Peter Montgomery's blog

AFA Lunch at VVS: Call for 'Aggressive' and 'Offensive' Church in Culture War

The American Family Association hosted a luncheon on Friday at the Values Voter Summit. The featured speaker, Rep. Randy Forbes, was a no-show, though the audience was assured his non-appearance had nothing to do with ads being run in his district urging him to stay away.  Whatever was keeping Forbes so busy that he couldn’t break away didn’t prevent Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) from making it to the VVS hotel to give some opening remarks. Aderholt praised the activists, saying that the only way for America to be saved is for the country not to forget its founding values.  In Forbes’ absence we also heard from Jerry Boykin, the retired general who is now a VP at the Family Research Council, and Lea Carawan, the director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.

Boykin was his blunt self, asserting, “we are in a culture war today like America has never been” and complaining that the problem was with the church in general and with “Christians in name only” in particular.  “The majority of the Christians in America today are dead, asleep,” he groused. “They are not involved in what’s going on in our culture. They’re not engaged in this culture war. They are not putting their faith into action.”  He said it was the church that brought about the Revolutionary War and the abolition of slavery through the Civil War.  When he looks at America today, he said, “There is no other solution to our ills than for the church to wake up, get off your dead behinds and get in this culture war that we’re involved in.”

Carawan picked up on Boykin’s message, saying that members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and affiliated members in state legislatures are disappointed that they aren’t getting more backup from churches.  For example, she said, members of the Maine legislature have had to do the organizing to get pastors involved in a push for a “religious liberty” bill.  Carawan said the caucus was committed to an “offensive strategy” – one example she gave was Pennsylvania legislation requiring the display of “In God We Trust” in all the state’s public schools. 

Carawan said the prayer caucus favors a neutral public square and religious liberty for all Americans, but in the next breath said “we are equally committed to advocate, aggressively engage the public for advocating that Judeo-Christian values be reflected in our laws and policy, because somebody’s values are going to be reflected in laws and policies.” The founding fathers, she said, fought “so that we could have Judeo-Christian values reflected in our government, laws, and policy.” The founders understood, she said, “that it is only Christianity, Judeo-Christian principles, that provides the only valid moral basis that will secure freedom for all Americans.”

Carawan warned that “the strategy of the secular progressive agenda is simple and dangerous:  use the limitless financial resources at their disposal and the power of government to overwhelm and bury religious freedom in the ash heap of history. And that’s their plan. Not on our watch. Not on our watch. We’ve relied on defending our freedom in the courts. But this isn’t sufficient. We have to go on the offensive. We have to be aggressive. We have to stand up. We have to be intentional and strategic.”

Conspiracy Theories for Breakfast at Values Voter Summit

Early this morning, before the official opening of the Values Voter Summit, the Religious Right legal and advocacy group Liberty Counsel hosted “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” a breakfast panel on threats to the Second Amendment.  On the menu: conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama and the United Nations plotting to disarm Americans, and rhetoric of resistance.

In addition to Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, the speakers were the Family Research Council’s Ken Blackwell (also a board member of the National Rifle Association) and gun-rights advocate Jan Morgan, who also appeared at Liberty Counsel’s Awakening conference earlier this year.

Morgan portrayed a United Nations treaty meant to restrict the illegal international trade in weapons as a UN plot to take Americans’ guns (false), and the Obama administration’s decision to sign the treaty as an ominous step.  Blackwell portrayed the “assault” on the Second Amendment as an assault on the Constitution and on God himself, warning that nations that fall to tyranny or big-government socialism first must destroy the family, silence the church, and disarm their citizens.  The Obama administration, he said, thinks it has replaced God in people’s lives. Asked how Americans should respond to the signing of the treaty, he said, “resist, resist, resist.”

Morgan celebrated the Colorado recall of two state senators who had supported the state’s new gun law, and she praised southern governors who she said are looking to put the “Firearm Freedom Act” into law in their states, which would threaten the arrest and prosecution of federal agents who try to enforce federal gun regulations in their state. She ended with a dramatic call for conservatives to “pull ourselves out of this pity party” and channel the fighting spirit of the founding fathers.

Religious Right Will Cheer Tea Party Extremism at Values Voter Summit

Boehner threatens the global economy w/ default, the Tea Party shutdown continues & a new Supreme Court term could do harm to campaign finance, reproductive choice & church-state separation...perfect week for the Values Voter Summit!

Irony Alert: The AFA Is The Epitome Of The 'Ugliness Of Christian Activism'

Is it possible that Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, has never heard AFA spokesperson Bryan Fischer’s radio show?  Of course not. But that leaves only less charitable explanations for the level of a) cluelessness and b) disingenuousness revealed in the October issue of AFA’s magazine.

In his column, Wildmon describes a disagreement he had with Christian author Os Guinness during a recent interview:

He said that Christian young people are leaving the faith because of the “ugliness of Christian activism.” I asked him for an example of what he was talking about, and he cited a video that went around the Internet a couple of years ago that included clips from President Obama’s comments which would lead the viewer to believe Obama is a Muslim. Os said basically that this video was slanderous.

I told him I believed his example to be weak because that video was not produced by an mainstream pro-family or Christian group. My personal opinion is it is Obama himself who has created the suspicion among one out of four Americans that he is a secret Muslim. I have no idea if he is or not. I just know that many of his statements and actions have been extremely positive and sympathetic toward Islam.

So, Wildmon has “no idea” if Obama is a secret Muslim, but says the idea that he might be was not put out there by a “mainstream pro-family or Christian group.” 

Now, where in the world would people get the idea that Obama might be Muslim? 

"Is President Obama ... taking advantage of that doctrine of taqiyya?" Fischer asked. "Is he pretending to be a Christian, falsely and taking cover under the doctrine of taqiyya because his role as the president is advancing the cause of Islam? I mean, who knows?"

Tim Wildmon, meet Bryan Fischer, who has told his listeners that he believes the discredited right-wing theory that Obama’s wedding ring contains an inscription reading “there is no God but Allah” which, Fischer says, the mainstream media has ignored because it could raise the possibility “that Barack Obama may, in fact, be a closeted Muslim.”

There’s more. Fischer  says President Obama is heading “the most virulently anti-Christian, anti-Christ, anti-God administration we’ve ever had in American history” and is leading “a purge of Christians from the military.”  Fischer has accused President Obama of having a “visceral dislike of America” and a desire to destroy America.  Fischer says “whether he’s a Muslim or not, we may not know that until it’s too late to matter, but he clearly has Muslim sympathies, far more sympathetic to Islam than he is to Christianity…”  In the same show, Fischer said an Egyptian foreign minister claims that Barack Obama confided that he is a secret Muslim. 

For good measure, Fischer has also accused CIA Director John Brennan of being a devout Muslim who is funding terrorism.

Back to Wildmon, who says later in his column,

To be fair to Os, his main point in our conversation was that as Christians we should be doing “the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” Meaning, we need to be honest and treat our philosophical and political detractors as the Bible commands us to treat any other person – with love and respect.

I agree with that.

Wildmon also asserts that “there is nothing ugly about the Christian activism that American Family Association engages in.”

Really? Honesty, love and respect are not exactly hallmarks of the Bryan Fischer oeuvre. In fact, as our in-depth report on Fischer and our ongoing coverage of his rantings document, AFA spokesman and radio host Fischer is one of the biggest purveyors of dishonest, divisive, disrespectful, and outright bigoted rhetoric in the public arena today. 

Ex-Gay Pride Hide And Seek

How do you raise “awareness” in total secrecy?

The “Ex-Gay” community loves to complain that LGBT acivists, the media, and public officials ignore their existence. They portray themselves as martyrs to political correctness.  And they’re tired of it! So this year, they decided to make a big splash.

Unfortunately, plans for an “Ex-Gay Pride Month” in July imploded: a rally expected to draw “tens of thousands” drew fewer than a dozen.  A dinner celebration planned for the Family Research Council building was postponed with vague explanations about security concerns.

Organizers – including Voice of the Voiceless, Equality and Justice for Fall, and PFOX – regrouped and declared September to be “Ex-Gay Awareness Month.”  The culmination of the month is supposed to be this coming Monday’s “First Annual Ex-Gay Awareness Month Dinner and Reception.” Organizers have lined up anti-gay activist Harry Jackson to give the keynote address, and Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver – whose anti-gay credentials are unquestionable – to receive the “2013 Ex-Gay Pride Freedom Award.”  Also set to be honored is a “former Satanic drag queen,” Trace McNutt.

What is not clear is how the event will raise the “awareness” of anyone except the attendees.  The event is being held at a secret location. Organizers asserted their right to exclude anyone who they didn’t think was already completely signed on to their agenda.  My payment was returned without explanation. When I sent a note asking if my registration had been rejected, I received a one-word reply: Yes.

As I told PFOX, I had no intention of being a disruptive presence. I just wanted to hear and report on what was said. You know, bring some awareness to the event. But then I took another look at the registration form and found this disclaimer:

Code of Conduct -- PFOX requires attendees to sign and adhere to certain standards of conduct, and is not responsible for the individual conduct of attendees. We reserve the right to refuse any person to register or attend for any or no reason at our sole discretion, and disruptive conduct will be grounds for removal without a refund. Attendee agrees to uphold the principals [sic] and beliefs of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays -- that we support the ex-gay community, ex-gay rights, and providing hope to those with unwanted same-sex attractions and gender confusion that change is possible. No cell phones, recording devices or photos may be used or taken during the event. I agree to the above conditions

No photos. No recording. No one who doesn’t already agree with them. They must be bursting with pride.

David Lane Digs In

In July, we reported on Christian-nation extremist David Lane’s closed-door pastors briefing in Iowa, and the presidential hopefuls and other politicians who have flocked to Lane’s gatherings over the years.

This week the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Lane’s American Renewal Project is holding church-based voter registration drives on three Sundays this month: Sept. 15, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29.  Steve Michael, a spokesperson for the project, told the Register that after the American Renewal Project’s $1.2 million voter registration campaign in Missouri during the last election cycle, the state saw a 3 percent increase in evangelical voters.  He said it will organize in Iowa “steadily until the 2014 election.”

The "Stand-up Sundays" model goes like this: Pastors ask their congregation members to stand up if they're already registered. Volunteers will then hand out voter registration paperwork to the adults still seated. But each Iowa pastor will decide how to do it, Lane told the Register.

Iowa is among 11 states the American Renewal Project is targeting in the 2014 cycle, Michael said. The others are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.

Organizers will do “Pastors and Pews” events followed by voter registration drives in each state. Next up is Louisiana on Sept. 26-27….

Lane said Iowa may be one of the most registered states in the nation, thanks to the attention from the presidential campaigns, so he expects Louisiana, Arkansas and North Carolina to be more "target rich areas."

It’s worth noting that Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina are also among the top Senate races for 2014, as are other states on Lane’s target list. 

NOM’s Brian Brown Brags About Supporting Anti-Gay Work Abroad

Last year, when some internal planning documents from the National Organization for Marriage were released as part of court filings, public attention focused on the group’s explicit racial wedge strategies designed to foment tensions between LGBT and African American communities. But the documents also revealed NOM’s desire to play globally: they talk of “Internationalizing the Marriage Issue” and working “to halt the movement toward gay marriage worldwide.”

In an email sent yesterday, NOM President Brian Brown brags explicitly about supporting the international work of the World Congress of Families, a project of The Howard Center for Religion Family and Society, and making a pitch for donations to the group. Here’s Brown’s quote:

The World Congress of Families is THE group standing up for the family around the world.  They have done amazing work in uniting all of those who stand for the truth about marriage and family.  It has been an honor to partner with WCF and to be a part of their most recent Congress in Australia and regional conference in Trinidad and Tobago.  I wholeheartedly endorse their work and urge you to financially support their efforts.

Just who is Brown so proud to be raising money for? In just the past several months, World Congress of Families spokesmen have:

  • praised new anti-gay laws in Russia and said Russians “might be the Christian saviors to the world"
  • called that the Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act a “travesty” that would encourage pedophilia and doom America to “extinction”
  • portrayed undocumented immigrants as “parasites, criminals, potential terrorists and the arrogantly unassimilable”
  • warned that President Obama will soon be pushing conservatives into “cattle cars” as part of his plans to “crush dissent.”

The World Congress of Families, of course, defines “natural family” in a way that excludes same-sex couples: “the term 'natural' precludes incompatible constructs of the family as well as incompatible behaviors among its members.” The Howard Center hosted a symposium in Washington, D.C. earlier this year in which a parade of right-wing speakers claimed that the real “war on women” comes from “those who present themselves as champions of women’s rights.”

WCF summits and regional gatherings held around the world - -this year’s was held in Sydney, Australia --  are a magnet for speakers from American Religious Right leaders like Peter LaBarbera who share anti-choice and anti-LGBT equality strategies with their international allies. As Brown mentions in his fundraising pitch, WCF held a Caribbean conference in Trinidad in June. Among the long list of American religious right figures speaking, in addition to Brown, were Janet Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America and WCF’s own Don Feder.

Next year’s World Congress of Families conference will be held in Moscow. Perfect.

Tony Perkins' Scary Back-to-School Message

The fear-mongering in the Family Research Council’s latest mailing starts on the envelope:  “Beginning THIS MONTH…they don’t want any American child to escape. Read how we can STOP them.”

“They” turns out to be “government-run schools” and the “radical” teachers that infest them.

If a foreign enemy had plotted to infiltrate America, I’m not sure an army of undercover subversives could have done more damage than our government-run schools….

Leftists don’t want a single American child to escape their thought control.  And they are crowding out true education.

Of course, Perkins has a skewed idea about what a “true education” includes. He complains that America used to be the tops in science – after all we put a man on the moon. But not any more:

Today’s science classes often feature big-government political propaganda, taking time and focus away from true science. Not to mention attacks on the Bible and arrogant censoring of any theories like intelligent design that challenge their Darwinism.

Yes, nothing will boost American students’ science scores faster than a little the-universe-is-6000-years-old Creationism. Perkins doesn’t say exactly what big-government propaganda he’s talking about. Evolution? Astronomy? Climate change?

Even worse, says Perkins, “the federal government has endorsed and sponsored an ‘anti-bullying program’ created and run by Dan Savage, a radical homosexual activist…” Perkins thinks sex education is all about promoting promiscuity and homosexual behavior. “This obsession with liberal sex ‘education’ shows how the minds and souls of our young people are being deliberately sabotaged.”

Accompanying Perkins’ letter is a “Protect America’s Children Survey” which asks whether their local schools are experiencing a range of problems, including “Positive portrayals of homosexuality or negative portrayals of those who don’t affirm homosexuality,” “Not enough teaching of the Christian roots of America,” “Absence of presentation of intelligent design theory,” and “Not enough teaching on the virtues of limited government and free enterprise.”

There is hope, says Perkins, bragging that he was able to “assist” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in passing “one of the most family-friendly school choice laws in America.” Jindal’s privatization scheme has resulted in public money being diverted into often  unaccountable schools wasting taxpayer dollars and teaching Religious Right curricula – no wonder Perkins loves it. 

'Choice' School Accountability in the Eye of the Beholder – or Big Donor

On the very same day that the Washington Post reported on Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul’s call for more school vouchers and expanded charter programs, the Associated Press exposed a frantic behind-the-scenes operation in Indiana to raise the grade given to a charter school run by a major Republican donor. As Rick Perry might say, “oops.”

Paul’s call to expand vouchers and other “school choice” programs is not surprising.  Right-wing political strategists have invested huge sums in recent decades to undermine public support for public schools as a means of outsourcing public education dollars into private hands. Privatizing public education is practically an article of faith in today’s Republican Party and it has been a major project of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

What should be more surprising, but isn’t, is Paul’s seeming lack of concern for accountability in the use of tax dollars. The Post reports that Paul “shrugged off” documented quality control problems in DC’s voucher system and “dismissed” recent research showing that charters, while improving, are still not outperforming traditional public schools. Pushing for expansion in the face of dubious evidence is standard operating procedure for education privatizers.

Many advocates for expanded voucher and charter programs say the problem is that public schools aren’t held accountable for their results, but they resist applying the same kind of accountability to “choice” schools. In Indiana, as the Associated Press reports, former state school superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff “frantically” overhauled his much-ballyhooed “A-F” grading system last year when it turned out that Christel House, a charter school run by a major GOP donor, would receive a “C.”

"They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence's chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan's grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive….

Though Indiana had had a school ranking system since 1999, Bennett switched to the A-F system and made it a signature item of his education agenda, raising the stakes for schools statewide.

Bennett consistently cited Christel House as a top-performing school as he secured support for the measure from business groups and lawmakers, including House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

But trouble loomed when Indiana's then-grading director, Jon Gubera, alerted Bennett on Sept 13 that the Christel House Academy had scored a 2.9, or a "C."

"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12, 2012 email to Neal.

Neal fired back a few minutes later, "Oh, crap. We cannot release until this is resolved."

A weeklong behind-the-scenes scramble ensued among Bennett, assistant superintendent Dale Chu, Gubera, Neal and other top staff at the Indiana Department of Education. They examined ways to lift Christel House from a "C'' to an "A," including adjusting the presentation of color charts to make a high "B'' look like an "A'' and changing the grade just for Christel House.

It's not clear from the emails exactly how Gubera changed the grading formula, but they do show DeHaan's grade jumping twice….

"I am more than a little miffed about this," Bennett wrote. "I hope we come to the meeting today with solutions and not excuses and/or explanations for me to wiggle myself out of the repeated lies I have told over the past six months."

Bennett told AP that his frustration was with a flawed grading formula and denied that the staff’s frantic changes were designed to give DeHaan’s school an A. But, the AP report says, “the emails clearly show Bennett's staff was intensely focused on Christel House, whose founder has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.”

Bennett is now the state education commissioner in Florida, where advocates for privatization of public education have made a huge push in recent years.  

UPDATE: In the wake of news coverage of the school-grading scandal in Indiana, Bennett resigned as Florida's education commissioner on August 1, just a day after Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Bennett was doing a "great job." 

Conservative Catholic C-FAM Wages 'War' on Choice, Gays, Free Speech

Conservative Catholics love to portray the advance of LGBT equality as an attack on religious liberty. And they feign a “live-and-let-live” philosophy by saying things like this poll-tested talking point used by everyone from NOM to Jim DeMint: “All Americans are free to live as they choose, but no one has the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” It’s not very believable, but it’s apparently the best they’ve got.

Well, now the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a militantly anti-abortion and anti-gay group that works through the UN and other international agencies, isn’t even bothering with that liberty-loving façade. C-FAM is celebrating the draconian anti-gay law in Russia that makes it a crime even to publicly advocate for LGBT equality – and cheering the spread of similar laws in places like Lithuania and Moldova, where anti-gay hate machine Scott Lively has been pushing his poison.

An article in C-FAM’s July 25 alert crows, “Bans on Homosexual Propaganda Advance Despite Western Outrage.” The article gloats thatEastern European countries are following Russia's lead to protect children by curbing advocacy for ‘non-traditional’ sexual acts.”

C-FAM is feeling its oats this week. It has repeatedly sent an alert with the subject line, “War is Coming. You are Called.” The letter from C-FAM President Austin Ruse, written from the now-infamous Moscow airport, talks about a “war council” of European parliamentarians and UN officials that he has been meeting with behind closed doors to declare war on pro-choice advocates.

Ruse complains that “pro-abortion” governments like Belgium and the U.S. have blocked C-FAM from getting official UN recognition. But he says it hasn’t impeded their work, becausewe still have UN access wearing the badges of good friends like Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom.”

Ruse is lining up his allies to win official UN recognition next January. But as of today, what he really needs is $22,000 to avert a “real financial catastrophe” and make this month’s payroll. Follow your heart.  

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