By Joseph R. Murray, II
Longshoreman Eric Hoffer recognized that many great American movements were borne of a noble cause, grew up to be a lucrative business, and ended up becoming a racket. Such is the dangerous Catch-22 of public interest politics and such is the tale of America’s Christian Right lobby.
When students of political science study the demise of the Christian Right years from now, the focus will most assuredly be on gay rights.
After the Christian Right tapped out the pro-life issue, the captains of Christian industry needed a new sales pitch to keep the coffers filled. These folks thought they saw the light in 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.
This decision was a god-send for a Christian right that was always giddy to portray the judiciary as an unelected, out-of-touch super-legislature that imposed its minority will on the majority of the people.
Shortly after Massachusetts made history, all eyes turned to then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision to permit same-sex couples to say “I do.”
As a staff attorney, I was able to see firsthand how the Religious Right operated. I first worked with AFA after I was selected to be in the inaugural class of the then Alliance Defense Fund’s Blackstone Fellowship. The Fellowship was designed to select the best and brightest budding Christian lawyers to train them to fight the culture war in courtrooms across America.
Such training did not prepare me for the reality of how the Evangelical “Christian” political machine operated, especially when the battle over marriage erupted.
At the time Newsom and Massachusetts opened a new front in the culture war, polls suggested that opposition to gay rights, especially marriage rights, was a winning issue for the Christian machine. While “Will and Grace” entertained the nation, the concept of marriage equality still generated a lukewarm response.
Moreover, the Christian Right had invested heavily in a propaganda machine that specialized in promulgating unjust stereotypes. Instead of letting the flock see gay couples as the neighbors next door, the Christian Right made it a point to portray all gays with the wildest pictures they could find from the Castro.
It was a brilliant strategy, for if groups like AFA could scare the faithful with pictures that portrayed the gay community in the worst light, it could frame the debate as one of deviancy versus decency. There were two problems with this strategy, though:
First, in order for the campaign to succeed the Right had to forsake the very Christian principles it claimed to be protecting. In typical fashion, a few Ben Franklins made it much easier for them to put profit over principle.
Second, the strategy would only work if the Christian Right could force gays, as well as those Christians that supported them, into the closet. It was the second problem that would result in the demise of the Christian right.
Aside from the hypocritical tactics of these right-wing groups, competition and distrust erupted among the various groups themselves. Though they claimed to be united for a single cause, they often had internal disputes and rivalries, and rather than rally behind winnable legal cases being litigated by their peers, these groups often focused instead on outdoing each other.
Why? Because high profile cases meant high-volume dollars. It was morality driven by money.
When I worked at AFA there was an intense rivalry between the AFA and ADF. There was a belief that ADF was trying to strong-arm the various religious groups under its umbrella so it could control the money and the message. There was a real fear that ADF was poised to steamroll over every Christian Right group, which it largely did.
To demonstrate how paranoid and perverse the Christian Right machine became, I was booted out of ADF’s Blackstone Fellowship because I would not sign a loyalty pledge. Just two years after Blackstone was created, there was concern that ADF was using the images and stories of the Blackstone fellows without their permission and for fundraising unrelated to the Fellowship.
When confronted, ADF demanded that current fellows sign a loyalty pledge or face excommunication. This author, as well as a handful of other principled folks, gladly chose excommunication.
While these largely Evangelical groups fought with each other, there also remained a distrust between Evangelicals and Catholics. During an AFA devotional I attended, the organization’s spokesman talked about his recent mission trip to Spain. Specifically, he stated that mission work was needed in Spain because the country did not have many Christians, just a whole lot of Catholics.
Make no mistake: the Christian right was poised to bring “God’s work” to a whole new level at the beginning of this century, but the dysfunction and distrust ingrained into these groups, their greed, their envy, and their pride, got in the way. Also working against the “gay gold rush” they perceived was the fact that society was changing despite their efforts. Thank God for both of these things.
Recognizing its own colossal failure and the ever-growing acceptance of LGBT people in society, the Christian right is in a race against the clock, fighting against its own irrelevancy.
Look at the lunacy pouring out of the Christian right. Don Wildmon claims to defend marriage, but endorses twice divorced, three times married Newt Gingrich for president. Mat Staver and Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel are out there invoking Jerry Sandusky to support the medieval notion that you can “pray the gay away.”
And, of course, Bryan Fischer is like a drunken uncle at a wedding who must continually be outrageous in hopes that someone will pay attention.
Why is this happening? Because the Christian right doubled down on gay discrimination and lost.
Generations of new Americans are growing up in a nation in which their aunt or uncle is gay or their best friend has gay parents. The issue of homosexuality, thus, is no longer a Biblical billy-club detached from the human concept.
Moreover, scores of Christians from across the nation are tired of this small, but albeit loud, minority defining their faith for them in the public square. This is why the Not All Like That (NALT) Christians Project has the potential to be the final nail in the Christian Right’s coffin.
In order for the Christian Right to survive, it has to have a monopoly on morality. The debate has to be one of “us v. them.” This is how culture wars work.
NALT, however, will be a devastating blow the Christian Right. Frankly, all the videos pouring into NALT re-affirm one basic fact –- the Christian Right no longer can claim to have a monopoly on morality.
If you can be a strong Christian and still affirm the human dignity of gay folks, what relevance is there for groups like AFA? If gays are no longer the boogeyman, why should supporters send checks to fight what they no longer fear?
The answer is that they won’t and I welcome my former colleagues to a Waterloo of their own making. More importantly, I encourage others like me, LGBT and LGBT-affirming Christians from both sides of the political divide, to stand with me and speak in love by contributing videos to the NALT Christians Project. This project isn’t about “us vs. them.” This is about whether Christianity will be a force of division and hatred, or whether the voices of love, acceptance and inclusion will prevail.
Join me in making sure it’s the latter.