One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn’t able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.
The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don’t confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that’s an entirely separate national prayer event. Here‘s Barack Obama’s proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don’t think the government is doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year’s honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay-rights groups unhappy with Laurie’s particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year’s events is “Pray for America,” the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.
In the face of all this government sponsorship of prayer, the rather less influential secular humanist movement has declared today the National Day of Reason. They had to declare it themselves, because unlike the National Day of Prayer, the government wasn’t going to get involved with them. So feel free, if you swing that way, to take a moment today to consider all that reason and science have done for us.
I’ll stop before my impulse to snark gets the better of me, but I would like to note something for my religious friends, especially the Christians: Next time you want to say you’re “oppressed” because people are saying that there may be a few areas we can keep religion out of, like science class, or that it might be better not to assume that everyone is a Christian but instead be sensitive to people who believe in gods other than yours or no god at all, consider that those of us who don’t believe in an almighty deity tolerate stuff like the National Day of Prayer all the time. We don’t much like it, but we almost always just let it slide. The government makes our kids stand up and declare that we’re “one nation, under God,” our money says “In God We Trust,” Congress starts every day with a prayer, and official sponsorship of religious events is everywhere. On the other hand, while there are lots of places where discussion of people’s religious beliefs is excluded, there is nowhere—nowhere—where the government explicitly affirms and honors the beliefs of those who don’t believe in god. There’s no government-sponsored “There Is No God Day” with White House proclamations and Pentagon gatherings.
And that’s as it should be. It’s not government’s job to tell you it agrees with your metaphysical views. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
11Yes, technically kids in public schools don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they don’t want to, but peer pressure being what it is, few feel comfortable abstaining.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 2, 2013
As Congress prepares to debate an overhaul of a dysfunctional immigration system, pro-reform Democrats may have new allies in Christian Evangelicals. A coalition of Evangelical leaders has begun a political push for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, making a name for conservative Christians outside of the issues of marriage equality and abortion.
As reported by The New York Times:
On Wednesday, evangelical pastors will converge on Washington for a day of prayer and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Guiding the campaign is a coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table, which includes the top pastors of more than two dozen evangelical denominations and at least 20 heads of Christian colleges and seminaries. “It is very remarkable the degree to which there is consensus,” said Galen Carey, the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for the churches. No prominent pastor has spoken out against the immigration effort, although some pastors of the largest churches have remained silent.
Many of these pastors have been inspired to act by the growing influence of immigrant congregations in the Christian community and an upsurge in Latino “born-again” evangelicals, according to the Times:
For the Rev. David Uth, the head pastor of First Baptist Orlando, there was no mistaking the evolution of his traditionally white congregation, as he discovered in recent years that immigrants speaking at least 32 different languages had flocked to his doors. Mr. Uth is one of the pastors going to Washington this week.
His church offers ministry in seven foreign languages, with simultaneous translation of Sunday services in Spanish and Portuguese and a separate Brazilian service on Sunday evenings.
“The stories out there in the pews are stories of people from all over the world who have made friends and who have become close with people here,” Mr. Uth said after his service last Sunday. “I think that’s why there’s movement in this church, there’s momentum, there’s an openness to try to do something to address their needs.”
Despite a public push to let compassion and fairness shape proposals for reform, Christian leaders have splintered with other immigrant rights advocates over the inclusion of the rights of gay and lesbian immigrants in legislative reform. In an interview with the Christian Post, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association and pro-reform (for some immigrants, at least) evangelical Noel Castellanos stated his belief that immigration reform and gay rights should be handled as separate issues: “Right now, I can say as a general coalition we have talked to the President about trying to keep those two issues separate. It’s very problematic.”
But groups like United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza have backed the inclusion of provisions for gay immigrants and their families, citing the importance of family inclusion for all families: “Family unity has always been the cornerstone of our immigration system. We must address the unnecessary separation of families who are kept apart by extraordinarily long wait times for certain family visas, including the families of bi-national and same-sex couples,” said National Council of La Raza president and CEO Janet Murguía.
By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, April 14, 2013
“Libertarian Doesn’t Mean Liberal”: Christian Right Interest In Libertarianism Is A Sign Of Hardening Ideological Bonds
An exchange between New York‘s Kevin Roose and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., casts an interesting light on the big media meme that conservatism is being increasingly dominated by “libertarians” at the expense of the Christian Right. Asked about rumored weakening of opposition to marriage equality, Falwell the Younger had this to say about political trends at Liberty, one of the Christian Right’s primary training camps:
As you know…most of our faculty, staff and students are very conservative politically and theologically. I do not see that changing at all. For example, in Liberty’s voting precinct, Romney won 93% of the vote and that precinct had, by far, the highest turnout in the area. Students still are very much pro-life and pro-traditional marriage just like they have always been and the ones who voted for Romney indicated those two issues were the main reasons they supported Romney over Obama. The only shift I have noticed in recent years has been more support among conservative Christians, especially young ones, for libertarians. In Virginia, only Romney and Ron Paul were on the ballot in the Republican primary and Ron Paul won at the campus precinct. So, if anything, our students are becoming more conservative on the issue of limiting the size and scope of government while remaining conservative on the social issues.
What Falwell is describing, of course, is the world-view that dominates the Tea Party Movement: hard-core opposition to government “interference” in the economy combined with hard-core conservative cultural views. But it’s a world-view that’s been aborning for a long time. For the gazillions of words written about the steadily growing influence of the Christian Right within the conservative movement and the Republican Party over the last few decades, far less has been written about the equally important incorporation of “libertarian” economic and role-of-governnent extremism by the Christian Right itself.
The proto-Christian-Right of the old-timey southern conservative evangelicals of the period prior to the establishment of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s often reflected reactionary views on issues remote from central cultural concerns: hostility to labor unions, defense of segregation and neo-segregation (via church-based separatist private schools designed to circumvent school desegregation), celebration of godly “self-made-men” who had accumulated vast wealth, etc. But once the institutional Christian Right entered into what might have once been called a “marriage of convenience,” it has steadily acclimated itself to secular conservative private-property absolutism in all its forms (most notably hostility to environmentalism, often described as “pagan”). And one of the most distinctive features of the Tea Party faith has been the divinization of such views, often via idolatry aimed at the Declaration of Independence, thought to reflect a theocratic charter for America making pervasive property rights, strictly limited government and the “rights of the unborn” and “traditional marriage” the only legitimate governing tenets for the country. Libertarians, of course, share some if not all of this agenda. So a growing warmth for libertarianism within the Christian Right is not a problem for its leaders, and does not necessarily mean a growing warmth for any kind of cultural liberalism.
Indeed, as Falwell notes, this “teavangelical” coalition (as some have called it) has a common enemy:
Rand Paul wrote a column recently about his father’s legacy and he noted that the two universities that gave his father the most enthusiastic reception were UC-Berkeley and Liberty. His point was that there is support on the left and the right for more limited government and expanded individual liberties and freedom. I think he is right and I think the Republicans will continue to lose if they keep running candidates who try to move toward the middle to attract the “independent” voters.
Arguably, then, Christian Right interest in “libertarianism” is a sign of hardening, not softening, ideological bonds. And if, as appears entirely possible, Rand Paul becomes a maximum leader of conservative extremism in all its forms, that could become much more apparent.
By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 1, 2013
What are evangelical conservatives going to do? I ask the question not with any sympathy, but with a mountain of schadenfreudian glee—I am profoundly reassured about my country’s direction every time I hear Tony Perkins bemoan it. But however it’s asked, it’s a question that’s growing more and more urgent. Mike Huckabee says that if the GOP embraces same-sex marriage, “evangelicals will take a walk.” Others pooh-pooh this on the usual grounds that they’ve got nowhere else to go. But they do: back to private life. And it’s my bet that in, say, eight or 12 years’ time, that’s where a lot of evangelicals will be. Having gotten into politics to rescue America from the sinners and fornicators, I reckon a critical mass will decide by 2024 that it was fun while it lasted, but that the fight is hopeless.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch and see what the party does on same-sex marriage as these next months and years progress. I, for one, do not expect to see the senators tumble like dominoes after the push from Ohio’s Rob Portman. Too many of them are from states where adopting that position would be suicide. Remember, we’re talking here not about the mores of the state as a whole, but of its GOP primary voters. So Claire McCaskill could announce her support for same-sex marriage in Democratic Missouri. But Roy Blunt in Republican Missouri? One doubts it. Different state, really. He in fact just reaffirmed his support for the Defense of Marriage Act.
Perusing the list of GOP senators, one sees only a few who might follow Portman. Susan Collins of course; Mark Kirk; Kelly Ayotte, at least on geographic grounds, although she’s quite conservative. You get the idea. I haven’t studied the political situations of all 232 GOP House members, and I won’t, but the general picture is similar. Right now, a grand total of two GOP House members back gay marriage—Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Richard Hanna of upstate New York. Two.
This is all pretty amusing because after Portman, some people started talking and writing as if some sort of floodgates were opening, but in reality it would be completely shocking if more than 20 of Capitol Hill’s 279 Republican solons were backing same-sex marriage as we approach 2016. There may well not be more than 10.
This is the kind of issue on which the party’s position will largely be determined by the person it nominates to be president. All the contenders are reliably anti-, yes, even Rand Paul. His libertarian disposition brings him up short of the usual epileptic hatred of gay people, but he’s against them all the same. So the party will likely head into the 2016 election with a position identical to the one it has now. The hard-shell platform, which in 2012 backed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman, may get a nip here or tuck there, which those sad Log Cabin people will tout as a great advance, but no more than that.
And, by 2016, it will be more clear than it is today that their bigoted position is a big electoral loser for them. They likely will have lost again, assuming Hillary Clinton runs. And then, staring at the grim reality of 16 straight years of Democratic governance by two people they believe to be Satan and, uh, Satan, they’ll start to make some changes. They’ll study up on the actuarial charts, and same-sex marriage is one of the changes they’ll make—maybe not whole hog right at first, but eventually and inevitably. By 2024—after Hillary, that is—the Republicans will be not all that distinguishable (at least through evangelical eyes) from the Democrats, with a platform supporting same-sex marriage, or at least tolerating it in antiseptic language.
Then what for the Christian right? They got into politics in the 1970s. Remember, Jerry Falwell himself, in a 1965 sermon called “Ministers and Marches,” denounced mixing religion and politics. But then came late-’60s tumult, Roe v. Wade, and kindred signs of the devil’s grip (preceded by the Supreme Court’s decision to take God out of the classroom). Religious conservatives got into politics to undo those things. And here we are, 50 years later, and it’s only gotten worse as far as they’re concerned. By 2024, if my forecasts are correct, things will get only worse still.
Well, how much patience can a movement have? By 2024, evangelicals will have been up to their armpits in politics for half a century. With what to show for it? A country where (I’m betting) abortion is still legal, and now Adam and Steve are saying vows. And their vehicle for their agenda, the Republican Party, will be walking away from them to a place where they smell more votes (and money).
And that’s how the GOP-evangelical divorce will happen. Not all evangelicals will leave. Maybe not even half. But a reduction in the Republican primary electorate from 50 percent evangelical, which is roughly what it is now, to 30 percent would make for some enormous improvements in how the party approaches social issues. And many evangelicals, heeding that old Falwell advice, will stop obsessing so much over this life and spend more time preparing for what they believe is the next one, where (if their own predictions are correct) they won’t feel like hating anyone anymore anyway.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 30, 2013
With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they’re being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they’re starting to feel like “second-class citizens.” Here’s CBN’s David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here’s Red State’s Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom (“Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan.”). Here’s Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun (“it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage”). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them back in the real world? Well, people are … strongly disagreeing with their position on an issue of public concern! It’s awful, I tell ya.
The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.
Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding. And as for the florist who refuses to sell flowers to a gay couple, what he’s asking for is not a right but a privilege, the privilege to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It’s no different than if he refused to sell flowers to an interracial couple. But somehow, if he finds justification for that discriminatory practice in his faith, that’s supposed to make it a fundamental right.
I’m more than happy to admit that in certain circles, it’s more acceptable to be gay than to be an evangelical Christian. That’s what Chief Justice Roberts was getting at when he noted during the oral arguments about DOMA that “political figures are falling all over themselves” to endorse gay marriage, and thus gay people don’t qualify as a disfavored minority. But what we’re talking about here isn’t attendance at fashionable Upper West Side parties, it’s discrimination under the law. That’s what makes you a second-class citizen. It’s what gay people live with now, and it’s something that is never, ever going to happen to Christians, no matter how bad some of them may feel when people tell them they’re wrong.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 27, 2013