Peter Montgomery's blog

World Congress Of Families Swag: Skousen's '5000 Year Leap'

It’s not surprising that the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City would have a particularly Mormon flavor, given that the city is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  The conference's opening session on Tuesday morning included a keynote by Mormon Apostle Russell Ballard during which he played a video of children singing a song about Mormon theology and explained how the church’s commitment to “traditional family” is grounded in its religious beliefs about eternal marriage.

WCF registration bags included a copy of the Church’s 1995 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which argues marriage is essential to God’s eternal plan. It also promotes conservative ideas about the complementarity of the sexes, saying, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The proclamation states,

By divine design fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Also included in the registration bag was a copy of right-wing Mormon author W. Cleon Skousen’s “The 5000 Year Leap,” a 1981 book that zoomed to the top of best-seller-lists in 2009 when Glenn Beck discovered it and began gushing about it on his show. Alexander Zaitchik wrote about it for Salon:

What has Beck been pushing on his legions? “Leap,” first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah’s George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades (and where Beck spoke at this year’s annual fundraiser).

But more interesting than the contents of “The 5,000 Year Leap,” and more revealing for what it says about 912ers and the Glenn Beck Nation, is the book’s author. W. Cleon Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen’s own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”

As Beck knows, to focus solely on “The 5,000 Year Leap” is to sell the author short. When he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen had authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy. It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck’s bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center. It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.

Sarah Posner noted Skousen’s connections with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch:

When the elder Skousen died in 2006, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), paid tribute to him on the Senate floor, and even included a poem he wrote about his friend. Hatch detailed how Skousen helped launch his political career, sending a letter to 8,000 "friends," urging them to support Hatch's 1976 Senate candidacy. According to a 1980 account in the New York Times by the inimitable Molly Ivins, Skousen's Freeman Institute was active in several other Republican campaigns as well, including one to unseat Sen. Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who chaired the Church Commission that investigated intelligence abuses in the wake of Watergate.

"From that first campaign," Hatch went on in his tribute on the Senate floor, "to every day I have served in the U.S. Senate--Cleon has been there for me, through highs and lows--buoying me up, giving suggestions, discussing principles and issues, and above all else being a true, supportive friend. I can never overstate what his support has meant to me throughout my years of service." Hatch added that Skousen's writings, including The 5,000 Year Leap, "have been used by foundations, and in forums across America for many years. His writings and words leave an indelible legacy of knowledge and beliefs that have touched many people and will continue to inspire and educate generations to come."

The Hatch connection brings us full circle, as this morning’s session at the World Congress of Families ended with a, um, memorable rendition of a song written by Hatch

Anti-Gay Warm-Up Act To World Congress Of Families: 'This Is War'

On Monday, the day before the World Congress of Families conference opened in Salt Lake City, some of America’s most strident anti-gay voices convened for an all-day session they dubbed #Stand4Truth.

Turnout was small — about 50 during the day, a bit more in the evening — and the lunchtime press conference was delivered to a room devoid of press, but organizers filmed the speakers in hopes of turning the footage into a documentary or other resource for anti-gay activists.

The 11-hour-plus event (counting short breaks for lunch and dinner) was hosted by Sandy Rios of the American Family Association, one of the groups sponsoring the gathering. Also sponsoring the event was the Family Research Council, whose senior fellow Peter Sprigg delivered the morning keynote; Rev. Bill Owens of the National Organization for Marriage-affiliated Coalition of African American Pastors delivered the afternoon keynote.

Sprigg, who is also scheduled to speak at WCF on Wednesday, set the tone for the day by challenging the “gay identity paradigm” and urging social conservatives to avoid as much as possible using the words “gay” and “lesbian” because he said they refer to someone’s innate identity. Sprigg urged activists to separate sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and a person’s self-identification and instead to focus on gay relationships, which he called “objectively harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large.”

He was also one of many speakers who insisted that advocacy for anti-gay policies is not motivated by hate but by love. For example, Sprigg said that while he mourns the gay men who died of AIDS, “the reason they died is because they chose to have sex with men, not because conservatives told them not to. We do no one a kindness by denying the truth.”

Sprigg, who argued against legal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, was one of several speakers who spoke, directly or indirectly, in opposition to this year’s “Utah compromise,” in which the Mormon Church agreed to support passage of limited LGBT nondiscrimination protections in return for religious liberty exemptions. Sprigg warned that compromise with the LGBT rights movement is “unwise” and “unsustainable.”

Also arguing for an uncompromising stance and “zero affirmation of the gay rights paradigm” was Americans For Truth About Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera, who urged anti-gay activists to stop playing defense and go on the offense, reclaiming the moral high ground by always opposing homosexual behavior. One way to go on offense, he said, would be by proposing state bans on hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youth.

Other notable anti-gay activists who addressed the gathering included Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver (via video) and Brian Camenker of MassResistance. Camenker said he respectfully disagreed with those who called for always speaking the truth in love. “I think there is a place for being insulting and degrading, and I think I can back that up by scripture,” he said. “I think we have to look at this as a war, not as, you know, a church service.” Rios agreed, saying, “I do think that evangelicals have gotten a little bit soft and not understood warfare.”

Camenker said that in the Old Testament, “God has two sets of laws regarding how you treat your fellow man.” One is how you treat your neighbor, who you might work with and forgive. “There’s a whole different set of rules for people who want to tear down society, who want to push immorality, who want to tear down the moral structure of society.” That set of rules is “very brutal,” he said. “God says those people who want to do that must be destroyed.”

He said the LGBT movement is a “house of cards” that is “held together by force, intimidation, and propaganda” and can be destroyed by standing up to it, the way communism was. “We are in a war,” he repeated, saying of gay-rights advocates, “They would send us to concentration camps if they could.”

Among the other participants were North Carolina’s Michael Brown, Houston Pastor Dave Welch, ex-gay therapists Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, and former California lieutenant governor and anti-porn activist John Harmer.

One premise of the #Stand4Truth gathering is that the LGBT movement and their allies in the media suppress evidence about the causes of homosexuality, the medical and mental health harms associated with it, and the possibility of change through “authentic” ex-gay therapy. The evening session began with a panel seemingly designed to portray LGBT people as lost and miserable: a few “ex-gays,” a person who experienced “transgender regret” and Canadian activist Dawn Stefanowicz, an author whose book “Out From Under” recounts growing up with a gay father and his many sex partners and is portrayed as a cautionary tale against gay parenting.

More to come.

New Anti-Gay Initiatives In Europe Backed By American Religious Right

We wrote last week about the resurgent anti-LGBT, anti-contraception and anti-reproductive choice Religious Right political movement in Europe and their mutually supportive relationships with their American counterparts – part of an increasingly global culture war targeting LGBT people and reproductive health. As conservative culture warriors from around the world arrive in Salt Lake City for the World Congress of Families, there’s new evidence of this trans-Atlantic cooperation.

A group of European activists has submitted a proposed initiative under the European citizens’ initiative process to define “family” in European Union law. Marriage would be defined as a union between a man and a woman, and family would be based on marriage and/or descent.

The effort, being organized as the “Mum, Dad & Kids” initiative, includes this nugget in its legislative language, following a recitation of references to family in international agreements and familiar assertions that families are not about the feeling between adults but the relationship between parents and children:

It therefore appears adequate and reasonable to provide a specific legal status with specific protections to the union between a man and a woman; It appears equally adequate and reasonable that an equal status and equal protections should not be provided to other life forms that are different in fact and purpose from marriage.

The proposal would allow member states to have more inclusive definitions of marriage within their borders, but they would not be recognized under European Union law, and other countries would not be required to recognize them.

More specifically, the Mum, Dad & Kids proposal would eliminate Article 2 (2) of a 2004 European Union directive on freedom of movement within member states, which includes as part of its definition of family member a person in a registered partnership relationship that one of the member states treats as the equivalent of marriage. Similarly, it would eliminate from a 2012 directive on support for victims of crime a definition of family members that includes “the spouse, the person who is living with the victim in a committed intimate relationship, in a joint household and on a stable and continuous basis, the relatives in direct line, the siblings and the dependents of the victim.”

It is worth noting here that the World Congress of Families says it would never support a policy that “brings harm to innocent individuals.”

The Citizens’ Committee proposing the Mum, Dad & Kids initiative includes people connected to the World Congress of Families and American Religious Right groups. Among the members of the committee are:

Hildingsson opposes promotion of “gender ideology” and opposed the marriage equality referendum in Ireland. Her group worked with a global coalition of conservative groups to oppose an inclusive definition of family in the United Nations during deliberations on sustainable development goals. This summer, she met with Orthodox Church leaders from Europe and Russia to strategize against efforts by the European Union that aim, in the words of a report on the meeting, “to destroy the traditional notions of marriage and family and to legalize surrogate motherhood and abortion."

  • Grégor Puppinck directs the European Centre for Law and Justice, an arm of the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice. He was president of One of Us, an anti-abortion citizens’ initiative campaign – essentially an effort to grant full legal personhood to an embryo -- that was ultimately rejected by the European Commission but was an effective organizing, social media, and list-building effort for its promoters, collecting 1.8 million signatures. The One of Us Federation is now planning its first European Forum in Paris in January 2016.
  • Roger Kiska has a trifecta of Religious Right associations: he got his law degree from the far-right Catholic Ave Maria School of Law, worked at the European affiliate of the American Center for Law and Justice, and now serves in Vienna as senior counsel and deputy director of ADF International – the global arm of the U.S. based Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
  • Ludovine de La Rochère, president of La Manif Pour Tous, the group that organized massive anti-marriage-equality rallies in France and has inspired anti-gay activists in Europe and Russia. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage has worked closely with La Manif Pour Tous.
  • Edit Frivaldszky led efforts in Hungary for the One of Us initiative, and now directs the Human Dignity center, a non-profit organization for the protection of family and life.” She has been promoting a CitizenGo petition against sex education under the banner of stopping the spread of “gender ideology”— the European right-wing umbrella term for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

World Congress of Families Culture Warriors Battle Repro, LGBT Rights In Europe With Help From US Friends

This is one in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here.

Americans have long viewed Europe as a stronghold of progressive social policies. But as BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reported last year, there is a resurgent Religious Right political movement in Europe whose advocates draw moral, strategic, and financial support from their allies in the United States, including the American Center for Law and Justice, Alliance Defending Freedom and Personhood USA.

In Europe the culture war is taking the form of attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights — even sex education — or what conservative Catholics and their allies collectively deride as “gender ideology.” Right-wing groups are active at the European Union, Council of Europe, European Parliament and other international institutions. The ACLJ’s European branch led the signature drive for the “One of Us” campaign — an anti-abortion effort that used a new European Citizens Initiative process. The initiative was rejected but the organizing that went into it has energized anti-choice activists — the Knights of Columbus called it “the revitalization of Europe.”The World Congress of Families facilitates this reactionary cross-fertilization with conservative groups from around the world.

Earlier this year, the Croatia-based Center for Education, Counseling and Research (CESI) released a report on the growing threats to sexual and reproductive health and rights in the European Union which also documented global connections among conservative groups and activists.  Also this year, voters in Slovakia passed a referendum to put a ban on marriage by same-sex couples in the country’s constitution, an effort supported by American groups including the WCF, Alliance Defending Freedom, CitizenGo, Personhood USA, and the World Congress of Families. Several years ago, many of the same people signed a petition supporting Romania’s constitutional amendment on marriage, which stated that “equating same-sex couples with families can only weaken the natural family — which does society’s vital work of procreation and childrearing.”

The World Congress of Families meeting in Salt Lake City next week features a number of speakers who are intimately involved in this push to restrict access to abortion and prevent advances in LGBT equality.

As we noted in an earlier post, WCF will honor Luca Giuseppe Volonté of Italy’s Novae Terrae Foundation and Andrea Williams of UK’s Christian Concern. Williams, who allies with Alliance Defending Freedom, has encouraged Jamaica to continue criminalizing same-sex intimacy. Volonté, who is affiliated with a variety of right-wing groups, says conservatives in Europe are resisting marriage equality because they experience it as a “totalitarian” ideology.

Another speaker is Ignacio Arsuaga, the founder of CitizenGo and HazteOír, groups designed to bring online organizing techniques to European culture-war conservatives.  HazteOír made a name for itself mobilizing protesters against liberalized abortion legislation in Spain in 2010, and hosted the 2012 World Congress of Families in Madrid. In 2013 his group bused supporters into France to support anti-marriage-equality protests there.

Arsuaga’s CitizenGo is affiliated with ActRight, created by Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage. Brown joined CitizenGo’s board in 2013.  Brown has backed anti-gay efforts in France and Russia and participated in events designed to strengthen ties between Europe’s right-wing and Putin’s Russia. As BuzzFeed’s Feder reported last year,

Arsuaga, Volontè, and La Manif Pour Tous President Ludovine de La Rochère were all in Washington on June 19 to support the National Organization for Marriage’s March for Marriage. Their more important business, however, might have been in a closed-door summit the next day, where representatives of around 70 countries met to discuss creation of an International Organization for Marriage, according to Volontè and another participant. 

Also participating in the Salt Lake City WCF will be Lech and Ewa Kowalewski, anti-abortion activists affiliated with Human Life International and the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements. They denounce the “contraceptive mentality” — for them even “natural contraception” is a contradiction because “contraception is never natural.” In 2014 they toured the U.S. as part of a worldwide “pro-life pilgrimage.”  They were on the International Planning Committee for World Congress of Families VI in Madrid.

Another participant is Maria Hildingsson, Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, which the Catholic News Agency said last year is “the only independent organization clearly registered in the EU as Catholic.” It rejects “an individualistic conception” of human rights that is says are supported by “hegemonic powers which tend to impose their partial views on developing countries within the international economic and political arena.”

Hildingsson opposes promotion of “gender ideology” and opposed the marriage equality referendum in Ireland. Her group worked with a global coalition of conservative groups to oppose an inclusive definition of family in the United Nations during deliberations on sustainable development goals. This summer, she met with Orthodox Church leaders from Europe and Russia to strategize against efforts by the European Union that aim, in the words of a report on the meeting, “to destroy the traditional notions of marriage and family and to legalize surrogate motherhood and abortion.”

Another speaker, Silvio Dalla Valle, works with the Association for the Defense of Christian Values, which is “inspired by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church” and works in Italy and Eastern Europe.  He was on the planning committee for Moscow meeting that took place last year without the formal sponsorship of WCF but with participation by WCF staff and allies,and spoke last year at a WCF regional event in Bolivia. Dalla Valle is a co-founder of and legal adviser to the Osservatorio della Cristianofobia (Observatory on “Christianphobia”) a project to lobby the United Nations and European institutions to take a strong stance against persecution and discrimination against Christians. He received a “Global Leadership Award” from the Howard Center, the World Congress of Families’ parent organization, in 2010.

Lola Volarde, director for UN affairs at the Institute for Family Policy, is also participating. Volarde’s group promotes “natural family” policies in Latin America in addition to its work at the European Union level, and it opened its delegation to the UN in 2013. You can see Velarde speaking in Mexico last year.

Arsuaga, Velarde and Brian Brown are all on board of the Political Network for Values, a group launched last year that brings together advocates and elected officials from around the world to work for legal protection for life “from its moment of conception” and advocate for policies the promote marriage as “an institution between a man and a woman.” The group also declares its opposition to “the tyranny of relativism” and euthanasia.

Last month, the Political Network for Values held a summit in Washington, D.C. which was sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Institute for Family Policy, CitizenGo and others. The network says the regional summit “brought together in Washington DC more than 70 policy makers from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, Spain, Hungary, Kenya and the United States.” The group was addressed by three members of the U.S. Congress, Jeff Fortenberry, Chris Smith and Vicky Hartzler, who talked about the “fight for religious freedom in the U.S.”


World Congress of Families In Denial Over Promoting Homophobia Globally

This is the second in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here.

The World Congress of Families has been stung by intense criticism over its promotion of anti-gay bias and policies around the world, and has mounted a public relations campaign portraying itself as interested in civil discourse and uninterested in slamming gay people. If only it were true.

WCF Executive Director Janet Shaw Crouse has said the group’s support for traditional notions of family “does not mean disrespect for anyone else.” Crouse says, “We do not and will not engage in ‘gay-bashing’ or ‘hate’ language." In its 2014 “Call for Civic Dialogue” WCF said:

In its history, the WCF has never taken a position for or against anti-sodomy laws, nor has it attempted to roll back the rights gained by these individuals and organizations…. The WCF never has and never will advocate for any policy that brings harm to innocent individuals….

These assertions are grossly disingenuous and deceptive. WCF depends on, and celebrates, its association with what it calls “exemplary” anti-gay groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association, Alliance Defending Freedom, and many others who aggressively resist the advance of LGBT equality in the U.S. and overseas -- and promote policies that most definitely bring harm to innocent individuals. For example, WCF and its allies played a significant role in organizing the stridently anti-gay “pro-family” movement in Russia. And not taking a position on laws that subject LGBT people to long jail terms and worse is hardly something to brag about.  

WCF’s “civil dialogue” claim is laughable on its face, especially given that the group is providing a speaking platform to Rafael Cruz, who has no policy expertise to share but has gained folk-hero status on the Religious Right with outlandishly inflammatory attacks on LGBT people and other political opponents. Cruz, father to presidential candidate Ted Cruz, called it “appalling” that a gay woman could win elected office, said that Satan controls the U.S. government and that the devil was responsible for the with Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. He has repeatedly lied about religious freedom, claiming that the government will force churches to hire homosexual pastors and perform homosexual marriages. Cruz has suggested that President Obama is intent on seizing Americans’ guns because, like Stalin and Mao, Obama is pursuing a totalitarian government – and that the American left is out to do away with the entire Bill of Rights.

Sadly, Cruz is not an outlier. WCF and the speakers it provides with a platform have a long record of resisting protections for the rights of LGBT people. Last year WCF initiated a letter signed by 120 Religious Right figures from around the world in “vigorous protest” of the U.S. Embassy’s participation in a gay pride celebration in the Czech Republic. It refers to marriage equality as a “pseudo-right” that debases human freedom and dignity. The letter concludes, “We can not imagine a worse form of cultural imperialism than Washington trying to force approval of the ‘gay’ agenda on societies with traditional values.”

More to the point, WCF’s own Africa regional director, Theresa Okafor, who is being honored at the event, supported a harsh anti-gay law in Nigeria that not only provides for long jail sentences for gay sex, but also bans gay people from meeting in groups. Okafor has suggested that pro-equality groups from the west are allied with the violent Islamist Boko Haram in a conspiracy to silence Christians.

WCF Executive Director Crouse has her own track record. She has said children being raised by gay couples are being “used as guinea pigs.” She has praised Russia’s anti-gay right, saying approvingly, “I wouldn’t bet on the Russians capitulating to western LGBTIQ fascists without a fight.” At a 2013 Howard Center press conference, Crouse said American gay-rights activists are “turning into thugs who are destroying freedom of speech, destroying religious liberty.” She praised anti-gay activists in France, Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Nigeria. And while Crouse portrays American gays as enemies of free speech, she enthusiastically backed the prosecution and jailing of Pussy Riot activists over their anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

Among other anti-gay speakers who will be given a platform at WCF:

  • Peter Sprigg represents the stridently anti-gay Family Research Council, whose leader Tony Perkins once defended Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill as an effort to uphold morality. Sprigg, who once said he would like to “export” homosexuals from the U.S., complained this year about Randy Berry, Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, for traveling to Uganda and Jamaica. Sprigg criticized the Obama administration for trying to “force this American-style homosexual agenda down the throats of other countries” like Uganda, “which is one of the countries that has been most bitterly attacked by homosexual activists around the world.”
  • Robert Knight, a Religious Right pundit and former FRC staffer, has argued that judges who rule in favor of marriage equality should be impeached.
  • Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage has not only pushed for anti-equality legislation in the U.S., he has supported anti-gay efforts globally and encouraged legislators in Russia to pass legislation banning adoption by gay couples.
  • Errol Naidoo received training from the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C before founding the Family Policy Institute in South Africa in response to the legalization of marriage equality, which he had lobbied against. He blames abortion and “the homosexual agenda” for creating a “culture of death” that is “slowly killing off the human family in Western civilization.”
  • Glenn Stanton, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, has called marriage equality a “pernicious lie of Satan” and said that “quite literally there is more evidence for Bigfoot than there is that homosexuality is just who we are.”
  • Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the Ruth Institute, formerly affiliated with the National Organization for Marriage, says the “sexual revolution” is a “totalitarian” movement” and “a pagan ideology” that Christians should refuse to compromise with. She says “the only reason we’re dealing with gay marriage now is because we never faced up to the harms that have already been inflicted by feminism.”
  • Mark Regnerus: His New Family Structures Study, funded by the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, has been widely discredited, but continues to be cited by right-wing as if it provided scientific evidence for harm caused by gay parenting. It was used extensively as justification for passage of anti-gay laws in Russia.
  • Frank Schubert is a political communications strategist notorious as the mastermind of the strategy to ground the campaign for California’s Prop 8 in fear-mongering about gay people and couples being a threat to children. Schubert was paid handsomely to take that destructive strategy to other states.


Ted Cruz Plans ‘Religious Liberty’ Rally At College That Claimed Bible Backing For Racist Policies

Politico’s Shane Goldmacher reported this week that Ted Cruz is planning a major rally on “religious liberty” at Bob Jones University in November.  Even though it has been clear for a while that framing opposition to LGBT equality, abortion and contraception as religious liberty issues is a core strategy of right-wing culture warriors like Cruz, Bob Jones is still a stunning choice. After all, the “religious liberty” Bob Jones is most famous for defending was its long insistence that its segregationist policies were mandated in the Bible.

Of course Cruz’s choice could be a cunning and calculated one based on the fact that his campaign’s roadmap to victory requires a big boost in turnout among conservative evangelicals who are disaffected with politics. Appearing at Bob Jones University, specifically to talk about religious liberty, is the granddaddy of all dog-whistles to the far right.

A bit of background: During the 1970s, the federal government began to crack down on segregation academies that had sprung up in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision more than a decade earlier.  The IRS formally promulgated its policy that racially discriminatory private schools were not entitled to federal tax-exempt status in 1971. After years of fighting with Bob Jones, the IRS revoked the university’s tax-exempt status in 1976. The school kept fighting, ultimately losing at the Supreme Court in 1983 in an 8-1 decision.

Religion scholar Randall Balmer writes that it was the federal government’s move against segregationist schools, even more than the Roe v Wade decision, that gave Paul Weyrich the opening to create the Religious Right political movement. He tapped into conservative evangelicals’ anger at the federal government interference in segregationist religious schools. In his book about the Religious Right, “Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament,” Balmer wrote about a conservative 1990 conference at which Weyrich spoke:

Let's remember, he said animatedly, that the Religious Right did not come together in response to the Roe decision. No, Weyrich insisted, what got us going as a political movement was the attempt on the part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to rescind the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University because of its racially discriminatory policies.

Bob Jones University was one target of a broader attempt by the federal government to enforce the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had sought to penalize schools for failure to abide by antisegregation provisions. A court case in 1972, Green v. Connally, produced a ruling that any institution that practiced segregation was not, by definition, a charitable institution and, therefore, no longer qualified for tax-exempt standing…

For his part, Weyrich saw the evangelical discontent over the Bob Jones case as the opening he was looking for to start a new conservative movement using evangelicals as foot soldiers. Although both the Green decision of 1972 and the IRS action against Bob Jones University in 1975 predated Jimmy Carter's presidency, Weyrich succeeded in blaming Carter for efforts to revoke the tax-exempt status of segregated Christian schools. He recruited James Dobson and Jerry Falwell to the cause, the latter of whom complained, "In some states it's easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school."

So what game is Cruz playing? Is he going to play up right-wing fears that the federal government will go after the tax-exempt status of schools with anti-gay policies? Is talking about religious liberty at Bob Jones some oddly aggressive way to make the right-wing argument that there are no parallels between racial discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Cruz made that argument during a June interview on the Today show, when he declared that “there’s no religious backing” for denying marriage licenses to interracial couples. That, of course, is an absurd argument, as the federal judge who had upheld Virginia’s laws against mixed-race marriages in Loving v Virginia specifically cited the Bible in defense of the law. And as Brian noted in June:

Cruz should know better. After all, the Tea Party leader announced his presidential campaign at Liberty University, the school founded by Jerry Falwell, one of the fathers of the modern Religious Right movement, who denounced both desegregation and interracial marriages in religious terms.

Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention was created in a split with northern Baptists over slavery. Southern Baptists preached that the Bible endorsed slavery, citing “slaves obey your masters” verses that were still being used by the Christian Coalition in the 1990s to justify attacks on labor unions.

Did Newark Archbishop Just Declare Democrats Ineligible For Communion?

David Gibson at the Religion News Service reports on a new directive from Newark Archbishop John Myers, who “has given his priests strict guidelines on refusing Communion to Catholics who, for example, support gay marriage or whose own marriage is not valid in the eyes of the church.” The guideline was distributed as the Catholic Church's Synod on the Family is under way in Rome.

Gibson notes that Myers orders parishes and Catholic organizations not to host people or groups that disagree with church teachings. And the language of Myers’ memo actually goes even further:

Non-Catholics and any Catholic who publically rejects Church teaching or discipline, either by public statement or by joining or supporting organizations which do so, are not to receive the Sacraments.

By that definition, could any member of the Democratic Party receive communion in the Archdiocese of Newark?

A spokesman for Myers confirmed to Gibson that same-sex unions were part of the consideration in writing the memo to ensure that “Catholic teaching is adhered to in all situations.”

David Benham's Gay-Bashing Tirade At 'Nonpolitical' Prayer Rally

Last weekend’s Response rally in Charlotte, North Carolina was another in a series of supposedly nonpolitical gatherings organized by political strategist David Lane. Like other Response gatherings, the event served as a platform for culture warriors associated with Christian-nation dominionism to promote anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-church state ideology all while proclaiming that they are simply bringing Christians together to pray for the state and nation.

Among the culture warriors to take the microphone in Charlotte was David Benham, half of the Benham Brothers duo who have parlayed a cancelled television show into Religious Right folk-hero status.

David and his brother have a long record of anti-gay rhetoric and activism. They once urged Charlotte officials to deny permits for the city’s pride celebration. David has repeatedly linked gays with Satan, so it is not terribly surprising that he portrayed the LGBT equality movement as a force of darkness in a spiritual battle for the soul of America:

As we shift into individual repentance I want to provide a little context for where we’re meeting right now. Eight years ago, I came to the Charlotte convention center, and sat in a meeting with 1500 individuals in the room directly above this room. It was a meeting with the Human Rights Campaign. The president stood on the stage and said that we are going to take the key to Charlotte, we are going to take North Carolina, and we will force our agenda on this nation. And all of you bigots that think that you can stand against us, you can do nothing about it because you sit in your living rooms laughing at our humor on television.

And I listened to that from the Human Rights Campaign and I found it very interesting that just a few months ago I sat at a city council meeting with the transgender bill that sat and was about to be voted upon. And the city attorney was asked, who was in the meeting helping you craft this ordinance, and he said, the Human Rights Campaign.

At the time the nondiscrimination ordinance in Charlotte was being debated, Benham called it “depraved” and “craziness.”

Benham argued, as is customary among Religious Right leaders, that America’s biggest problem is that “the church” hasn’t been aggressive enough in the culture wars.

The problem today is not the presence of darkness. The problem is the absence of light. This is nothing new in America. The spirit of the age is the spirit of Babylon, the same spirit that Daniel spoke about in his book, and this Babylonian spirit that seeks to remove Christian influence, that seeks to demonize and come against those who hold the commandments of God and keep the testimony of Jesus Christ.

This is the spiritual battle that is now waging before us in this nation, the home of the brave and the land of the free. And it’s time for the church of Jesus Christ to get off the sidelines and to step into the game. We don’t have a second Chronicles 7:14 moment – if my people who are called by my name, and the healing of the land – we don’t have that moment if it does not first begin with 1 Peter 4:17.

It is time for judgment to begin in the House of God.

Benham went on to talk about the sins “manifest in Israel” before the captivity in Babylon:  

“…the worship of the goddess of Ashera, sexual perversion of all kind, and the worship of the god of Moloch, child sacrifice. That is what we are finding in America, and we see it in North Carolina, that the shedding of innocent blood – 60 million unborn babies – have been slaughtered while we grow church. C’mon!

And we are now watching, as God is allowing our sexual perversion, not just the homosexual agenda, but adultery and divorce and pornography that are rooted in the church and it is time for us to fall on our faces before God and to repent of our sins.

Benham said God had a purpose in placing The Response directly below the room where that HRC meeting had been held:

It is no coincidence that we are in a basement underneath the room where the Human Rights Campaign issued their secular declaration that they would take this nation. Now it’s time for us to issue our declaration, that God we are sorry, forgive us of our sins, heal our land, O God.

In Daniel chapter 9 in Babylon he says this, I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed my sins and said alas, Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant in loving kindness for those who love him and keep his commandments. We have sinned. We have committed iniquity. We have acted wickedly and rebelled. We have turned aside from your ordinances and commandments.

It’s time for us, as God has positioned us in this room, to get on our faces and to humble ourselves. We can point at our elected leaders. We can point at the secular media. We can point at Hollywood, and DC and New York City, but the finger points right to the church of Jesus Christ.

And we know that the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but are divinely powerful for the destruction of strongholds, those strongholds that come to rob, to kill, and to destroy. So let’s enter in now, this is not something that you can just sit there and watch. We must get on our faces before God for the sake of this nation, for the sake of our children and for the sake of the kingdom of heaven…

God we have sinned. God we have concerned ourselves with our rights but have forsaken our responsibility to be salt and light. God we have turned our backs Lord and gotten comfortable with American Christianity. Bring us back to biblical Christianity, oh God. Forgive us Lord Jesus for the perversion that is in our own ranks, God. Forgive us Lord Jesus for turning a blind eye to the shedding of innocent blood. God we ask you Lord forgive us. We intercede on behalf of our land knowing that we are the ones responsible. So Lord Jesus forgive us now as we enter individual repentance knowing that the only ones that ascend the hill of the Lord is he who has clean hands and a pure heart.


Seven Mountains Dominionism At North Carolina's 'Response' Rally

Last Saturday’s five-and-a-half-hour “Response” rally in North Carolina was, like previous “Response" rallies, a culture war rallying cry disguised as a nonpolitical prayer gathering. The event, organized by Christian-nation activist David Lane and emceed by “apostle” Doug Stringer, promoted Seven Mountains dominionism, the idea that the right kind of Christians are meant to control every sphere – or “mountain” – of cultural influence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion.

While laying hands on North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who Lane said was put in place by God, Lane prayed that God could give McCrory “courage to fight.” 

Lord, we pray that you would give him courage to fight. And Lord that the pastors of North Carolina would rise. And Lord that this would be the beginning. You say we war against not flesh and blood but principalities and powers. And like over the body of Moses in the book of Jude, the archangel Michael said, ’the Lord rebuke you. We’re asking the living God to intervene on what he have allowed in a nation founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith. Jesus help us, and begin with Pat McCrory, we’re asking in Jesus name.

Stringer continued the prayer over McCrory, saying that the Bible makes clear “that all authority, kingdom’s authorities, principalities and rulerships are subject to you, but your intention to give it to the church and through the church.”

Lord would you guide and protect and watch over the governor of this great state, all of our leaders across this nation, that they would come to renewed revelation of their need for you and that Lord as they submit themselves to you,  true reformation will take place and revival across this nation again.

In the session on “reformation,” Stringer talked about the development of “seven mountains” theology by people like the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade. Another speaker fleshed out the concept:

Jesus gave a parable of a man, a certain nobleman who went into a far country, and he said, he gave 10 pounds to ten servants, and he said, “Occupy until I come.” Reformation is about occupying the places of influence in our nation, the places of influence in our culture. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. And God has commissioned the church to occupy until he comes…

There are 7 major issues or arenas in which we believe that God has appointed and assigned the church to occupy. We believe that the church, or the faith and religious community, must experience a time of reformation. The word tells us in Matthew the fifth chapter that the church, the body of Christ, is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let us pray that there would be an awakening in the faith community. Pray that the church would experience a revelation of holiness, righteousness, love and justice. Pray that the church would occupy every arena in our society. Pray that the church would be salt and light.

A number of speakers prayed for various mountains. Regarding the family, “that the unborn would be protected” and “that the family would have true biblical marriages” – which speakers made clear is not just about one-man, one-woman marriage, but about wifely submission.

Prayers for the government sphere included:

Pray for the government, that it would be, that we would have god-appointed leaders, men and women who would serve him and humanity. Pray for government that we would have voters who are informed, knowledgeable and insightful in how to vote righteously and biblically.

On education, one speaker prayed, “Restore prayer to our schools, O Holy God, restore one educational system to the biblical principles of Jesus Christ, in Jesus’s holy and mighty name, amen.” Another said this:

I repent for the folly of expelling you from our halls of learning. We have considered ourselves wise in our own eyes, when in reality wisdom in this world is foolishness before you. As a person working in the academic realm, I invite you back into the education system, to take your rightful place, as the foundation and the compass for learning. You are the only true source of knowledge and wisdom. I cry out to you to reform and transform the education system in this state and in this nation. Apart from you we can do nothing. In Christ we can do all things AMEN!

On the media:

“We are going to ask God to reform this mountain of media, we are at the point in this country where it is either reformation or revolution – the first is of the spirit, and the latter is of the force of the flesh, so God, we call upon you to reform the mountain of media for your kingdom purposes. Lord, you know that there’s a saying in the newsroom, that if it bleeds, it leads. My God, you bled for us. I know of no other way for mountain reformation to come than by the precious blood of the lamb. So Lord, we recognize you as our risen Lord and savior, and we ask for you to invade the news media. We ask you to loose skilled laborers to come into that mountain, to repossess the land where the enemy has taken up residence. God, we call for truth.…We ask for the truth of the gospel to go forth in the media…for the people of God to meet today in the city of intercession that you would begin a massive reformation in the mountain of media….

One of the final speakers made clear what the day was about – spiritual warfare against “the enemy.”

I thank you father for the reminder from your word and from the remarks that have been made throughout this day that this is war, and that we’re not looking for refreshing in order to be relieved of our responsibilities, but father we’re coming here today as a people of God, an army of God, seeking to be refreshed in order to renew the fight against the enemy. And today father, the people that are in this place, pick up the world-class weapon of prayer and we take it father against the enemy in the name of Jesus Christ. And we come against every obstacle, we come against every foe. 

Culture War Politics At David Lane's 'Nonpolitical' Prayer Rally

Last Saturday, while the Values Voter Summit drew Religious Right activists and pandering politicians together in Washington, D.C., a group of Christian dominionists was holding an all-day political prayer rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. McCrory had objected to the way Response organizers used his name to recruit participants, but it didn’t keep him away.

This was the fourth “Response” rally headlined by a state governor. The first, in 2011, served as the unofficial launch to Rick Perry’s disastrous 2012 presidential bid. Since then, Response rallies have been hosted by Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is scheduled to host the next “Response” on October 24. The North Carolina Response was the smallest to date; one speaker referred to “hundreds” of participants, while the Charlotte Observer reported that it attracted “more than 1,000” people.

The rallies are in effect a series of bait-and-switch events. They are disingenuously promoted as non-political gatherings to create Christian unity by bringing people together across denominational and racial lines to pray for the state and the country. And while that promise of ecumenical prayer and worship is undoubtedly what brought many people to the event in Charlotte, the “non-political” veneer was discarded almost immediately.

The organizers are a group of Christian-nation zealots who believe every sphere of influence in society – including business, government, education, media, and entertainment – is meant to be controlled by the right kind of Christians. And they’re intent on electing politicians – and a president – who share that vision. The events are sponsored by Christian-nation extremist David Lane, a favorite of GOP presidential hopefuls whose American Renewal Project organizes and funds The Response rallies as well as other efforts to get conservative evangelicals more involved in politics. The American Renewal Project operates under the umbrella of the American Family Association, home to the notorious font of bigotry, radio host Bryan Fischer.

Here’s how Lane opened his prayer at the unifying, non-political Response rally:

The problem is us, a Christian nation founded for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith that has left God. So Lord, we start here. We’re so sorry what we’ve allowed to happen to a once-Christian nation, Lord. We deserve judgment. We pray for mercy, the mercy of God. A nation founded on the Bible; fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And Lord, they removed prayer and Bible from the public schools in 1963 after 350 years as a principal component, as the fixed point in order to judge society. We did this, we allowed this to happen. We pray for mercy. Fifty-five million babies dead, homosexuals praying at the inauguration, red ink as far as the eye can see -- judgment is on us. We need mercy Lord. We deserve judgment.

Like other Response events, it was emceed by “apostle” Doug Stringer, who announced that the day would follow the five-theme Response formula: repentance, reconciliation, revival, reformation, and refreshing. As the Response moved through its five segments, Religious Right speakers took turns at the microphone, interspersed with praise music and prayers from locals. Some prayed for the church to be filled with God’s love, and some shouted out culture war rhetoric about abortion, homosexuality, and separation of church and state:

Lord, you’ve called us to be salt and light, and Lord, salt is flavoring, salt is an irritant, and salt is a preservative. Lord, it is sin for us to not study your word, and know it, and obey it. Oh, God, it is sin for us to not know our Constitution, our liberties, and it is sin for us to not know how to be good citizens, preserving our liberties and our freedoms. Change us, oh God, and help us be like Kim Davis, obeying the Constitution and defying federal criminals. In Jesus’ name.  

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