Culture Wars Today, Tomorrow, and Forever?

Culture Wars Today, Culture Wars Tomorrow, Culture Wars Forever

At a Super Bowl party at my friend Al’s house, I was standing in the kitchen ladling some of my wife’s extraordinary chili into a bowl, when a friend asked what I was going to write about now that the Christian right is defeated and demoralized. Rushing to get back into the living room for third quarter action, I mumbled that I wasn’t worried about not having the Christian Right to write about anymore because I was reasonably sure that they would live to fight another day. In fact, I added, they might even prosper in the Age of Obama.

In his 1963 inauguration address, Alabama Governor George Wallace issued his famous battle cry, “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” It was a phrase that symbolized the intransigence of Southern politicians, and their constituents, to a changing civil rights landscape. These days, retooling of the phrase to “Culture Wars Today, Culture Wars Tomorrow, Culture Wars Forever,” might best reflect the stance that many conservative Christian leaders and their organizations are taking.

It is not quite four weeks into the Obama admninistration, and the Christian Right has been in full battle gear since Day One (some would arugue since the results came in on November 4). Earlier this month, a number of Christian and secular conservative organizations mounted an impressive effort aimed at taking down David Ogden, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be deputy attorney general. While the campaign failed in its objective—it appears that Ogden will get the Justice Department post—it reminded us of the tenacity of the Christian right campaigns.

Consider these headlines from an assortment of right-wing media outlets which appeared during the run-up to, and the days following, Ogden’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Take Action: Obama’s Judicial Nominees Stand on Anti-Family Principles”—CitizenLink (Focus on the Family), February 4.

“Obama Justice Nominee Used to Represent Playboy”—Fox News, February 4.

“Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Pro-Abortion Obama Justice Pick David Ogden—LifeNews.com, February 5.

“Justice Dept. Nominees Raise Eyebrows”—Christian Broadcasting Network, February 5.

“Deputy US Attorney General nominee linked to porn industry”—Catholic News Agency, February 5.

“Obama’s Choice for Deputy AG is ‘Pro-Obscenity,’ ‘Pro-Abortion’ and ‘Pro-Homosexual,’ Conservatives Say”—CNSNews.com, February 5.

“Obama’s Big Porno deputy” and “Justice nominee’s porn agenda raises alarms”—WorldNetDaily, February 5 and 6.

“Obama’s Recent Nomination Puts Families At Risk, Undermines Law”—Human Events, February 6.

“Justice Candidate a Threat to Parental Rights”—Home School Legal Association, February 6.

“Tax Cheats, Unethical Lobbying, Now Porn Pushers for Team Obama?”—Stop the ACLU, February 6.

In a two-hour hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee members “questioned Ogden about his work on cases involving abortion, the death penalty, foreign law, and obscenity, repeatedly asking whether he personally holds the views that he argued on behalf of his clients,” Legal Times reported.

There has been no date set for a vote on Ogden’s nomination. According to Legal Times, “Senators have until Feb. 12 to submit questions in writing, and the Senate has a recess scheduled for the week of Feb. 16, potentially pushing a vote to the week of Feb. 23.”

The campaign against Ogden was clearly a dry run for future anti-Obama efforts, particularly those related to the president’s judicial appointments. What are we learning from these early skirmishes about how the religious right intends to operate in the Obama era?:

You Snooze, You Lose: In the three-plus weeks since Obama has taken office, the religious right has seized upon every opportunity to criticize his policies and his personnel choices. And when there wasn’t a glaring opportunity, it created one. The Ogden nomination became an excellent test case for revivifying the movement.

Create the Message, Stay on Message: A message quickly emerged—Ogden was pro-abortion and pro-pornography—and dozens of groups and media outlets ran with that story.

Show the Anger: Although it could be counterproductive in the long run to be angry 24/7, showing righteous anger, with a dollop of dismay and disgust, allows the base to know what’s at stake and that it’s a deadly serious issue. Warning: Beware of the “Boy who cried Wolf” syndrome!

Culture Wars are Forever: In frightful economic times, culture wars issues can still be the gift that keeps on giving.

“The religious right has developed an extraordinary infrastructure, especially at the state level, that will restore and replenish the movement as the founding generation of religious right leaders passes from public life, and will regroup in the wake of national Republican electoral losses in 2008,” Frederick Clarkson, a frequent contributor to Religion Dispatches and the co-founder of the blog Talk2Action, wrote in Political Research Associates’ Winter 2008 issue of The Public Eye.

“Fresh battles will break out on different turf, in different towns and states… [and] even the issues will evolve,” Clarkson pointed out. “But the culture of denial regarding the ongoing potency and significance of the religious right in American public life remains as a stubborn obstacle to meaningful discussion about this powerful movement.”

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Ted and Gayle Haggard Play Oprah

“Oprah is the closest thing we have to a high priestess of America’s new morality, and she seems obligated to push the politically correct idea that it’s OK to be gay.”—J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma

There are not many bright spots that conservative evangelical Christians can glean from the Ted Haggard affair. The former pastor of Colorado Springs’ New Life Church, and the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals who had a direct line to President Bush’s White House was forced out of both positions when it was revealed that he was enmeshed with drugs and a gay prostitute. Haggard has since been sent into exile and is currently living in Phoenix and selling insurance.

Stories of the fallen often seem to titillate the public. And Haggard is taking full advantage of being granted another fifteen minutes. Over the past few weeks, Haggard and his wife Gayle have been making the rounds of television’s talk show circuit, most notably appearing with Larry King (for the full hour) and on Oprah’s popular talkfest, promoting the new HBO documentary “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” produced by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“Oprah tried her best to pin Ted down and get him to admit he is a homosexual,” J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine, reported. “Ted balked, saying that his sexuality is complicated. He explained that he had sexual experiences in the seventh grade that confused him. He spoke of sexual impulses that he struggled with but didn’t act on until he hit 50.”

Then Gayle stepped in, telling an obviously agitated Oprah that “just because a person has certain inclinations doesn’t mean he has to act on them.” According to Grady, “Oprah got upset… [and] she got out of her chair and said to Gayle: ‘That’s where I disagree with you’—and her audience cheered.” Grady wondered if the audience “had been cued.”

Grady, while admitting that he has not been “too excited about Haggard going public with the story of his relationship with a male prostitute,” saw in Gayle Haggard a worthy challenger to Oprah as “she stuck her neck out and defied the false religion of our times.” According to Grady:

Oprah is the closest thing we have to a high priestess of America’s new morality, and she seems obligated to push the politically correct idea that it’s OK to be gay. She is paid a lot of money to promote this agenda, and she’s good at it. She is articulate in her arguments and velvety smooth in her affirmation. Just come to Oprah, all you who are weary and burdened, and she will console you.

Oprah’s feel-good doctrine is the same one adopted in the last 30 years by mainstream psychologists, Hollywood producers, gay rights organizations and some mainline churches. It basically says that if a person struggles with any level of same-sex attraction, they shouldn’t fight the urges or label this a sin or a sexual disorder. They should simply accept their gayness, celebrate their new sexual identity, and then hop in bed with whomever they please (unless of course they want to settle down into a same-sex marriage, which all state governments should legalize).

The issue on the table in this debate is whether homosexuality is (1) a sinful condition that can be overcome by the grace of God; or (2) an inborn genetic quality that should be accepted like skin color or a personality trait. Oprah and the majority of the mainstream media today are obviously pushing the second viewpoint. ‘Sin’ is not in their vocabulary.

We cannot be silent while this debate rages. Let’s tell our culture that Jesus Christ’s amazing grace has the power to transform people whether they are gay or straight or anything in between.

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New leader of Coral Ridge Ministries to Deemphasize Conservative Politics?

Before his death in 2007, D. James Kennedy was an influential, albeit lesser- known, religious right leader and a profoundly partisan conservative voice. His Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was a multimillion dollar media ministry, and millions of people listened to and watched its broadcasts on radio and television, and purchased books, pamphlets, tapes and videos of Kennedy’s sermons, many of them attacking evolution, opposing gay rights and arguing that America is a “Christian nation.”

Shortly before Kennedy’s death, CRM shut down its Washington DC-based Center for Reclaiming America, its highly partisan political arm, saying that it would concentrate “on expanding its audience via its media productions,” People for the America Way’s Right Wing Watch recently pointed out.

Since Kennedy’s death, Coral Ridge has been in sort of a holding pattern, still offering a plethora of items for sale, but reasonably quiet on the political front. That was the case until CRM issued a recent “Alert!” entitled “President Unveils His Homosexual Agenda.”

The “Alert!” warned CRM supporters that President Obama has “announced his aggressive plan to force Americans to accept homosexuality”:

His just-revealed gay rights agenda, posted on the Whitehouse.gov Web site, is a dream come true for the homosexual lobby. Our new president wants to force Americans to accept homosexuality in the workplace and in the military. Plus, he will push hard to pass hate crimes legislation and give marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

CRM’s Alert came about the same time that several Florida newspapers reported that William Graham Tullian Tchividjian was in the process of becoming the new pastor of Ft. Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Tchividjian, the son of Gigi Tchividjian, the eldest daughter of Billy and Ruth Graham, and Swiss-Armenian psychologist Stephan Tchividjian, told The Miami Herald that “Dr. Kennedy came from a completely different generation, and my leadership by that fact alone will be different. The impression out there of Coral Ridge is that they are a church that is stuck in the past and unwilling to change. This move on their part corrects that assumption.”

South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel reported that “The proposed merger [between Tchividjian’s New City Church and Coral Ridge] would join different kinds of congregations…Tchividjian’s vigorous, 5-1/2-year-old church with attendance of 600 to 700, and an established, half-century-old church of 2,200 members and weekly attendance of 1,800.” According to the newspaper, “Tchividjian was cautious about discussing any changes he might make at the helm of Coral Ridge. However, he said the Coral Ridge leaders had asked him to bring the ‘vision’ he instilled at New City Church, a vision of ‘revival and renewal for all of South Florida.’ New City is also known for blending traditional beliefs with modern methods, mixing hymns and contemporary Christian songs.”

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Focus on the Family turns to Tim Goeglein

He was Karl Rove’s golden boy. As the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Liaison under President George W. Bush, Tim Goeglein had it all going for him. Then the bottom fell out. Last February, Goeglein was forced into premature retirement when it was discovered that he had plagiarized 19 of 38 columns he had written for Fort Wayne (Indiana)’s News-Sentinel.

Now, he has joined up with Dr. James Dobson’s outfit, Focus on the Family Action, in the newly-created role of vice president of external relations, Focus on the Family announced in late January. “My job is to tell the Focus story to people and to groups of influence,” Goeglein told CitizenLink, Focus on the Family’s daily news alert. “It’s to build relationships, to build alliances, to shape debate. It’s very important we tell the Focus story to the rising generation of young Americans.”

“Tim brings with him a wealth of experience and relationships that will prove invaluable to our efforts to defend the sanctity of human life, protect the institution of marriage, and ensure the religious-freedom rights of Christians,” Focus on the Family Action President and CEO Jim Daly said. “He will be our eyes and ears in Washington, helping ensure people of faith continue to be heard on the important issues facing our nation.”

For my Media Transparency 2006 profile of the then up-and-coming Karl Rove protege, see “Tim Goeglein: Selling Brand Bush to the Christian Right.”

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GOP’s Taliban Fever: Is They, or Is They Not Our Taliban?

Over the past half-dozen years of so since information about Taliban activities in Afghanistan first arrived on these shores, there has been a relatively hearty debate among religious right watchers whether that movement has anything in common with the Taliban. Most observers have been careful to point out that while religious right leaders and their supporters often step close to the line with their endless streams of radical rhetoric aimed at imposing their religious beliefs and morality—demonizing gays and lesbians, pro-choice advocates, and secular humanists—most have stopped short of branding conservative Christian evangelicals with the “T” word.

Now, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has done the branding himself. Sessions recently said that House Republicans should play the role of the “positive, loyal opposition” that should also “understand insurgency.” But Sessions didn’t stop there.

“Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” Sessions said during a meeting with Hotline on Call editors. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. And these Taliban—I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.”

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RD Tidbits:

AFA’s Project Push Back: In a “personal note” to supporters dated February 11, Donald Wildmon, Founder and Chairman of the American Family Association, is looking for a million new members to join Project Push Back:

Here is how Project Push Back works. Order a packet of 25 Project Push Back cards. Take the cards to your church or Sunday School class and give them to your friends. Encourage them to join the AFA Action Alert team and get informed about issues that are critical to our families. It’s that simple!

Each packet contains one card with “information concerning AFA, including instructions on how to participate in AFA’s online Action Alert site.” You can give the other 24 cards “to your friends and family.”

Exactly what is being “Push[ed] Back”against isn’t quite clear. Wildmon doesn’t really say. One needn’t stretch one’s imagination much to get the sense that when push comes to shove, just about everything advanced by the Obama administration will be subject to “Project Push Back.”

Equality Forum 2009: Bad news and good news for the Rev. Donald Wildmon’s boycott happy American Family Association. The bad news? In Philadelphia from April 27 to May 3, Equality Forum—“a national and international nonprofit 501(c)(3) GLBT civil rights organization with an educational focus”—will present Equality Forum 2009, in collaboration with 65 nonprofit organizations. Scheduled are 34 panels, 10 special events, and 8 parties. There is no registration fee, and all substantive programs are free.

The good news for the AFA? So many sponsors, so many boycott targets! Sponsors included a host of gay organizations and media groups as well as Comcast, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Chase, Bank of America, and GlaxoSmithKline. More information here.

Wicca Pedia: According to The Barna Group, a polling and research organization that “provides leadership and unique, strategic information and resources that help facilitate spiritual transformation in America,” 55% of Americans say that they haven’t heard of Wicca. “Among the 45% who have heard of, the segments most familiar with Wicca include people younger than 60 (50% are familiar with the name, compared to 35% of older adults); Christian evangelicals (65%); Skeptics (61% of atheists and agnostics); Asian Americans (52%); upscale adults (62%); and those who describe themselves as socio-politically liberal in most cases (55%),” Barna pointed out in its recent report titled “Survey Reveals Americans’ Feelings about Wicca.” Read Barna’s report.

NAE searching for Mr. Right: The National Association of Evangelicals is in hot pursuit of someone to take the place of Richard Cizik as director of government affairs. Cizik, a thorn in the side of the NAE’s leadership for his stands of global warming, resigned in December after telling a National Public Radio audience that he had shifted his views on same-sex unions. According to the job description, Cizik’s replacement will be expected to “be responsible for representing the NAE before Congress, the White House, and the Courts and will work to advance the approach and principles of the NAE document ‘For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.’” In addition, the job qualifications include: “personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, agreement to and affirmation of the NAE Statement of Faith, and participation in an NAE- affiliated congregation… Candidates must also possess knowledge of evangelical beliefs, history, and community, along with experience in government affairs and a familiarity with politics and policies of concern to evangelicals.”

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Read all of Bill Berkowitz?s articles here and sign up for his RSS feed here. *** Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer and longtime observer of the conservative movement.