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

Oct 032010

Over at the Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters writes about the recent violence and bullying directed towards young people in the GLBT community, and the culture of suicide and self-hate tolerated and perpetuated by many mainstream faiths often in subtle, unnoticed or unacknowledged ways.

In the end, it comes down to theology. Not, as Sanders points out, the easily defeated cartoon hatred of Westboro, but the more subtle belief systems that make even “accepted” GLBTQ individuals the “other”. A theology that, even if unspoken, privileges a certain kind of person over another. [...] While defenders of these theologies talk of tradition and incremental change, more die, and are harassed, every day. It is for this reason, among many others, that I think we not only have to reassure kids that “it gets better”, but we also have to reject theologies that empower hatreds of this kind and replace them with something else.

His point is well-taken, as is his observation that the Pagan movement is just one of many alternatives striving to offer that “something else,” engaged in the difficult work of challenging and dismantling traditions of systemic intolerance. The modern spiritual traditions that make up modern Paganism have drawn for many decades from the political and philosophical streams of feminism, environmentalism, civil rights, pacifism and social activism. All these movements seek, in different ways, to expand the conversation and complicate our understanding of “other” and “self,” demanding that we bring our attention and our care not only to those “like us” but to those we might otherwise overlook, dismiss or ignore.

However, I think it is a mistake to view this work as solely concerned with social hierarchy and the mechanisms of domination within the mainstream. As feminist philosophy notes, “The personal is political.” While we quite rightly find sympathy and solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed by the mainstream culture of today, I find myself disturbed by the frequency of arguments that declare: “We as Pagans should care about this cause because we, like the GLBT community [or other minority group], are also a minority and so what happens to them could happen to us.” Such an argument recognizes, sure enough, the themes of intolerance and hatred in the mainstream that unite us as a religious minority with other marginalized communities (whether they be racial, ethnic or sexual-preference minorities, women, the lower class and impoverished, or the other animals, plants and ecosystems who share this planet with us). Yet such reasoning encourages us to continue to care for and sympathize only with others “like us” — even if they are like us primarily in their socially-defined otherness. It implies that our responsibility to concern ourselves with the problems of the marginalized lasts only as long as we ourselves feel the threat of that marginalization. The ethic of privilege remains unchallenged; we’ve merely succeeded in exchanging one privileged group (the mainstream or majority, conceived as the Western (Christian) white male) for another.

The real challenge, I believe, is to continue to engage in social movements that reject and dismantle the hierarchical, patriarchal and hegemonic systems that give rise to intolerance and hatred towards “the Other,” while at the same time bringing this challenge home to ourselves in a very personal way. It is not enough to identify and care for those groups whom society has ignored, dismissed or overlooked. As individuals, we also have a responsibility to examine our own social and interpersonal relationships, in order to discover those communities and individuals that we ourselves are inclined to dismiss or marginalize.

This may be a difficult task for some Pagans to embrace. In more than a few modern Pagan traditions, an emphasis on local community and a reverence for the kindred and ancestors can too easily give way to a kind of tribalism that defines concepts such as honor and courage in terms of defense against the threat of “outsiders,” or asserts that care for “my” family and “my” in-group takes precedence over more universal social concerns. The joyful celebration of diversity can too quickly devolve into a rejection of anything that connects us or seems to obligate us to our fellow human beings — especially if those fellow human beings come from the “Judeo-Christian” mainstream.

Still, the traditions of modern Paganism also offer a unique opportunity to contribute meaningfully to this continuing conversation about acceptance and otherness. Unlike many social movements of today, the Pagan movement — precisely because it is a spiritual movement — speaks to deeply personal and intimate aspects of our relationships with the world and with each other. From a Pagan perspective, we can take this commitment to healthy community and thriving diversity not only as a socio-political philosophy but as a personal, spiritual imperative, enshrined in the heart of our earth-centered and/or polytheistic religious traditions.

Already we see this attitude at work in many aspects of various Pagan traditions. Our appreciation for history and heritage in a society of shrinking attention spans and an ever-growing obsession with the new-and-shiny not only informs our views on how communities can be organized and nurtured, but connects us with our ancestors and the dead in personal ways through rituals of honor, commemoration and conversation. Similarly, the common Pagan reverence for the natural world and the ecosystems of the earth shape our social and political lives, influencing everything from who we vote for to where we shop, to what we eat and wear; yet our personal relationship to nature is also fostered through meditative and ritual practices that put us in touch with the “spiritual side” of our animal, physical selves and challenge us to discover our own ways of relating to and living with(in) the natural world. While some of us engage in social activism and political protest in support of civil and gay rights, many also worship gods and goddesses who transcend, defy or redefine gender boundaries, who celebrate sexual intimacy as a sacred act, or who have their roots deep in the cultures of non-white, non-Western religious traditions of the past. By entering into relationship with these deities, we transform the cause of equality, diversity and mutual respect from a political platform into a intimately powerful expression of our being. In these ways, and in many others, modern Pagan traditions often bridge the gap between the personal and the political, the spiritual and the social.

I hope that one day Pagans will be just one more diverse and complex community in a manifold, thriving global society. But when that day comes, we will need to have a better ethical standard in place than “we should care about oppressed people because we are oppressed.” While I agree that silence in the face of bullying and violence is unacceptable, neither is it enough to stop with a critique of social trends and larger political patterns in the mainstream, venting frustration that “others” have done nothing to stem the tide of hatred and abuse. Pagan spirituality opens up for us the potential to bring our commitment to social justice, peace and diversity all the way home to the heart of our spiritual practice and our interpersonal relationships. Perhaps one day we can move from an ethic that privileges those who are “other-like-us” to an ethic that embraces and upholds the sacredness of relationship and connection in all its myriad forms. An ethic that says not “we should care because we, too, are different” but one that proclaims, “We should care because we are all, after all, in this together.”

May 112010

Today, hundreds of Veterans are in D.C. for a Veterans Lobby Day to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” This lobby day was organized to push Congress to include language repealing DADT in the National Defense Authorization Act which is just beginning to be drafted. These vets are voicing what so many of us, including top officials in the Pentagon, believe – it is past time to end this out dated and discriminatory policy.

Some of the veterans are addressing Congress face-to-face today and are telling their personal stories of how DADT has affected their lives. The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News has an excellent profile series on 7 local vets who are speaking to Congress today about their experiences.  One such profile is of Jason Daniel Knight. Knight was discharged from the military not once, but twice, under DADT.

[Knight] would now be the first openly gay member of the active duty forces to serve in a war zone.

For a full year – out in the sand-pit of Kuwait – Knight lived in the close quarters of a big, hot, open “shed,” with 50 bunk beds and 99 other bunk-mates, but no one cared that he was gay.

He got promoted to CT2 (E-5) and gained more accolades and awards. He even served as the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) representative, organizing interactive and popular social events to boost his fellow sailors, soldiers and marines in the region during downtime.

Knight was now proving that being openly gay was NOT incompatible with military service, even in a war zone. However, his lesson didn’t last for long.

As a Conservative libertarian, USAF veteran, and Hellenic Pagan I fully support the call to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and allow Gays to openly serve in our Armed Forces. As a Conservative I think that private matters, such as what consenting adults do with each other, are just that – private – and should be of no concern to the State.

As a veteran, I have served with Airmen that I knew were gay and it didn’t make a bit of difference to me. While I served during Desert Shield/Desert Storm I was under OSI investigation for being gay. I was never sure if the OSI honestly thought I was gay or if they put me under investigation in an attempt to force me to give testimony against my best friend. Unless you have been under an OSI investigation, you have no idea how much pressure can be brought to bear on you. Neither I, nor our fellow Airmen serving in Zaragoza Air Base, gave up one single name to the OSI during the entire 2 year investigation.

As a Hellenic Pagan, I find the justification for discrimination against Gays as being unfit for military service or a detriment to morale laughable. You won’t find a more bad ass group of soldiers in history as the Spartans. Gay relationships and military training were one and the same in Sparta and they sacrificed to Eros before battle to honor those bonds of love and brotherhood.  I don’t think anyone could accuse the Spartans, or any of the other Greek city-states, of having a military that wasn’t ready for battle or had morale issues because their military members engaged in homosexual sex.

I’m not in DC today but I am doing what I can to make my voice heard in Congress. I am participating in a Virtual Lobby Day organized by the Servicemembers United and the Human Rights Campaign.  I will be calling my Senators and Representatives and letting them know that “I support the Veterans Lobby Day that’s happening today and I urge Congress to repeal DADT this year.”

Join us for Virtual Lobby Day this Tuesday May 11.

Set aside a few minutes to make a call to Congress. Help us flood the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3121) with calls this Tuesday, May 11. Tell your reps to “Repeal DADT this year!”

Follow Eric Alva and other vets on Twitter to get real-time updates from our meetings with members of Congress. Just follow Eric Alva (@EricAlvaUSMC), David Hall (@davidhalldc), Mike Almy (@mikealmy), Brian Fricke (@brianfricke), or @HRCBackStory.

Join the conversation on Twitter and call for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by including #DADT in your tweets between now and Tuesday.

Become a Fan on Facebook – Stay up to date on the latest DADT & LGBT news on HRC’s Facebook Fan Page.

Help us flood Congress with phone calls TODAY in support of the hundreds of brave men and women meeting with lawmakers right now.

It will only take a few minutes to call your Members of Congress.

Want to make some calls but don’t know what the telephone number is for your Senator or congressperson? Go here for a list of Senate phone numbers and here for a list of Representative’s phone numbers.