RD News Round-Up—September 22, 2008

Evangelical conference takes on torture

On the same weekend that a little over two-thousand Christian Right leaders and supporters trooped to the nation’s capital for the Family Research Council’s annual Values Voter Summit, a group of concerned Christian leaders met in Atlanta, Georgia, to discuss another pressing issue related to values; the use of torture. While the Washington gathering saluted the nomination of Sarah Palin, extolled the virtues of opposing abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem-cell research, David Gushee, a Mercer University professor and Baptist preacher, was helping lead a discussion amongst some 200 U.S. religious, legal and political leaders about the use of torture in the war on terrorism at a conference called A National Summit on Torture: Religious Faith, Torture & Our Nationmal Soul.

The folks at the national summit on torture have their work cut out for them: An early 2008 Pew Research Center poll for the People & the Press asked: “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?”

One-fifth of white evangelicals said torture is often justified, and more than one-third say it is sometimes justified. Half of mainline church members such as Presbyterians were among those approving, as were slightly less than half of Catholics.

“From the moral perspective, to hear that one-fifth of evangelicals think torture is often justified, and that one-third think it is sometimes justified is extremely distressing. It shows we have a lot of work to do,” said Gushee, who also helped found Evangelicals for Human Rights in 2006.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Keith Pavlischek from the Ethics and Public Policy Center—a Washington-based think tank formerly headed by Neocon hawk Elliott Abrams—also an evangelical, had no plans to attend the conference. Pavlischek “has countered Gushee’s articles on torture in the evangelical flagship publication Christianity Today. Pavlischek does not rule out harsh treatment in extreme cases where lives could be saved, and he criticizes Gushee for not defining exactly what torture is,” the newspaper reported.

“I want to push up against the boundary of that. Why, because I am sadistic? No, because I want to protect innocent people,’” Pavlischek said. “In between [painful interrogations and simply being jailed] are a continuum of interrogation techniques that I believe are morally and legally permissible, that are aggressive, that are short of torture,” he said.

Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist and author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, told the Journal-Constitution that Gushee “is a very prominent figure in contemporary evangelical life. His organizing and trumpeting of this particular political issue is significant.”


BornAliveTruth.org targets Obama

As the presidential campaign enters its final weeks, several new organizations have gotten into the fray, filling the airwaves with a series of television advertisements attacking both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain. On the “culture wars” front, the newly created BornAliveTruth.org, an anti-abortion group, “assails Obama’s abortion votes,” the Associated Press’ Jim Kuhnhein recently reported.

According to AP’s Kuhnhein, the group’s $350,000 spot “singles out Obama’s efforts while in the Illinois Senate to defeat the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. Obama and abortion rights forces in Illinois have said the bill would have undermined the landmark Supreme Court case on abortion, Roe v. Wade.”

One thirty-second ad—currently running in New Mexico and Ohio—is called “The Gianna ad” and features Gianna Jesson who is identified as an “Abortion Survivor.” “My name is Gianna Jesson, born 31 years ago after a failed abortion,” Genson states. She goes on: “But if Barack Obama had his way, I would’t be here. Four times Barack Obama voted to oppose a law to protect babies left to die after failed abortions. Senator Obama, please support Born Alive Infant Protection. I’m living proof therse babies have a right to live.”

Jesson has also appeared on the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes,” the video of which is featured at the BornAliveTruth website. In addition to coverage in the New York Times, CNN and the Associated Press, the organization’s launch received blanket coverage from such likeminded sites as Conservative Grapevine, Catholic News Service, LifeSiteNews, LifeNews, Stop the ACLU, OneNewsNow and many more.

The main donor to BornAliveTruth, a 527—an organization allowed to raise money from individuals in unlimited amounts—is Raymond Ruddy, who is described by Kuhnhein as “a prominent anti-abortion philanthropist in Massachusetts who supported Mitt Romney for president in the GOP primary.”


Focus on the Family doesn’t hate gays, says “ex-gay“ Melissa Fryrear, director of FotF’s gender issues department

Eerily reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech, Melissa Fryrear, the former lesbian who is the director of the gender issues department at Focus on the Family, insists that charges that the James Dobson-founded Colorado Springs, Colorado-based multi-million dollar media-ministry hates gays is unfair and unfounded. Fryrear, who sat down for an interview with citizenlink.com’s Jennifer Mesko, said that those allegations are “grossly inaccurate and patently unfair portrayal of how Focus on the Family and LWO (Love Won Out) feel about those who identify as gay or lesbian.”

Focus apparently felt the need to set the record straight after it began feeling the heat since it was reported that LWO—a project aimed at de-homosexualizing gay people—had a conference scheduled for Anchorage, Alaska for the weekend of September 13, which was being promoted by Wasilla Bible Church, the home church of Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP’s nominee vice presidential nominee.

According to piece by Wayne Beson, the executive director of Truth Wins Out, that appeared in the Falls Church News-Press Online, Wasilla Bible Church “was caught promoting” the LWO conference through a Bible insert that read, “You’ll be encouraged by the power of God’s love and His desire to transform the lives of those impacted by homosexuality.”

“We appear wherever Focus on the Family spreads lies and fear,” Besen, said in a press release. “Love Won Out distorts gay life and conflates stereotypes with science, while selling false hope to vulnerable people. We are looking forward to working with Alaskan advocacy groups to counter Focus on the Family’s false and destructive messages.”

For the Fryrear interview see, “Does Focus on the Family Really Hate Gay People?”.


Evangelicals and Palin: The Youth Vote

While a significant majority of young voters appear to be supporting Obama/Biden over McCain/Palin, the Associated Press reported on September 14, that young evangelicals are having a tough time making up their minds. “Polls have yet to measure the Palin Effect on younger evangelical voters, whose shifting political allegiances put the demographic in play for both major-party presidential campaigns.”

“But a portrait emerges through interviews with more than a dozen pastors, authors and others who either belong to that generation or track it: Conservatives are energized much like their elders, progressives are unimpressed and many undecideds are gravitating toward McCain-Palin.

“I think the jury is still out on young evangelicals,” said Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine, an influential publication for this group. “Both parties have the opportunity to address issues of deep concern for this voting bloc.”

Strang attended a meeting Obama held with evangelical leaders a while back and he was invited to speak on a panel at the Democratic National Convention about the faith vote and attended Obama’s acceptance speech. Still, he told the AP, that he is “more undecided than ever.” Although encouraged by the Democratic Party’s “pledges to reduce the number of abortions, … [he] now worries [that] the party is using abortion as a wedge issue by running ads sharply contrasting Palin and Obama on abortion rights,” AP reported.

“Strang said he’s waiting for the Republicans to talk more about health care and the economy—and is both intrigued and unmoved by Palin. ‘It’s a great story, but I don’t know what’s changed,’ he said. ‘She’s pro-life, but we already knew the ticket was pro-life. She really doesn’t broaden the agenda.’”

AP cites a Pew survey taken last fall which “showed under-30 white evangelicals are increasingly up for grabs politically: 40 percent identified as Republican, down 15 percent from 2005. Most who abandoned the GOP were becoming independents, not Democrats.”


In the land of Regnery Publishing

In early August, Regnery Publishing, which calls itself “the nation’s largest conservative publisher,” released The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate by David Freddoso. While not as toxic as Jerome Corsi’s The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality (Threshold Editions/Simon & Schuster), Freddoso’s book joined Corsi’s on the New York Times best-seller list.

As a Political Research Associates’ Right Web profile of Regnery points out, the company, founded by Henry Regnery in 1947 in Chicago, and [i]nitially affiliated with the University of Chicago’s “Great Books” series, … became a leading publisher of old-guard, conservative writers such as Russell Kirk, James Burnham, and William F. Buckley, Jr.“

After being bought by Eagle Publishing in 1993, the company turned to red-meat conservatism, and published works by such authors as Newt Gingrich, William Bennett, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, David Horowitz, and Laura Ingraham, most of which have made it to best-seller lists. In a 2002 essay in The American Prospect titled “Hillary Was Right,” journalist Nicholas Confessore characterized Regnery as the “lifestyle press for conservatives, preferred printer of presidential hopefuls, and venerable publisher of books for the culture wars.”

Since the advent of the Iraq War, Regnery has added defense of the Bush administration, promotion of the war on terror and Islam:

[This year] Regnery published two books that fanned fears of Islam and justified the U.S. invasion of Iraq and war on terror using the clash of civilizations language of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington: Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, and Mark Sieff’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East. According to Regnery, in America Alone, Steyn, a writer for the right-wing Washington Times and the National Review, “proclaims the unspeakable, yet undeniable truth: the Western world is falling prey to the unrelenting tide of radical Islam, demographically and ideologically. And if we don’t do something soon, one day we’ll wake up to the end of the world as we know it: the end of church bells, replaced by the muezzin’s call to prayer. The end of free speech, replaced by strict, religious-based censorship. The end of liberty and justice for all, replaced by Sharia law.”

Right Web’s “Regnery Publishing: Home of Books Fanning Fear of Islam.”


The Religious Left

Early next month, Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, a collection of 19 essays by 22 authors, that challenges the Religious Left to re-envision and reinvent itself will be published. Last week Religion Dispatches ran an exclusive interview with Frederick Clarkson, the book’s editor.

According to Clarkson, “the book is divided into three sections: the first includes several envisioning essays; the second, memos on fresh approaches to hot button issues; and third, a set of essays about how to begin to think about doing politics differently and more effectively.” The book, while “not intended as a manifesto, a platform or blueprint,” said Clarkson, is more like the “application of jumper cables to start a necessary conversation.”

In a recent “Guest Commentary” titled “Becoming a Christian Citizen: Electoral Lessons from the Religious Right for the Religious Left,” published in the Fall, 2008 edition of The Public Eye, a publication of Political Research Associates, Clarkson wrote:

The main reason why the Religious Right became powerful is not what most people may think. Some would undoubtedly point to the powerful communications media. Others might identify charismatic leaders, the development of “wedge issues,” or even changes in evangelical theology in the latter part of the twentieth century that supported, and even demanded, political action. All of these and more, especially taken together, were important factors. But the main reason for the Religious Right’s rise to power has been its capacity for political action, particularly electoral politics.

Meanwhile, over on the Religious Left, many of the ingredients are present for a more dynamic movement. But the ingredient that is most remarkably lacking on the Religious Left is the one that made the Religious Right powerful: a capacity for electoral politics. Indeed, there has never been anything on the Religious Left on the scale of say, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority or Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition—or even any of dozens of significant Religious Right groups—including the 35 state political affiliates of Focus on the Family—that have had any significant national or regional electoral muscle.

To read the rest of Clarkson’s essay, go to Public Eye.


RD Tidbits

  • YouTube Pulls Palin Video: In a previous “RD News Round-up” we cited Bruce Wilson’s article, and the accompanying video, about the Sarah Palin’s churches. On Sunday, September 13, Wilson reported that his “ten-minute mini-documentary, focusing on the Wasilla Assemblies of God” was pulled by YouTube, which called it “inappropriate content.” “At the point the video was censored by YouTube,” Wilson wrote, “it had been viewed by almost 160,000 people. The short of it is that YouTube has censored a video documentary that appeared to be close to having an effect on a hard fought and contentious American presidential election. To read Wilson’s piece “Palin’s ‘Heretical’ Church: Censored Video the McCain Campaign Doesn’t Want you to See,” and to view the video, see (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/98698/).
  • Jews for Jesus Director Responds: Jews for Jesus executive director, David Brickner, who during a talk at Sarah Palin’s church (she was present) described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God’s “judgment of unbelief” of Jews who haven’t embraced Christianity, claimed, in an interview with Christianity Today that his remarks were taken out of context.

    A spokesman for the McCain campaign said that Palin did not know Brickner would be speaking that day and did not share his views. “Governor Palin does not share the views he expressed, and she and her family would not have been sitting in the pews of this church for the last seven years if his remarks were even remotely typical,” Michael Goldfarb wrote in an e-mail to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

  • Judeo-Christian Politicking: The Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank founded by Ernest Lefever and formerly headed by Neoconservative hawk Elliott Abrams (as mentioned above), was “established in 1976 to clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues.”

    These days, it is all about support for McCain/Palin … er… mostly Palin. At its website, you can judge for yourself how well the Center is doing in terms of “clarify[ing] and reinforc[ing]” by sampling articles with these titles: “Why They Hate Her: Sarah Palin is a smart missile aimed at the heart of the left”; “The Not-So-Inscrutable Reasons Behind the Sarah Surge”; and “Petty Attacks on Palin Could Backfire at the Ballot Box.”

  • Obama’s Christian Merch: Christianity Today reports that the Obama campaign has introduced “a line of merchandise, most of which specifically target Christians.” The “Believers for Barack” button “includes the ichthys, the fish outline that became a secret symbol for persecuted Christians in the early church. ‘When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes,’ Elesha Coffman wrote for Christian History, CT’s sister publication.’”

    The campaign is selling “Believers for Barack,” “Pro-Family Pro-Obama,” and “Catholics for Obama” buttons and bumper stickers for $3 each and signs for $2.50 each (see image at the top of the story).

  • “WaffleGate”: For a full report—and a boatload of comments—on “WaffleGate,” the selling of boxes of “Obama Waffles” with a racist caricature of Obama, at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, see Chip Berlet’s post at Daily Kos titled “Obama Waffles Denounced but Conference Content Ignored” and Sarah Pulliam’s report at Christianity Today.
  • Movie teasers: Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham is coming to “select theaters across the country” starting October 10. Bill Maher’s Religulous (watch for RD review in the coming weeks), set to open on October 3, is “a long Maher spiel” that dismisses other viewpoints, and is “very funny” but also “unfocused,” writes Fox News’ Roger Friedman. It also is generating Oscar buzz, says the Los Angeles Times.