Far too many people associate Christianity with homophobia thanks to Religious Right groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA). A group of faithful moderates is out to change that perception.
This weekend, thousands of fundamentalist zealots will descend on Washington, D.C., for the annual “Values Voter Summit” (VVS) – a Religious Right confab sponsored by the FRC, AFA, Liberty Counsel and other Religious Right power groups. The meeting serves as an important strategy session for the Religious Right, and gives some very high profile politicians a chance to court the evangelical vote.
Although in recent years the Summit has partly morphed into an anti-Obamacare-palooza, groups like the FRC (which the Southern Poverty Law Center classified as a hate group) still use the event to attack marriage equality, demonize gay Americans and denounce LGBT rights.
In response to the VVS, a coalition of Christians and progressive advocates, including Truth Wins Out and the Not All Like That Christians Project, came together in Washington today to condemn shrill rhetoric, denounce the VVS as a collection of minority fringe groups and explain that many Christians simply don’t support homophobia.
The coalition included the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., who said that it is time for Christians who aren’t homophobic to proclaim their beliefs “as loudly and clearly as possible.”
Hall said that he rejects Religious Right claims that the Bible condemns homosexuality.
“If you read the Bible critically and carefully, God made us in his image and people are good,” he said. “The Christian church needs to say it’s good to be gay because that’s the way God made you.”
Hall stressed that this message is extremely important right now because so many gay youths are struggling with their identities, thanks in part to Religious Right rhetoric.
“We will save lives,” he said. “We will stop the bullying. We will change the hearts of the people in our pews.”
Another coalition member who spoke out against homophobia is an ex-Religious Right rising star who had a change of heart 30 years ago. Frank Schaeffer is the son of Francis Schaeffer, a Presbyterian minister and one of the founders of the Religious Right. Francis was influenced by Rousas John Rushdoony, the founder of the Christian Reconstructionist movement (which advocates that certain crimes should be subject to biblical punishments – such as stoning – among other things).
Schaeffer used to make a whole lot of money on the fundamentalist speaking circuit, he said, but realized he just wasn’t cut out to join the family business – in part because he didn’t hate gay people. He now has hope that others who were once like him can change their ways.
“I spent a good chunk of the first part of my life [being hateful],” he said. “If I can change, the country can change.”
Other coalition members chose to focus on the politics of the Values Voter Summit, noting that the most disturbing aspect of the conference is the volume of elected officials who show up each year to kiss the Religious Right ring. Attendees this year include U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.).
Ultimately, the coalition’s message was simple: Plenty of Christians don’t support the Religious Right’s agenda.
“Let’s be clear – the Values Voter Summit represents one specific viewpoint,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out. “It does not represent all people of faith.”
Bingo. It’s important for everyone to remember that while the Religious Right is large and powerful, it doesn’t speak for all Christians. It may sometimes seem like they do because they’re really good at being very loud and claiming to be a majority when they are not.
The best way to change that perception is for moderate Christians to speak up. This coalition is a wonderful start. I suspect we’ll hear more from it in the future.
P.S. Americans United staffers will be attending the Values Voter Summit this weekend to do some reconnaissance. It’s always an eye-opening experience, so stay tuned for our reports.