There are people in this country who belong to fundamentalist Christian religious groups and who believe that they have the right (and perhaps the duty) to run your life.
That is a fact. These people exist. I’ll be spending some time with them this weekend at the Family Research Council’s “Values Voter Summit.”
It’s also a fact that some folks would like to pretend that these people don’t exist, or that they are a fringe group that can be easily dismissed. Some evangelicals are embarrassed by the antics of politically active, extreme fundamentalists, but instead of standing up to them, they’ve decided instead to criticize those of us who write about the Religious Right.
It’s a classic “kill the messenger” scenario.
Today, several writers who report on the Religious Right are issuing an open letter to Jim Wallis, a moderate evangelical leader who runs the group Sojourners. Wallis has criticized the Religious Right in the past, but for some reason suddenly has a problem with those of us who write about the openly theocratic wing of the Religious Right – the Christian Reconstructionists, the Dominionists, those involved in the New Apostolic Reformation.
Wallis and Mark Pinsky, a former religion writer at the Orlando Sentinel, have accused us of fomenting hysteria.
Our open letter sets the record straight. Those of us who write about the Religious Right are not overreacting. Nor do we, as Wallis and Pinsky seem to think, believe that all evangelicals are theocrats. Indeed, we know that the theocratic wing is a minority – but we also know that a minority can have influence far beyond its numbers.
Christian Reconstructionists like the late Rousas John Rushdoony laid the intellectual groundwork for today’s Religious Right. Did everyone who read Rushdoony believe, as he did, that the U.S. government must operate under the Old Testament’s legal code? No. But I’ve attended enough Religious Right meetings and have heard enough demands for “biblical law” in America to know that these people are not fans of our secular government.
A fringe movement did not bring tens of thousands of people to a football stadium for Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally in August. A fringe movement did not remove three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court in 2010 because they voted for marriage equality. A fringe movement did not mobilize and pass anti-gay amendments in more than half of the states. A fringe movement did not mobilize fundamentalist churches and their congregants to push the Republican Party far to the right on social issues. A fringe movement did not pass anti-abortion laws across the nation, intimidate public school science teachers into watering down the teaching of evolution and derail the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Religious Right did these things. It is a nationwide movement consisting of several large organizations backed by powerful television and radio ministries. It collects more than $1 billion annually in tax-free donations. Not all of its supporters are theocrats who burn to base American law on a narrow understanding of the Bible. But some certainly are.
People like Fred Clarkson, Rachel Tabachnick, Adele Stan, myself and others write about this. We believe people ought to know what’s going on. None of us believes that the United States is on the verge of becoming a Christian fundamentalist theocracy out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but we realize that what could happen (and indeed is happening) is bad enough: Your gay neighbors lose their rights. A girl who has been raped finds it difficult to get a legal abortion. Your tax money is plowed into religious schools that teach things you find offensive. A giant cross is erected in a public park. Your kid gets a lousy science education in public school.
We write about these things because we believe there are people out there who support church-state separation and maybe they’ll get involved in stopping the Religious Right – if they have the facts they need. So be assured that we’re not going to let two naysayers who can’t grasp what’s going on shout us down or intimidate us into silence. (In a USA Today column, Pinsky says that David Barton, a man whose phony “Christian nation” claptrap is considered gospel in fundamentalist churches all over America and who helped dumb-down social studies standards in Texas, is a marginal figure. Talk about clueless!)
As long as I have the power to turn on a computer or pick up a pen, I’m going to keep writing about the threat the Religious Right poses to American values and freedoms. And yes, I intend to call out the theocrats when it’s necessary.
If Wallis, Pinsky and others think this is hysteria, well, so be it. And if some evangelicals and other religious people are embarrassed by the extremism of the Religious Right and are worried about being lumped in with them, the answer isn’t to attack Americans United for exposing the theocrats’ agenda. The answer is to join us as we work to defeat it.