In August, fundamentalist preacher Dr. Michael Brown organized a regimen of red shirted Bible-thumpers to infiltrate Charlotte’s gay pride event. Hundreds of zealots confronted and harassed festival attendees with their arrogant slogan “God Has A Better Way.”
The hatred and religious bigotry was appalling, but not surprising. What truly bothers me, however, was the lack of mainstream Christians standing up and speaking out against such fanatical behavior. Virtually every time I write about the Religious Right I’m reminded by the faithful that “not all Christians are like that.”
Of course, this is true and some of the most dedicated activists I have worked with are people of faith. Last week, in fact, I teamed up with Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church to host a week of educational seminars designed to counter an “ex-gay” conference in Houston.
Still, the number of mainstream Christians fighting the hate campaigns of the Religious Right is disappointing. With thousands of churches, millions of members and a vested interest in fighting back against religious extremism, they have consistently underachieved and failed to reach their potential.
What would it look like if mainstream churches fought back against the Religious Right?
Picture two hundred of Dr. Brown’s “Red Shirts” smugly descending on innocent families at Charlotte Pride. Out of nowhere, five hundred mainstream, mostly heterosexual Christians appear and surround the theocratic thugs with blue shirts that read: God’s Better Way – Love & Acceptance.”
These despicable bullies would likely have no idea how to react in such a situation where Christians were calling them “unchristian.” Instead of the expected rush of self-righteous glory, I could see these folks slinking off, dazed and ashamed.
Of course, this is just a pipe dream. I’ve organized or attended dozens of protests over the past decade. Time and again, I’m disillusioned by the lack of support from liberal and mainstream Christian organizations. It seems they are either afraid to offend their most conservative members or they are mired in passivity that allows extremists to define their faith.
This lack of coherent opposition has led to a dire situation where Religious Right backed presidential candidates are vying to eliminate or reduce social safety nets, persecute immigrants, undermine working people, shred the middle class, turn the poor into destitute beggars, and roll back minority rights.
This reluctance to stand up and speak out has created a hazardous vacuum where only the shrill and unreasonable voices of fundamentalism are heard. Instead of the dialogue that many progressives of faith claim to desire, this perceived weakness creates a lopsided right wing monologue, which is having a deleterious effect on our nation and the world.
It is time to stand up, speak out, and give voice to our values. If not now, when? Are we going to wait until it is too late and we have lost our country?
Here are four recent examples of the Religious Right flexing its political muscle:
• Texas Gov. Rick Perry held a stadium prayer rally in Houston that preceded his announcing his candidacy for President of the United States. The event was hosted by the American Family Association, a Southern Poverty Law Center-certified hate group. Included among the speakers were many radical clerics from the theocratic New Apostolic Reformation. Also known as the Seven Mountains Movement, this group of extremists wants to turn America into a fundamentalist Christian nation. Their aim is to take over the following seven spheres of society that they refer to as mountains: Religion, Media, Government, Family, Education, Business, Arts & Entertainment.
• The American Family Association is organizing Pastor Policy briefings in presidential battlegrounds. In these events, candidates prostrate themselves at the feet of conservative pastors in Iowa and elsewhere, pledging to enact their agenda if elected.
• Former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed is making a comeback with a new organization he founded, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “Our goal is to build a file of 29 million conservative voters,” Reed told the New York Times. “We’ll e-mail them, we’ll call them, we’ll knock on their doors and, if necessary, we’ll drive them to the polls.”
• Extreme right wing organizations have been recruiting candidates in the GOP primaries to sign pledges that lock them into inflexible positions, even at the expense of the nation.
It is critical that people realize that these zealots have a radically different vision of this country than most Americans. If their power keeps increasing, they will be able to drastically reshape this country. There would be a tremendous loss of freedom, liberty and justice, while bigotry, intolerance and religious conformity would become the law of the land.
If the Religious Right can organize and mobilize to stand up for its beliefs in such a robust manner, why can’t the Religious Left? We desperately need to answer this question before Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin defile America – and permanently define Christianity.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”