The Advantage of Promoting Rigid Orthodoxy
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable has released
an important study
that should be of interest to all of us concerned about the Christian Right. While the study does not reveal anything substantially new, it does give a very comprehensive and detailed picture of the influence of both the anti-gay and pro-gay forces currently at work in the various religious groups. Most disturbing is the empirical verification of what we already knew; that secular conservative groups are aggressively funding the spread of anti-gay ideas within religious denominations as a tool for political control.
The study suggests that it is time for secular and religious progressives to learn how to work together to challenge the way the secular right is exploiting the prejudices of the religious right for their own purposes.
Although this study focuses on LBGT issues, we should note that this suggestion for broader cooperation between secular and religious progressives is something that should be applicable in a general way as a smart strategy of confronting the religious right.
Some excerpts from the study:
Recent political events underscore the need for progressives to reclaim the dialogue on values in the United States. In the last few months, secular progressive organizations have undertaken an unprecedented effort to reach out to people of faith in order to reframe the way religion and values are discussed in the public square. This effort is of particular importance to those working toward LGBT equality because the strongest opposition to that equality comes from religious conservatives. Progressives have many potential allies within the faith communities, and this report is the first attempt to create an inventory of major groups working within denominations and religious traditions to affect change for LGBT people. [ ]
The opposition to pro-LGBT denominational networks is particularly virulent and widespread. Secular conservative forces
have seen the advantage of promoting rigid orthodoxy in the mainline churches in the United States. This sense of importance has not been shared by progressive secular organizations and foundations, and therefore, pro-LGBT groups in these denominations find themselves massively outgunned in terms of staff, resources and funding. The anti-gay groups surveyed in this report out-spend the pro-LGBT organizations in the same denominations by an average of 8 to 1. [ ]
Particularly disturbing is the Institute for Religion and Democracy, an organization which has been attempting to destroy
progressivism in three of the major denominations: the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the United Methodist Church. The IRD's board is made up of many leaders from the conservative political establishment,
including the American Enterprise Institute, Concerned Women for America, and the Weekly Standard. [ ]
According to Alfred Ross of the Institute for Democratic Studies, IRD's agenda is "part of a longstanding and comprehensive
agenda of ultraconservative forces to transform key elements of our mainstream consensus. The mainline denominations
are another prime target, representing billions of dollars in assets as well as formidable communications capacities that exert
moral influence in defining `Judeo-Christian values' for policymakers and voters. Under particularly aggressive attack are the
Presbyterian, United Methodist and Episcopal churches with their combined membership of 14 million. The right has already succeeded in taking over the largest Protestant denomination in the nation, the Southern Baptist Convention, and is using it effectively to advance its agenda." [ ]
Progressive secular and religious organizations working in support of LGBT issues have much to gain from working with one another. The critical next steps for secular progressive organizations moving toward meaningful collaboration require significant
adaptation. Working together means including religious leaders' issues in progressive agendas and enabling them to speak in their own voices for social change. Religious organizations have historically been committed to cultural transformation. Learning from their approach to this commitment could help the progressive movement achieve more than the formal victories of legislation and litigation; a commitment to cultural transformation could provide powerful new strategies for making justice a reality in people's daily lives.