Not Fascism: Trump is a Right-Wing Nativist Populist

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt of the author’s forthcoming analysis of the new wave of right-wing nativism inspired by Donald Trump.

The outlandish populist rhetoric of Republican presidential wildcard Donald Trump has left many journalists at a loss for words—words such as bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and demagoguery. These are the elements of the latest Nativist crusade.

Donald TrumpJournalists and scholars familiar with the rise of contemporary right-wing populist political parties and social movements in Europe recognize that xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and racist rhetoric can lead to acts of violence. The progressive press has done a better job of pointing out the potential for making some of our neighbors targets of White angst.

Adele Stan in the American Prospect (9/9/15) put it boldly:

What Trump is doing, via the media circus of which he has appointed himself ringmaster, is making the articulation of the basest bigotry acceptable in mainstream outlets, amplifying the many oppressive tropes and stereotypes of race and gender that already exist in more than adequate abundance.

Donald Trump Is an Actual Fascist” trumpets the headline in Salon (7/25/15) for Conor Lynch’s article. Undermining Salon’s headline, Lynch tells us the “GOP are obviously not fascists, but they share a family resemblance.” The resemblance, according to Lynch, is explained in the famous quote attributed to Italy’s fascist dictator during World War II, Benito Mussolini:

Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.

According to Lynch, this “definition may very well fit the GOP ideology: a kind of corporate fascism.” Alas, the quote is a hoax, widely circulated on the internet but debunked years ago. Mussolini never wrote or said anything like that, since the fake statement refutes Mussolini’s views on fascism. Nor is Trump an example of creeping totalitarianism, for which Hitler and Stalin were the analytical icons for Hannah Arendt in her masterwork The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Part of the confusion over Trump’s ideology is definitional: Scholars write entire books trying to map out the contours of right-wing political and social movements, especially the line dividing right-wing populism and neofascism. The pre-eminent scholar in this area, University of Georgia’s Cas Mudde, explained in the Washington Post (8/26/15):

The key features of the populist radical right ideology – nativism, authoritarianism, and populism – are not unrelated to mainstream ideologies and mass attitudes. In fact, they are best seen as a radicalization of mainstream values.

His ideology and rhetoric are much more comparable to the European populist radical right, akin to Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front, the Danish People’s Party or Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. All of them use the common radical right rhetoric of nativism, authoritarianism and populism.

What fuels this sort of bitter backlash movement now? The late scholar Jean Hardisty who founded Political Research Associates argued in 1995 that a confluence of several historic factors has assisted the success of the right in the United States:

  • a conservative religious revitalization,
  • economic contraction and restructuring,
  • race resentment and bigotry,
  • backlash and social stress, and
  • a well-funded network of right-wing organizations.

Each of these conditions has existed at previous times in US history,” wrote Hardisty. She also noted they overlap and reinforce each other. This backlash is picking up speed. The Republican voter base in the Tea Party long ago shifted its attention away from fiscal restraint toward anti-immigrant xenophobia, banning abortion and pushing gay people back into the closet.

The demonization and scapegoating that accompanies right-wing populism in the United States is breeding a backlash movement that will take creative and bold approaches as we organize to defend democracy and diversity in the public square.

This article and the forthcoming analysis are adapted from the author’s previous piece in FAIR.

Architects of Christian Right Transphobia Convene in Louisville Today

Co-authored by Tope Fadiran

Celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner have become increasingly visible and vocal representatives of transgender people in the mainstream media, with reports going so far as to label this a “transgender tipping point.” But is transphobia, as the media’s labeling implies, actually coming to an end?

In this post-marriage equality moment, the Christian Right is increasingly turning its attention toward the anti-LGBTQ battles it feels more confident about winning, specifically focusing on transgender communities. To bolster their arguments and better equip themselves for this new chapter in the ongoing attack against trans and gender-nonconforming people, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)—a network of thousands of conservative Christian counselors—is hosting what’s being proclaimed as the “first-ever” evangelical conference on the subject of “transgenderism” in Louisville, Kentucky on Oct. 5th.

Screengrab of CSS's promotional video for the conference in Louisville.

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville. Full video at:

“Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity” is a pre-conference to ACBC’s annual gathering, which will focus this year on the subject of homosexuality. Dr. Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and one of the event’s featured speakers, insists (despite mountains of scientific evidence refuting this harmful idea) that “people who struggle with homosexuality can change.” In addition to promoting so-called “reparative” therapy, Lambert and his colleagues are now focusing on the development of specifically anti-trans theologies and therapeutic practices.

Speaking on behalf of ACBC, he argues, “[A] person cannot possess a gender other than the one they were biologically assigned,” going on to assert that transgender people are “in rebellion against who God made them to be.” We can anticipate that this will be the central theme at next week’s pre-conference—that transgender people don’t exist, and that those who claim a trans identity must be “fixed.”

Among the other anti-LGBTQ academics and theologians joining Lambert is Dr. Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood—a co-sponsor for the event. CBMW is a conservative evangelical organization established in 1987 to “defend against the accommodation of secular feminism” in the church and promote gender “complementarianism,” which teaches that “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order.”

In plain speak, CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights by making the case for complementarianism through biblical interpretation, “scholarship,” and arguments from “common sense.”

CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights.

The work of this self-described “flagship organization for the complementarian movement” provides talking points and theological rationales against gender equality that reach a large swath of American evangelicals. Thanks to the network of conservative evangelical organizations to which CBMW belongs, its messaging reaches (estimated) millions of U.S. evangelicals through its publications, website, and writings of its influential members. CBMW’s copious teachings on gender difference and “gender confusion” play a significant role in the development and propagation of evangelical messaging against transgender rights and equality.

Further amplifying ACBC and CBMW’s work is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In June 2014, SBC—the largest Protestant body in the U.S., with approximately 16 million members—approved a resolution “On Transgender Identity,” which reinforces patriarchal and misogynistic notions of “complementarity,” and declares that “gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” Additionally, the resolution describes transgender and intersex people as “psychological” and “biological” manifestations of “human fallenness” respectively, and expresses opposition to any form of physical gender transition, as well as any governmental or cultural validations of transgender identities.

The resolution was co-authored by Pastor Denny Burk, who is scheduled to speak at ACBC’s pre-conference. Burk is a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; he presented at SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s 2014 conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.”

As reported by Zack Ford at ThinkProgress, in his lecture titled “A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy,” Burk dismissed all of the research that shows that gender identity is a biological phenomenon, and that there are serious mental health consequences for denying a person’s gender identity. According to Burk, “The task of parenting—the task of discipling—requires understanding those [gender] norms and to inculcate those norms into our children and to those who want to follow Christ, even those who have deep conflicts about these things.”

Burk has also encouraged Christians to stop using the phrase “gay Christian” because “Christians never speak of ‘lying Christians,’ ‘adulterer Christians,’ ‘fornicating Christians,’ ‘murderer Christians,’ or ‘thieving Christians.’”

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville. Full video at:

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville features the harmful “bathroom scare” trope. Full video at:

Another featured speaker is Dr. Jim Hamilton, a professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has suggested that the appropriate pastoral response to a transgender person is to call them to repentance and tell them that they are “removing themselves from the realm that is safe and the realm in which we can gladly interact with one another.”

“In other words,” he explains, “this is not me choosing to go away from you, and this is not me rejecting you; this is you taking yourself away from our relationship and you ending the normalcy that has existed between us.”

These are some of the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies physical, psychological, and spiritual violence against trans and gender-nonconforming people. Fortunately, their destructive rhetoric isn’t going unchallenged.

In Louisville, there will be two grassroots youth-led actions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the conference supported by the Fairness Campaign—a local LGBTQ social justice advocacy group—and Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice. In particular, the groups will be lifting up the issue of violence against Black transgender women. This is the critical sort of resistance that is needed in the face of increasing attacks against trans and gender-nonconforming people. Presenting trans-affirming perspectives in the face of ideologies that ultimately function to promote anti-trans violence and persecution, and holding accountable the American culture warriors who propagate them here and abroad, is a vital part of our journey toward collective liberation.

KYN logoThis is why PRA has partnered with Soulforce to create Know Your Neighbors (KYN)—a project committed to confronting and containing the Christian Right’s anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda. By strategically engaging in coordinated efforts to contain the toxic global spread of U.S. culture wars at their places of origin (where their impact is also being felt), KYN aims to “promote the values of dignity, respect, and justice for all people; interrupt the spread of religiously-based attacks on LGBTQI people and reproductive justice; and support the work of both local and international LGBTQI communities, women, and their allies.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the culture warriors in your own community, and how to creatively and strategically respond, please be in touch:

Tope Fadiran is PRA’s racial and gender justice fellow. She is the founder and editor of Are Women Human?, a space for queer feminist and critical race analysis of religion and media. As a freelance writer she has contributed to The Guardian, Salon, Religion Dispatches, R.H. Reality Check,, and other outlets. Read more by Tope.

2015 Values Voter Summit Live-Blog: Day 2

Welcome to PRA’s live-blog of day 2 of the 2015 Values Voter Summit. If you’re looking for day 1, click here.

Newest updates are at the bottom. Refresh frequently for our latest posts!

9:10am Meeke Addison, spokesperson for the American Family Association

Great kickoff to the day, as the audience cheers as the American Family Association spokesperson proudly announces she works for a White Racist Hate Group. Addison also adds that “we don’t have to apologize when we’re called racists.”

Addison has turned to attack all non-Christians, saying that “there are no values except those based on the straight edge of the word of god.” Adds “you’re either for us or against us, and we know who they are and see their ugly heads rising up!”

Addison is just the latest at #VVS15 to compare herself and Kim Davis to Martin Luther King, Jr., says Christians who support LGBTQ rights and Planned Parenthood aren’t real Christians.

Addison is strongly hitting the points that the Christian Right needs to “get louder” with the Black community. What would that look like? Check this great analysis on the Christian Right’s “Abortion is Black Genocide” strategy here:

9:34am Star Parker

Like Addison, Parker is going after the Black community for being “entirely dependent” on social services. It’s not by mistake that FRC has chosen their few Black speakers to be the ones delivering this message.

Parker strongly implies that every doctor in the country who provides abortions are just like Gosnell, who illegally performed late-term abortions.

“This is what happens” when our systems are attacked by a radical left-wing agenda, she says. “We’ve all forgotten about the foster care system, but the homosexuals haven’t! That’s where they go to get children!”

“Homosexuals are shameful.”

Parker says the U.S. cannot be a free nation until the government stops supporting homosexuality. Finishes by comparing the Christian Right’s fight against homosexuality and SRHR to the 1850s fight against slavery.

9:50am Sen. Lindsay Graham, presidential candidate

Graham spends a long time giving a low-energy recitation of his personal family history.

Now he’s moved on to the Senate’s refusal to pass the 20 week abortion ban. Says he will get them there eventually.

Graham says he’s very skeptical Republicans will be able to defund Planned Parenthood while Obama is the president. Very slowly working his way around to actually saying he’s the one people should vote for.

10:14am Tony Perkins & Mark Levin

By way of background, at last year’s VVS, Levin’s job was to quiet down and quell the Christian Right’s neo-confederate wing. See Fred Clarkson’s analysis here:

Perkins and Levin are discussing the resignation of John Boehner. Lots of boos from the audience at the idea of (California Rep) McCarthey taking over.

Levin says the country has taken a “hard left” turn and passed a tipping point.

Levin also calls for the complete abolishment of government, saying “let the government shut down and let us continue to live as free people.”

Levin on other countries’ cultures: “These are third world hell holes. … People want to say they’re the equivalent of America’s culture, well they’re not!” He adds that immigrants must be assimilated.

Levin really isn’t saying much other than “this will take a strong leader to clean up Obama’s mess.” Interestingly, though, he did add that that “environmentalism is a phony movement brought over from Europe, designed to destroy capitalism.”

11:10am Generals panel with Jerry Boykin, Benjamin Mixon, Bob Dees, and Thomas McInerney

McInterney starts off by lamenting the “smaller” military in the U.S. today. No mention of how the military is larger than the 50s thanks to newer technology.

Mixon’s opening statement lists top threats as Russia, China, and North Korea. Crowd boos, hisses, and shouts “shame!” at the idea of trans* people in the military and women in combat.

Dees vaguely hints at LGB soldiers raping their fellow soldiers, saying “our soldiers are now having to look behind their backs thanks to the top-down social engineering with gays and transgenders in the military.”

Boykin says that Christians in the military are being persecuted, while LGBT and Muslims are free to participate.

Mixon says that male-on-male sexual assaults have tripled since the repeal of DADT. Dees adds that a Republican president could “restore our military easily” (meaning somehow find and dishonorably discharge all LGBT and Muslim soldiers).

11:45am Brigitte Gabriel, terrorism “expert”

Gabriel says Islam “is a political movement cloaked in religion” designed to kill the Jews. Claims that the yellow Star of David patches were invented by Muslims to mark Jews “who were considered dirty.”

Gabriel is now touting the crusades for fighting Islam. She builds crowd’s anger up saying “Muslims have butchered by the sword 270,000,000 people.”

Gabriel now says Islam will definitely violate the Iran Deal and attack the U.S. “when we least expect it.”

Gabriel says that “77% of these so-called ‘moderate Muslims’ want to establish Sharia law and bring back the caliphate” that will destroy America.

Gabriel also says that the U.S. must reject the Syrian refugees, because they are Islamic terrorists who want to destroy America “and take over our country.”

12pm – 2pm Lunch Break

Here’s something to chew on during lunch. This meme has been getting passed around by attendees (not sure who authored it):

vvs15 diversity

2:05p, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn

Cahn starts with bible story about worshippers of Baal. Says America is just like ancient Israel and risks being destroyed.

Cahn says the Christian Right must bring back the days when governments, schools, and the media broadcast biblical sermons and stories. Cahn is the author of The Harbinger, and says that the signs of the apocalypse are appearing in the U.S.

Now that Cahn has gotten the audience sufficiently freaked out that the apocalypse is indeed coming, everyone will have to buy his book to find out when.

2:23pm Joel Rosenberg

“7 to 10% of all Muslims are extremists” like Osama bin Laden.

Rosenburg says while ISIS wants to commit genocide now, Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb to commit genocide later. #VVS15

3:15pm Breakout session “The Silencing of Free Speech in the Media and Education. Panelists Dave Garrison, Kate Obenshain, Kelly Shackelford. 

Obenshain is complaining about University rules that prevent students from starting groups dedicated to the stripping civil rights from others. As is typical, Obenshain frames this as a “silencing of free speech,” but misrepresents the difference between speech and actions.

Shackelford claims that two weeks ago there was a meeting of all the major heads of LGBTQ organizations, where they announced that within 2 years they would destroy religious freedom. (Does anyone know what meeting he’s talking about??)

Obenshain says sportscasters on ESPN should be praised for speaking out against trans* players and issues. She also adds that everyone should dump political correctness, “not worry about civility,” and just speak up.

Obenshain says it’s the Left that’s objectifying women and keeping them dependent on government. Says Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann “should be the poster women for the feminist movement.”

Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackelford just said that “the reason why the ACLU doesn’t defend religious free speech, I’ve found” is because “all of their board members are Jewish, and they’re afraid if Christian beliefs advance they may end up in a gulag. It’s all fear.”

Obenshain says it’s awful how people speak against you if you say that trans* people shouldn’t be able to have surgery.

Shackelford spent 3 minutes talking about the difference between public and private universities, and how private schools absolutely have the right to decide what speech they will allow and who they’ll accept as students, then he turns around and slams Vanderbilt University (private school) for making a new rule that school clubs cannot discriminate and must allow any student to join.

4:15pm Breakout Session “How to Argue the Social Issues” by the Heritage Foundation. Speaker David Azerrad.

Azerrad says he wants to teach audience how to argue social issues with liberals and libertarians, says it can be done without even bringing up god. First, he says, stop thinking of them as ‘social issues.’ “Social issues implies they’re not important and just for the religious and the old. Call them what they are: political issues.”

“The Left has same-sex marriage, next they want incest and polyamory.”

Azerrad complains that Democratic party not only supports a right to abortion, but that platform says even if woman can’t pay.

“Liberals and Libertarians agree Bruce should become Caitlyn, they disagree on who should pay for surgery” (crowd laughs)

Azerrad says social issues are all about “sustainability,” it’s about making sure society continues to the next generation. “If conservatives argue social issues under the premise of thinking about future generations, they can win.”

“There’s no such thing as parenting, there’s mothering and fathering. It’s common sense that children need a mother and a father.” Azerrad says it doesn’t matter if there’s a good example of same-sex parents, the majority are worse than real parents. “I’ll grant you a little girl is better off with gay parents than in an orphanage in Rwanda, but that’s not what the debate’s about!”

On marriage: “It’s not about discrimination. Discrimination is if you arbitrarily draw lines, like against Blacks or Jews.” According to Azerrad, because law didn’t mention homosexuality before recent laws, it’s impossible to discriminate against them.

When you talk to a liberal/libertarian, refuse to budge from your positions, treat them like they’re a 2 year old.

Unbelievable. Azerrad discusses a hypothetical of a Muslim working at a DMV who doesn’t want to take photos of women. “Well, reassign them to somewhere they don’t have to take photos!” He apparently sees absolutely no connection to the situation with Kim Davis, who just needed to step aside and let one of her deputies give the marriage licenses.

Azerrad also conceded that if someone is a monopoly in town, his example was an electricity provider who was the only game in town, they should not be allowed to use a religious justification for withholding services.

That’s it for us from the 2015 Values Voter Summit! Thanks for following along. Please don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @PRAeyesright and on Facebook /PoliticalResearchAssociates.



2015 Values Voter Summit Live-Blog: Day 1

Welcome to PRA’s live-blog of the 2015 Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council. For coverage of day 2, click here.

Newest updates are at the bottom. Refresh often for updates.

8:37am: Things are getting read to start. This mornings’ first plenary speakers include Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio.

There’s a delegation of Chinese protesters outside the hotel who are protesting president Xi, who is in town today for a state dinner with president Obama.

vvs15 china rally

9:00am: Emcee opens with crack about the Chinese ralliers outside, “The only Chinese I know is what’s on the menu.”

Tony Perkins opens with a defense of (the Christian Right’s version of) Religious Freedom. Unfortunately, Mr. Perkins doesn’t seem to understand that Religious Freedom is a protection for all religious and non-religious people.


John McCain: McCain is keeping things very generic. “We’re on the right side of history” vs. terrorism. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is very important.”

McCain: America has shed the degradation of other countries in favor of American Exceptionalism.

McCain says that nowhere is religious persecution more extreme or more brutal than the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa.

McCain get his first ovation for getting into anti-abortion rhetoric. Going against all public polling, he claims that the majority of Americans are beginning to support anti-abortion stance. McCain also gives a shoutout to Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent anti-abortion bill.

The crowd really doesn’t seem to know what to make of McCain. There’s a lot of remaining animosity between him and the Christian Right base. He’s getting cheers when he dips into anti-SRHR rhetoric, but most of his speech is focused on foreign policy and there are a lot of phones being looked at in the audience.

9:45 am

Sen. Marco Rubio:

Rubio opens with a defense of religion playing a part in politics. Says America was certainly founded as a Christian nation, and that all rights were established not by any men but by God.

Pretty standard stump speech from Rubio thus far. “Country is not on the right track,” “politicians are out of touch,” “we need new leadership,’ etc.

Rubio does, however, get the loudest cheer thus far when he announces that GOP House Speaker Boehner is resigning.

Rubio goes after same-sex marriage, saying that same-sex couples “compete” and “threaten” opposite-sex couples.

Rubio actually acknowledges that unpaid family leave is insufficient and not a viable option for many workers, but says mandating paid family leave will cost employees jobs. Says he wants to offer a tax credit to any employer offering paid family leave.

Rubio gets a big cheer for his “defund Planned Parenthood” line. But he only calls for outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, which drew more than a few gasps from the crowd.


Gov. Sam Brownback:

Brownback opens talking about how it is no accident that “In God We Trust” is the national motto. Actually, that’s only been the national motto (and added on currency and the pledge) in the 1950s.

Brownback goes heavily after social safety nets. Says generational poverty only started once President Johnson started his welfare programs. Says the poor can’t get their dignity back until welfare has ended.

Brownback continues his attacks on low-income families. Says they refuse to work as long as public-assistance programs exist.


Senator Ted Cruz (intro’d by Rep. Jim Bridenstine):

Bridenstine says it’s because of Cruz that House Speaker Boehner is resigning. “He supported pro-life since he came to the Senate, none of these others did until they were running for president.”

Cruz jokes President Obama is “the world’s most powerful Communist.”

Cruz says his first day in office he’ll rescind Obama’s executive orders, then will direct Department of Justice to investigate/prosecute Planned Parenthood. “Justice should be blind,” says Cruz (except for this once, apparently, when he’ll force prosecution of Planned Parenthood).

Cruz says if elected there would be “no more persecution of Religious Freedom.” Mr. Cruz seems to have the same fundamentally-flawed understanding of Religious Freedom as other speakers. If government officials are allowed to deny services and rights based on religious beliefs, we wonder how he’ll feel about a Muslim clerk denying marriages to Christian couples.

11:00 am

Ken Klukowski, senior counsel at Liberty Institute and Breitbart contributor

Klukowski says Religious Freedom is not just a freedom to worship. He also says Obergefell v. Hodges is sending Christians to jail.

Klukowski is touting Liberty Institute’s new tools for “protecting businesses'” religious liberty. This is actually a reference to a dangerous new right-wing tactic which PRA has dubbed “religify.” See Fred Clarkson’s post here:


Rick Santorum:

Santorum says he wasn’t always as anti-abortion as he is today. Says abortion and same-sex marriage is “the destruction of the American family.”

Santorum also adds that, thanks to Center for Medical Progress’ highly edited and manipulated videos, there’s no question Planned Parenthood is breaking the law and performing late-term abortions.

90 percent of Santorum’s speech has been complaining that other GOP presidential candidates haven’t supported Christian Right positions until this year.

Santorum calls for the mass deportation of ALL undocumented workers in the U.S. “I’ll tell them all to go home.”

11:35 am

Kelly Shackelford, president of Liberty Institute.

Shackleford describes opponents of the Christian Right’s redefined version of Religious Freedom as advocates of totalitarianism.

Shackelford is touting Liberty Institute court wins. One of the things that makes L.I. so dangerous is how many cases of theirs occur without any public awareness. The establishment of case law when this multi-million dollar organization takes on an under-funded county attorney boosts the likelihood of major right-wing cases like the Hobby Lobby case succeeding.


Donald Trump (introduced by Citizens United president Dave Bossy):

Trump opens by showing off his personal bible, and anti-Hillary Clinton jokes.

It’s difficult to live-blog a Trump speech. It’s an incredible mish-mash of thoughts and conversation threads.

HUGE boos for Trump after he calls Marco Rubio a clown, and says Rubio supports amnesty.

Trump says Secretary of State John Kerry has “no right” to negotiate the Iran Deal. Throws in a little Islamophobia, adding “it’ll take them another couple hundred years to figure out that women are smarter than men.”

Strongly recommend reading PRA alumni Chip Berlet’s recent piece: How Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry

On immigration, Trump says he will only keep “the right people” here.

Trump turns to O’Reilly’s fake “War on Christmas” to close out. This is how he’s trying to connect with the Christian Right.

12:25pm – 2pmEST Lunch Break

2pm Plenary Sessions Resume

Dr. Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University

Smith is going after the proposal to make community college tuition free for all. Says every time a service is offered for free, “it destroys America.”

Smith says that it’s the Christian faith community, and not government, that responded to Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, ISIS, and others.

Smith is, in essence, calling for a holy war between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.


Rick Perry, former Texas governor and former presidential candidate

Perry says Christianity is the only thing standing in the way of total anarchy in the U.S. If church and state are separated, “we won’t be able to hire enough police to keep us safe.”

Perry just compared the Values Voter Summit crowd standing up to President Obama to Martin Luther King, Jr., standing up to Congress.

Perry also spent 2 minutes condemning Obama as a tyrant and a king, saying “America overthrows kings,” but later said that what America really needs right now is a ruler.

Likely directed at Trump, Perry criticizes “divisive and race-based rhetoric” in immigration debate. Says that “demeaning people because of their Hispanic heritage betrays Christ.”

Perry finishes with some martyr references, asks who in the crowd would be willing to die to restore America’s values. “Join me!”


Mike Huckabee, former governor and presidential candidate.

Huckabee opens with a joke comparing John Kerry and the Iran Deal team to Larry, Moe, and Curly.

Huckabee is also offering a defense of the Keystone XL pipeline. Says U.S. should be the #1 exporter of oil in the world. (Isn’t the KeystoneXL pipeline for Canadian oil?)

Huckabee goes after reproductive rights, says “defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t enough,” wants to completely overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion entirely. Says Roe v. Wade is already unconstitutional because of the 5th Amendment.


Ben Carson, presidential candidate

Carson starts out touting things like free public libraries which allowed him to succeed in life.

Carson says anyone is willing to come to America, but they should conform to American values and way of life. He adds that he has been to the border and that anyone who wants to can cross easily (he apparently isn’t familiar with the thousands who die trying every year). And that those coming over the border are Iraqi criminals who are “trying to invade us.”

Carson then tried to clarify his recent “a Muslim can’t be president” comments, but ended up implying that Muslims can’t even really be citizens unless they “conform” to U.S. judeo/christian values.

Carson just said that any elected official who votes to raise the debt ceiling “should be thrown out of office.” He’s apparently unaware that raising the debt ceiling does not mean borrowing new money, it means granting permission to pay what we’ve already borrowed back.


Panel Discussion with Tony Perkins, Lila Rose, Roy Costner, and Ryan Bomberger

See our full profile on Lila Rose here:

See our full profile on Ryan Bomberger here:

Tony Perkins acknowledges how Lila Rose pioneered the tactic of going undercover to health clinics (and then manipulating the video in an attempt to falsely portray illegal activity).

Ryan Bomber is a driver behind the Right’s racist meme that abortion is only something that Black people do.

Roy Costner is being touted as the hero public high school student who defied his school and violated their instructions that he not mention god in his valedictorian speech. What actually happened was that he wanted to give a full evangelical sermon to his classmates (who were required to be there). He wasn’t banned from any mentions of god, but from sermonizing to a captive audience.

Lila Rose says the criticism of her videos and and Center for Medical Progress’ videos  is that they’re done while undercover. Actually, they’re criticized and discredited because Rose and CMP edit and manipulate their videos to portray lies.

4:05 pm: Gov. Bobby Jindal, presidential candidate

Jindal says Republicans should “fold up our tents and start a new party” if the GOP congress doesn’t fully defund Planned Parenthood.

4:25pm: Gary Bauer

Bauer talks about how Christians are persecuted around the world.

Bauer says terrorism is on the rise in Europe because they allow Muslim immigration. “Can anyone connect the dots?” he demands to know.

Every year, Bauer’s Islamophobia gets worse. See 2014: and 2013:

Gary Bauer concludes his speech about how the U.S. military should forcibly impose its values on Middle Eastern countries by saying that Muslims want to start a second holocaust.

4:45pm David Daleiden

Want to know the truth behind David Daleiden & Center for Medical Progress? Via PRA senior fellow Fred Clarkson:

Daleiden is frequently using the phrase “harvest and sells baby parts.” Absolutely zero mention that Planned Parenthood does not “sell” anything, and are only reimbursed transportation costs for tissues that mothers choose to donate for medical research. This is the problem with propaganda being accepted as “investigative journalism.” See more here:

5:10pm The Benham Brothers

For background, the Benham twins’ claim to fame is the free market rejecting their tv show after they said LGBTQ people are demonic.

The Benhams are taking historical revisionism to new heights as they claim it is the pro-choice movement that is known for being violent and giving death threats. They also claim that no other religions except for Christianity are persecuted in the U.S. “it just seems to be a problem with Christianity.”

5:35pm Dinner Break – we’ll be back with live coverage at 7:15pmEST.

7:41pm Back from dinner break!

Fmr Lt. Col. Ollie North

North has listed three things as “the greatest threats to our military since WWII:” #LGBT people in the military, & women in combat. He adds that combat is too awful to subject women to.

On Chattanooga shooting: “These are not extremists or criminals, Mr. Obama, these are radical Islamists.”

Listening to North, one would think that the U.S. military (the largest and most powerful fighting force in the world) now only consists of one guy with a slingshot.

Like other speakers today, North seems oblivious to the true meaning of Religious Freedom. He points to a photo of some soldiers praying before a mission, and claims they’ll likely be attacked for that soon. No, sir, what would be wrong would be their commanding officer demanding that the soldiers in his unit pray. Your beliefs are your own.

8:05pm Rep. Louie Gohmert

So far, Gohmert is mostly discussing the Iran Deal. There are a lot of shouts from the audience of “treason” and “impeach him” about President Obama.

Rep Gohmert is intensely dull tonight. Odd for him at a Christian Right event. He’s mostly just Boehner-bashing.

Gohmert quotes from Romans, says it means that illegal immigrants “must be punished.” Adds, “we cannot afford to continue taking in immigrants.”

8:27pm Presentation of award to Kim Davis

Staver begins with attack on SCOTUS for its ruling on same-sex marriage. Says it was inevitable for their to be a clash with religious freedom. Staver is just the latest to complete misunderstand the meaning of religious freedom, which applies equally to all beliefs and non-beliefs. True religious freedom means that your beliefs cannot be forced onto others, and neither the government or others can force beliefs on you.

Kim Davis now on stage, get’s an extended standing ovation from the crowd.

Perkins presents the award plaque. Says Kim Davis has shown absolute integrity (by denying the lawful civil rights of others).

Kim Davis thanks Jesus, then shouts “I am only one, but we are many!” and leaving the stage.

Using the “War on Drugs” to Arrest Pregnant Women

The War On Drugs, launched in 1971 by Richard Nixon, has been repeatedly exposed as a failure. Yet, the same failed tactics used to fight drugs continue to be used to retain control over women’s reproduction. Drug laws are increasingly being implemented on the state level as a roundabout method to limit women’s bodily autonomy and carry out anti-choice agendas. Last year, Tennessee passed SB 1391, and became the first state in the U.S. to specifically criminalize drug use during pregnancy. The legislation states that women with babies who test positive for narcotics can be charged and prosecuted for assault. Those women would face up to 15 years of prison time.

Tennessee State Rep Terri Lynn Weaver (R). image via Flickr

Tennessee State Rep Terri Lynn Weaver’s (R) new law specifically criminalizes pregnant women who use drugs, threatening them with massive jail sentences if their doctors find out. image via Flickr

Proponents of the bill claimed it was a necessary step towards combating the increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in Tennessee. However, the medical community took issue with the legislation on a number of points, with obstetric and drug specialists stating that risks to newborns have been exaggerated. An investigative article in the American Prospect found that not only is there “no evidence that NAS has long-term consequences for infants,” but that some doctors agree there is a trend of over-treating NAS and that in actuality, close contact with the mother, not isolation, is important for alleviating symptoms. Medical authorities also say that NAS symptoms are temporary, predictable, and treatable—a far cry from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver’s (R) assertion that “these babies are born and their lives are totally destroyed.” Furthermore, using the term “drug addicted” to describe such babies has been declared inaccurate by medical professionals, yet Republican politicians, conservative prosecutors, and media continue to frame the issue as such in a way that stigmatizes women.

Pregnant women will be likely to avoid seeking prenatal or open medical care for fear that their physician’s knowledge of substance abuse could result in a jail sentence rather than proper medical treatment.

The Tennessee Department of Health’s FAQ sheet on the statute claims it does not “change care or medical treatment provided to pregnant women.” While it may not explicitly do so, the bill can have the detrimental effect of discouraging pregnant women from seeking vital prenatal care and treatment for fear of arrest and prosecution. The context and implications of medical treatment are indeed changed, and as a result there is widespread consensus in the medical community in opposition to the prosecution and punishment of pregnant women. This is not a recent development: as early as 1990, the American Medical Association stated, “Pregnant women will be likely to avoid seeking prenatal or open medical care for fear that their physician’s knowledge of substance abuse or other potentially harmful behavior could result in a jail sentence rather than proper medical treatment.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists concurred in a statement on the harms of using punitive measures to combat addiction, asserting that “Drug enforcement policies that deter women from seeking prenatal care are contrary to the welfare of the mother and fetus. Incarceration and the threat of incarceration have proved to be ineffective in reducing the incidence of alcohol or drug abuse.”

Not only is the science behind SB 1391 faulty, but the stereotypes and discourses remain consistent: the manufactured “crack baby” hysteria is mirrored, along with the moral condemnation of these mothers.

Female drug users have always been stigmatized, but the criminalization of female users reached a new high when conservative policymakers, led by President Ronald Reagan and faithfully echoed by the media, fabricated a trope of inner-city “crack babies” doomed by their supposedly incompetent mothers: poor women of color. Tennessee’s recently passed legislation shows this framework is far from retired. Representative Weaver, one of the bill’s sponsors, was quoted in a comment calling pregnant drug users “the worst of the worst.” The media storm surrounding the legislation, featuring mug shots of women arrested under the statute on local TV news and on the Internet, has driven pregnant women into hiding to escape public ridicule. According to an investigation by The Nation, 24-year-old Brittany Hudson gave birth in a car instead of the hospital out of fear of arrest and media exposure. In the previous weeks, Hudson had been turned away from two rehab centers already at capacity. As she feared, her mug shot was plastered over the news after she was charged with assault. Tennessee’s law reflects the detrimental view of addiction as a moral failure, rather than the medical disorder research has proven it to be. Just as the “crack problem” was used in the 80s as a vehicle for scapegoating supposedly “deviant” urban citizens experiencing the problems caused by Reagan’s social and economic policies, Tennessee’s statute and its conservative supporters ignore broader structural issues such as poverty, systemic racism, and insufficient health care. The conservative “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice consistently focuses on social control and punishment rather than social justice and access to resources.

Tennessee’s law reflects the detrimental view of addiction as a moral failure, rather than the medical disorder research has proven it to be.

In line with the War On Drugs, this legislation disproportionately harms poor people of color, despite conservatives’ colorblind claim that drug policy has nothing to do with race or poverty. The normalization of controlling Black and Brown bodies through institutional apparatuses continues with this expansion of an already overburdened criminal justice system. This trend, illuminated in Lynn Paltrow (whose article on fetal genocide laws can be found in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine) and Jeanne Flavin’s study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, follows a long-term strategy to unite the War On Drugs and the anti-abortion movement, which results in a disproportionate impact upon low-income Black pregnant women. The study systematically identified and analyzed over 400 cases in which a woman’s pregnancy was the basis for the deprivation of her liberty. Black women comprised over half of the cases, as they were found to be reported to the police by health care providers and arrested at higher rates. As a racist project, the justice system’s latest efforts to criminalize drug users will subject pregnant Black women to higher rates of arrests and incarceration based on systemic racial biases and racial stereotypes of African-American mothers, an issue perhaps most notably elucidated in Dorothy Robert’s seminal book Killing the Black Body.

Tennessee’s law exempts women who enter drug addiction programs while pregnant and complete them post-birth. This addition, included to temper opponents, simply furthers the disparate implementation of the measure and creates a catch-22 for addicted, low-income women who cannot get treatment. Women in rural areas and women struggling financially are threatened with a higher risk of incarceration due to limited access to drug addiction programs (as well as limited access to other options, with 96% of Tennessee counties lacking an abortion clinic). The law does not specify the legal ramifications for a woman who seeks treatment but can’t access one or get into a program, leaving many in a vulnerable position. Nor does the law provide increased funding or opportunities for treatment for pregnant women.

And Tennessee isn’t alone. Since passing the bill last year, conservative lawmakers in Oklahoma and North Carolina have proposed similar legislation.

Tennessee’s prenatal drug use law is a continuation of the “personhood” campaign. Both sponsors of the bill, Sen. Reginald Tate (D) & Rep Weaver, were endorsed by Tennessee Right to Life PAC, one of the foremost anti-choice organizations in the state.

The Tennessee law is merely one component of a wider, more subtle—and thus perhaps more dangerous—trend. Although Tennessee is the only state that explicitly criminalizes prenatal drug use as an assault, other states are utilizing different drug-related methods to control women’s reproduction. 18 states label drug usage by pregnant women as child abuse under child-welfare statutes. In the case Ex Parte Sarah Janie Hicks in April 2014, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled that a 2006 child abuse chemical endangerment statute’s reference to “child” includes an “unborn” child, upholding Hicks’ conviction for having a baby that later tested positive for cocaine, despite being healthy. The original purpose of the statute was to prohibit individuals from exposing children to narcotics production and distribution areas, but right-wing organizations, such as Liberty Counsel, and conservative political actors have since pushed for a wider interpretation of the law: one in which a fetus is considered a child and a womb is considered an environment where drugs are produced or distributed. Court decisions such as Hicks function to create precedent for convicting pregnant women for drug use.

Tennessee’s legislation, in conjunction with other drug-related strategies like the expansion of Alabama’s child endangerment statute under Ex Parte Hicks, applies the punitive approach of the War On Drugs to reproductive rights, limiting women’s bodily autonomy and perpetuating the legacy of the our racist carceral system. Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has consistently highlighted how Tennessee’s prenatal drug use law is a continuation of the anti-abortion “personhood” campaign. Notably, both sponsors of the bill, State Senator Reginald Tate (D) and Representative Weaver, were endorsed by Tennessee Right to Life PAC, one of the foremost anti-choice organizations in the state. These legislative encroachments are but one tactic in a state-by-state approach by conservative activists to control reproduction and insert the concept of “personhood” into the legal code in various arenas.

The prosecution of prenatal drug use stigmatizes and locates the blame on individual mothers, distracting attention from poverty, institutionalized racism, a broken carceral system, insufficient health care, and other structural causes. In a coming together of two controversial issues, drug policy and reproduction, conservatives have found an effective strategy to further their agenda through the targeting of pregnant drug users.

GOP Lawmaker Reveals ALEC-style Group Pushing Model Anti-Worker Bills

Co-authored by Eli Lee

Even as ALEC, the infamous bill-mill that produces right-wing model legislation for state lawmakers, hemorrhages corporate members and is discredited as a neutral voice in politics, other groups are adopting its tactics. PRA interviewed one conservative California lawmaker who said that SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, has begun using ALEC’s playbook to court lawmakers and push anti-worker policies.

Pictured left to right: CalSHRM Director-elect Patti Blosser, California Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee), SHRM A-team Captain Hector Moncada and Mike Letizia, CalSHRM’s state director.

Pictured left to right: CalSHRM Director-elect Patti Blosser, California Assemblyman Brian Jones (R-Santee), SHRM A-team Captain Hector Moncada and Mike Letizia, CalSHRM’s state director.

SHRM, which PRA has reported on in recent months, has spent several years building a lobbying infrastructure on the state level, and—especially in California—it is seeing those efforts bear fruit in the form of close relationships with lawmakers and legislative victories over organized labor and workers’ rights.

SHRM deploys its full-time lobbyists and nationwide network of member lobbyists to push back against any expansion of the overtime laws that would ensure workers putting in more than 40 hours actually receive their due overtime pay. They’re also fighting against paid sick days laws (which have repeatedly been shown to have a low-cost public health benefit to employers, workers and communities), and against any expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, in 2013, SHRM testified against a proposal in Pennsylvania that would have allowed workers to use unpaid FMLA leave to care for their ailing siblings as well as parents or children.

Now, it appears that SHRM is not only opposing workers’ rights, but it is also taking a page out of the ALEC playbook and beginning to use model bills.

California Assemblymember Brian Jones, a Republican from eastern San Diego County, spoke with us about how SHRM’s lobbyists are not only advocating for employer-friendly policies, but are actually offering legislation to lawmakers to change workplace rules to give employers more control over their employees. According to Jones, the association for human resources professionals engages in intense lobbying to try to tilt the public policy playing field more in employers’ favor.

“The first step is they contact my office, and they ask if I would be interested in sponsoring the legislation, and if I say yes, then we introduce the legislation,” says Jones.

“We change the language a little bit … we really tried to package it as an employee bill, so that it benefits employees, whereas previously it had been packaged as an employer bill.” -CA Assemblymember Brian Jones

According to Jones, in recent years these efforts have included working on a bill that would relax the overtime rules to allow for an”employee-selected” schedule of ten hours a day, four days per week instead of five eight-hour days.

Workers’ rights advocates have pointed to two types of problems that could arise from such legislation.The National Partnership for Women and Families cautioned that workers might be coerced into adopting this schedule, explaining that “employers would be able to implement this schedule without any obligation to pay overtime.” Teamsters Joint Council 7 of California agreed in a statement, saying that “This would allow an employer to circumvent the 8-hour day as long as an individual employee ‘voluntarily’ agrees to work more than 8 hours without overtime pay. We know how this would go in workplaces where workers are routinely exploited … everybody would be forced to work extra hours and nobody would be paid overtime.”

Another potential problem with AB 1038 was that it could introduce confusion about which workers are eligible to receive overtime pay, potentially undermining the more stringent federal laws governing the right to receive overtime. “We opposed it and so did the California Labor Federation and other unions,” said Jenya Cassidy, director of the California Work & Family Coalition. “It is what we in the work-family world call ‘bad flex’ because it is designed to chip away at overtime rights. A lot of employer groups support ‘flex’ that benefits employers more than workers.”

But with the help of Corporate Right lawmakers such as Jones, SHRM managed to spin this bill, deceptively called the Workplace Flexibility Act, as a boon to workers. Jones introduced the bill in its present form in 2012 and 2013, but it has yet to pass. Jones said that even before 2012, he and SHRM already had support from “the different pro-business associations” for the bill. “CalChamber—California Chamber of Commerce, they’re the big one, CMTA, the manufacturer’s association… a lot of the associations are helping out with it.”

Jones described how SHRM and lawmakers market such bills to Democrats and others in the CA legislature who may be more labor-friendly. “We change the language a little bit,” Jones says. “The main thing that we did in 2012, compared to prior attempts at the legislation, is we really tried to package it as an employee bill, so that it benefits employees, whereas previously it had been packaged as an employer bill. So that’s kind of how we were able to get more press this time and more notice from interest groups who hadn’t taken a look at it before.”

SHRM has recently taken a lead role nationally on other workplace policy issues, siding firmly with the employer community against workers’ right to unionize and earn overtime. As PRA reported in July, SHRM has pressured the Department of Labor to stop promulgating its new rule expanding overtime protections to a greater number of workers. And in California, according to Jones (who says he is a member of ALEC himself), SHRM is actively working the statehouse, promoting bills that would restrict workers’ rights and leave them open to employer abuses. “There’s lots of conversations that take place between their legislative director and my legislative director, on tactics and how we’re going to get it publicized, how we’re going to get it noticed by the members, who’s going to talk to which members about getting votes, and that sort of thing,” Jones said.

One may not think of a professional association for human resources specialists as having ALEC’s level of access to, and influence over, lawmakers. But, if California is indicative of how SHRM lobbies nationwide, SHRM does appear to be moving in that direction.

Eli Lee is a junior at Harvard University, currently studying history. He was a PRA research intern during the summer of 2015, investigating labor rights and economic justice.

The Long Hurricane – 10 years later

It’s been ten years since the Category 3 hurricane named Katrina came ashore in Louisiana, causing over 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. Five years after the storm, Political Research Associates published the below piece in The Public Eye magazine as a recap of how the U.S. Right had used Katrina as leverage to institute new neoliberal policies. A public hospital that had served the majority of the emergency services for low-income New Orleans neighborhoods was torn down in favor of a much more expensive facility (which opponents dubbed “The Taj Ma-Hospital”). Public schools were shuttered in favor of a charter school system that today boasts some of the lowest educational levels in the country. Union teachers were effectively banned from the system as the State took advantaged of the cheap labor provided by well-meaning young college grads who were flocking to New Orleans to help after the storm. The state also leaped at the opportunity to gentrify some poor neighborhoods, relocating the former residents to various upper-middle class areas where they could be “taught” to live “better.”

Ten years later, New Orleans remains a Black-majority city, and tens of thousands of its working-class citizens have returned in spite of all the exclusionary obstacles and dangers. Movements to re-establish the public schools, health system, and affordable housing are opposing privatization and continuing to organize. Yet many are still battling Hurricane Katrina – a storm that hasn’t yet ended. The storm waters may have receded, but as Darwin BondGraham wrote for us five years ago, the tidal wave of Economic Right policies has yet to retreat. -PRA

The Long Hurricane

The New Orleans Catastrophe Predates Katrina

By Darwin BondGraham, Nov 1, 2010

Members of Survivors Village, an organization of displaced New Orleans public-housing tenants, and their supporters occupy the Columbia Parc rental office in June 2010.

Five years after Hurricane Katrina and the “federal flood,” as locals call the disaster, the new New Orleans is as much the product of decades of antiwelfare ideology in local and national governments as it is of the unique circumstances of the disaster. Since the storm, a resurgent racist business elite has gained power in the city and region, and instituted a new era of urban renewal—or, as community activists termed it the first time around, in the 1960s, “Negro removal.” Privatization of New Orleans’ public sector has proceeded to a degree that real estate, banking, and industry leaders in other regions only dream of. Federal disaster subsidies have enabled reinvestment in the state’s major economic sectors—oil and gas, shipping, military, and tourism. Characterized by low wages and ecocidal byproducts, these industries dominate state and city politics. Yet New Orleans is held up as a model of redevelopment, its innovations made possible by an unfortunate storm called Katrina.

Concurrent with this neoliberal economic project is a neoconservative cultural project, the goal of which is to remold impoverished Blacks and other underclass people—who are portrayed by the redevelopers as living in a pathological state of dependency, turned into irresponsible burdens on society by decades of failed big government—into “productive citizens.” Foundations both liberal and conservative have converged on New Orleans to experiment with housing, schools, parks, and economic development.

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Anti-Death Penalty Activism Reinforces Racist Status Quo

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s widely-protested ruling in Glossip v. Gross, which maintained that execution by lethal injection does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment,” capital punishment continues to be an issue of national debate. While the partisan divide in death penalty support has been running strong for decades, significant anti-death penalty organizing can now be found on both sides of the aisle.

death penalty

Last May, Nebraska’s Republican-dominated legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, leading to much optimistic discussion about conservatives’ perceived change of heart on this long-divisive issue. This new wave of activism from non-traditional allies—a marked shift from conservatives’ typical platform of strong support of capital punishment and a “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice—has come as a welcome surprise to many progressives working toward criminal justice reform.

However, while abolishing the death penalty would clearly be a positive step forward, it is a limited and inadequate objective—particularly if achieved without any meaningful discussion of the racism and structural inequalities that produced and continue to drive our modern justice system. Even if the involvement of this small band of conservative anti-death penalty activists manages to finally tip the scales in this decades-long struggle, the changes most likely to be enacted will be purely superficial, culminating in what Dean Spade describes as “formal reforms that mask the perpetuation of the white supremacist status quo.”

Eliminating one unjust policy won’t actually change the number of people dying under state control (or the racial disparities that persist among those sentenced to life without parole).

The conservative approach to anti-death penalty organizing not only perpetuates this status quo through the promotion of a harmful “post-racial” ideology, but also manages to enhance support for the rest of the carceral system by centering reform around fiscal restraint, rather than on rehabilitation and justice for incarcerated people.

The unsettling truth about the way policing and sentencing are carried out in this country has been established time and time again; it’s clear that no criminal justice movement can make any genuine change without addressing these problems. Some may argue that abolishing the death penalty will put an end to the racial disparities in whom the state decides to execute, but the alternative to being sentenced to death in an execution chamber is being sentenced to die in a prison cell. Eliminating one unjust policy won’t actually change the number of people dying under state control (or the racial disparities that persist among those sentenced to life without parole). In fact, fighting the death penalty without simultaneously fighting the White supremacy upheld by the justice system at every level will likely exacerbate the problem by making it even easier to ignore.

Ignoring White supremacy is a fundamental facet of conservative anti-death penalty organizing. The clearest evidence of this can be found in these activists’ refusal to talk about the role of race in death penalty sentencing or the carceral system as a whole. Grover Norquist, a conservative criminal justice reform advocate and the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, revealingly accused the Left of not taking these issues seriously because of their insistence on discussing how racism is an integral part of the prison industrial complex. “They’ve left the entire area of reform to the right… [the Left] can’t talk about prison reform for 15 seconds before [they] want to yell ‘racist’… People just shut down as soon as you pull that crap.”

Norquist isn’t alone in his resistance to an anti-racist framework, either. When Right on Crime, an organization dedicated to exploring new conservative approaches to criminal justice, details its “Conservative Case for Reform,” there is no mention whatsoever of race. Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCDP) also tiptoes around this issue, focusing on the fact that life or death often boils down to a “lottery of geography,” and that many defendants wind up stuck with terrible lawyers. The effects of geography and inadequate legal representation on sentencing outcomes cannot be separated from race, yet CCDP rather conspicuously refuses to mention it, as though we are living in a “colorblind” society where race no longer matters.

This is what conservative activists are advocating when they focus their efforts solely on the death penalty and refuse to discuss race—an approach that ultimately won’t do much to address the problems that plague our justice system.

According to journalist Anna Holmes, adopting a “colorblind” perspective means believing that “race relations are soon to be replaced as a major concern,” an attitude that often amounts to “an attempt by white people to liberate themselves from the burden of having to deal with [the U.S.’s racist historical] legacy.” This is what conservative activists are advocating when they focus their efforts solely on the death penalty and refuse to discuss race—an approach that ultimately won’t do much to address the problems that plague our justice system.

Worse yet, their steadfast refusal to acknowledge how the justice system maintains White supremacy facilitates the perpetuation of these systemic injustices. Their methods, especially the way they talk about incarcerated people, reinforces the idea that if you’ve committed a crime, your life is disposable. Marc Hyden, a former NRA representative now working for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, says that “the question is not whether people who commit heinous crimes deserve to be executed – it’s whether we trust the government to efficiently and effectively carry that out.” Senator Caroline McGinn, a Republican fighting for death penalty abolition in Kansas, echoed this sentiment when, speaking about the death penalty, she “urged fellow legislators ‘to think outside the box’ for ways to save money.”

Their focus on fiscal responsibility highlights how the conservatives’ view of criminal justice reform has little to do with rehabilitation, and more to do with swiftly and efficiently keeping criminalized people out of sight and out of mind. Abolishing the death penalty will simply enable the state to continue doing this in the most cost-effective way possible.

The only exception, when conservative anti-death penalty activists have demonstrated significant interest in saving people on death row, seems to be when the condemned is the “right kind” of victim. When Black people are sentenced to die, these activists tend to focus on the injustice of capital punishment in abstract terms of fiscal irresponsibility and excessive governmental involvement, rather than the humanity of those the state wishes to kill. However, when White women are sentenced to die—especially when they’ve experienced a religious conversion—the story is often completely different. This is where the Economic and Religious Right have found a way to come together: both sides can make arguments against capital punishment that support their long-held principles, whether it’s fiscal restraint or the untouchable sanctity of White Christian womanhood.

For example, religious conservatives were vocally opposed to the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, who claimed to have a conversion experience in prison after murdering two people with a pickaxe. With key leaders of the Christian Right like Pat Robertson fighting for her release, she reached near-celebrity status. At the time of her death, polls showed that “despite Texans’ support for capital punishment, those who favor[ed] Tucker’s execution [were] a minority.” More recently, Kelly Gissendaner, another White woman on death row who converted to Christianity in prison, has found a similar outpouring of support from religious conservatives.

The problem is that only a fraction of the people whose lives are taken by the U.S. criminal justice system are White, Christian women. When conservative activism focuses on the humanity of these women but ignores the lives of everyone else, it supports the justice system’s broader lack of concern for the life and well-being of people of color.

If conservatives continue their misdirected advocacy without examining the structural inequalities at work within and outside the justice system, the abolition of the death penalty will be a hollow victory.

If other red states follow in Nebraska’s footsteps, the U.S. will gradually move closer to a national end to capital punishment. The 40 or so people executed by lethal injection each year will instead be sentenced to death by incarceration, but the question of whether any significant change will have been accomplished remains. If conservatives continue their misdirected advocacy without examining the structural inequalities at work within and outside the justice system, the abolition of the death penalty will be a hollow victory. All the mechanisms of mass incarceration will continue to operate as normal, or even with increased public support and fiscal and political resources. Undeniably racist policing and sentencing practices will continue to ensure that race remains a crucial determinant of who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Out of control incarceration rates will continue to tear families and communities apart, contributing to inescapable cycles of poverty that, in conjunction with discriminatory policies in housing, hiring, and lending, make recidivism nearly impossible to avoid. Incarcerated queer and transgender people of color will still be disproportionately subject to sexual violence, often at the hands of prison guards who will never face legal consequences. Incarcerated people will still be denied adequate medical care and could even face coerced sterilization. And prison guards will continue to employ solitary confinement as a means of punishment and control, a process that amounts to nothing short of torture, yet is used with startling frequency. These are the awful, everyday realities of the U.S. justice system, built upon centuries of systemic discrimination, none of which will be disrupted by conservative anti-death penalty activism.

Working to end capital punishment and move toward a less punitive justice system can still be worthwhile, but only if these reforms are part of a much broader strategy to root out White supremacy—in our criminal justice system, and throughout society.

World Congress of Families to Feature Anti-LGBTQ Family Scholars

One of the leading exporters of U.S.-style culture wars—the World Congress of Families (WCF)—is hosting an international gathering of right-wing scholars and activists in Salt Lake City, Utah later this year. It will be WCF’s first major conference on U.S. soil, and the event’s agenda includes a who’s who list of U.S. conservatives. Among them are two individuals who have made it their business to provide academic sanction to some of the Right’s destructively erroneous claims about LGBTQ people: Mark Regnerus and Brad Wilcox.

Since its publication in July 2012, the infamous “Regnerus Study” (officially titled the “New Family Structures Study”) has become a favorite weapon in the Religious Right’s campaign against LGBTQ people. The study, funded by the right-wing Witherspoon Institute and conducted by University of Texas associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus, portrays LGB parents in a negative light, suggesting that children raised by a mother and father in biologically intact families fare better than children raised by LGBTQ people.

regnerus and wilcox

Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas (left) and Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia (right) will speak at World Congress of Families IX in October.

Regnerus’ work has received immense criticism from a vast assortment of academics arguing that the research is not only methodologically flawed,1 but also unethically motivated and formulated. After listening to testimony from Regnerus and examining the study, Judge Bernard Friedman included the following in his ruling striking down a same-sex marriage ban: “The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” Of particular concern is the role of Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project (NMP) at the University of Virginia.

By the time Wilcox took over as NMP’s top dog in 2009, he had established himself as a prominent sociologist in conservative academic circles, building a résumé featuring connections to some of the Right’s leading institutions, including the World Congress of Families and Witherspoon Institute.

Wilcox first signed on as a research fellow with Witherspoon in 2004. In 2010, he took charge of the think tank’s Program on Marriage, Family, and Democracy and, from that position, birthed the New Family Structures Study.2 As Philip Cohen outlined in a 2013 exposé, Wilcox conceived of the study during his first year as head of Witherspoon’s marriage project, established funding (almost entirely from the Witherspoon Institute itself), and recruited Regnerus to serve as the lead investigator (reportedly because he was too busy to do it himself). Records show that he was also paid $2,000 as an official consultant for the study, and ultimately suggested Social Science Review—where he sits on the Board of Advisors—for its publication. Neglecting the obvious conflict(s) of interest, evidence additionally indicates that Wilcox served as one of three peer reviewers for Regnerus’ submission before it went to press.

This combination of poor scholarship and unscrupulous practices was seemingly justified by the greater goal: preventing same-sex couples from marrying. In an email to Regnerus sent in the early stages of the project’s development, Witherspoon President Luis Tellez wrote, “It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court.”

RELATED: Read our full research report on the World Congress of Families

RELATED: Read PRA’s full research report on the World Congress of Families

And sure enough, Regnerus pulled through. His study was first reported on by the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News, where Witherspoon co-founder Robert P. George sits on the editorial board. It was instantly popular amongst conservative circles, including legal scholars. Regnerus’ research was cited as evidence in several amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court ,as it weighed in on the constitutionality of California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8, and has subsequently been cited in legal battles against marriage equality and adoption rights all across the country. It’s also been referenced in legislative debates over numerous anti-LGBTQ bills and ballot initiatives, and has even found an international fan-base. According to a Right Wing Watch investigation, Regnerus’ study influenced the authors of Russia’s “Anti-Gay Propaganda” law, and was also cited extensively in a proposed law that sought to strip LGBTQ people of their parental rights (the legislation classified homosexuality in the same category as drug abuse and child abuse as offenses meriting the loss of custody).

Who can we credit with translating and distributing the New Family Structures Study to a Russian audience? One of the responsible parties is Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage.

In its early days, NOM (also co-founded by Robert P. George) shared an office with Witherspoon Institute, and Luis Tellez has been a member of the NOM board of directors since it began in 2007. The organization was explicitly formed for the purpose of passing California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment, and in the years since, NOM has established itself as one of the leading antagonizers of LGBTQ people in the U.S. and around the world. In June 2013, Brown testified in Russia at a joint Duma committee hearing on “traditional values.” Right Wing Watch reported that Regnerus’ study played a central role in that discussion.

During this same time period, leaders from the World Congress of Families (WCF) were also in Moscow, preparing for what was intended to be their 8th international convening (subsequently “canceled,” purportedly due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine3). NOM has been a member of WCF since 2011, and Brown is a big fan. In WCF promotional material, he’s quoted as saying, “The World Congress of Families is THE group standing up for the family around the world. They have done amazing work in uniting all of those who stand for the truth about marriage and family.”4

Wilcox, too, is a long-time WCF supporter. He’s been on the editorial board for The Family in America—a publication of WCF’s parent organization, the Howard Center, since 2009—and this will be his second time to take the stage at one of WCF’s international gatherings. Though it will be Regnerus’ first official appearance, his work will make him a familiar—and popular—face.

Speakers at the event will likely do their best to moderate both their tone and rhetoric while in front of U.S. press, but the destructive impact of WCF affiliates on LGBTQ people and reproductive justice—both locally and globally—cannot be overstated. Just as Wilcox and Regnerus have learned to cloak the Right’s vitriolic rhetoric in academic terms, WCF and its myriad supporters have become increasingly deceptive in their anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive justice agenda.

But be not deceived: promotion of the “natural family”—no matter how glossy the brochure or eloquent the speech—is intended as an attack on LGBTQ people and women, and WCF IX presents a unique and important opportunity to confront and hold accountable some of the key leaders behind this deception. Students and colleagues of Brad Wilcox and Mark Regnerus who are opposed to their manipulation of academia for the purpose of furthering anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive goals need to speak out. Their work has severe implications for social justice efforts across the country and around the world, but if we can confront these culture warriors in their places of origin—before they board that plane to Salt Lake City (or Russia, or Uganda)—we can begin to contain this toxic spill.


[1] In a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in 2012, a report by the 14,000-member American Sociological Association argued, “If any conclusion can be reached from Regnerus’s study, it is that family stability is predictive of child well-being.” (The report observed that more than half the subjects who were described as children of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” were the offspring of failed opposite-sex marriages in which a parent later engaged in “same-sex behavior,” and that many others never lived with same-sex parents.)

[2] Incidentally, Wilcox’s tenure at the conservative (and controversial) Witherspoon Institute has been omitted from his official CV. His connections to WCF are also curiously missing.

[3] The event actually went ahead as scheduled, only slightly disguised by the use of a different name: “Large Families and the Future of Humanity International Forum” (held on the exact dates and in the exact same venues that WCF VIII was originally scheduled).

[4] Brown spoke at WCF VI in 2012, and is also scheduled to speak at WCF IX in October.

Big Questions About Templeton: How the Philanthropic Giant Legitimizes Faith Healing

Click here to print the magazine version

Click here to print the magazine version

This article appears in the Summer 2015 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

On May 18, 2012, Christianity Today, the most influential magazine within evangelicalism, reported that there were “credible reports” that Christian evangelist Heidi Baker had healed the deaf and raised people from the dead where she was working in Mozambique.1 Baker claimed that “100% of the deaf in the Chiure area” of the country had “been healed through prayer.” In addition, Baker argued that “scores” of people had been resurrected and the blinded and disabled “restored.”2

Such a report must have struck some Christianity Today readers as oddly out of place; the magazine has long been known for approaching the miraculous much more cautiously than competitors like Charisma, the leading magazine for Charismatic and Pentecostal believers.i Yet Christianity Today’s coverage of Baker’s activities could not have been more credulous; the magazine valorized Baker’s missions and healing activities in Africa, stopping just short of declaring her an evangelical saint.3

John Templeton introduces the 2011 John M. Templeton Jr. Lecture on Economic Liberties and the Constitution. Photo via Flickr and by Jeff Fusco, use courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

John Templeton introduces the 2011 John M. Templeton Jr. Lecture on Economic Liberties and the Constitution. Photo via Flickr and by Jeff Fusco, use courtesy of the National Constitution Center.

In the course of the article, two academics were quoted regarding Baker: Indiana University’s religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown and Michael McClymond, a theology professor at St. Louis University. Both academics were quite flattering in their description of Baker. For example, Brown commented that “‘Heidi is a hero to young women,’ so much so that scholars joke about ‘Heidiolatry.’”4 Indeed, Brown had been so intrigued by Baker’s claims that she “sought to verify them scientifically.” Thus Brown and a small team traveled to Mozambique and tested 24 Mozambicans “before and after healing prayer.” Brown found “statistically significant improvements in hearing and vision”5—an astounding claim, given that previous studies concerning the efficacy of prayer have reported mixed results at best.6

The lion’s share of Brown’s funding came from the John Templeton Foundation’s Flame of
 Love Project, which contributed $150,000 dollars to her research.7 
The Templeton Foundation was founded by billionaire Sir John Templeton, who made his fortune 
in mutual funds. Templeton had a 
keen interest in religion, his own
beliefs an eclectic union of Presbyterianism, New Thought, and Eastern influences; he borrowed
 from sources ranging from Nor
man Vincent Peale to Ramakrishna. Many of the traditions Templeton drew from emphasize spiritual exploration, “mind over matter” ideology, and positive thinking.8 Today, the $3.34 billion-endowed John Templeton Foundation awards some $100 million in grants yearly to organizations and projects that study the intersection of religion and science.9 There’s the eight-year, $9.8 million grant given to Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, as well as a nearly $2.2 million grant awarded to the University of Pennsylvania for the establishment of a Positive Psychology Center, which afforded the Foundation the opportunity to exercise important influence over this emerging school of psychology.10

In general, the Foundation has sought to create a rapprochement between science and religion—from healthcare to biology, positive psychology to theology.

While this goal has been heavily criticized by many scientists (for instance, prominent physicist Sean Carroll11), the Foundation has made a major name for itself in academia, thanks in part to increasing competition for research funds among academics. This article seeks to trace the impact of the Templeton Foundation by exploring a slice of its influence on research into the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements.

The Templeton Foundation

The origins of the Foundation can be traced to the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, founded in 1972 and given “each year…to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God.”12 The Prize originally operated like a Nobel Prize for religion,13 though today it is as likely to be awarded to scientists as to theologians or other spiritual leaders.14 At the time that Templeton formed his Foundation in the mid-‘80s, writes journalist Nathan Schneider, “conventional wisdom . . . held that religion would retreat as science secularized the world.”15 Templeton sought to forestall this decline. What allowed the Foundation’s religion and science agenda to take off, however, was Harvard planetary scientist Charles Harper’s 1996 decision to join the Foundation as its executive director. Harper took Templeton’s ideas and visionary speculations and shaped them “into a package of programs that could begin to look credible to the scientific community.”16

Much ink has been spilled about the Templeton Foundation’s influence on research in the hard sciences. Zoologist and outspoken secular activist Richard Dawkins has quipped that the Templeton Prize is usually given “to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.”17 Jerry Coyne, a prominent American biologist, condemned Templeton’s mission as a “serious corruption of science” and warned of the “cronyism that has always infected Templeton,”18 particularly in relationship to its study of “Big Questions,” a somewhat vague field of inquiry centered on quandaries like the nature of free will, consciousness, and evil.19 Sean Carroll’s criticisms of Templeton are somewhat more measured; he does not think there is any hard evidence that “Templeton works in nefarious ways to influence the people it funds.” For Carroll, the problem isn’t that Templeton is anti-science, but rather that “their views on science are very wrong.”20 Quantum physicist Michael Brooks echoes these views in the New Scientist, contending that Templeton does a disservice not so much to science as to religion, by advancing a conception of religion so “stripped-down, vague and wooly” that it “puts the new Templeton religion comfortably beyond assault from questioners.”21

Google’s research director called Brown’s methodology “a perfect example of how not to do experiment design.”

Within the hard sciences, a firm ideological line has developed between critics of the Foundation—many of whom are New Atheists—and supporters of the Foundation, which can sometimes lead to charges of partiality and anti-religious prejudice. Yet even Jeffrey Schloss, a Templeton trustee, has admitted that without the Foundation, there would “be a bit less accommodationist fluff that proposes integration [between religion and science] at the expense of rigor.”22

While the Foundation’s influence on the hard sciences has often been the focus of criticism, the social science- and healthcare-related research in which it engages can be far more problematic. The more subjective nature of the social sciences—and, to a lesser extent, healthcare—may make these fields more vulnerable to pseudoscientific concepts and dubious methodologies.

The ready acceptance of pseudoscience undergirds Templeton’s “history of seeding fields of study almost from scratch,” as Nathan Schneider describes it.23 In the early 1990s, the Foundation began heavily funding the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR), an organization established “to ‘objectively’ examine the role that religion and spirituality might play in physical and mental health.”24 At the time, hardly any medical schools offered courses on religion. But today, after two decades of Templeton-promoted research, three-quarters of U.S. medical schools utilize spirituality within their curricula.25 This development was facilitated by a combination of awards given to NIHR researchers; an NIHR-derived, multi-volume literature review of religion and health research; and numerous Templeton Foundation-funded programs concerning the intersection between science, religion, and medicine.26

And it is the NIHR’s research that helped pave the way for Christianity Today to claim there were scientifically “credible reports” of faith healing in Mozambique.

Intercessory Prayer and The Stepp Study

At a Templeton-sponsored conference in the mid-1990s, Margaret Poloma, a sociologist who studied Charismatic and Pentecostal religious movements, met bioethicist Stephen Post, who would go on to create the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL).27 Poloma and Post soon became Templeton grantees themselves, and by 2007 both had become co-directors (along with two other academics) of the Flame of Love (FOL) Project,28 the goal of which was to establish “a new interdisciplinary field of study [called] Godly Love.”29 The exact parameters of the science of Godly love are rather unclear; even Anthea Butler, who has been involved with the Templeton Foundation’s Project on Global Pentecostalism,30 told Schneider that initially “nobody in the field could figure out what the hell [Poloma] was talking about.”31

As defined by Poloma and her Templeton-sponsored colleagues, Godly love is “the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence.” To put it simply, the key takeaway is that while neither God Himself nor His interactions with human beings are measurable phenomena, individuals’ perceptions of interactions between human beings and God can be measured.32

The Flame of Love Project, which received an initial Templeton grant of more than $2.3 million,33 was a massive undertaking, funding ten academic books (by significant figures in their respective fields), scores of academic articles, conference presentations, and book chapters.34 Among these projects was Brown’s prayer research: the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer… on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,” known as the STEPP study for short. The study focused on Iris Ministries (now Iris Global), which Baker and her husband founded, along with the closely aligned Global Awakening ministry.35

Brown’s STEPP project is a part of a long line of academic “prayer studies” conducted in recent years, not all of which have found prayer to have positive effects. Many of these studies sought to evaluate “distant healing” or “distant intentionality”—the act of praying for others often referred to as “intercessory prayer.”36 As of 2005, three studies had been conducted on remote intercessory prayer’s effect on heart patients. Two of these studies concluded that the prayed-for group fared better than a control group. However, the third found no difference. Another study—a relatively well regarded, Templeton-funded $2.4 million project directed by Herbert Benson—studied 1,802 patients recovering from coronary artery bypass graft surgery and concluded that “distant prayer” had no effect. And, as Dr. Richard Sloan, a leading critic of prayer research, points out, researchers claiming benefits from prayer may have succeeded simply because they tested for so many different health benefits that simple random chance produced the positive results.37

If one were to accept the prayer studies’ premises and conclusions, one would still encounter other basic problems with conforming prayer-based research to the scientific method. How can researchers, for example, be sure that it is intercessory prayer performed by study participants that is helping, and not the prayers of concerned outsiders?

Candy Gunther Brown and her team sought to address some of these issues by looking at a more immediate form of prayer known as proximal intercessory prayer (PIP), which focuses on physical healing (primarily through laying-on of hands, per Charismatic tradition). Moreover, Brown argued that one must distinguish between PIP and other proximal healing techniques, such as “Therapeutic Touch,” since they had a “different healing mechanism.”38 Her study looked at the effect of “direct-contact prayer,” involving touch and the laying-on of hands, on subjects’ vision and hearing.39 Brown and her colleagues claim to have found “statistically significant” findings in visual and auditory improvements across the tested populations.40

Brown argued that the findings of the study were significant enough to warrant further study, which would “assess whether PIP may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care for certain patients with auditory and/or visual impairments, especially in contexts where access to conventional treatments is limited.” She continued:

The implications are potentially vast given World Health Organization estimates that 278 million people, 80% of whom live in developing countries, have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears, and 314 million people are visually impaired, 87% of whom live in developing countries, and only a tiny fraction of these populations currently receive any treatment.41

In other words, Brown was suggesting that work like Baker’s might serve as an effective treatment strategy in medically underserved developing nations.

Unfortunately for the study’s subjects, however, Brown’s claims were not all they appeared to be. Peter Norvig, former division chief of computational sciences at NASA’s Ames Research Center and current director of research at Google, declared that Brown’s study suffered from several fatal design problems: it lacked a randomized control group; there was no double-blinding in the study; and the sample size for the treatment group was only 24 people.42 According to Norvig, “Rather than choose a cross-section of subjects, the experimenters specifically chose subjects from rural Mozambique who were attending an evangelical revival meeting—subjects who would be favorably inclined to (consciously or unconsciously) demonstrate a benefit from prayer.”43 Brown’s research methodology was so flawed that Norvig called it “a perfect example of how not to do experiment design.”44 Psychologist Jean Mercer, a leading authority on pseudoscience in the social sciences, further criticized Brown and her colleagues for introducing too many confounding variables into the study through their “amateurish methods of assessing hearing and vision.”45

Heidi Baker pays a Christmas visit to Iris Ministries' Zimpeto Children's Center in Maputo, Mozambique. Photo from Wikimedia Commons and courtesy of user Wunder

Heidi Baker pays a Christmas visit to Iris Ministries’ Zimpeto Children’s Center in Maputo, Mozambique. Photo from Wikimedia Commons and courtesy of user Wunder

Despite the ethical and methodological problems associated with Brown’s study, it received plentiful funding from the Templeton-sponsored FOL project ($150,000), as well as from the Lilly Endowment ($50,000) and Indiana University Bloomington ($50,000), Brown’s home university and a premier institution of higher learning.46 Brown also used the STEPP study as the basis of her 2012 book Testing Prayer, which was published by Harvard University Press. Such scholarly trajectories are becoming increasingly common for Templeton academics in a wide variety of fields. It is startling to see how many Templeton-connected academics end up publishing their work through Oxford or Harvard University Press. A 2014 report enumerating IRUL-produced books (i.e., works published or edited by IRUL associates) includes seven titles published by Oxford University Press, and another three in press or under review by that prestigious publisher.47 While not as many Templeton-associated academics seem to have linked themselves with Harvard University Press, some of those who have published through it have close links with the Foundation or are major figures in the Foundation’s history. For instance, Charles Taylor, whose A Secular Age was a major Harvard University Press publication in 2007, won the Templeton Prize for the same year.48

Templeton and The New Apostolic Reformation

Brown represents a particularly extreme example of distorted research engendered by Templeton money and legitimized by a major academic publisher. However, the methodological flaws in the STEPP study point to problems pervading the Flame of Love project as a whole— problems the Templeton Foundation should have recognized. The “Godly love” study that anchored the larger FOL project was based on the “Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor as self.”49 The researchers proposed that Godly love—the interaction between humanity and what is perceived as the divine—can be studied through figures known as exemplars: individuals who are supposed to be unusually benevolent within their own communities, and who have often received awards and honors (both secular and religious) for meritorious acts of service.50 These individuals were held up as the best embodiment of the Great Commandment. This research relied on what is known in the social sciences as an inductive/phenomenological method, which sought to “better understand” the subjective experiences of exemplars.51 While there is nothing inherently wrong about such a research process—anthropology, for instance, often relies on the phenomenological approach—it made the Flame of Love project unusually open to political propagandizing, since the subjective experiences studied depended almost entirely on which “Godly exemplars” were chosen to represent the idea of Godly love.

Many of the Godly exemplars
 profiled by Flame of Love are as
sociated with the New Apostolic
 Reformation (NAR), a right-wing
 Charismatic and Pentecostal 
movement organized around parachurch groups known as apostolic networks. The NAR is committed to the principle of spiritual warfare against evil spirits that it believes threaten the well-being of Christians. One such exemplar is Che Ahn, who founded the evangelical organization The Call along with Lou Engle, the Charismatic evangelist associated with the 2009-2010 Ugandan“Kill the Gays” bill.52 Poloma herself describes the two men’s close friendship in glowing terms.53

Ahn (like Heidi Baker, another exemplar) is a member of the Revival Alliance, a powerful apostolic network that oversees six other major apostolic networks.54 The leaders of five of these six subordinate ministries, along with several of their spouses, are among Flame of Love’s highlighted Godly exemplars. The STEPP study, too, is marked by such connections: Alliance member Randy Clark, founder of the evangelical Global Awakening ministry, has worked closely with Stephen Mory, one of the study’s co-authors.55 Moreover, Candy Gunther Brown herself has served on the board of directors of the Global Medical Research Institute, a prayer research organization that originated as a Global Awakening initiative, though independent of that ministry.56 Subjects for the STEPP study were primarily recruited at meetings cosponsored by Global Awakening and Baker’s Iris Ministries.57

The Revival Alliance leaders’ work incorporates some shocking ideas about a variety of issues, particularly mental healthcare. Baker is known for “‘expelling’ demons from children.”58 Another couple has helped promote the supernatural healing of autistic children59 through a particular form of Charismatic exorcism, or deliverance, called Sozo.60 As I wrote in my 2015 book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, Sozo’s healing practices seem little different from the long-discredited practice of recovered memory therapy. (Sozo leaders and proponents also maintain, in terms akin to the increasingly discredited diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, that individuals with bipolar disorder have “parts,” or people living inside of them who need to be integrated into a core personality.ii)

While the Flame of Love Project was ostensibly a scientific enterprise, in practice the project served primarily as a public relations project celebrating NAR leaders, as well as providing an academic justification for many of their beliefs and policy priorities, including their economic agenda. The Templeton Foundation has enjoyed a friendly association with a variety of right-wing groups and think tanks that share its support for open markets and entrepreneurship; the Heritage

Foundation, for instance, received more than $1 million in Templeton funding between 2005 and 2008, while the Cato Institute received more than $200,000.61 Relatively speaking, grants to conservative think tanks represent only a minor portion of the Foundation’s philanthropy, but even prominent conservative political voices like The National Review have pointed to the Foundation as a funder of right-wing policy drivers.62 Transformationalism, the NAR’s unique form of conservative economics, fits in well with the Templeton agenda; it promises a solution to global poverty rooted in the belief that the marketplace is the best foundation for economic reform.63

Flame of Love co-director Margaret Poloma was herself so well regarded in the NAR movement that Charismatic leader John Arnott (yet another exemplar) entrusted her with the task of mediating a conflict between his ministry and John Wimber, a major evangelical leader who was critical of Arnott.64 At the time when Poloma engaged in this mediation process, she was conducting academic research on the Toronto Blessing, a revival that Arnott was leading.65 Most academics would seek to avoid conflicts of interest like this, but in the Flame of Love universe it is common for academics studying the intersection of religion and science to blur the lines between the academic study of revivalistic culture and participation in that culture.

In addition to all the methodological dilemmas in the STEPP study and Flame of Love’s elaborate ties to the group they purport to study, there’s a further conflict of interest in how the results of this research are ultimately presented. The Southern Medical Association, which publishes the Southern Medical Journal, in which Brown’s paper first appeared, has twice received contributions—$98,889 in 2006 and $73,673 in 2007—from the John Templeton Foundation.66

The Future

After Sir John Templeton’s death in 2008, the heir to his legacy was Jack Templeton, an evangelical doctor with abundant conservative political connections who had been active in fighting same-sex marriage and defending the Iraq War. He and his wife Josephine contributed $1 million to the fight to pass California’s anti-same-sex marriage Proposition 8.67 Jack Templeton was also the second- largest donor to the Red White and Blue Fund (RWB), a super-PAC that supported Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential primary campaign.68 The younger Templeton passed away in May 2015,69 but before his death, both critics and Templeton grantees worried that Jack would steer the Foundation further to the right, and perhaps further away from mainstream science.70

The Foundation did shift its focus during Jack Templeton’s reign, but not as anticipated. Previous areas of specialization, such as “spiritual information” and “humility theology,” were replaced with the paradigm of “Big Questions,” in which philosophy and cosmology tended to receive more emphasis.71 There remained a guiding interest in faith and medicine, but the projects approved under the younger Templeton often concentrated more on the intersection of faith and psychology than on prayer studies. While not always perfect, this work was certainly more scientifically rigorous than the Flame of Love Project. Now, with the death of Jack Templeton, it’s unclear what direction the Foundation will take. Moreover, serious repercussions from the Foundation’s earlier work remain. Though the scientific community has rallied in recent years to protest the dangers of creation science and intelligent design theory, this focus on conservative responses to hard science has led many to overlook the more pressing dangers posed by right-wing influences on healthcare and social science research. Pseudo-science supporting faith healing can lead directly to the injury or death of those treated, if placebos or harmful treatments are used in place of tested and effective medical care.72 
While the influence of fundamentalism is diminishing, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements continue to gain power among the Christian Right, with growth rates unrivaled in the Christian world.73 When it comes to scientific debates, these movements are not focused primarily on evolution or cosmology, but on faith healing. It is likely that this issue area—and not the waning conflict over evolutionary biology or cosmology—will represent one of the most important scientific battlegrounds on which 21st Century conservative Protestants will make their stand.

Candy Gunther Brown herself has contended that “divine healing is the single most important category [of pentecostal religious practice]…for understanding the global expansion of pentecostal Christianity.”74 And Brown is correct to point out that it is precisely in “regions of the world where poverty and sickness seem most overwhelming”—mostly regions with a colonial legacy—that Pentecostalism has seen its most rapid growth.75 As a result, this conflict may have far more immediate human costs than the creation science conflicts of the 20th Century.

Consider the large mental healthcare providers who, as I argue elsewhere, base their treatment on practices such as exorcism rather than research-tested mental healthcare interventions. In 2008, Australia was scandalized when Mercy Ministries Australia—a group of large treatment centers for young women, including many suffering from eating disorders—turned out to have based their treatment regimen on the exorcism manual Restoring the Foundations. A constant element of controversy in the ensuing Mercy Ministries scandal was the correct means of delineating the differences between faith healing and healthcare; ministries like Mercy operated in a gray area where either definition could be deemed appropriate, depending on the context.76

But even in situations where the line between faith healing and medicine is clearer, the real and potential influence of the Brown study cannot be ignored. By 2007, writer and Iris Ministries supporter Donald Kantel (who studied under Heidi Baker) claimed that pastors associated with the ministry had raised over 50 people from the dead throughout Southern Africa in a five-year period. The ministry also purported to engage in miraculous healings and supernatural multiplications of food.77 The popularization of “dead raising” teams—groups of people engaged in attempted resurrections—throughout the NAR could certainly not have been hurt by either the Brown study or the Christianity Today treatment that publicized its results. Nor can we ignore the influence of Global Awakening, whose revival events in Brazil, Mozambique, and India attract crowds of 100,000 people at a time; according to Brown, claims of divine healing often reach the thousands during such events.78 Here Brown’s influence is perhaps most marked, as her books are sold by Global Awakening’s own bookstore—a very unusual honor for any academic, particularly a secular academic such as Brown.79

The danger here is not so much that the Templeton study will be utilized to form new healthcare systems based on Brown’s model. Rather, the problem is that Brown’s research, like much of the Flame of Love project, will be utilized as a justification for preexisting Pentecostal and Charismatic healing initiatives in the developing world: a new wrinkle in an old colonial tale. This may not be the future the Templeton Foundation has envisioned for their work; yet it’s the future the Templeton Foundation has helped make possible.

John Weaver is an English lecturer at Binghamton University. His scholarship, including his 2015 book The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, focuses on how evangelical theology informs the mental health beliefs of the evangelical subculture.


i. The Charismatic and Pentecostal movements are Christian theological traditions devoted to the belief in, and practice of, “gifts of the Spirit” in the modern Christian church, such as healing and speaking in tongues. Candy Gunther Brown, much referenced in this article, uses the lowercase term ‘pentecostal’ to refer to “both Pentecostals and second and third-wave Charismatics.” ‘Charismatic’ often refers to a kind of Pentecostal- lite, or alternately to the combined Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions (which is the sense in which I use the term here). As I have argued in The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care and in a forthcoming work on the New Apostolic Reformation, the idea that “classical” or traditional Pentecostals are more theologically and politically extreme than Second or Third Wave Charismatics collapses under any sustained historical scrutiny. (See John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, [Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015], 15-16 and Candy Gunther Brown, “Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 14.)

ii. It is quite clear from the Sozo material that the term “parts” is being used in a semantically identical fashion—albeit with a Christian twist— to the term “alters,” utilized among secular supporters of the increasingly controversial dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis. Monica Pignotti and Bruce Thyer, writing in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, have expressed concerns that DID therapy and parts work have not been adequately tested and can in fact cause further illness. (See Monica Pignotti and Bruce A. Thyer, “New Age and Related Novel Unsupported Therapies in Mental Health Practice,” in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, eds. Scott O. Lilienfield, Stephen Jay Lynn, and Jeffrey M. Lohr [New York: Guilford Press, 2014], 191-209.)


1. Tim Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique: How Mama Heidi Reaches the Abandoned,” Christianity Today, May 18, 2012,

2. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

3. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

4. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

5. Stafford, “Miracles in Mozambique.”

6. Benedict Carey, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer,” The New York Times, March 31, 2006,

7. Candy Gunther Brown, PhD, Stephen C. Mory, MD, Rebecca Williams MB BChir, DTM&H, Michael J. McClymond, PhD, “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,” Southern Medical Journal, 2010, 864.

8. Nathan Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy: Politics of the Templeton Foundation’s ‘Big Questions,’” The Nation, June 21, 2010,

9. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “John Templeton Jr., president of multi- billion dollar foundation invested in science and religion, has died,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2015,

10. Templeton Foundation, “Positive Psychology Research,”

11. Sean Carroll, “Science and Religion Can’t Be Reconciled, Why I Won’t Take Money from the Templeton Foundation,” Slate, May 9, 2013,

12. Joseph Charles Kiger, Philanthropic Foundations in the Twentieth Century, (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000), 133.

13. Sunny Bains, “Questioning the Integrity of the John Templeton Foundation,” (Evolutionary Psychology 9, no. 1, 2011), 92-115, 94.

14. Bains, “Questioning the Integrity,” 93-94; the reader should note that the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion subsequently morphed into the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities, before turning into the Templeton Prize. Please see John M. Cummingham, “Templeton Prize,” Brittanica, N.D. Web. 8 Jun 2015.

15. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

16. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

17. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), 19.

18. Jerry Coyne, “Martin Rees and the Templeton Travesty,” The Guardian, April 6, 2011,

19. Nathan Schneider, “The Templeton Effect,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 3, 2012,

20. Carroll, “Science and Religion Can’t Be Reconciled.”

21. Michael Brooks, “Templeton Prize is Bad News for Religion, Not Science,” New Scientist, March 25, 2010,

22. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

23. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

24. Richard P. Sloan, Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006), 61.

25. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

26. Sloan, “Blind Faith,” 62.

27. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

28. Flame of Love Project, “Project Co-Directors,”

29. The University of Akron, “Sociology Researchers Receive $2.3 Million Grant,”, February 4, 2008,

30. Patheos, “Anthea Butler Biography,” Patheos,

31. Patheos, “Anthea Butler.”

32. Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post, Introduction to The Science and Theology of Godly Love, ed. Matthew T. Lee and Amos Yong (Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2012), 5-8.

33. Templeton Foundation, “The Flame of Love: Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition,”

34. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, “Abridged List of Deliverables for the Flame of Love Project,” June 15, 2011,

35. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

36. Sloan, “Blind Faith,” 157, 168

37. Sarah Glazer, “Prayer and Healing,” CQ Researcher 15, no. 2 (2005): 27.

38. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

39. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 864-867.

40. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 867.

41. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 868.

42. Peter Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims: Mind Over Matter? Or Mind Over Mind?,” Norvig. com,

43. Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims.”

44. Norvig, “Evaluating Extraordinary Claims.”

45. Jean Mercer, email message to author, April 17, 2015.

46. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 864.

47. Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, “Institute for Research on Unlimited Love – Books Produced,” September 2014,

48. Templeton Prize, “Previous Prize Winners: Charles Taylor (2007),”,

49. Lee, Poloma, and Post, “Introduction,” 6; currently this is centered in Christianity, but the study is supposed to later extend to other religions.

50. Matthew T. Lee, Margaret M. Poloma, and Stephen G. Post, The Heart of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 52.

51. Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma, A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism: The Practice of Godly Love as Benevolent Service (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), 59.

52. Flame of Love Project, “Exemplar Biosketches,”; Josh Kron, “In Uganda, Push to Curb Gays Draws U.S. Guest,” New York Times, May 2, 2010,; the Ugandan “Death To Gays” bill has received considerable attention in the United States thanks to the release of God Loves Uganda, a documentary chronicling the actions of American evangelicals in promoting anti-gay efforts in Uganda. PRA Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher Kapya Kaoma featured prominently in the film, and the organization has released several detailed major reports detailing evangelical political activities within Africa. Kaoma’s work explores Engle’s actions in Uganda in detail.

53. Margaret Poloma, Main Street Mystics: The Toronto Blessing & Reviving Pentecostalism (Walnut Creek: Altamire Press, 2003), 174-181.

54. Revival Alliance, “Homepage,”; “Exemplar Biosketches.”

55. Global Awakening, “WLI Course Catalog,”, 18.

56. Randy Clark, “A Study of the Effects of Christian Prayer on Pain or Mobility Restrictions from Surgeries Involving Implanted Materials” (D.Min. diss., United Theological Seminary, 2013), 167-168.

57. Brown et al., “STEPP,” 865.

58. For a brief introductory look at the links between some of these leaders, notably Baker, and the NAR, see Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” Political Research Associates, March 22, 2013,

59. Bethel Sozo, “About Bethel Sozo: Autism,”

60. John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, 75-84.

61. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

62. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

63. Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, “Colonizing African Values, How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” Political Research Associates, 2012,

64. Poloma, “Main Street Mystics,” 243.; “Exemplar Biosketches.”

65. Poloma, “Main Street Mystics,” 243.

66. Conservative Transparency, “Recipient: Southern Medical Association,”

67. David O’Reilly, “$1 million for their own two cents Bryn Mawr couple are largest individual donors in efforts to ban gay marriage in California,”, October 28, 2008,

68. Phil Hirschkorn and Laura Strickler, “Santorum’s big benefactor,” CBS News, February 9, 2012,

69. Pulliam Bailey, “John Templeton, Jr. Has Died.”

70. Schneider, “God, Science and Philanthropy.”

71. Schneider, “The Templeton Effect.”

72. What’s The Harm?, “What’s the harm in believing in faith healing?,”; This website records faith healing deaths that have been reported in the news. The incidents it documents represent a mere fraction of the deaths that have resulted from faith healing practices.

73. Barna Group, “Is American Christianity Turning Charismatic?,” January 7, 2008,

74. Candy Gunther Brown, “Introduction: Pentecostalism and the Globalization of Illness and Healing,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 14.

75. Brown, “Introduction,” 7.

76. John Weaver, The Failure of Evangelical Mental Health Care, 86-88.

77. Donald Kantel, “The ‘Toronto Blessing’: Revival and its Continuing Impact on Mission in Mozambique” (Ph.D. diss., Regent University, 2007), 32.

78. Candy Gunther Brown, “Global Awakenings: Divine Healing Networks and Global Community in North America, Brazil, Mozambique, and Beyond,” in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 353.

79. Global Awakening, “Global Awakening Online Bookstore,”