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Stewart writes: "When evangelicals attack 'the gay agenda' of an anti-bullying event in schools, something is sick in America's religious culture."

A gathering of evangelical Christians in Washington. (photo: Mark Wilson/Reuters)
A gathering of evangelical Christians in Washington. (photo: Mark Wilson/Reuters)

How Christian Fundamentalism Feeds the Toxic Partisanship of US Politics

By Katherine Stewart, Guardian UK

29 October 12


When evangelicals attack 'the gay agenda' of an anti-bullying event in schools, something is sick in America's religious culture

ix It Up at Lunch Day is one of those programs that just seems like a nice thing to do.

The idea is that on one day of the school year, kids are invited to have lunch with the kind of kids they don't usually hang out with: the jocks mix with the nerds, lunch tables are racially integrated, et cetera. Sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center as part of their Teaching Tolerance division, it arose out of a broad effort to tackle the problems of bullying in the schools and bigotry in society - and it appears to have been effective in breaking down stereotypes and reducing prejudice. Over 2,000 schools nationwide now participate in the program, which is set to take place this year on 30 October.

You can argue about how permanent its effects are, or whether other approaches might be better, but the idea of making new friends in the lunchroom seems utterly benign. Right?

Wrong, as it turns out - at least, according to the American Family Association, a radical rightwing evangelical policy group. Mix It Up at Lunch Day is, in fact, part of "a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools", according to the AFA literature. The program "is an entry-level 'diversity' program designed specifically by SPCL (sic) to establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools, including elementary and junior high schools," warns the AFA website. "See if your child's school is on the list."

The AFA has urged parents to keep their kids home on 30 October, and claims that at least 200 schools have responded to its charge by canceling the program.

There's a backstory here. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has fought for civil rights causes since its founding in 1971, conceived and promoted Mix It Up at Lunch as part of their Teaching Tolerance program. The SPLC also, as it happens, named the AFA, along with a dozen other "pro-family" groups, as a "hate group" in 2010, citing, among other factors, AFA's expressed views on same-sex relationships. The "homosexual agenda" is not the only factor in the SPLC's decision to include AFA on the list. AFA's director of issues analysis, Bryan Fischer, has appeared to suggest that what is biblically deemed "sexual immorality" merits punishment by death. He evidently hates Muslims, too, having recently opined that "allowing a mosque to be built in town is fundamentally no different than granting a building permit to a KKK cultural center".

So, now it's payback time. The AFA's jihad against Mix It Up at Lunch Day is its way of saying "I'm rubber, you're glue." It has come up with its own list of boycotts and hate groups, and sure enough the SPLC, on account of its "incendiary language", is on that list.

Funny word games aside, the SPLC is right. It is, by now, well known that the AFA and the kind of interests they represent spread conspiratorial falsehoods about the LGBT community, placing blame for a wide variety of social ills on a "gay agenda". They also seem to support a certain type of bullying and bigotry in public schools - the faith-based kind - and believe there should be more of it.

One example comes from an AFA cultural ally: Gateways to Better Education, formed in 1991 by Focus on the Family in tandem with a rightwing Christian legal advocacy group that calls itself the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Gateways publishes a "Guide for Commemorating Religious Freedom at School". But the freedom Gateways and the ADF have in mind applies only to those who share their religion.

"Religious Freedom Day is not 'celebrate-our-diversity-day,'" members are reminded. Gateways advocates a "Biblical approach to tolerance", which apparently consists of intolerant attitudes toward what the ADF and Gateways call "pro-homosexual education" and "the gay activist agenda". Parents' No 1 goal, they say, should be to "encourage your children to be bolder" in expressing their faith at school.

The far right's fixation on same-sex relationships is so ludicrous that it defines a sub-category of camp. But let's take a step back for a moment. The big question, the one that keeps coming back in every one of these skirmishes in the culture wars, is: why is the loudest religion in American politics today so much about hate?

Consider Mix it Up at Lunch Day from the perspective of the almost limitless other conceptions of the Christian religion that are out there. You could, for example, construe it as an exercise in "loving thy neighbor". You could quote the gospel of John that "God is love." You could view it as part of the religious mission of charity. I have no doubt that there are countless Christian and non-Christian people in the US who would view Mix It Up Day in just this way.

So why does the form of religion that seeks to claim the term "Christian" in the political realm have to focus so relentlessly on a "gay conspiracy" - not to mention sexually active singles and the purely evil Muslims?

I don't believe for a moment that this hysterical voice that screeches in America's political sphere is the authentic voice of religion in America. Most religious Americans want to mix it up at lunch! They want to make friends across party lines, and they want to help people who are less fortunate. A survey by the Public Religious Research Institute, released on 24 October, reveals that 60% of Catholics believe the Church should place a greater emphasis on social justice issues and their obligation to the poor, even if that means focusing less on culture war issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Earlier this year, in response to the Ryan budget, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined other Christian leaders in insisting that a "circle of protection" be drawn around "essential programs that serve poor and vulnerable people".

So why is it that the so-called "values voters" are urged to vote against the politician who supports choice, not the politician who wants to shred that "circle of protection" for the poor and vulnerable? Why is it that when politicians want to demonstrate just how religiously righteous they are, they talk about banning same-sex marriage and making contraceptives hard to get, instead of showing what they have done to protect the weak?

There is an obvious answer, and it is, in a sense, staring you in the face every time you watch a political debate or read about the latest antics of Focus on the Family and the AFA. The kind of religion that succeeds in politics tends to focus on the divisive element of religion. If you want to use religion to advance a partisan political agenda, the main objective you use it for is to divide people between us and them, between the in-group and the out-group, the believers and the infidels.

The result is a reduction of religion to a small handful of wedge issues. According to the religious leaders and policy organizations urging Americans to vote with their "Biblical values", to be Christian now means to support one or, at most, a small handful of policy positions. And it means voting for the Republican party.

This type of rhetoric is also championed by a segment of Jewish conservatives. Alarmed that Obama won 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008, they accused Democratic Jews of being "Jinos" - Jews In Name Only. "They eat bagels and lox; they watch 'Schindler's List,'" writes Town Hall columnist Ben Shapiro, "but they do not care about Israel" - at least, not in the way that Shapiro thinks we should.

When religion is thus reduced to a single policy decision and support for a political party, it becomes shrill and bigoted. This abuse of religion for political purposes has been tremendously damaging for American politics. But it is worth pointing out that it has been destructive of religion, too. According to another poll this month, this one by the Pew Research Center, record numbers of Americans are now reporting that they have no particular religious affiliation. Perhaps that is because, right now, the God of hate seems to be shouting louder than the God of love. your social media marketing partner


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+26 # mdhome 2012-10-29 19:18
OH NO, I might get cooties! please AFA protect me.
+19 # carpbear 2012-10-29 23:26
It's too late, mdhome: I've sent homosexual cooties through the Internet into your monitor and onto your keyboard, where they have been absorbed into your skin!

Now that THAT is taken care of: want to go to the symphony with me on Friday? :-D
0 # Sjax 2012-10-31 11:20
Oh you evil evil homosexual agenda as well as teh interwebs cootie pusher you are going to be condemned by a invisible all powerful completely loving imaginary being to burn in a imaginary fiery place for all eternity! And yes, I'd love to go to the symphony with you on Friday.
+14 # Rick Levy 2012-10-29 23:46
"Most religious Americans want to mix it up at lunch! They want to make friends across party lines." Oh really? If that were the case then Mix It Up Day wouldn't be necessary.

Christian churches and high school cafeterias are the last bastions of racial segregation.
+21 # Scrabblelou 2012-10-30 00:25
Tomorrow is Mix it up Day. This doesn't have to be limited to kids in school. What if we made an effort to talk to someone new during lunchtime tomorrow,,,
+3 # WolfTotem 2012-10-30 10:04
Quoting Scrabblelou:
What if we made an effort to talk to someone new during lunchtime tomorrow,,,

Fine idea, but remember - school kids don't usually carry hidden firearms.

Take care!
+28 # Rascalndear 2012-10-30 01:28
The Voice of Reason> The author is not promoting Muslims, Catholics, Jews or anal sex, if you know how to read a text thoughtfully and not reactively. She is promoting tolerance and pointing out, very rightly, that people who call themselves Christians but promote hate and intolerance are missing the fundamental point of Christ's message: Do onto others as you would have others do onto you. (Do I want other children to bully my child because it's a born-again Christian/ortho dox Jew/Muslim/colo red/crippled?) Love thy neighbor as thou lovest thyself.
-9 # The Voice of Reason 2012-10-30 16:13
She promotes tolerance by using the same caustic and inflammatory language she claims she finds so offensive, and then sides with Muslim leaders, who have no tolerance for homosexuals at all. She is as polarizing as the AFA.

And she didn't even point out how the AFA guy got the Phineas story all wrong. Phineas killed a religious leader who had engaged in whoredom.

The fact is that this diversity meeting is trying to mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, the same way that birth control lets everyone engage in sexual activity for fun or profit.

I am not passing judgment, just stating a fact. And I'm not in favor of hysterics or bigotry on either side.

There have been numerous civilizations built up over the 5 to 10 thousand years of recorded history, and when one of them collapsed, rampant sexual activity was one of many evidences of that society's decay.

So what is our Great Society doing differently that makes our rampant sexual activity (of all kinds) so much more appealing and sustainable?
+4 # dovelane1 2012-10-30 18:49
Dear Voice - I read a quote once that went "Life is 5% what you make it, and 95% how you learned to take it."

What you are not so subtly doing is blaming the author of the article for how other people might respond to this article.

I read the article as an honest appraisal of how fundamentalists are responding to such things as "Mix it Up " day.

The Fundamentalists are doing the same exact thing. They are responding EMOTIONALLY to a situation, and to other people, and then blaming the other people for how they are responding emotionally.

When someone blames another person, two things happen. One is that the person doing the blaming no longer has to be responsible for how they LEARNED to take things. The other is that they also believe they have the right to demand the other person to change, and not be who they happen to be.

In doing so, they give up or deny the only real option there is, that of changing themselves.

Because their belief system is based on the idea of a "perfect" god, they assume their beleif system is perfect as well. This also allows them to believe in the righteousness of their attitude.

The true name for all this is xenophobnia - the fear of anything that is alien to their norm. They are blaming their fear on those who are simply different as human beings.

And, as I wrote in a song a long time ago, "all their frineds think the same, so they think they've won."
+2 # Glen 2012-10-31 07:50
Dove, a nice essay, and so true. I used to tell my students, when in discussion, something similar to your last sentence: Do you want to learn, or do you want to win?

Control and fear are a big part of human behavior and the need to dominate and manipulate is paramount in too many churches - most especially those fundamentalists .
+2 # Lolanne 2012-10-31 10:00
Quoting dovelane1:
Dear Voice ...
What you are not so subtly doing is blaming the author of the article for how other people might respond to this article.
I read the article as an honest appraisal of how fundamentalists are responding to such things as "Mix it Up " day. ...

All very true, Dovelane1. Repressive attitudes are always based in fear, and such groups seek to impose their views on everyone else in order to control, because the illusion of control lessens the fear.

One of the things they seem to fear most is sexuality -- ALL forms of it (except what they specifically sanction: between man and wife for procreation purposes), but especially homosexuality.

Since they fear it, they try desperately to repress it in themselves, whatever form it might normally take -- and I suspect a significant number of them recognize homosexuality in themselves. Of course, what is most strenuously repressed is what rises up and takes over; hence their preoccupation with sexuality, especially homosexuality, in the culture around them.

That these people claim Christianity is sickening. They in no way reflect the attributes of Christ: humility, acceptance, forbearance, compassion, caring...all summed up by one word: LOVE. There is nothing of love in fundamentalist groups; there is only hate.
0 # The Voice of Reason 2012-10-31 22:54
It sounds like they want to 'sex it up' among the student minors and encourage children to explore their sexuality.

The last time I checked, sex with minors is a life felony, so what are the parameters here? And again, I'm not passing judgment, just stating a fact.

So let's get back to the rampant sexuality is a sign of a decadent society. Any answers to how this time it's going to advance our society, instead of contribute to its downfall?

We have had over 50 years of post-pill sexual freedom. Where has it led us? Are we truly a more enlightened society, or are we merely pandering to base appetites with no particular plan in mind?

Anybody care to answer the question objectively? I didn't think so.
+2 # kelly 2012-10-31 07:07
I took it mean that you spend time with persons--any persons you don't normarrly associate with. And it starts as early as you want. Cliques can start at any age. Many kids know nothing of sexual orientation prior to high school, want to place them in your categories, too? When I was a kid, it would have meant jocks and nerds sitting down to lunch. Are you going to put them in there? Kids absorb he hate their parents spew and if you want your kids to learn that...
Did you ever wonder why people around the world were so closed-minded about stuff, so unlikely to see the other side? Think about the garbage you're spewing and get back to us.
0 # Mannstein 2012-10-31 20:41
This woman is so tolerant that she becomes intolerant. If I as a parent don't want my kid to be exposed to folks pushing the homsexual life style it's my right to keep him/her away from school whether idiots like her approve or not. Where is the tolerance for my point of view?
+31 # Ralph Averill 2012-10-30 01:45
American evangelicals are different from the Taliban only in degrees. They are the barbarians among us. Sadly, they represent a long tradition in America. The Puritans of Plymouth Colony made intolerance the core of all their beliefs. They hanged Baptists and Quakers. Children were forbidden to laugh and play. The Puritans are gone, but their DNA runs in the evangelical Christian organizations like AFA.
+39 # PastorScott 2012-10-30 04:28
Acknowledging the existence of (as opposed to granting)the inalienable rights of LGLBT persons is not a zero sum game, whereby someone else loses because we did the right thing and let gay folks have their due.. The hand-wringing and katie-bar-the-d oor self-righteousn ess of so-called "Christian" conservatives would be laughable if two to three dozen
LGBT teenagers weren't hanging themselves in the hall closet every year. But the blood of the innocents is clearly on the hands of the AFA Gospel of "hate" that "casts out all" love, is so anti-thetical to the message and ministry of Jesus, it's no wonder they can't even speak their soul robbing rubbish without that smarmy smirk of Cain on their faces. There comes a time when dialogue with evil only serves that evil. LGBT rights are not negotiable, period. To the evangelicals whose feelings and delicate sensibilities are hurt -- grow up. LGBT folks are not on this earth to be bit players in your hermetically sealed little Jesus bubble-head worlds, to be fashioned at your whimsy as affable but tragic hairdressers and interior decorators. Quite the contrary, we are the Christic lesson you've yet to learn.
Grace and Peace In His Service,
PastorScott Imler
West Hollywood, CA
+26 # Glen 2012-10-30 05:56
Anyone who has worked in a school can tell you of the influence of various churches, and those same churches are producing radical politicians, as well. Regardless of how offensive these people can be, they have followers and supporters.

Whether or not their policies prevail, the actions in schools and elsewhere are creating resentment and in some cases downright chaos. Imposing one's religion on an entire community, state, or school, goes against the constitution right along with the rights of others to not be subjected to those aggressive attitudes.
+27 # Patch 2012-10-30 07:05
+20 # Todd Williams 2012-10-30 08:22
AFA = Nazi propaganda, aka "German Christian Faith Movement."
Hitler drove wedges through the German Protestant church and used his perverted religious views to advance Naziism, attacking Jews,homosexual s, and intellectuals, just to name a few. You have to be blind to not see this trend in American society today. RESIST. SPEAK OUT. DEMAND A RETURN TO SANITY.
+7 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-10-30 09:00
Please note that not all Evangelicals are Fundamentalists (cf. the Sojourners group, for example). As for those discussed in this article: cf. Matth. 23/27.
+1 # Todd Williams 2012-10-30 13:56
Yes, however all Fundamentalists are Evangelicals.
-1 # Mannstein 2012-10-31 20:48
Does anyone here question the right of a parent to keep his kid at home because said parent doesn't want his/her kid exposed to the gay agenda?
+8 # WolfTotem 2012-10-30 10:17
Just as extremist oligarchs have hijacked the Republican Party, so fascists who'd failed in politics have found a successful tax-free niche for their activities in churches.

Beware of all politics masquerading as religion and of preachers who are wolves in sheep's clothing! There are so many of them...

Satan's envoys.
+17 # reiverpacific 2012-10-30 11:30
We could all take an example from many of the indigenous peoples of this country in which ALL types of normal, eccentric and sexual orientations were given an accepted place in the structure of each band and treated thus with respect.
Some of the most disappointing people I have ever had dealings with have been openly religious and "Unco' Guid or the Rigidly Righteous" as Robert Burns termed them.
"O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',
sae righteous and sae Holy.
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your neebour's faults and folly".
And yet the "Pray away the Gay" crowd led by the appalling and unbalanced Michelle Blech-mann and her husband are listened to by those of a malicious and blinkered tendency.
But the US has the gall to criticize other countries on thgeir "Lack of freedoms" whilst this one is increasingly fragmented by such utter and hate-spurred nonsense.
If those churches who seek to influence their "faitful" into whom they should support for representation were taxed if a political word passed the lips or keyboards of their pastors, we might make a dent in the national debt.

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