Values Voter Summit: Personal Thoughts on Day 1

Guest Post from Rev. Katherine Ragsdale

It started well – early, but well – at the pastors’ breakfast. It was disappointing, ‘though not surprising, to find that only 10 of the about 80 attendees were women and most of them were wives of pastors or FRC staff. Still, while some folks studiously ignored the elephant in the room that I represented – a woman in a clerical collar – most were at least courteous and some were gracious.

The room, in fact, appeared to be filled with people who were, for the most part, earnest, polite, sincere … misguided, to my way of thinking, but sincere and generally kind and decent. One of the first announcements had to do with going to Boston to fight the evil of same sex marriage and support their brother pastors who were having their religious liberty trampled by this awful state of affairs. I turned to the man next to me and said, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. I don’t think I get it. I’m a pastor in MA and I’ve not had my religious liberty trampled. I’m as free as ever to refuse to marry anyone I don’t want to marry, for any reason. The State has never tried to force me to perform any marriage I don’t want to.” He acknowledged that that’s the way it should be and smiled agreeably – but later joined in the applause for lines that encouraged us all to fight the travesty of same sex marriage that threatened to ruin our country, harm our children, and deprive us of our religious liberty. Go figure.

Still the personal attacks that morning were scarce. There were abstract attacks implied in the prayer Jerry Falwell quoted that included lines imploring God to deliver us from the evil of “embracing laziness and calling it welfare” and of “coveting the possessions of others and calling it taxes.” A breathtaking lack of compassion for the poor (whom the prophets and Jesus said we ought never to neglect) but not personally, individually hateful. Perhaps the closest they came to that on that first morning was to make fun of Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo for calling themselves Evangelicals.

On my way out of the room a staff member thanked me for coming. He said, “I don’t know if you’re for us or against us, but I’m glad you came.” Perhaps he had noted that my applause never exceeded what courtesy required; still, he returned the courtesy and displayed a basic decency that fed that never quite dead ember of hope I carry that people of good faith and good will can forge paths to understanding.

But as the day wore on the hate card began to make appearances. By late afternoon Myrna Blyth, speaking on the women against feminists panel (who do they think changed the world so profoundly that women would even be allowed to speak at such an event?), begun her presentation with an attack on Maureen Dowd’s appearance – not her ideas, but her appearance. She said things that common courtesy and decency forbid me to repeat here. Suffice it to say they were nasty and irrelevant. Gratuitous insults. The gloves had come off and hate was on stage receiving applause. The decency, and hope, of the morning seemed very far away.

Then came the evening and Gary Bauer. It seemed the entire deck he drew from held nothing but hate cards. Again and again he returned to themes of vengeance, hate, vindictiveness. That ember of hope flickered into near oblivion when he received ovations for his snide diatribe against ending torture. When a group who call themselves Christians and profess to be working to maintain America’s place as a moral beacon in a fallen world rise to their feet so support this nation’s use of torture, there seems little basis for hope.

It continues to astonish me that the courteous people who welcomed me at breakfast could so easily be turned to a crowd cheering for torture. Sure, it took an all day diet of half-truths and outright lies carefully delivered for the greatest emotional impact. But it worked — at least for the evening. (See, that ember of hope refuses to die entirely!) Hatefulness and vindictiveness took home the pot last night – a sad ending to a long day.

The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale is Executive Director of Political Research Associates in Somerville, MA and Vicar of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Pepperell, MA.