Religious Right Leaders Strategize: Who Needs SCOTUS When You Can Control Everything Else?

Last week, hundreds of “God fearing, freedom loving Americans” gathered at Skyline Wesleyan Church—a conservative megachurch in the San Diego area—for the “Future Conference: What You Thought Was Coming … Is Here Now.”

Michael Brown, author of Navigating as a Christian in an LGBT Dominated World," speaks at the 2015 Future Conference.

Michael Brown, author of “Can You Be Gay and Christian?,” gives a speech called Navigating as a Christian in an LGBT Dominated World at the 2015 Future Conference.

For four days, Skyline’s $12 million “worship center” served as host to some of the Religious Right’s leading voices as they outlined the impending doom brought on by “secular totalitarianism,” “homosexual fascists,” and other “evil, anti-family” elements of society. Major themes of the conference included religious liberty, “militant Islam,” abortion, pornography, marriage, and “biblical economics.”

Spend a day listening to right-wing news outlets, and you would likely hear many of the same inflammatory talking points covered by the 50+ speakers featured at the conference. Terrorism “experts” reported on the threat of ISIS, Christian educators discussed the encroachment of civil rights legislation on their freedom to discriminate, anti-LGBTQ activists outlined strategies for moving forward after the Supreme Court rules on marriage equality, communications and media professionals offered tips for more effective promotion of right-wing rhetoric… it was a seemingly endless stream of dire warnings, grave threats, and galvanizing calls to action.

The content, though substantive, was not the most compelling feature of the gathering; rather, it was the diverse cast of characters, representing a vast array of institutions and organizations, all coming together in one place for a singular event and openly associating themselves with an event put on by the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (USCAL), the American organizing body of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR).

NAR disciples seek to take dominion over the “Seven Mountains” of society:

  1. Arts and Entertainment
  2. Business
  3. Education
  4. Family
  5. Government
  6. Media
  7. Religion

NAR is a hierarchical network of “apostles” that seeks to “remake the theology and structure of Christianity in a theocratic mold.” (See PRA’s profile of NAR.) Just four years ago, Religious Right leaders were reluctant to openly affiliate themselves with this extremely controversial movement, but it seems that NAR’s dominionist agenda is no longer a thing seen to be shameful.

USCAL is part of the U.S.-based International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL), which was conceived in 1999 and initially led by C. Peter Wagner. ICAL’s mission is to “connect apostles’ wisdom and resources in order that each member can function more strategically, combine their efforts globally, and effectively accelerate the advancement of the Kingdom of God into every sphere of society.”

To clarify, this “advancement of the Kingdom of God” is a theocratic mandate to exert authority over what they see as the power sources of society. Specifically, NAR disciples refer to the various spheres of society as the “Seven Mountains,” consisting of arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion. You can be sure that each of these spheres was well represented at the Future Conference.

USCAL was officially launched in November 2014. Joe Mattera—who declares that his mission is to “influence leaders who influence nations”—currently serves as the national convener. Mattera boasts that through his books, weekly writings, and regular mainstream media appearances, he reaches “thousands of leaders in more than 130 nations.”

This new American division of ICAL already claims approximately 300 “significant leaders” as dues-paying members from both religious and corporate realms (the annual fee for regular members is $450). Among them is Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church.

Garlow, who was a key leader on the anti-LGBTQ side of California’s 2008 Prop. 8 marriage equality battle, served as the principal organizer of the Future Conference—USCAL’s first large-scale national event. He has been a prominent apostle in the NAR movement for many years, and stacked last week’s line-up (56 speakers in all) with his fellow NAR comrades. The program included some of the most infamous NAR leaders in the world: Joe Mattera, Lou Engle, Dennis Peacocke, Harry Jackson, and Lance Wallnau.

Wallnau—a business consultant, leadership coach, and “growth strategist” based in Dallas, Texas—functions as one of the leading Seven Mountains promotional speakers, and has referred to the concept as a template for warfare. His presentation on the final evening was the Future Conference’s culminating event.

With the enthusiasm of a high school football coach trying to rally his underdog team to victory, he delighted the crowd with sloppy dry erase board diagrams, self-aggrandizing stories, a candid sense of humor, and a fiery passion. He began his speech by reviewing the doom and gloom that previous speakers had covered—“We’ve got people being martyred, killed… homosexuals are taking over… Muslims are attacking… the economy is collapsing… what’s left to traumatize you with?!”

The intention of this design, however, became increasingly evident as Wallnau laid out the Seven Mountains strategy—a plan to ultimately gain control over all realms of society. This was a long-awaited salve for an audience filled with fearful, demoralized individuals. If they weren’t already convinced upon arrival, by day four, conference participants seemed thoroughly persuaded of the fact that their country, their families, and their faith was under attack. Wallnau had a solution, and the crowd of several hundred (plus countless more watching the livestream remotely) laughed, cheered, applauded, and amened with enthusiasm and relief.

“We are losing the battle of culture!” Wallnau shouted as he paced the stage. He then proceeded to make his case for the New Apostolic Reformation: Christians, he explained, have been too disconnected, pursuing their own paths and ministries. “We are in need of a centralized hub,” he declared.

During a 2008 interview on Pat King’s Extreme Prophetic TV broadcast, Wallnau claimed that it would only take 3-5% of people aggressively working in any given location to create a tipping point and gain control over the Seven Mountains. That small group of leaders, however, must be unified.

According to Wallnau, the LGBTQ community’s success has come because they have been more connected and unified than Christians in their efforts to create societal change.[1] But contrary to what some might believe, Wallnau’s unifying strategy isn’t dependent on top-down domination; instead, he promotes domination from within. “Our people should be sitting at the gates [of influence],” he explained, “and we should be ruling—not instead of, but in the midst of.”

“We need be getting our people up those mountains,” and through the establishment of what he calls “micro churches”—small strategic prayer groups within institutions of power across all Seven Mountains—Wallnau asserts that those leaders will be able to “hear from heaven and legislate what God wants them to do.”

“Proximity is power,” he explained. Indeed, a member of Skyline Church’s pastoral team is currently based full time in Washington, DC, where he facilitates a weekly prayer group for Congressional staff members. The Jefferson Gathering, as it’s called, is convenes every Wednesday night in the Capitol.

“This is a whole different level of strategic alignments,” Wallnau asserted.

And these alignments aren’t limited to the United States. NAR’s relational networks, and the movement’s emphasis on “taking dominion” over society, are deeply influential throughout the world. In Uganda, for example, Lou Engle, an NAR apostle and featured speaker at the Future Conference, staged TheCall Uganda in 2010 to promote the Anti-Homosexuality Bill amidst heated debate over its death-penalty provision. And in Singapore, Lawrence Khong—one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ activists and part of the original group of apostles responsible for the formulation of ICAL—has hosted Jim Garlow at his megachurch on multiple occasions to further advance his efforts against LGBTQ equality.

As increasing numbers of Religious Right leaders (many of them affiliated with highly influential organizations such as Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and National Organization for Marriage) continue to align themselves with NAR’s Dominionist agenda, unifying themselves around this “centralized hub,” we can anticipate that the future—much like the present—will be marked by the continued oppression of LGBTQ people, women, Muslims, and countless others.


 

[1] As well as being unified, Wallnau declared that LGBTQ activists are like Nazis, who will just keep coming at you (no matter “what you offer as a sacrifice out of love”) because they’re motivated to “annihilate the opposition.” This association was especially poignant given the number of comparisons made throughout the conference between the atrocities inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust and the current experience of Christians in the Middle East.

Who Speaks for Conservative Women?

“Feminisms” for Life, Liberty, and Politics

Public Eye Spring 2015 CoverThis article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

When the planned vote on a harsh new 20-week abortion ban went off the rails in January, liberal news outlets gloated while conservative commentators fumed over what they respectively called a Republican congresswomen “revolt” or “mutiny.”

At the beginning of the year, GOP leadership scheduled a high-profile vote on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” to coincide with the 2015 March for Life, the annual protest of Roe v. Wade. They had a Congressional majority and expected smooth passage of the bill. But, to their surprise, female House representatives balked at the bill’s draconian rape and incest exemption, which would have forced survivors to file a police report before they could access an abortion. The Republican dissenters—primarily women, joined by a couple of moderate male allies—thought the provision was tone-deaf and would turn off women and millennial voters.1 The memory of Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe loomed in the background. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) chastised her party, arguing that Republicans could no longer afford to appear “harsh and judgmental” now that they control both the House and Senate.2 Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the legislation’s lead co-sponsor, passionately criticized her party for yet again letting insensitivity about rape derail Republicans’ agenda.3

Most strikingly, the female opposition was led by anti-abortion stalwarts with strong right-wing credentials, namely Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). None of the dissenting congresswomen identify as pro-choice; all had received approval from the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) and Concerned Women for America (CWA)—two powerful and well-funded right-wing organizations—for their solid track records on limiting abortion rights; and Ellmers and Blackburn had received honors from the libertarian Independent Women’s Forum in 2014.

As an Indiana state legislator, Walorski killed a hate crimes bill by adding fetuses as a protected class, and called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood for allegedly covering up rape.4 Ellmers joined Congress in 2010 on a Tea Party wave, endorsed by Sarah Palin, and was an enthusiastic participant in the Koch-backed attack on healthcare reform.5 Blackburn boasts an unblemished record of over a decade of anti-abortion votes in Congress. And they all appeared untroubled by voting for the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the bill Republicans instead passed for the Roe anniversary. In other words, these women were not the RINOs—Republicans In Name Only— whom you might expect to block an anti- abortion bill.

The controversy’s significance lies in pitting Republican congresswomen not only against the majority of their male colleagues—who, as Abby Scher writes in The Progressive, rely on them as “front- women to sell [the party’s] regressive policies”6—but also against the major conservative women’s movement organizations and female anti-abortion advocates who backed the reporting requirement. And it was not the only incident in the last year that put female politicians and advocacy leaders from organizations such as CWA and SBA at odds, as part of a legitimacy contest over who speaks for conservative women.

A young woman takes part in the 2015 March for Life in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

A young woman takes part in the 2015 March for Life in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

CONSERVATIVE WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS

In 1979, the rise of feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment motivated conservative evangelical Beverly LaHaye to found Concerned Women for America, established as an overtly anti-feminist female voice. Yet CWA has clung to relevance over the years, better than infamous anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, by demonstrating its adaptability in toning down strident anti-feminist language and laying claim to pro-life feminist arguments when convenient, as when a CWA publication asserted in 2003, “Today’s feminists wrongly claim kinship to feminism’s founders, thereby cloaking their radicalism in the early movement’s popularity and moral authority.”7 In Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America, religious studies professor Leslie Dorrough Smith explains the shifting rhetoric was spurred by the need “to appear progressive and yet simultaneously traditional, a move perhaps motivated by its need to recruit and maintain younger members as well as to prove its political relevance” in a society which likes what feminism has accomplished even if it doesn’t always accept the movement itself.8

Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice presidential candidacy and membership in the organization Feminists for Life brought increased attention in recent years to “conservative feminism,” a movement that says it represents the true legacy of “the original feminists,” claiming for itself the banner of the women’s suffragists—rather than that of the conservative women who fought voting rights. Importantly for Republicans, whose base trends older and male, the brand was seen as resonating with youth and women.9 The appeal of conservative feminism neither began nor ended with Palin’s failed campaign. For decades, there have been two streams of conservative movement “feminism”— one for life, and one for liberty. Feminists for Life (FFL), founded in 1972, was the original “pro-life feminist” group, touting its history of supporting women’s rights initiatives such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). FFL never achieved the prominence of better-funded Christian Right organization that took over the “protect women” frame as a convenient (albeit substance-free) marketing strategy as Schlafly’s brand of traditional anti-feminism lost appeal. The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has pushed a brand of free market feminism, also known as equity feminism, since 1992.10 For the Right Wing to appear legitimate, women’s and women-led organizations must be at the forefront of opposition to abortion rights and other policies affecting women.11

FEMINISTS FOR LIFE: COOPTING THE BRAND

“Since 1973, it’s been the same thing: One side of the abortion wars yells, ‘What about the woman?’ Instead of yelling back, ‘What about the baby?’ Feminists for Life answers the question,” FFL president Serrin Foster explains, insisting that their feminism is not a “strategy” or “ploy.”12 But the anti-abortion movement’s pervasive “abortion as harm to women” frame looks very much like a ploy when deployed by organizations like CWA or SBA. Political Research Associates’ Defending Reproductive Justice Activist Resource Kit describes how Christian Right organizations like CWA, the National Right to Life Committee (founded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), Family Research Council, and the extensive crisis pregnancy center network market themselves as concerned for women—not just fetuses—through extensive misrepresentations of the medical hazards of abortion and a fabricated “post-abortion syndrome.”13 (The Christian Right deployed a similar strategy in co-opting the ex-gay movement in the 1990s to put a more compassionate face on their homophobic agenda.14)

FFL’s $300,000 budget—far greater than other small feminist pro-life groups, such as the tiny coalition of secular and Democratic anti-abortion organizations that rallied at the margins of the 2015 March for Life15—is negligible compared to the five or six million dollars in the coffers of Christian Right organizations like CWA (which has millions more in its PAC), SBA, and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and American Life League (single-issue anti-abortion organizations both led by women). Anti-abortion advocates point to their marginalized pro-life feminist groups as evidence of the movement’s pro-woman nature, while actually giving most funding to organizations where concern for women is no more than a marketing device.16 Even though Palin’s FFL membership brought attention to the phenomenon of conservative feminism, organizations like SBA and CWA swiftly coopted both the brand and the cash. (This includes donations from the Koch brothers, who fund Christian Right movement organizations with the mobilization capacity and willingness to support “free enterprise” along with their culture wars agenda.)

The Susan B. Anthony List—named for one of conservatives’ favorite “reclaimed” historical feminists—illustrates the financial rewards of using feminism as a brand rather than an ideology. In 1992, FFL leadership founded SBA as a bipartisan, anti-abortion counterpart to EMILY’s List, which helps elect women politicians. But after former FFL president and SBA co-founder Rachel MacNair left for graduate school in the mid-1990s, she says, “Republicans took over.”17 Co-founder Marjorie Dannenfelser, a former Heritage Foundation employee, assumed the SBA presidency and aligned the organization with a network of well-funded Christian Right organizations.18 SBA almost completely stopped backing Democrats and began diverting funds to male candidates running against pro-choice women, prioritizing a hard-right stance over the founding mission of cultivating female candidates.19

In 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Bridge Project published a joint report on SBA, finding an extensive anti-woman track record. The organization backs candidates who oppose legal abortion even in cases of rape or incest, who support criminalizing women for obtaining abortions, and who voted against equal pay legislation and VAWA. SBA supported candidate Todd Akin after he stated that “legitimate rape” cannot lead to pregnancy, as well as Indiana Tea Party senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock when he called pregnancies that result from rape a “gift from God.” Then SBA launched a training program to prevent Republican men from continuing to make these public gaffes—a far cry from their founding goal of electing women representatives to fight for women’s interests.20 In Righting Feminism, Ronnee Schreiber suggests that one reason right-wing women’s organizations like CWA and SBA eschew “the strategy of getting more women into public office is that empirical studies suggest that women elected officials tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts within the same party.”21 In order to successfully pursue a hardline agenda against women’s bodily integrity, SBA abandoned its woman-centered founding purpose and updated its mission to include electing “pro-life men” who “oppose pro-abortion women”—a policy that would inevitably decrease the total number of women elected representatives.

U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

FFL lost control not only over its child organization, SBA, but the entire “pro- life feminist” brand. Today, CWA and SBA have spawned a new generation of young pro-life “feminists,” beloved by the anti-abortion movement, like Lila Rose, who published an opinion piece in Politico in 2012 titled “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Abortion Feminist.”22 Her organization, Live Action, exploits concern for women and girls to promote its Planned Parenthood sting videos, accusing the clinics of enabling “gendercide,” rape, and human trafficking.23 Rose capitalized on the tragic death of a 24-year-old following an abortion procedure, calling her “the true face of the ‘War on Woman.’”24 Her hardline positions on abortion and contraception belie her claims to care about women, as she blithely opposes even life-saving abortions as “never medically necessary.”25 In its few years of existence, Live Action already has more than double the budget of FFL, with 2013 revenues of nearly a million dollars. In the world of pro-life feminism, FFL demonstrates, it doesn’t pay to live up to the label.

FEMINISTS FOR LIBERTY: IF AYN RAND WERE A FEMINIST

In her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina Hoff Sommers applauds the achievements of women suffragists as “classically liberal” feminists, but argues that now U.S. women have achieved equality of opportunity. Equity feminists—Sommers’ term for a form of free market or libertarian feminism—support legal rights for women but deny the existence of structural forces constricting women’s advancement. They chalk present-day disparities in the U.S. up to intrinsic sex differences, condemn “war on women” rhetoric as infantilizing, and argue that valid feminism must focus on “real” oppression in less developed countries.26 Equity feminists accuse “gender feminists”—by which they mean mainstream feminists—of lying about statistics on violence against women and exaggerating rape culture as part of a victimhood narrative. They imply that female students often lie about being raped when they regret “hooking up,” attracting media attention by offering dissident women’s critiques of the rapidly growing movement against campus rape.27

On the other hand, equity feminists suggest that American boys and men suffer at the hands of gender feminists. In 2013, concern over boys’ educational achievements brought Sommers’ message to mainstream media outlets including The New York Times, TIME, and The Atlantic. Their hostility toward gender feminists and skepticism of rape survivors dovetails alarmingly with—and gives the legitimacy of women’s voices to—the misogynist ideology of the Men’s Rights Movement.28

The free market feminist belief in individual empowerment shares ideological similarities with neoliberal feminism, exemplified by works such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and some adherents (including Sommers herself) identify as Democrats,29 although the movement organizations all sit within the conservative network. An American Enterprise Institute (AEI) article, reposted by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), argues, “Feminists hate Lean In because, as Republican Party activist Ann Stone commented from the audience, Sandberg ‘stuck a knife in the breast of [female] victimhood big-time.’” One of the largest groups in the movement, the IWF— of which Sommers is the advisory board chair—developed out of a group formed to help defend Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas against Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment.30

Today organized free market feminism is a small and closely interlinked network that, thanks to its economic conservatism, reaps support from right-wing groups like the massive AEI and substantial donations from the Koch family foundations or through Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund, which Andy Kroll at Mother Jones calls “the dark-money ATM of the right.”31 IWF received $1.8 million from Donors Trust/Capital in 2012 and also receives funding from the well-known conservative Bradley and Scaife foundations. In March 2015, IWF demonstrated support for another infamous Koch-funded organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in honoring CEO Lisa B. Nelson in its “Modern Feminist” feature.32

Like those who claim “pro-life feminism,” free market feminist organizations recognize the value of reaching a younger generation. Sommers’ caricature of gender feminism—as exaggerating the oppression of U.S. women—continues to attract female students 20 years later, while the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute ($1.5 million budget) trains young women to “take back feminism.” The small Network of enlightened Women (NeW), whose president is an IWF fellow, also works on campuses. And in 2013, AEI refreshed the equity brand by publishing Sommers’ new book, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Matters Today, as part of a Values & Capitalism series for Christian college students.

IWF avoids culture war issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights, though it defends gun rights and opposes education on climate change, which can encourage restrictions on the free market. Though primarily affiliated with conservative organizations, equity feminists include individuals who identify as pro-choice, secular or atheist, or Democratic.33 This keeps them from playing with—and receiving funding from—the larger and more powerful Christian Right operations like CWA. But they at times follow different paths to the same position. For instance, On the Issues summarizes the vehement opposition to VAWA as falling into “two broadly ideological areas—that the law is an unnecessary overreach by the federal government [free market feminism], and that it represents a ‘feminist’ attack on family values [pro-life feminism].”34 CWA also draws on the equity feminist justification for opposing equal pay legislation—that wage disparities result from women’s “choices,” and government regulations that address the income gap would thus interfere with women’s exercise of choice—demonstrating the shared free market influence that helps Christian Right organizations win the Koch brothers’ largesse and protects equity feminism from total isolation.35

THIS IS WHAT A CONSERVATIVE FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE?

When Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) first introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2013, he modeled the legislation after the NRLC’s proposed bill, which lacked any rape and incest exemption. Defending this, Franks asserted that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” triggering swift comparisons to Todd Akin’s famous faux pas in 2012. Republican House leadership went into damage control mode, putting their female colleagues in charge of the floor debate to deflect criticism, with Blackburn as lead co-sponsor.36 They also added a rape and incest exemption, modified with the police-reporting requirement to satisfy anti-abortion organizations including SBA and CWA (which, an Ellmers aide told a constituent on tape, insisted on its inclusion).37

But compromise came with a cost. Though NRLC accepted the weakening of their model bill, its Georgia chapter was outraged by the deal and broke away to form the even more hardline National Personhood Alliance.38 This loss of face likely contributed to the NRLC’s refusal to compromise further and risk denunciation from their right flank. NRLC president Carol Tobias vehemently condemned the congresswomen and men “who metaphorically stabbed a knife in the back of all the pro-lifers who voted for them.”39 Some abortion opponents advocated returning to the original bill, suggesting that the reporting requirement would not be a problem if they removed the exemption altogether.

Despite a meeting between the male Republican leadership and the group of concerned congresswomen—it’s rare for women legislators to rate so much time with the leadership—the impasse between these two influential bodies of conservative women, the elected officials, and the organizational leaders, thwarted compromise.40

The January upset came within a year of another schism that pitted Republican congresswomen against Christian Right women’s organizations. In May 2014, Blackburn, Ellmers, Walorski, and all but two of the Republican women then in Congress ended up on the opposite side of CWA and SBA over legislation for a National Women’s History Museum. (One of the museum’s two female opponents was Tea Party favorite and then representative Michele Bachmann, who herself appears in an exhibit.) Along with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council, and Heritage Action, the conservative women’s organizations denounced the proposed museum as a biased “national shrine to abortion” that would “fuel the radical feminist movement for decades to come.” Blackburn, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bi-partisan bill, offered CWA president Peggy Nance a seat on the museum’s board to attempt to win the conservative organization’s support. Nance refused unless she or another right-wing leader could serve as chair.41 IWF and its sister organizations stayed out of the fight, but a couple of connections suggested a measure of support for the museum: IWF has praised as a “modern feminist” one of the museum’s three founders, Ann Stone, who still sits on the museum’s board along with a Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute board member.42

When the museum bill passed with an overwhelming majority, Sarah Mimms at the National Journal summarized the moral: “The message from the Republican majority to the outside groups opposing the bill is clear: You’re not helping.” She warned that, given the widening gender gap between the parties, “Republican opposition to a bipartisan legislation for a museum celebrating the accomplishments of women” would backfire at the polls.43

Despite the conflict over the museum, Ellmers, Walorski, and Blackburn looked like they followed the Palin brand until this January, when the battle over Franks’ abortion bill took the underlying conflicts to a new level. While Christian Right women’s organizations reacted to the Republican congresswomen’s actions as a betrayal, and free market feminist organizations steered clear of the debate, that doesn’t mean the dissident GOP congresswomen are simply more closely aligned with free market feminism. While the less-funded free market or equity feminist network might benefit from embracing the congresswomen’s position, they were founded on and continue to promote a dismissive approach to sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women. Contrast that with congresswomen like Ellmers, who has gone against the conservative grain to co-sponsor proposed legislation addressing campus sexual assault. Even on VAWA, while Blackburn, Ellmers, and eight other Republican congresswomen voted no on reauthorization, Walorski and the majority of female GOP representatives (including all female senators) bucked their party and both conservative movement feminisms to vote yes.

The divide among conservative women seems to speak to a larger sense among GOP congresswomen of what their party must do to appeal to women—a serious concern given that “polls showed women tend to see Republicans as ‘intolerant, lacking in compassion and stuck in the past.’”44 In December 2014, Blackburn joined Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and then Rep.-elect Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in a panel at Politico’s Women Rule Summit (co-sponsored by the Tory Burch Foundation and Google), titled “Conservative Feminists: Why It’s Not an Oxymoron.” During the discussion, Brooks, who hails from the same state as candidate Richard Mourdock, was asked to comment on his remarks on rape. “We took a stand as Republican women, and said, ‘This is not our party,’” Brooks said, adding that Republicans shouldn’t allow the GOP to be branded by such remarks.45 This was a marked departure from SBA’s decision to stand behind Mourdock despite his offensive comments.

A conservative women’s movement prioritizing bipartisan work to promote women’s accomplishments and taking a more positive approach to sexual violence—whether motivated by branding or substance—would significantly break with the existing right-wing base, even if it otherwise retains stringently anti-choice and free market positions.

Since Christian Right women’s organizations cater to a male-dominated movement in holding a hardline stance, their position is unlikely to soften. The Republican congresswomen testing out this third way risk incurring the wrath of influential female Christian Right leaders (and their male backers) who stand for ever more extreme right-wing policies. When the Franks bill ultimately failed, anti-abortion blogger Jill Stanek and Students for Life America president Kristan Hawkins promptly organized young women to protest at Ellmers’ office during the March for Life, countering Ellmers’ stated concerns about losing millennial votes with a “new poll,” from right-wing Catholic group Knights of Columbus, purporting to show that millennials are “a pro-life generation.”46 Asked whether Ellmers would face a primary challenge, SBA president Dannenfelser responded decisively: “That tidal wave has already begun….That’s going to happen, and she deserves it.”47

Alex DiBranco studies social movements and nonprofit organizations as a sociology Ph.D. student at Yale, analyzing the U.S. Christian Right and reproductive rights and justice movements. She is a Public Eye editorial board member and has been published in outlets including The Nation, Alternet and RH Reality Check.

ENDNOTES

1. Paige Winfield Cunningham. (2015). “Renee Ellmers explains stance against abortion bill.” Washington Examiner. Online at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/renee- ellmers-explains-stance-against- abortion-bill/article/2559085.

2. Ibid.

3. Daniel Newhauser and Lauren Fox. (2015). “GOP Leaders Pull Abortion Bill After Revolt by Women, Moderates.” National Journal. Online at http://www. nationaljournal.com/congress/gop- leaders-pull-abortion-bill-after-revolt- by-women-moderates-20150121.

4. Bill Browning. (2009). “The nexus: Abortion zealot Jackie Walorski and Indiana’s hate crimes legislation.” Huffington Post. Online at http://www. huffingtonpost.com/bil-browning/the- nexus-abortion-zealot_b_157628.html.

5. “The Ten Scariest Republicans Heading to Congress.” People for the American Way. Online at http:// www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the- ten-scariest-republicans-heading-to- congress#ellmers.

6. Abby Scher. (2015). “The New Face Of Republican Women in Congress.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/ news/2015/03/188022/new-face- republican-women-congress.

7. Leslie Dorrough Smith. (2014).Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 121.

8. Ibid.

9. Abby Scher. (2008). “Post-Palin Feminism.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www. politicalresearch.org/2008/12/06/ post-palin-feminism/.

10. Ibid.

11. Lisa Miller. (2011). “A feminine face for the antiabortion movement.” The Washington Post. Online at http:// www.washingtonpost.com/national/ on-faith/a-feminine-face-for-the-anti- abortion-movement/2011/11/02/ gIQAwd7kiM_story.html.

12. Emily Bazelon. (2007). “Suffragette City.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2007/01/suffragette-city.

13. “Defending Reproductive Justice: Activist Resource Kit.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/defending- reproductive-justice-activist-resource-kit-2/.

14. (1998). “Challenging the Ex-Gay Movement: An Information Packet.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp- content/uploads/downloads/2012/11/ ChallengingExGay.pdf.

15. Robin Marty. (2015). “Joining the other side.” Contributoria. Online at https://www. contributoria.com/issue/2015- 02/5489c05855f1bf033400004b.

16. Emily Bazelon. (2007). “Suffragette City.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2007/01/suffragette-city.

17. Kate Sheppard. (2012). “Susan B. Anthony List Founder: Republicans Hijacked My PAC!” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2012/02/susan-b-anthony-list- sharp-right-turn-rachel-macnair.

18. Monica Potts. (2012). “Susan B. Anthony’s Hit List.” The American Prospect. Online at http://prospect.org/ article/susan-b-anthonys-hit-list.

19. Valerie Richardson. (1992). “Feminist launches PAC for pro-lifers.” The Washington Times. Online at https:// stuff.mit.edu/afs/net/user/tytso/ usenet/americast/twt/news/596.

20. “Susan B. Anthony List’s Anti- Choice Machine.” NARAL Pro-Choice America. (2014). Online at http://www. prochoiceamerica.org/elections/sba- list-report/.

21. Ronnee Schreiber. (2008). Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 52.

22. Lila Rose. (2012). “Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist.” Politico. Online at http://www.politico.com/ news/stories/0412/74739.html.

23. Remington Shepard and Kevin Zieber. (2012). “Right-Wing Media Hype Discredited Activist’s Latest Bogus Planned Parenthood Attack.” Media Matters. Online at http://mediamatters. org/research/2012/05/29/right-wing- media-hype-discredited-activists- lat/185033.

24. “Defending Reproductive Justice: Activist Resource Kit.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/defending-reproductive-justice-activist-resource- kit-2/.

25. Laura Bassett. (2013). “Lila Rose: Beatriz Doesn’t Need A Life-Saving Abortion.” Huffington Post. Online at http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2013/05/31/lila-rose-beatriz- abortion_n_3367595.html.

26. Christina Hoff Sommers. (2015). “The Buckley Program at Yale Lecture Series Jan. 22, 2015.” Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_ t701RfOEM.

27. Charlotte Hays. (2015). “Caroline Kitchens.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/ modern-feminist/2796105/ CAROLINE-KITCHENS.

28. Arthur Goldwag. (2012). “Leader’s Suicide Brings Attention to Men’s Rights Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center.Online at http://www.splcenter. org/get-informed/intelligence-report/ browse-all-issues/2012/spring/a-war- on-women.

29. Alex DiBranco. (2015). “Letter to the Editor.” The Public Eye, Winter 2015. Online at http://politicalresearch.org/ resources/magazine.

30. “Independent Women’s Forum.” SourceWatch.org. Online at http:// www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ Independent_Women%27s_Forum.

31. Andy Kroll. (2013). “Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2013/02/donors-trust-donor- capital-fund-dark-money-koch-bradley- devos.

32. Charlotte Hays. (2015). “ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/ modern-feminist/2796644/ALEC-CEO- LISA-B.-NELSON.

33. “Independent Women’s Forum.” SourceWatch.org. Online at http:// www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ Independent_Women%27s_Forum.

34. (2010). “Renee Ellmers on Civil Rights.” On the Issues. Online at http:// www.ontheissues.org/NC/Renee_ Ellmers_Civil_Rights.htm.

35. Concerned Women for America staff. (2014). “Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199) Opposition Letter.” Concerned Women for America. Online at http:// www.cwfa.org/paycheck-fairness-act- s-2199-opposition-letter/.

36. Kathryn Smith and Ginger Gibson. (2013). “Trent Franks: ‘Incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.’” Politico. Online at http://www. politico.com/story/2013/06/trent- franks-incidence-of-rape-resulting- in-pregnancy-are-very-low-92650. html#ixzz3QRMIwJQA.

37. Miranda Blue. (2015). “Anti-Choice Women’s Groups Reportedly Pushed For Rape Reporting Requirement In Abortion Ban.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/anti-choice-womens- groups-reportedly-pushed-rape- reporting-requirement-abortion-ban.

38. Miranda Blue. (2014). “Spurned Georgia Group Launching Even More Extreme Rival To National Right To Life Committee.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/spurned-georgia-group- launching-even-more-extreme-rival- national-right-life-committee.

39. (2015). “Elected Officials Who Betray Unborn Babies Have to Go.” National Right to Life News Today. Online at http://www.nationalrighttolifenews. org/news/2015/01/elected-officials- who-betray-unborn-babies-have-to- go/.

40. Ed O’Keefe. (2015). “Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers.” The Washington Post. Online at http://www. washingtonpost.com/blogs/post- politics/wp/2015/01/21/abortion-bill- in-flux-as-female-gop-lawmakers-raise- concerns/.

41. Miranda Blue. (2014). “After Complaining Women’s Museum Will ‘Indoctrinate’ Visitors Into Feminism, CWA’s Nance Demands To Chair Museum’s Board.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/after-complaining- women-s-museum-will-indoctrinate- visitors-feminism-cwas-nance- demands-chai.

42. Charlotte Hays. (2013). “Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Ann Stone.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/modern- feminist/2791521/Portrait-of-a- Modern-Feminist:-Ann-Stone.

43. Sarah Mimms. (2014). “Conservative Groups Urge Republicans to Oppose Women’s Museum, Republicans Don’t Listen.” National Journal. Online at http://www.nationaljournal.com/ congress/conservative-groups-urge- republicans-to-oppose-women- s-museum-republicans-don-t- listen-20140507.

44. Abby Scher. (2015). “The New Face Of Republican Women in Congress.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/news/2015/03/188022/ new-face-republican-women-congress.

45. “Conservative Feminism: Why it’s not an oxymoron.” Politico. (2014). Online at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=p6V9GhIb0so.

46. Lauretta Brown. (2015). “Millenni- als Protest Ellmers’ Efforts to Delay and Dilute Pro-Life Bill.” CNSNews.com. Online at http://cnsnews.com/news/article/lauretta-brown/millennials-protest-ellmers-efforts-delay-and-dilute-pro-life-bill.

47. Austin Ruse. (2015). “Exclusive: Pro-Life Leaders Call for Ellmers’ Oust- er.” Breitbart.com. Online at http://www.breitbart.com/big-govern- ment/2015/01/22/exclusive-pro-life-leaders-call-for-ellmers-ouster-from-congress/.

When in Doubt, Religify! Fear Mongering about Religious Liberty

Liberty InstituteSo much of the contemporary religious liberty campaign being conducted by the Christian Right is demagogic fear-mongering designed to justify discrimination against other Americans, particularly LGBTQ people. While most of our attention is directed to larger-than-life marriage equality dramas being played out in courtrooms, legislative chambers, and major media outlets, the foundation is being laid for massive resistance to marriage equality and much more.

This is the story of one such effort that has received little attention.

The Liberty Institute, a leading Christian Right legal advocacy group based in Plano, Texas, is rolling out a plan to prepare people for what they suggest is an inevitable wave of anti-Christian legal attacks against everything from churches to frat houses and for-profit corporations. “What’s the solution to protecting yourself from legal attacks?” the Institute rhetorically asks. “In a word: ‘“religify.”” [Emphasis in the original]

“In a world where hostility toward religion is on the rise, it’s not a matter of if but when religious institutions will be faced with damaging, anti-religious legal attacks. That’s why Liberty Institute now offers free-of-charge Religious Liberty Templates and Guides to religious institutions—including churches and synagogues, faith-based charities, orphanages, shelters, sororities, fraternities and faith-based for-profit companies.” [Emphases in the original.]

The Liberty Institute says they want to help these agencies avoid “legal and financial ruin” due to the activities of “individuals and organizations that are offended by traditional religious viewpoints and seek to litigate employment or discrimination claims to further a larger political or cultural agenda.”

Yes, the answer to this alleged “open season on people of faith” is to religify your organization by specifying all of your beliefs, and to act in accordance with those beliefs by integrating them deeply into all institutional policies, from statements of faith to employment manuals to rental agreements for outside groups. The goal is to be able to “prove the sincerity of their faith—and protect themselves from coming legal attacks.”

The Institute draws on detailed understandings of recent Supreme Court cases as sources for this legal groundwork against the coming siege. They point particularly to the 2012 case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which disallowed a discrimination complaint by a teacher, declaring that her role was part of the ministry of the church, and her employer therefore was exempt from employment discrimination laws. The decision is widely seen as having opened the door to a wide range of religious exemptions from civil rights and labor laws. The Institute also points to the 2014 decision in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, which for the first time endowed “closely held” for-profit corporations with religious rights under the First Amendment.

There are a lot of problems with the Institute’s approach.  Let’s look at two of them.

In a recent article, the Institute offered six examples of how religious freedom is under attack, and therefore why religious institutions should reorganize using the Institute’s templates. The Institute claims, for example, that Catholic Charities was “forced” to close its adoption services in Boston. This is, unfortunately, typical of the hyperbolic distortion in many such claims. The Institute wrote:

“When a Massachusetts state law was passed stating that homosexuals must be allowed to adopt, Catholic Charities of the Boston Archdiocese made the difficult decision to stop offering adoption services—to avoid violating their sincerely held religious beliefs by providing adoptions to same-sex couples. Then, when the Catholic agency tried to obtain, an exemption from state law, it was denied.”

In fact, same sex couples had been able to adopt since a decision of the State Supreme Judicial Court in 1993. The Boston Globe reported in 2005 that for years, Catholic Charities had been placing children with gay adoptive parents in explicit compliance with Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws. In the wake of the Globe report, the 42-member board of Catholic Charities voted unanimously to continue gay adoptions, but the state’s four Roman Catholic bishops disagreed, and initially said they would seek an exemption from the law. Then-governor Mitt Romney said he did not have the power to grant such an exemption, so the bishops decided to discontinue their adoption program rather than comply with state non-discrimination laws or engage in potentially expensive litigation whose outcome was uncertain.

It should be added that Catholic Charities made its announcement near the expiration of a 20-year contract with the state to provide adoption services. That contract would likely not have been renewed in light of the Bishops’ refusal to obey the law.

Second, it is worth a look at the Institute’s recommended language for revising the policies of religious and other institutions to maximize the possibility of success in defense against lawsuits for violations of civil rights and labor laws.

In their template, Guidelines: Drafting Church Employment and Administrative Policies, Liberty Institute points to several court decisions, especially Hosanna-Tabor, that highlight the court’s recognition of “ministerial exceptions” to governmental regulation. The Supreme Court held in Hosanna-Tabor that the ministerial exception does not apply solely to persons that are traditionally thought of as “ministers.” The Institute believes that this may allow churches to cover most if not all church employees under the legal definition of ministry, and thereby justify broad exemptions from compliance with civil rights and labor laws. One of the ways they suggest accomplishing this is by tailoring job descriptions to emphasize how each position is an expression of their doctrine.

This has immediate implications, for example, on matters of sexual identity. The Liberty Institute’s template titled “Statement of Faith: Marriage and Human Sexuality” advances a strident, exclusivist, and detailed doctrine identifying permanent, heterosexual marriage or celibacy as the only acceptable parameters of human sexuality, adding:

“All of our members, employees, and volunteers must affirm and adhere to this Doctrinal and Religious Absolute statement on marriage and human sexuality to qualify for involvement with the ministry. This is necessary to accomplish our religious mission, goals and purpose.”

The Institute’s Facility Use Policy agreement would even require outside groups and individuals to conform to a given church’s views on faith, marriage, sexuality, and gender identity.

The Liberty Institute is not wrong to anticipate cultural and legal adjustments that will be made as LGBTQ equality advances, particularly in the wake of the marriage equality case currently before the Supreme Court. But people of good will across society will undoubtedly do their best to make adjustments to accommodate the rights of others without necessarily compromising their own views. (Others, perhaps not so much.)

However, the Institute is deeply misguided in its repeatedly articulated, conspiracist view that there is a massive effort to squelch religious belief and expression generally, and Christian belief and expression in particular. It’s an old saw with many today. But it has no more validity today than it did a hundred years ago, when the raging anti-Semite Henry Ford declared that Jews were waging a war on Christmas and Easter in America.

A certain amount of tension over the nature of religious activity and expression in our democratic, religiously plural society is normal. It’s not whether we all agree that matters so much as how we handle our disagreements.

The Vatican’s Hypocrisy Endangers LGBTQ People Worldwide

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Pope Francis told reporters in July 2013. In January 2015, Pope Francis reportedly met with a transgender person, winning praises across the world for his openness. In February, however, the Pope erased any hope of a more progressive Catholic position when he compared gender theory (often used to defend and advocate for transgender rights) to nuclear weapons.

“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” he was quoted as saying. “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation. … God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth. The design of the Creator is written in nature.”

The Pope’s words and actions carry tremendous weight, and with them he has the power to either sanction or condemn the ongoing persecution or LGBTQI people around the world. Unfortunately, Pope Francis continues to play hide and seek on this issue—something his predecessor did, too.

Pope Francis celebrated as a progressive leader, but he has not yet acted upon his benevolent words.

Pope Francis is celebrated as a progressive leader, but he has not yet acted upon his benevolent words.

Pope Francis ought to realize that U.S. Roman Catholic leaders and organizations are equally responsible for the fire of homophobia and sexism that is raging in Africa and elsewhere. In 2009, the Vatican came out strongly against the criminalization of sexual minorities. This followed the introduction of Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill in Parliament. Then little-known U.S. evangelical Scott Lively traveled to Uganda for an anti-homosexuality conference in March 2009. The very next month, the Ugandan Parliament drafted and introduced one of the most extreme anti-LGBTI laws in the world—the Anti-Homosexuality Act, as it was officially known, called for the death penalty for LGBTI people. Africans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa (for whom megachurch Pastor Rick Warren was a mentor), Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network, and Uganda’s Joint Christian Council (which includes several Roman Catholic Bishops among its members) ensured the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February 2014. The law was struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on purely technical reasons later that same year, but it still has the potential to pass again—another reason why the Pope’s voice is so desperately needed in the struggle for sexual rights.

On December 10, 2009, the Holy See released a little-known historic statement that opposed “all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.” With this statement, the Vatican seemed to establish a position in firm opposition to the (not yet extant) “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda and similar laws elsewhere.

The human rights world applauded the Vatican’s position—but the above words were never uttered by the Pontiff himself or inserted into the Encyclical (the official document of Roman Catholic positions on various issues). Rather than making a bold statement affirming and defending LGBTQI peoples, the Vatican’s posturing outsmarted human rights advocates around the world. By denouncing criminalization of sexual minorities, the Vatican was able to evade responsibility for human rights abuses (laying the blame solely on U.S. conservative evangelicals), while still endorsing the work of U.S.-based Catholic groups such The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Human Life International, and Priests for Life, as well as bishops and other church leaders guilty of campaigning for the criminalization of sexual minorities. In Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and many other African countries, Roman Catholic bishops and priests—with the support of their colleagues in the U.S. and at the Vatican—have been at the forefront of anti-LGBTI campaigns.

Much blame has been placed on the shoulders of conservative American evangelicals, but U.S. Roman Catholic right-wing groups are equally guilty of exporting homophobia and sexism to Africa. This was illustrated in February 2015, when Roman Catholic Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of the Diocese of Oyo in Nigeria claimed that Nigeria’s failure to rescue the kidnapped girls (the Chibok girls taken by the Islamist group Boko Haram) was due to lack of support from the Obama administration, resulting from its opposition to an anti-LGBTI law passed in Nigeria in 2014. While the media cited Bishop Badejo for this statement, the claim was originally made by a U.S. conservative: Rep. Steve Stockman, who in August 2014 argued, “We have information that would help the Nigerian military take back their country and get back those girls. The mistake on our side—the United States’ side—is that we have laws preventing us from sharing that information with the Nigerian military. And one of the reasons is that we don’t like some of the social policy of the Nigerian government.”

The passage of Nigeria’s 2014 anti-LGBTQI law, which applies a 14-year jail sentence for same-sex marriages and prohibits advocacy of sexual minorities’ rights, was celebrated by Nigerian Roman Catholic Bishops. The bishops commended the government for its “courageous and wise decision” to fight “the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama went as far as saying “thank God that this bill was passed.” The failure of the Vatican to oppose or counter such statements implies approval; its hide-and-seek game essentially sanctions the persecution of sexual minorities in Africa and other parts of the world.

Pope Francis is continually credited as being a much more “progressive” leader than many of his predecessors, but he has done nothing to oppose anti-LGBTQI laws in Africa, Russia, and Asia. Though celebrated as a champion of people’s rights, Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his conservative predecessor Benedict XVI, who condemned criminalization and dehumanization of sexual minorities while simultaneously blessing the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga in 2012—knowing that she had promised to pass the “Kill the Gays” bill into law.

As the World Meeting of Families draws near in Philadelphia, human rights advocates anxiously await a public statement from Pope Francis on human sexuality. If the event centers on the definition of “family values” promoted by U.S. Roman Catholic and evangelical conservatives, then the Pope’s visit will further sanction the demonization, scapegoating, and persecution of LGBTQI individuals around the world. U.S. conservatives—from lesser-known characters like Matt McLaughlin and Scott Lively to big name leaders like Franklin Graham and Rick Warren—are awaiting the Pope’s visit to advance their global anti-human rights agenda.

The Pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. provides another opportunity for the advancement of human rights for all people. The persecution, violence, and trauma caused by religiously sanctioned homophobia demands a statement from Pope Francis on LGBTQI rights. His words have the potential to either sanction continuous violence, rape, criminalization, persecution, and killings—or bring long-awaited and desperately needed acceptance of sexual minorities across the globe.

We will be watching!

California’s “Shoot the Gays” Ballot Initiative Serves as Permission Slip for African Conservatives

The news that a Christian lawyer named Matt McLaughlin submitted a proposed ballot initiative in California that would require the execution of all LGBTQ people may sound laughable in the United States, but McLaughlin’s goal might not actually be to see the initiative signed into law. It may, in fact, be meant as a signal to countries all over the world where U.S. conservative Christians are encouraging the passage of similar anti-LGBTQ laws, essentially saying that if people in the U.S. are “considering” such a law, they should be free to do the same.

The “Sodomite Suppression Act” ballot initiative in California says, “in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.”

Matt McLaughlin and the text of his “Sodomite Suppression Act”

 

It’s practically a foregone conclusion that McLaughlin will not succeed in collecting the required number of signatures to get his initiative on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean he’s without company here in the U.S. Just as Scott Lively received roughly 19,000 votes in his failed gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts last year, McLaughlin will have some people who share similar views, both here and—importantly—in Africa. The concern should be that while his initiative is scoffed at in the U.S., the American culture warriors who are actively pursuing legislative persecution of both sexual minorities and women’s reproductive freedom in countries like Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, and Russia will leverage the fact that it has been proposed (and therefore given the serious consideration that America’s democracy requires) in order to sway foreign leaders and communities—people who may not realize how simple it is to pay a few dollars to get a ballot initiative in California proposed.

It was not long ago that (then) little-known U.S. right-wing evangelical Scott Lively traveled to Uganda and called on their Parliament to pass extreme anti-LGBTQ laws as a strategy for protecting young people from “homosexual recruitment” and the nation from “the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Aside from being heralded in Uganda as a “Man of God,” Lively’s talking points were adopted by Africans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa, Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network, and, of course, by Parliamentarian David Bahati—recently elevated to a full cabinet position in the Museveni administration—who became the author and sponsor of the infamous 2009 “Kill the Gays” bill.

Despite the increase in violence against sexual minorities in Uganda, Bahati sees nothing wrong with the bill—something he recently told VICE Magazine. On a subsequent visit to the U.S., Bahati also told Rachel Maddow that he saw nothing wrong with executing gays for “aggravated homosexuality.” Citing the Bible, Bahati argued that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

The Anti Homosexuality Act—as it’s officially titled—was signed into law in February 2014 before getting struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda for technical reasons. While LGBTQ activists in Uganda deserve to celebrate this important victory, members of Uganda’s Parliament have pledged to revive it in the near future.

Because McLaughlin’s proposed initiative is rooted in (his version of) Evangelical Christianity, U.S. Christian conservative leaders have a moral obligation to oppose it. But U.S. conservative leaders are so timid to stand up against bigotry. It took months of intense public pressure and scrutiny before The Fellowship (aka “The Family”) and U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren were forced to denounce the “Kill the Gays” bill—the legislation Warren himself exported on his 2008 visit to Uganda, during which he rejected sexual minorities’ rights as human rights. U.S. conservatives claim that militant homophobes like McLaughlin and Lively are not representative of their positions—that they are merely fringe characters. Yet when such militant actors use the name of Christianity to export ideologies that hurt our fellow human beings, these same so-called “moderate” Christian conservatives keep quiet (while simultaneously demanding that every U.S. Muslim should denounce Islamic Fundamentalists!).

McLaughlin’s initiative may be extreme, but it clearly illustrates how American culture wars ride on religion. The dangerous fire of religiously-sanctioned homophobia and sexism is currently burning across African nations in the name of God. The legislation pushed for and created by U.S. conservatives in Uganda and Russia now serves as models for other nations—similar laws have subsequently passed in The Gambia and Nigeria, and unless all U.S. people of conscience immediately begin working here at home to contain these homegrown culture warriors, their spread of anti-human rights poison abroad will only increase.

Christian leaders of all traditions and faiths must stand up against homophobia—they must condemn any promotion of hatred in the name of religion. Like McLaughlin, Edward Onwong’a Nyakeriga of Kenya’s Republican Liberty Party wants execution by stoning or life imprisonment for sexual minorities. Under the premise of “protecting” traditional family values, Nyakeriga argues the law is necessary to stop “sexual rights activists” from imposing “their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Kenya.” As McLaughlin reveals (again), these words are taken directly from U.S. conservative talking points.

But conservative talking points have bodies—U.S. anti-human rights Christian conservatives are actively exporting their ideologies to Africa, where they are unquestioningly received as scientific truths. Depending on how the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriages next month, U.S. Conservative ideologies may soon be history. Due to the number of losses Christian conservatives have suffered—and continue to suffer—in U.S. courts, accompanied by their failure to sell their anti-human rights agenda to young evangelicals, American culture warriors know they are fighting a losing battle. But this does not mean they will be out of business soon—their campaign is already globalized, and their talking points have found an eager market in Africa.

As eyes are set on the U.S., well-known and little-known U.S. conservatives such as Warren, Lively, and Sharon Slater have been waging anti-human rights battles on foreign grounds for many years. We all know that Pastor Warren (reluctantly) opposed the “Kill the Gays” bill when speaking on U.S. soil, but when is he going to condemn homophobia while he is visiting Rwanda? Hence, as long as the U.S. Right continues to dump its expired arsenal of homophobia and sexism on African soil, sexual minorities and women will be the direct victims of the same.

On a continent where over 90% of the population identifies as religious, African homophobia is covered in religiously coded messages. The efforts of human rights defenders alone won’t put out the fire of homophobia and sexism—religious leaders must also play a part. American evangelical religious leaders and para-church organizations operating in Africa—from World Vision to Pastor Warren’s PEACE Plan to Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse—have a moral obligation to speak out against religiously sanctioned violence directed toward sexual minorities and women. Their voices will determine who lives and who dies. These groups may claim to be oblivious to the persecution of sexual minorities and women in Africa, but religiously sanctioned homophobia and sexism continues to destroy and claim lives there.

While evangelical Christians of good conscience need to oppose anti-human rights positions advocated for by U.S. Christian extremists both at home and abroad, they also have the duty to demand that all evangelical organizations operating in Africa denounce homophobia and sexism. Keeping silent when lesbians are raped and gays are arrested and killed across the continent is not Christ-like—it is shameful and a betrayal of our biblical faith and family values. Mr. McLaughlin provides Pastor Warren and all evangelical pastors and scholars with an opportunity to honor the sacred humanity of all persons by denouncing his initiative as un-Christian.

 

How the Right is Co-Opting #BlackLivesMatter to Roll Back Repro Rights

The Right Wing’s success in reframing and co-opting social justice movements for the advancement of its own agenda has derailed more than one progressive campaign. With skillfully manipulative messaging, improved healthcare access and reproductive freedom have been redefined as murderous, genocidal crusades; LGBTQ people have been twisted into dangerous, perverse threats to women and children; economic justice efforts are distorted as handouts for lazy, work-averse people.

The Right’s new target? Black Lives Matter.

With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking actions, demonstrations, and conversations around the country, the Right is carefully plotting strategies to divert energy and attention away from racial justice, seeking to preserve the status quo at all costs, and—if they’re crafty enough—gain ground on their own conservative agenda.

As protesters marched and demonstrated from coast to coast following the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson—the man responsible for the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager—the Right hastily put forward alternative narratives. Among them is an emerging effort to convert the “Black Lives Matter” rallying cry into an anti-abortion campaign.

In December, the Illinois Family Institute—one of many state-based conservative “family policy councils” working to implement a right-wing social and political agenda at the state level—published a blog post entitled, “’Black Lives Matter’ … or do they?” The author, Fran Eaton (a White woman), argued that “the real threat to America’s Black community are abortionists much more than law enforcement officers.” Eaton claims that since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, “16 million tiny Black lives have perished in abortion clinics.”

too many aborted billboardTo back up her reframing of the Black Lives Matter movement, she turns to two of the anti-abortion camp’s favorite Black surrogates: Ryan Bomberger, co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, and Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of African American Outreach at the anti-choice Catholic organization Priests for Life.

Bomberger’s organization is infamous for its controversial “Too Many Aborted” billboard campaigns, which began cropping up around the country in 2010. Signs proclaiming “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and “Abortion Makes Three-Fifths Human Seem Overly Generous” were placed in predominantly Black neighborhoods, making no secret of their strategy to target Black women.

bomberger graph

Infographic from the Radiance Foundation

 

As Dorothy Roberts outlined in her seminal 1998 book, Killing the Black Body, there is indeed a long and devastating history of women’s fertility and reproduction being controlled by the state, particularly among communities of color. In some cases, these attacks on reproductive freedom have been furthered not just by conservative White legislators, but also by Black spokespeople.

Sadly, this multi-pronged, insider/outsider assault continues still today, as exemplified by Bomberger and King’s efforts to further restrict access to safe and healthy abortions that are free from shame and condemnation. Increasingly, these ongoing attacks are taking shape in the form of “race and sex-selective abortion bans”—laws that would prevent healthcare providers from performing abortions if they suspect the person seeking care is doing so based on the anticipated race or sex of the fetus.

Race & Sex-Selective Abortion Bans—Stealing the Civil Rights Act

Prior to 2010, only two states banned sex-selective abortions: Illinois passed a ban in 1979, and Pennsylvania passed a similar law in 1982. Beginning in 2008, however, leaders in the anti-choice movement began mobilizing constituents behind this new tactic.

In 2008, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proposed H.R. 7016, the Susan B. Anthony Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). In a press conference, Franks claimed his strategy was to simply extend standard civil rights protections, encapsulated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to unborn Americans. “Sex and race discrimination are already forbidden,” he said. “We took everything applicable from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and applied it to the unborn.”

Franks was joined by Alveda King and several other anti-choice spokespeople, including Steven Mosher, head of the right-wing Population Research Institute. In an article published shortly after H.R. 7016’s introduction, Mosher wrote:

I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex- and race-selective abortion. By formally protecting all female fetuses from abortion on the ground of their sex, we would plant in the law the proposition that the developing child is a being whose claims on us should not depend on their sex.

This sense of contradiction will be further heightened among radical feminists, the shock troops of the abortion movement. They may believe that the right to abortion is fundamental to women’s emancipation, but many will recoil at the thought of aborting their unborn sisters. How can they, who so oppose patriarchy and discrimination on the basis of sex, consent to [the] ultimate form of patriarchy and discrimination, namely, the elimination of baby girls solely on account of their sex? Many, it is safe to predict, will be silent, while others will raise their voices, but with less conviction.

While the pro-aborts are stammering and stuttering, we pro-lifers will be advancing new moral and logical arguments against the exercise of the “right” to an abortion solely on the grounds of sex or race. For those who are immune to moral arguments, we can also use the examples of China and India, where sex-selective abortion is creating enormous societal problems. The debate over sex- and race-selective abortion will also help to focus the public’s attention on how unregulated the abortion industry is. In these and other ways, the debate over this legislation will not subtract from, but add to, the larger goal of reversing Roe v. Wade and, ultimately, passing a Human Life Amendment. – “A New Front in the Abortion Wars

Franks, considered one of the most conservative members of Congress, has persisted in his efforts, reintroducing the bill in 2008, ’09, ’11, ’12, and ’13. In 2013, Franks also proposed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks based on the medically-disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. That bill, which still lacked sufficient support when it was re-introduced in January of this year, will likely be back up for consideration soon.

Franks’ home state of Arizona is the only state to have passed a race-selective abortion ban. This legislation is currently being contested by the ACLU on behalf of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

As NAPAWF explains:

These bills are part of a deceptive attempt to slip anti-choice measures under the radar. They claim to promote racial and gender equity, when in reality they aim to chip away at reproductive rights by exploiting negative stereotypes about women of color. Using the language of equality, anti-choice conservatives hope to foster nontraditional alliances with true advocates for women and people of color, in order to gain broad support for their agenda.

As in Illinois, Arizona has its own family policy organization, the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). CAP was originally known as the Arizona Family Research Institute, and from 1988-1993, Franks served as the organization’s executive director. Now one of the most influential political groups in the state, CAP is a member of CitizenLink, a nationwide network of right-wing state level lobbying groups and the policy arm of Focus on the Family. CitizenLink currently lists “fully associated” groups in 38 states.

With the exception of Oklahoma, every other state to have successfully passed sex-selective abortion bans thus far (Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) has one of these CitizenLink-affiliated groups working hard to derail movements toward social justice and advance the Right’s fundamentalist Christian agenda.

The Right’s media-messaging machine is well resourced and ready to co-opt and distort all struggles for social justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement. With high-profile Black surrogates like Bomberger and King out in front, and national support from organizations like Focus on the Family, CitizenLink, Radiance Foundation, and Americans United for Life, the anti-abortion movement is gaining ground—already this year, state lawmakers have introduced more than 300 bills designed to chip away at civil liberties and reproductive freedom.

It can be difficult to translate truth from the Right’s manipulative reframing, but Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, offers an easy litmus test: “If those who oppose abortion truly believed that black lives matter, they would be standing beside reproductive justice activists, and join our unequivocal assertion that the right to choose an abortion is just as important as the right to have children and parent them in healthy, thriving communities. Equality and justice can never be rooted in stigma, shaming, or violence, and it’s time the anti-choice movement recognized that.”

Christian Right Leaders Escalate Anti-LGBTQ Threats

As marriage equality has advanced around the country, and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue in June, threatening language is escalating on the Christian Right.   If these culture warriors actually follow through with their threats, the story of our time may turn on terms like civil disobedience, martyrdom and even civil war.  The operative word here is, “if.”

supreme court cross

In recent years, we have repeatedly heard threats of civil disobedience from Christian Right Leaders – everyone from the signers of the historic, 2009 Manhattan Declaration (which included top Roman Catholic prelates and evangelical and organized Christian right leaders), to Rick Warren.  We have heard predictions of civil war, revolution, and martyrdom from the likes of Catholic thinker John McCloskey, theocratic evangelical intellectual Peter Leithart, and even Christian Right electoral activist David Lane. We have also heard calls for political assassinations and secessionist civil war from White Southern Christian Nationalists, Michael Hill, David Whitney, and Michael Peroutka.

Most recently, some 200 Christian Right figures signed a renewed pledge of resistance to the anticipated Supreme Court decision favoring marriage equality.  At a press conference, they called this “A Bonhoeffer Moment in America.” The reference is to the famous Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted the Nazi regime and was hanged for his role in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.  Bonhoeffer is increasingly invoked by Christian Right leaders as they compare the situation in the United States to Nazi Germany and cast him—as they choose to define him—as a role model for Christian Right resistance.

The new manifesto says that extending marriage to same-sex couples violates their religious freedom, and that they want to “respectfully warn the Supreme Court” that they would adhere to “higher law.” Their language was (relatively) soft, but clear:  “Make no mistake about our resolve,” they concluded, “ …this is the line we must draw and one we cannot and will not cross.”

Co-authored by Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel and Catholic activist Keith Fournier, signers of the declaration include such well known Christian Right leaders as James Dobson, Jim Garlow, Franklin Graham, John Hagee, William Boykin, and Frank Pavone; Southern Baptist Convention leaders Paige Patterson, Ed Young, Robert Jeffress and Richard Land; leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, including Alveda King, Samuel Rodriguez, Cindy Jacobs, James Robison, Rick Joyner, and Joseph Mattera; and Republican politicians Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay.

Not to be outdone, anti-LGBTQ activist Scott Lively announced that the only way to thwart marriage equality is with the “threat of the mob.” Lively is walking a line as like those who have come before – wanting people to take his call seriously, even as he characterizes it as but a metaphor.

“The elites need to see the angry mob – liberals and conservatives together – surging through the streets, pitchforks and torches held aloft, ready to tear down Frankenstein’s castle with their bare hands if need be. For Christians it’s Jesus and the moneychangers time!  Making a whip of cords like He did with His own hands, and letting these arrogant puppet-masters know we mean to use it (metaphorically speaking).”

“The only way to deter the elites is with the threat of the mob,” Lively concluded. “They need to see the pitchforks and torches to know they’ve gone too far and need to back down.”

There is an art to brushing with incitement to violence.  It is an art with which the Far Right in the U.S. is very familiar.  Anti-choice militants often engage, or threaten to engage, in activities that walk up to or actually transgress personal and property boundaries of many kinds, including violence. But we have also seen the federal courts recognize that threatening language can morph into a “true threat” – as happened in the case of American Coalition of Life Activists v. Planned Parenthood.

As attorney Maria Vullo told me in an interview in 2002, that the case did not harm freedom of speech. “When you cross over the line into threatening violence,” she says, “it’s not free speech.”

Such concerns may take on new meaning since Christian Right leaders frequently compare the current Supreme Court same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, to Roe v. Wade, and may be serious about waging a long term war of attrition against an unfavorable outcome.

Let’s consider for example, the implications of the lawsuit brought by Ugandan LGBTQ activists against Scott Lively – who, as PRA’s senior researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma broke in 2009, was one of the leading U.S. culture warriors who promoted the virulent homophobia that led to the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.

Sexual Minorities of Uganda v. Lively will be tried in September of 2015 in federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts – just two months after the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges; followed in October by the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City. The latter will bring together some of the leading anti-LGBTQ militants in the world – some of whom have worked for legislation modeled on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law in their home countries.  

The case against Lively, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), relies on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. SMUG v. Lively is the first such case brought to protect LGBTQ people.

Lively is accused of the crime of “persecution,” as defined under international law as systematically seeking to deprive people of their fundamental rights not only of life, but of equality under the law – including equal rights of speech, assembly, and association. Persecution is defined here as the “severe deprivation of fundamental rights” on the basis of identity, a “crime against humanity.”

Lively’s claim that LBGTQ people are, among other things, predatory pedophiles has fueled rage not because of what people have done, but because of who they are. Even though the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had not yet passed when the lawsuit was filed (it later passed, was then struck down by the courts on procedural grounds, and now may make its return in the Ugandan parliament), SMUG said that vigilantes were acting as though it had.  People feared for their lives and possible arrest, received death threats, and were excluded from HIV-related education and health services. Meetings were raided, and LGBTQ leaders and attendees rounded-up and arrested.

CCR attorney Pamela Spees argued that since Lively first went to Uganda in 2002, no one had done more to strip away human rights protections for LGBTQ people. And although he was not present (as Lively’s attorney from Liberty Counsel noted) when specific criminal acts were perpetrated, nor did he supervise the crimes, Lively nevertheless participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy from which these crimes resulted. Lively was described as a “strategist” and an “architect.”

The nature of the civil disobedience being promised by various elements of the Christian Right in response to a potential pro-marriage equality ruling by the Supreme Court remains to be seen. It may turn out that some are just blowing smoke and will ultimately be able to live with the social changes taking place in the country. But it is likely that others can’t – or won’t. Some certainly believe that the survival of Christendom (as they understand it) is at stake.  And if their actions catch up with their words, there may be violence.

The Right’s Dangerous Duo: Robert P. George & Rick Warren

On April 30th, Biola University—ranked among the most conservative schools in the country—will play host to a conversation between famed academics Robert  “Robbie” P. George and Cornel West entitled “The Cost of Freedom: How Disagreement Makes Us Civil.” George has been described as “this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.” West, on the other hand, is a world-renowned progressive political philosopher and race theorist. The two affirm a deep and mutual friendship, and have shared classrooms and stages across the country for nearly a decade, seeking to exemplify fruitful dialogue across political and ideological and differences.

It’s a curious rapport, but in a society and culture that often promotes either antagonism or avoidance rather than deep and thought-provoking engagement within conflict, it is a rare and exciting thing to witness. The real story to pay attention to, though, is the relationship between George and the event’s moderator—the anything-but-moderate evangelical megachurch pastor, Rick Warren.

 

Robert P George (left) and Rick Warren (right) discuss religious freedom at the Berkley Center in 2013

Robert P George (left) and Rick Warren (right) discuss religious freedom at the Berkley Center in 2013

For many years, George operated outside of public view, establishing tremendous networks of influence amongst powerful leaders in academia, religion, and politics. As popular conservative leaders and pundits captured the public’s attention, George was quietly and methodically writing their script. As the conservative Catholic journal Crisis explained in a 2003 article: “He runs a kind of free-lemonade stand of advice for senators, congressmen, Catholic bishops, and evangelical leaders” who are looking for effective arguments against women’s bodily autonomy or equal rights for LGBTQ people.

He is the vice chairman of the conservative Ethics & Public Policy Center, chairman emeritus of the National Organization for Marriage (which recently disclosed its plan to go global with their anti-LGBTQ work), sits on the board of directors for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (the Green Family’s legal counsel in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby), co-founded the right-wing Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the thoroughly debunked but still destructively anti-LGBTQ Regnerus study), and serves on the editorial boards for multiple conservative publications, including the LDS (Mormon )Church-owned Deseret News. In 2012, George was appointed to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, where he serves as vice chair.

In 2009, George finally stepped into the spotlight as the primary author of The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, a manifesto signed by approximately 150 of America’s leading right-wing religious and political activists calling for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, The Manhattan Declaration’s distinct achievement—beyond serving as an anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman rallying cry—was “to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Indeed, the Declaration’s signatories make up a who’s who list of the U.S. Religious Right, including prominent anti-gay culture warrior Rick Warren. Warren was also invited to speak at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman” in November 2014—a Vatican-sponsored event that George served as a key organizer for. 

Now, the two men are experimenting with their own version of complementarity, each playing distinct roles in the manipulation of religious liberty arguments (e.g. Hobby Lobby’s claim that the Affordable Care Act violates their “deeply held religious convictions”)—the Right’s newest attack strategy against civil rights for women and LGBTQ people. In his usual behind-the-scenes way, George has been acting as one of the primary strategists, writing the script for the state-by-state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) saga playing out across the country, while Warren—always a sucker for the spotlight—has taken on the task of mobilizing his cast of “purpose-driven” characters to act out George’s drama.

With talk of civil disobedience and martyrdom, Warren is mobilizing his followers to fight for the “fundamental human right” of religious liberty—a right that he insists is being threatened by the steady expansion of rights and protections for women and LGBTQ people. (Not surprisingly, Warren’s concern for human rights is ideologically selective—in addition to being a strident opponent of marriage equality, he has said of homosexuality that it is “not a natural way of life and thus not a human right.”)

Though Rick Warren presents himself as a moderate, it’s no secret that he is a fundamentalist conservative known for his opposition to LGBTQ equality and women’s reproductive freedom. He is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch based in Lake Forest, California that boasts an average weekly attendance of 20,000 people.

In addition to having multiple branches throughout Southern California, Saddleback has also branched out globally. In 2005, Warren announced his “P.E.A.C.E. Plan” to address what he calls the “five global giants” of spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Concentrating on twelve strategic “Gateway Cities” around the world, including Accra, Amman, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Moscow, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan is rapidly expanding Warren’s reach and influence around the world.

The millionaire pastor travels extensively as part of his dominionist agenda, spreading his dangerous right-wing ideologies wherever he goes by developing close relationships with government leaders, business leaders, and religious leaders, including many prominent anti-LGBTQ pastors. When launching his “Purpose Driven Living” campaign in Uganda in 2008, Warren proclaimed to a crowd of cheering church leaders, “The future of Christianity is not Europe or North America, but Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” Warren was also one of the key U.S. culture warriors responsible for Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” legislation. He eventually denounced the bill after he came under fire in U.S. media, which prompted vitriolic anti-LGBTQ Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa to pen an open letter to Warren demanding to know why he was saying things contrary to what he’d said in Uganda.

Despite these PR missteps, Warren hasn’t shied away from the international scene in the least. Sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” he is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor,” too.In an email to supporters sent out in May 2014, Warren announced that he will host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda later this year. He is calling for leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries to join him, as well as 54 other American pastors whom Warren has enlisting to join him, in order to “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits. This will be the first of five continent-wide conferences over the next five years—Warren’s final campaign before retiring from Saddleback in 2020.

Rwanda ranks among the world’s poorest countries, and has been the focus of much of Warren’s international work since he first visited at the invitation of President Paul Kagame in 2005. Kagame enlisted Warren’s help in making the small African nation the first “purpose-driven country” after reading the famous pastor’s bestseller, A Purpose Driven Life. Warren now sits on Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council, and claims Rwanda as his “home,” pointing to his Rwandan diplomatic passport as proof.

That Kagame has been accused of numerous human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others seems not to have deterred Warren, who has hosted him multiple times as a guest of honor at Saddleback’s main campus. After all, the notion of “human rights” is an ambiguous one for Warren, reserved primarily for straight Christians facing “persecution” here in the U.S.

To be clear, the real threat—both in the U.S. and around the world—is the Christian Right’s attempt to co-opt the language of human rights and religious liberty, and (under the guise of “civil discourse”) advance their myth of persecution, which ultimately serves as a strategy to trump the rights of others and justify discrimination. Robert P. George and Cornel West might be the duo attracting the most attention tonight, but as backlash against gains made by women and LGBTQ people grows, the ones to really watch will be Robbie and Rick.

Growing Mormon-Catholic Alliance: Quiet Partners Behind Christian Right’s Religious Discrimination Agenda

While Tony Perkins, Brian Brown, Bryan Fischer, and other Christian Right pundits of the more shrill variety may be easy to ignore as they demand a right to discriminate on Fox News, there is a more dangerous coalition emerging. One of the primary drivers of the movement to corrupt and redefine religious freedom isn’t someone in a shouting match on cable news, but a decades-long alliance of top Mormons and Catholics.

While Mormons and Catholics may seem like unlikely allies, from a political perspective they bring complementary strengths to their partnership. The Mormon Church has an amazing amount of wealth on hand (it’s estimated to be worth over $40 billion – gathered from real estate and commercial holdings, mandatory tithing collections from members, and even a theme park in Hawaii) and a world-class grassroots mobilization and recruitment force. The Catholic Church and related groups, on the other hand, enjoy a much higher approval rating with the American public (62 percent) and thus can put a more popular face on public political campaigns.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013.

Mormon Apostle Dallin H. Oaks (center) speaks with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, (right) and Princeton University Professor Robert P. George (left) at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty Canterbury Medal Dinner in New York City, 16 May 2013.

The political allegiance between Mormons and Catholics dates back at least to the 1990s in Hawaii, during the first U.S. battle over same-sex marriage. As I previously reported, while the Mormons could—and did—provide funding and volunteers to that campaign, the more popular Catholic Church acted as the coalition’s public face. The Catholic Church and other visible allies would thereby absorb any public backlash directed towards the coalition, while the Mormons could push their agenda without any serious consequences to their public image. The strategy was effective, and one they repeated during California’s Proposition 8 fight.

The alliance grows stronger with each passing year. Epitomizing the relationship is Princeton professor Robert P. George, one of the most influential Catholic conservative activists in the country, who partnered with the Mormon Church to create the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). He also joined the editorial advisory board of the Mormon Church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News. George is also the founder of the Witherspoon Institute (responsible for the debunked Mark Regnerus study – which was reported first by the Deseret News), was the primary author of the anti-LGBTQ Manhattan Declaration, and is one of the top national strategists leading the charge to redefine religious freedom into a sword religious institutions can use to force their doctrinal positions on individuals. This week, Mormon Church-owned Brigham Young University awarded George an “honorary Doctor of Law and Moral Values” degree, calling him “one of the most able and articulate advocates of the proposition that faith and reason are not incompatible.”

Dallin H. Oaks, one of the Mormon Church’s 12 Apostles, has been deeply involved in the effort to redefine religious freedom. He sits on the board of the World Congress of Families, an international culture-warring collection of Religious Right organizations that works all over the world to use (redefined) religious freedom arguments to enact anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws (such as the Russian law that criminalizes any positive speech about homosexuality). In recognition of his work with WCF and frequent speeches before conservative groups extoling the benefits of using one’s faith as an excuse to dodge pesky civil rights laws, Oaks received the 2013 “Canterbury Medal” for his “defense of religious liberty” from The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative Catholic legal organization responsible for the Hobby Lobby ruling at the Supreme Court and one of the top groups in the Right’s religious freedom campaign.

Speaking earlier this month at the Mormon Church’s semi-annual General Conference to all 15 million members worldwide, Oaks quoted a speech given by Philadelphia Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput at Brigham Young University. “Speaking of ‘concerns that the LDS and Catholic communities share,’ such as ‘about marriage and family, the nature of our sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and the urgency of religious liberty,’ he [Chaput] said this: ‘I want to stress again the importance of really living what we claim to believe. That needs to be a priority—not just in our personal and family lives but in our churches, our political choices, our business dealings, our treatment of the poor; in other words, in everything we do.’” Chaput continued, in his speech to BYU, “Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

“Religion is to democracy as a bridle is to a horse.”

Another of the Mormon Church’s top leaders, Henry B. Eyring, met with Chaput and Pope Francis in November 2014 at the Vatican. Eyring described their strengthening alliance and mutual dedication to opposing civil liberties for LGBTQ people and women, saying “I think the thing was, even with other faiths, they have exactly the same feeling that the root of good society is good families.” Another of the Mormon 12 Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, will be one of the featured speakers later this year at the Catholic’s anti-LGBTQ World Meeting of Families, where the Pope will also be speaking.

The crowning, and perhaps most insidious, achievement thus far of the Mormon-Catholic alliance is the much-hailed Utah nondiscrimination/religious freedom law. While the Christian Right’s state-level Hobby-Lobbyized RFRAs (with their overt anti-LGBTQ intentions) have generated a significant national backlash (particularly in the cases of Indiana and Arizona) and are susceptible to court challenges, the Utah RFRA “lite” law actually won endorsements from LGBTQ groups. The Mormon Church enlisted the help of Christian Right operative Robin Fretwell Wilson, who works closely with right-wing Catholic groups like The Becket Fund and Alliance Defending Freedom, to co-write the law. The end product was a bill written in such a way that LGBTQ groups hungry for a “win” in a Red state could claim victory in the form of a watered-down nondiscrimination law. The price—knowingly or otherwise—was the endorsement by high-profile LGBTQ groups of the Right’s false contention that religious freedom is somehow at odds with LGBTQ rights, requiring a compromise – or, as some LGBTQ groups described the creation of Utah’s law, “a collaboration.” Such endorsements have set a dangerous precedent for the advancement of RFRAs and other efforts to corrupt actual religious freedom in various state legislatures. Right-wing groups can (and do) point to LGBTQ support in Utah as a means of mainstreaming their agenda and deflating their opposition.

Catholic news agencies have hailed the “Mormon law” as a model to be repeated across the country. If that happens, we may well see more such pyrrhic victories, in which gains in non-discrimination legislation are overwhelmed by the emerging “right to discriminate” on the basis of religious convictions.. This is where compromising on the true meaning of religious freedom could lead. We may also see the Mormon Church emerge as a more prominent—albeit less public—partner of the evangelical and Catholic elements of the Christian Right as they continue their quest to corrupt the meaning of religious freedom.

Not All the Same: Christian Right’s Hobby Lobbyization of State RFRAs

Things hit the fan in the wake of the signing of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by Governor Mike Pence (R). He and other defenders of the bill argued that it was the same as the other state RFRAs, as well as the federal RFRA signed by President Clinton. Discrimination was not intended, so what was everyone so upset about?

The claim that the bill did not intend to protect discrimination collapsed, as many publications and LGBTQ civil rights activists (such as the Indiana ACLU) quickly proved that discrimination was exactly the intent. The resulting national controversy compelled Indiana to offer “clarifying” legislation.   But it is revealing how important it was to conservatives that the bill not be seen as discriminatory – using false claims about the federal and other state level RFRAs as a cover. But also revealing is their attempt to reinterpret the intentions of the authors of the federal and other state RFRAs.  This is of a piece with the long-term Christian Right campaign to redefine religious liberty in the country in terms favorable to their theocratic vision.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) is joined by Christian Right leaders as he signs the Hobby Lobbyized RFRA into law.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) is joined by Christian Right leaders as he signs the Hobby Lobbyized RFRA into law.

The way they went about it is instructive. Conservative Republican politicians, their apologists (such as New York Times columnist David Brooks), and allied groups suggested that the bills are essentially the same.  Even some Christian Right leaders like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council bent the truth, claiming that Indiana merely joined “19 other states in aligning themselves with federal religious freedom law.”  (Even though the state-level Christian Right leaders who backed the bill, and stood behind Gov. Pence when he signed it, have been clear about their intentions.)

The Times’ own reporting cited legal scholars, including Columbia Law School professor Katherine Franke, who said that the Indiana is not the same as the federal law or the Illinois state law supported by President Obama when he served in the Illinois State Senate.

“[Franke] and other legal experts said the Indiana law expands the parties who could ask for relief on religious grounds to include a wider range of corporations, if individuals with ‘substantial control’ of the business share the same religious beliefs.

The Indiana measure also grants parties the right to bring legal action to prevent a ‘likely’ burden on religious belief, even before any burden is imposed. And it expands the situations in which the protection could be invoked to include disputes between private parties engaged in lawsuits, even if they do not involve any direct actions by a government agency.”

The fact is that the federal RFRA, and most of the past state RFRAs, apply only to government actions. The original purpose of the legislation was to restore individual religious liberty taken away by the Supreme Court in the case of Employment Division v Smith, which involved Native Americans being denied state unemployment benefits in Oregon because they had been fired for using the illegal drug peyote in traditional religious ceremonies. The Court ruled that they had no legal recourse, so Congress sought to narrowly set a standard essentially reversing the Smith decision.  A later Court ruling limited the reach of the federal RFRA to the actions of the federal government only, hence the beginning of the state level RFRAs.

However, since the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell Supreme Court ruling in 2014, Christian Right agencies like Alliance Defending Freedom, the Becket Fund, the Mormon Church, and their allies at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, have pushed state level RFRAs that extend certain provisions to corporations and individuals allowing measures of discrimination in the face of religious claims that to provide services to LGBTQ people violates their consciences.

The Hobby Lobby case, for the first time, granted a private business religious standing under the First Amendment. In that case, the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores was allowed to claim a religious exemption from providing employees with healthcare insurance covering four kinds of contraceptives, because the company owners believe (medical science not withstanding) that they are abortifacients.

Borrowing language from the federal RFRA, on which the original case filed by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty was based, Justice Alito, writing for the majority, said the government’s requirement that Hobby Lobby provide this contraceptive coverage imposed a “substantial burden” on their religious liberty, and that there are ways of accomplishing the “compelling government interest” in ensuring that women have access to these drugs, by the “least restrictive means.”  Justice Ginsburg, writing in dissent, was concerned by the potential sweeping implications of the decision. “The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” Ginsburg wrote, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths.”

The first of these Hobby Lobbyized RFRAs was passed in Arizona, but was ultimately vetoed by the governor. A similar bill was passed and signed into law in Mississippi, while other such bills have been stalled in other states.

Justice Ginsberg’s concerns are being realized in the efforts to insert Hobby Lobbyized provisions into state RFRAs.  What is curious is that are engaging in an odd and easily refutable historical revisionism in claiming that the Hobby Lobbyized RFRAs was the intention all along—even though the federal RFRA was passed in 1993.

The turning point in the national controversy was probably the debacle on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, when Governor Pence repeatedly claimed that the Indiana bill was the same as the others, and refused to say whether or not he supported anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Pence claimed that the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago. And it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given any time government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute. And after last year’s Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature. And I was proud to sign it into law last week.”

The Indianapolis Star reported on April 2nd that Pence’s talking points did not square with the facts. Pence is correct except that the Indiana bill is not the same as the federal RFRA and most of the state RFRA’s – including Illinois – but the post-Hobby Lobby timing is telling. The shorthand for the bill around the legislature was “the Hobby Lobby bill.”

In the wake of the controversy over the Indiana bill, Arkansas changed their proposed RFRA before it was passed to ensure that it could only be invoked in cases where the government is a party, just as in the federal version. While the struggle over the definition of religious freedom is far from over, the battle lines are becoming clearer.