When the Result Enables the Religious Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 01:42:55 PM EST
Let me start out by saying that I know the leaders of the liberal, Washington, DC-based think tank Faith in Public Life are progressive people with a record of good works. But there are times when it is important to tell friends and colleagues that we differ on matters of importance. Especially when they are eggregiously wrong.

Writing in response to Sarah Posner's important article at Religion Dispatches, "Katie Paris and The Faith in Public Life Team" issued what amounts to a long press release titled "Common Ground Gets Results."  They say they are "proud" of their "results-based" approach. Results is certainly a fair way to measure any organization's work, but we need to look at the bad as well as the good results, however unintended they may be. In this case, FPL has promoted the ambitions of conservative, anti-abortion, anti-LGTB equality Republicans under the banner of finding common ground. Many question the value of the excercise, but for an organization that stakes it's reputation on dialog and finding common ground with people who do not necessarily agree, their statement in response to Posner's article is a textbook example of the difference between public relations deflection and authentic engagement.

There is much that we could discuss here, but I will develop just one point, (raised by Posner and ignored by Katie and the Team), since it is of such historic consequence regarding the ever-changing role of the Religious Right in American public life.

This has to do with FPL's promotion of Rick Warren, the immoderate evangelical who presides over a growing religious and politically-oriented empire. Posner, in passing, debunks the moderation for which is underservedly famous, noting that "Warren has argued that homosexuality disproves evolution and has compared pro-choice advocates to Holocaust deniers."

But FPL was pleased to help him plan, rather than oppose, the presidential candidate's forum last fall, which was broadcast on national television from the sanctuary of Warren's church.

The event was legal for reasons that go beyond the purpose of this post, but to say that the event sent the wrong message regarding separation of church and state, is as radical an understatement as I have probably ever made.  And Warren's claim during this broadcast -- again, from the sanctuary of  church he heads -- that he supports the separation of church and state, shows how Orwellian doublespeak has come to dominate our public discourse in fresh ways that would probably astound, but not entirely surprise Orwell himself.

After the event, Katie, writing at the FPL blog, stated that while they would have framed the questions differently, and would have emphasized more of the broader agenda for which Warren has been hailed, she had no reservations. She praised the event, declaring that it demonstrated that "the faith community has an important role to play in fostering civil political discourse in America." (She also wrote that they wanted him to work with him some more.)

Katie and the Team ignored Warren's astounding plunge into corrosive discourse in comparing abortion to the "Holocaust." They also ignored his gall when in closing the event he said that people should not "demonize" one another for thier views. This from a man who just minutes before had not very slyly compared prochoice people to the Nazis. Is this the model for how "the faith community" should pursue civil discourse?

Lest one too-generously think that Warren's invocation of the Holocaust was a slip of the tongue or that he was using the term in its more generic definition, consider that in the context of discussion of abortion one does not invoke the Holocaust lightly. (Should one ever?) The abortion-as-Holocaust theme has a long, stormy history that is familiar to anyone who has been involved in, studied or reported on the issue. The anti-abortion Religious Right uses the term to make a direct analogy to one of the great genocides in history (as even the most casual Google seach will show) the protests of Jewish organizations and leaders, among others, not withstanding.    

The day after the forum, Warren once again resorted to the Holocaust analogy in the interview Posner cites -- in which he compared prochoice advocates to Holocaust deniers.   In an interview with Dan Gilgoff at BeliefNet, Warren said:

If they (Evangelicals, among whom Warren counts himself) think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust, and for them it would like if I'm Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. I don't care how right he is on everything else, it's a deal breaker for me. I'm not going to vote for a Holocaust denier....

But there is more that was spectacularly wrong with the Warren Forum. The man who is celebrated as being a broader agenda, moderate evangelical, did not ask Obama and McCain about any of the broader agenda issues, but highlighted abortion and marriage. The broader agenda approach advertised in advance didn't make it into the conversation. Warren says they ran out of time. How convenient.

Whatever else he may be, he remains an old time litmus-test Religious Right Republican. Often forgotten is that Warren participated in the weekly Bush White House strategy conferences with other leaders of the Religious Right. Warren claimed in his Beliefnet interview he has never been part of the Religious Right.  But I think he doth protest too much.  

A few weeks later, Warren once again distinguished himself by endorsing Proposition 8, the successful referendum that overturned marriage equality in California. This was the first plebecite overturning of a court-ordered civil rights advance in American history.

It is useful to recall that during the presidential election campaign of 2004, Warren wrote a nationally distributed, inflammatory letter in which he equated, among other things, anti-abortionism and anti-marriage equality with his signature notion of the purpose driven life:  

But for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are 5 issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they're not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues. In order to live a purpose-driven life - to affirm what God has clearly stated about his purpose for every person he creates - we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.

The simple fact is that Rick Warren's view of the politics of the "purpose driven life" is unchanged. But one of the "results" of FPL's peculiar approach to "common ground" is a turning a blind eye to Warren's role in the religious right and his self-serving and inflammatory approach to political discourse.  Choosing not to see or not to speak about these facts undoubtely makes it easier to justify facilitating Warren's purpose driven desire to function as a power broker: Warren is the first religious leader in the history of the United States to be allowed to publically and singly question the presidential candidates.  

Much more could be said about FPL's embrace of Rick Warren and their silence in the face of his spectacular betrayal of the spirit and letter of any reasonable definition of civil discourse. But I am afraid we are unlikely to hear it from them.

I'll give Pastordan the last word, from his  response to The Team's PR statement.

It simply doesn't make sense to celebrate the "broader agenda" folks unless you'd like them to control the social agenda. Otherwise, you'd celebrate the faithful Democrats who are already present within the party and don't actually oppose abortion rights or marriage equality.



Display:

If life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted.

  1. Does life start at conception or at implantation?

  2. If life begins at conception then use of the pill is considered an abortion.

  3. If life begins on implantation, then we see numbers of 40 to 50 million. Where do they or anybody get these numbers? If you include the pill then are the numbers under stating the total?

  4. Ever since the visit of Pope Benedict the Catholic right has changed the tenure of their statements. Losing the elections has only fueled them. You are pointing out that the only thing all of these groups have in common is in their view, our immoral government?

Looks more like the Christian leaders have failed completely in motivating their followers to live their advertised cherished values. Instead of looking at their failures, they blame the government.


by Turfsuper on Fri Dec 12, 2008 at 10:37:30 AM EST
Many who are anti-abortion are also against the pill for the very reason you cite -- they believe that in some cases the pill will cause a fertilized egg not to be implanted successfully.

But I suspect that many anti-abortion Christians use the pill regularly even if their leaders teach that it is wrong, just like millions of Catholics use contraception even though they are admonished not to.

The 40-50 million number is simply their best estimate for the number of legal abortions since Roe vs Wade.  I don't even know where they would begin to calculate the number of "abortions" from the pill.  Since most scientists who have studied the issue believe that it doesn't happen, then the best estimate is zero.

by tacitus on Sat Dec 13, 2008 at 12:29:56 AM EST
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