally, D’Souza tweeted, “On 9/11 anniversary tomorrow I am speaking at huge biker rally on the national mall in Washington DC.” He sold some books -- nothing close to the huge number that his optimistic publisher had brought– and took pictures with fans. Unfortunately, I missed D’Souza’s comments when I took a break, but based on the speaker who followed him, part of D’Souza’s speech was spent slamming President Obama’s recent remarks about ISIS/ISIL.

Rick Perry And Right Wing Relationship Problems?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry ran his campaigns for governor in close alliance with Religious Right leaders in the state, and he launched his 2012 presidential bid with a prayer rally organized by dominionist leaders. All that makes it a bit surprising that the “Take Back America” survey sent out by Perry’s political action committee RickPAC today does not ask about abortion, gay rights, or religious liberty, the big three of Religious Right groups’ organizing and fundraising efforts.

The email from Perry says “RickPAC is dedicated to electing conservatives who will work to secure our nation’s border, reduce the debt for future generations, and – unlike so many in Washington – focus on achieving results.” The survey asks recipients to choose “the top three issues that you believe are most important to people in your community.” The options given are:

  • Taxes
  • Securing our border
  • Economy & Jobs
  • Military & Veteran Affairs
  • Government spending
  • 2nd Amendment Rights
  • Healthcare & Obamacare costs

A second question asks whether unemployment, high taxes, the cost of health care, or something else is the most important economic issue facing America today. Rounding out the survey are two yes-or-no questions asking whether low taxes promote economic growth and whether electing conservative candidates is important to getting America back on track.

The survey may reflect Perry strategists’ belief that potential donors to his PAC are more motivated by Tea Party issues than traditional social issues – as well as the fact that some Religious Right leaders and GOP strategists have been working hard to convince conservative evangelicals that lower taxes and small government are religious issues just like opposition to abortion and gay rights.

Perry may have a hard time mobilizing supporters for a second presidential bid, and not only because fellow Texan Ted Cruz is now a hero to right-wing activists. In the Washington Times on Monday, right-wing columnist Steve Deace slammed Perry in a column that began, “Hey, did you hear about the Republican governor running for president in 2016 who just hired two of the GOP consultants conservatives loathe the most?”

Deace said conservatives have been giving the “new” Rick Perry a second look, and were liking what they saw. But he says Perry has blown it by hiring Henry Barbour and Steven Schmidt, two consultants he says “rank in the top two of just about every grassroots conservative’s excrement list.” Deace quotes Richard Viguerie saying recently that “Governor Perry’s friends are the enemies of conservatives.”

Deace faults Barbour for using “despicable Obama/Alinsky type” tactics in helping Thad Cochran beat Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel in a hotly contested Senate primary. And he slams Schmidt for criticizing Tea Party “kooks” and for working to get Republicans to endorse marriage equality.

“That means Mr. Perry, who began his 2012 presidential campaign with a national call to repentance (from sin) and the backing of several Christian conservative leaders, is now taking counsel from a guy that wants to celebrate what Christians believe to be immoral.”

Speaking of 2012, there’s some fine print at the bottom of the RickPAC email:

This email was sent by: Romney for President Inc., 138 Conant St., 1st Floor, Beverly, MA 01915.

This message reflects the opinions and representations of RickPAC, Inc., and is not an endorsement by Mitt Romney. You are receiving this email because you signed up as a member of Mitt Romney's online community …

 

TBN Leaders Broadcast From Bahamas Shortly After Anti-Gay Backlash Halts Pride Event

Yesterday, Trinity Broadcasting Network recorded its flagship Praise the Lord program from a waterfront resort in the Bahamas. Among those who joined the broadcast were Religious Right activist Samuel Rodriguez and anti-gay “ex-gay” singer Donnie McClurkin. TBN’s visit to the Bahamas came shortly after a gay pride event scheduled for this past weekend at a private resort in the Bahamas was cut short in response to a backlash that reportedly included death threats and vitriol on local talk shows.

Among those who slammed the pride event and the LGBT movement in general was Dr. Myles Munroe, who heads Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Munroe has hosted shows on TBN in the past and been a guest on some of the network’s major shows. Over the weekend he put out a six-page statement attacking the LGBT rights movement and saying it has “hijacked” and “raped” the civil rights movement. He called the gay pride event a “celebration of insanity.”

“I think the attempt to equate the historical civil rights movement with the demands for the right to dignify, glorify and accept as normal the practice of a lifestyle that could render the human race, for which they sacrificed, extinct is illogical, dishonest, and is the abuse of the blood and imprisonment of many.

“It’s a hijacking of the gains paid for by the blood of honorable men and women for an unnatural, human-destroying behavior.”

story this morning quotes a spokesperson for the resort advertised as the site of the pride event denying that any event had been booked.

The Ministry of Tourism and Manager for Religious Tourism celebrated the TBN visit.  A Ministry of Tourism update in the Bahamas Weekly said that Grand Bahamas “remains the choice destination for repeat International religious events such as Dr. Myles Munroe’s Global Leadership Summit and Angela Pipersburgh’s International Womens Summit.”

Scott Lively Takes On 'Dangerous Heresy' Of Gay-Affirming Christians

Something that might bug Religious Right leaders even more than the expansion of marriage equality in the U.S. is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality and LGBT equality among Christians.

The latest salvo against Christians who challenge anti-gay interpretations of scripture comes from Scott Lively. Lively originally gained notoriety for his book "The Pink Swastika," which blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazi Germany, but may now be more well known for his travels fanning anti-gay sentiment and encouraging the passage of anti-gay legislation in Uganda and around the globe. Earlier this month Lively lectured prominent Christian singer Vicky Beeching, who recently came out as a lesbian, for having “given in to the lie that she is a homosexual.” Lively asserted, “There’s no such thing as a gay person.”

His latest project is a brochure that is meant to take on gay-affirming Christians — even Christians who decry the Religious Right’s obsession with homosexuality but agree that it is a sin. Lively is promoting the brochure on Matt Barber’s wildly anti-gay BarbWire as “An Open Letter to Christian Leaders in America.”

The brochure includes 18 short interpretations of Bible passages that Lively says make his point that homosexuality is not just another sin, but “the harbinger of God’s wrath.”

In his “open letter” he portrays the LGBT equality movement as pursuing a long-term “blueprint for supplanting Biblical morality with sexual anarchy — in essence, the overthrow of family-centered Christian civilization.” The only remaining barrier to gay “cultural hegemony” is the Christian Church, which is why gay rights activists are trying to destroy it from within. Lively’s brochure warns:

A dangerous modern heresy called “gay theology” is infiltrating the Christian church at an alarming pace. Many believers, fearful of being called “haters,” are trivializing the threat by calling homosexuality “just another sin.”

Lively uses his open letter to promote himself as a speaker, spokesman, and workshop leader. But, he insists, “This is not a marketing campaign.”

We are not offering the brochure for sale. We simply want your help to quickly disseminate the brochure to every Christian leader in America. We will provide as many copies of this brochure as you can use at our cost of $.07 per piece plus shipping and whatever donation you feel led to offer. Alternatively, if you provide us an up-to-date list of pastors or other leaders we will send it to them ourselves (but please provide help with postage). Or if you desire to print your own supply, we will send you the artwork. If for any reason you dislike the brochure, we exhort you to take action in your own way to spread the warning and rally believers against this dangerous modern heresy called “gay theology.”

Lively’s brochure is produced by Defend the Family International, an arm of his Abiding Truth Ministries.

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