Feb 012011

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most influential voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

Focus on the Family, one of the many intellectual children of Dr. James Dobson, represents another facet of the Religious Right’s machinery and organization. Unlike their sister group theFamily Research Council Focus on the Family is much less of a lobbying organization and does most of their work outside of DC. While the FRC keeps their headquarters in Washington DC Focus on the Family runs their operations from Colorado Springs, a city dubbed the “Evangelical Vatican” thanks to the high concentration of world-famous megachurches and larger-than-life pastors. This distance from Washington has done little to dent their influence and effectiveness as a major force in the Religious Right. By leaving the heavy lobbying efforts to other organizations Focus on the Family serves as one of the main spearheads of grassroots operations across the country with allies around the world.

Focus on the Family was founded by Dr. James Dobson in 1977 to promote and uphold family values in the United States. Focus on the Family styles itself as less overtly political than other organizations. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide” is their mission statement. Nowhere do they overtly proclaim support for traditional Republican Party positions instead focusing exclusively on religious slogans and imagery. In spite of recent shakeups in their finances and leadership the organization has kept up their main operations with little disruption: the dissemination of Christian fundamentalist propaganda. To Focus on the Family separation of Church and State exists to protect churches from government coercion, not to establish a secular government. On this ideological foundation they advance laws based on their religious beliefs on many issues including gambling, educational policy, the teaching of intelligent design, gay rights, abortion, and women’s rights.

The main front Focus on the Family engages is traditional marriage. Focus on the Family has consistently and most heavily engaged in the fight against gay marriage by offering their own brand of marriage counseling as the public face of the effort. Their main argument against gay marriage include claims of the downfall of Western civilization as one of the many consequences. To advance their efforts Focus on the Family raises and spends millions of dollars a year for advertising and advocacy campaigns. One of their more direct approaches is the Love Won Out Ministry, a group that claims to “cure” homosexuality. To provide further support they publish a number of studies claiming scientific basis to support their claims. These publications have been denounced by the American Psychological Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists as unscientific and promoting an atmosphere of hate. The war against gay rights, while a major focus of effort for the organization, is just a part of Focus on the Family’s crusade to reclaim America in the name of the cross.

As part of advancing their objectives Focus on the Family uses their prominent position and network of allies in the Religious Right to rally support for their agenda. One excellent example is the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Officially the Task Force is not affiliated with Focus on the Family in any meaningful fashion. Their main office is in Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs and their current Chairman is Shirley Dobson who assumed the position in 1991. During the Bush Administration the Task Force coordinated the observances thanks toannual presidential proclamations giving them unofficial but clear government support. Non-Christian groups that applied to participate were regularly ignored. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, through their PAC Focus on the Family Action, they spent millions of dollars in support of John McCain’s campaign following the selection of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential nominee. They bankrolled an extensive mailing campaign predicting doom and gloom if the GOP lost the 2008 election. Focus on the Family does not put all their proverbial eggs in one basket. They have a network of international affiliates in New ZealandAustraliaIndonesiaSingapore,TaiwanIreland, and Africa just to name a few.

Focus on the Family presents another facet to the Religious Right’s political machine. Unlike the Family Research Council they work largely in grassroots efforts eschewing a heavy emphasis on Washington lobbying for a substantial propaganda arm and international reach. While they escaped being labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center Focus on the Family remains a powerful force in the Religious Right. With substantial funding and support Focus on the Family in spite of recent shakeups and setbacks remains on the front lines as a crucial element for Christian fundamentalists in the Culture War.

Also published at Ryan’s Desk

Feb 262010

On Thursday, 25 February 2010, I sat down for an interview with Mr. Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Mr. Weinstein is, according to his bio, “the undisputed leader of the national movement to restore the obliterated wall separating church and state in the most technologically lethal organization ever created by humankind; the United States armed forces. Described by Harper’s magazine as the constitutional conscience of the U.S. military, a man determined to force accountability.” I would like to again thank Mr. Weinstein for taking time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me, and I apologize in advance for any remaining typos.

PNC: I’d like to begin by asking you about the incident at the Air Force Academy.  Now as I understand it, it was a client of yours who saw the cross propped against the rock at the circle of stones. This was reported and the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) began an inquiry but I haven’t read much about it recently. Has the incident created any tensions in the community or in the Air Force Academy itself? Did the cadets take it in stride?

MW: We were upset at first that it took two-and-a-half weeks before our client, Tech. Sgt. Longcrier, who heads the earth-centered/based group up there, was even interviewed by the OSI. And of course we got involved because we felt that there have been a number of communication gaps. And initially we were very pleased, then we were very upset and now we’re back to thinking things are moving along. But look, it’s going to be very hard to have any clues about who did that; very, very difficult.

Tensions? Yeah! You’ve got people in the world who say the academy should never even have accommodated the earth-centered Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, what have you faith groups there. We were also reached out to by Native American spiritualists because they’re saying you know we’re earth centered also and we greatly predate Christianity, Judaism, Islam and many current Pagan groups who’ve been around for a long time.

And so I think it was great that this was accommodated but at the same time there shouldn’t be too many gold stars out there. I mean, People have a right to practice whatever faith they want to.

So in this instance we refer to this a hate crime. And this upset I’m sure a lot of Christians who said, “Well wait, it was just a cross.”

And our response is: “Yeah, well what would happen if you put a pentagram on a church, or put a crescent moon on a church, or put a crucifix on a mosque, or put a swastika on a synagogue?”

But people are just not smart enough to understand those things. I think we are moving along in a better fashion now and certainly when we broke the story we clearly significantly sensitized everybody and so I think that from that perspective – although it’s unlikely we’ll catch who did that – we’ve made it clear that the stakes are high if you try that again.

PNC: So nobody had the courage of their convictions and stepped forward and was anxious to claim responsibility.

MW: No, not at all.

PNC: No instant martyrs there.

MW: Right. We had people argue, “Well we just thought it was a campfire,” which is just complete and total crap. So we think we stand in a better position now and the cadets that are part of this group – Sgt. Longcrier leads it – I think feel emboldened and like I said before we want that worship place – it’s just like a church or mosque or synagogue or what have you – and it needs to be treated with the absolute same level of respect.

The problem is that there is a tremendous dearth of education about the Constitution in our U.S. military – among our officers, NCOs, cadets and midshipmen. They just don’t know what they don’t know and that’s very, very dangerous.

If you think of the military with all of our nukes, conventional and laser-guided weapons – if you think of it as a civilization – and I love to use H.G. Wells’ definition of civilization, which is “a race between education and catastrophe” – and catastrophe is currently winning in the U.S. Military. This is has been the case for humanity. Whether it’s trying to fight a disease or prejudice – which is another form of a disease – or what have you, the concept of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution – which by the way represents the first time in the history of human kind that any nation state created a governing document that does not invoke somebody’s particular deity .

That by itself is education but it’s being re-framed by the Christian nationalist historians that are out there that argue that Franklin and Thomas Paine and Madison and Jefferson were all fundamentalist Christians and they really wanted this country to look like an enlarged version of the “700 Club.”

PNC: It’s amazing that even confronted by the facts, for example Thomas Paine’s writings about Christianity and his opinion of it…

MW: And Jefferson composed a Bible devoid of any miracles. It’s very likely he was an atheist and most of them were deists or agnostics and they looked assiduously at European history where most of the tyrannies that had occurred there were by men in political power or by men of the cloth. They looked at Cromwell in England; they obviously didn’t even have to leave our shores: They looked at the Salem witch trials and said “Not here.”

PNC: What do you think about claims like that made by the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission which claims that Christianity is under attack and that “a violent anti-Christian spirit is growing in America.”

MW: This reminds me of the famous plea by the young man who has murdered his parents: He’s in court and has now been found guilty and upon sentencing he throws himself upon the mercy of the court and goes: “Please your honor, please, have mercy, after all I’m an orphan.” Or if you will the playground bully who after beating a poor kid into the dust is caught by a teacher monitor and says, “This kid has put bruises and scrapes on my fists.” I hardly find them to be the aggrieved party; that the poor Christians are under attack here. First of all let’s keep in mind who we are fighting.

Our foundation is in a battle, a war with a subset of Christianity just as we are at war with a subset of Islam.  We are not at war with all of Islam though that’s the way it’s portrayed by the Christian fundamentalists. I’m sure you’re familiar with the term that “if not you need to be.” We are at war with Wahhabist fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are trying to impose Sharia Law on the rest of us.

We represent over 16,300 active duty Unites States Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, cadets and midshipmen at the three major service academies – the Air Force Academy, West Point, Annapolis – and ROTC cadets and midshipmen, reserve and Guard units, Coast Guardsmen and vets.

96% of our clients are believers in Jesus Christ. They’re either Protestants or Catholics. About three-fourths of that 96% are Protestants of a complete rainbow of different denominations, including something like 21 varieties of Baptist. One-fourth of the 96% are Roman Catholic. Most of our staff are Christians; most of our supporters, most of our donors.

So for people to say me or our foundation is anti-Christian we consider that to be defamation because that’s like saying we’re anti-Islam because we’re fighting Wahhabist fundamentalists. We’re fighting a subset of Christianity with a long technical name and it’s known as: Pre-millennial Dispensational Reconstructionist Dominionist Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity – it’s about 12.6% of the American public. They are like mirror images of the Islamic Taliban and al Qaeda . This is like the fundamentalist Christian Taliban.

PNC: Yes, they’ve been referred to on the Internet as “Talibengelicals.”

MW: Yes, that’s it exactly. So if you’re going to say Christianity is under attack, no sorry. The sad part of this story is that maniacs like these people are very generous with their money and their time. The vast majority of Americans who are Catholics or Protestants are not. They sit back or they pull lint out of their belly button, have one thumb in their mouth and one up their ass and play switch. They’re going to have to get off their ass and do something or we’re going to lose everything. If this war is cast as a cosmic war – a religious war – between Jesus and Allah we lose because that is exactly what our enemies want to cast it as.

Look, we defeated fascist like Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in World War Two in just 44 months and guess what?  We didn’t have to become fascist like them. We don’t have to become fascists like them. We do not have to become the American military Christian Taliban and al Qaeda to defeat the Islamic version.

PNC: Right, we do their job for them.

MW: Exactly. We’re already doing that. We broke that Trijicon gun sight story. You saw the gun sight story right? That’s ours also and it’s astonishing, the level of ignorance in this country about our Constitution. The Tea Partiers say, “We’re looking at the Constitution and nowhere in there does it say separation of church and state.”

Well I got a couple of words for these idiots. The first is that The Constitution and the Bill of Rights -which is of course the first ten amendments – are only a few words. But over the hundreds of years we’ve had construing federal case law that interprets the Constitution and those are millions of words.

For instance, nowhere in the Constitution does it say slavery is prohibited, but slavery is prohibited now. Also nowhere does it say that in public you can’t say “nigger,” “kike,” “spick” or “dago,” but see, we’ve had the Constitution interpreted by our federal courts saying, “No those are fighting words and they are an exception to the First Amendment right of free speech,” just like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. I thought at first that this was intuitive but it’s not, the average American has no clue about that. For instance Miranda rights are also not in the Constitution. See – that’s where the word Miranda comes from – it was a Supreme Court case. You follow me?

PNC: Yes.

And there are a million or two other things that exist now that were not in the Constitution but exist now because of case law. So if you’re going to say the concept of church and state does doesn’t say it right there, well yes, that’s a foundational aspect of this country. And that’s how it’s been interpreted. They go back and say, “That’s just a letter of Thomas Jefferson to them Danbury Connecticut Baptists”… no sorry, that isn’t the case.

PNC: They also like to denounce the treaty of Tripoli.

MW: Yes, that’s right. They find all kinds of ways even though Washington negotiated it, Adams signed it, it was unanimously passed by the United States Senate…they find all kinds of ways of saying that doesn’t exist either. Well, good luck. It’s embarrassing enough that we have to go with this “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing. Every NATO ally allows GLBT members of the military to serve. Our CIA and FBI do it. The countries that currently don’t: Libya, Iraq, Iran and the U.S. – Congratulations U.S.

PNC: Nice company.

MW: Yes.

PNC: I find one of the most frightening things to be that series of books, the “Political Incorrect Guide to “fill in the blank”.”

MW: Particularly The one about Islam which is sold in every military PX that you can find and it’s just like the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” you know, the defamation blood libel book against the Jews. It’s unbelievable. In other words, all of Islam is bad; they’re all devils.

PNC: I think a better title would be the “Politically Inaccurate guide to…” We find out that the true Age of Reason was the Middle Ages that people that oppose the Bible oppose reason…

MW: It’s so self-evident. I like what Carl Sagan, the late-famous astronomer said, “Look, absence of the evidence of god,” he admitted, “is not necessarily conclusive evidence of absence.” It’s just his way of saying, “I don’t see anything.” And that’s my right. I don’t have to; I don’t have to say I believe. We have people tell us all the time that America was founded as a Christian nation, and I’ll give you that, America, the colonies- but not the United States of America. It was specifically not founded that way. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony – the Puritans – they had religious freedom: If you didn’t like the way they believed you were free to leave.

Roger Williams up in Rhode Island tried to establish more equanimity up there but it’s amazing. It’s one thing for a public school system or a police department or a fire department to be filled with these fundamentalist Christians but it’s quite another, and listen carefully here, when they are inextricably intertwined into the very particulate of our “Pentacostalagon” – what we used to call our Pentagon.

You see we’re not on this call talking about a particular problem or an issue or challenge we’re talking about a national security threat and here is the calculus of that national security threat: It is a national security threat internally to this country every bit as much in magnitude and formidability as what we are seeing externally by now from a resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda at least as strong as it was on 9/11. And here’s what it is: We have a fanatical religiosity – in this case dominionist fundamentalist Christianity – mixed in with actual weapons of mass destruction. We have them, the other side – thank god – doesn’t – yet. Throw in a dash of terribly misguided patriotism, complete unfettered access to everything due to the draconian specter of command influence, a total abrogation of the oath that everyone is supposed to take to preserve, protect, support and defend the Constitution, and a total dearth of any restraint, oversight, and supervision – and what you’ve got is a national security threat that is so serious that this so unbelievable that nobody believes it unless they’re complicit. That’s it. That’s what we’re facing.

PNC: What do you think about the role of the Oath Keepers as they’re calling themselves – where they recruit military personnel to swear not to violate the Constitution…

MW: Here is the problem with the Oath Keepers. You see they have a version of the Constitution that is like the version of the blind person who reaches out, touches the nose of the camel and thinks he is touching an orange.

We promise you we will not do the following: We will never disarm the American people etc. The problem with the Oath Keepers is that they’re completely infused with fundamentalist Christianity. Their oath is to their version – this warped, perverted, tortured version – of the Constitution.

PNC: It is interesting that these groups only arose after President Obama’s election.

Look, we’re old enough to remember a president by the name of Ike – Eisenhower. Remember his famous warning at his farewell address? What we’re talking about this morning on this call is that we’re fighting is actually a fundamentalist Christian parachurch military corporate proselytizing complex. We talk about the Oath Keepers or Force Ministries or Officers Christian Fellowship or God-chasers or the Navigators or Military ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ.. These are parachurch organizations mixed in with the military, mixed in with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grummond.

We can go on and on and on. This is what we’re dealing with. The Family. You may have seen The C Street situation that came out this past summer. It really is this gigantic breathing, living, driven, wanton, willful, purposeful desire to make everybody the right type of Christian and the astonishing and sickly sad irony is that it’s kind of the flip side of what we’re seeing from the Wahhabist Islamic maniacs.

My mother used to tell me “moderation in all things including moderation,” but remember Goldwater’s famous ‘64 nomination acceptance speech that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Too many people are being moderate and that’s the problem. Or that’s the national security threat.

PNC: What’s the atmosphere for them at present with the growing polarization of the religious landscape?

MW: There’s two ways. We feel emboldened because nature abhors a vacuum. If they have a problem they can come to us and we are a very militant organization. Our militancy is in support of the Constitution. We’ll move very quickly into the media and the court systems. But many times it’s such an overtly fundamentalist Christian military that the moderate progressive Christians sit back and do nothing. Same with the moderate Jews or Muslims. Every rabbi in the military who is a chaplain we refer to by the same last name – “Rabbi Speed Bump” – because that’s what they are for the fundamentalist juggernaut. The same with every – there are a few of them – Muslim chaplain in the military: They’re speed bumps. The problem is that if you’re not the appropriate type of Christian you’re a tarantula on a wedding cake and we all know how long tarantula’s on wedding cakes last – not very.

PNC:  Right. And unfortunately many Christians don’t understand the caveat “right kind of Christian”

MW: Correct.

PNC: and they see just a triumph for Christianity in terms of the Great Commission in Matthew. What they don’t realize is that they’re probably going to be categorized as heretics.

MW: Right. You see, the fundamentalist Christians love to look at the Great Commission pursuant to Mark 16.15 and Matthew 28.19 – one of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said: “Go and make disciple of all nations.” The difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical Christian – I want to stress that we have a number of evangelical Christian clients, supporters, donors and even on our staff -  evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are identical in that they want to turn you into their version of a Christian pursuant to the Great Commission. But an evangelical will say, “I realize I must comport my zeal to proselytize pursuant to the Great Commission in accordance with the time, place and manner restrictions of our Constitution and construing federal case law.” A fundamentalist will say “To hell and fuck the Constitution and case law because that’s just flawed man’s law and I will subordinate that to my Weaponized Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The non-Evangelical or fundamentalist Christians follow the great commandment which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which is two things – the Golden Rule, treat others as you want them to be treated and you will love the lord with all thy mind, soul and heart, and they follow the Great Commandment. The bottom line here is that the average person doesn’t understand the following thing about our Constitution and the Bible. The First Commandment is what? You cannot have any other gods but me. What does the first amendment say? Oh yes you can! That’s the problem. They don’t get that. Irrespective of what the first commandment is it doesn’t make any difference, because you’re not allowed to have any other gods.

PNC: They miss the fine distinction that they are allowed to have no other god if they so choose but they want to tell the rest of us we have to follow that too.

MW: That’s it.

PNC: I wanted to ask, I think you already answered this. Do you see the atmosphere improving in the military in light of the Air Force Academy putting up the stone circle? Are we winning or losing the battle.

MW: No, let me make it clear. It’s not getting better – for a couple of reasons. Unfortunately there is a seamless transition between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. We cannot get any traction in the White House, with the commander in chief. And I think that if he was aware of what’s going on I want to think he’d engage but how long can we continue to wait? Remember the movie Top Gun? In the end it was “Maverick , Engage, engage, engage and get into the fight.”

I’m a Republican but I’m a Republican who voted for Clinton twice, Gore, Kerry and Obama. And it seems that as I mentioned, the people are not educated and there is no ongoing program for it. What is civilization? Civilization is that race as H.G. Wells said, between education and catastrophe.  Catastrophe is winning. The people who are our enemies are the people who are complacent and do nothing. Remember that Edmund Burke statement that “All that is necessary for evil to win is for enough good men to do nothing.”

PNC: And we see conservatives quote that.

MW: Yes, of course they do and it’s astonishing, and at the same time it’s absurd to believe that we don’t separate church and state in this country, and of course that makes topical that famous statement by Voltaire that “he who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity.” To the side we’re fighting anyone who believes we have separation of church and state is absurd. We consider that to be the Dark Side of the Force. On our side of the Force if you don’t believe in separation of church and state you’re absurd. It’s a very, very pitched battle and there is no ongoing effort to educate members of the military. I’m sure you know about many of the Christian historical nationalist revisionist that have tried to push that alternative history that never happened in this country. As I said before, it is time to stand up and fight.

PNC: They have a history as it should have been and then they put a spin on facts so quickly you can’t keep up.

MW: I don’t know if you have ever read Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History of the United States.” That’s a powerful book. He writes from the perspective of the African Americans and the Native Americans. We’ve been spinning history for a long time but it’s another thing to spin it completely out of control. The concept of what they’re trying to do in Texas now with David Barton, complete revisionist history focusing on Christians. It’s astonishing.

PNC: Thank you Mr. Weinstein, I appreciate you taking the time to talk, and thank you for doing what you do.