Fearmongering Smear

NOTE: On May 21st, 2012 a 3/4 page paid ad ran in the Winston-Salem Journal attacking Imam Khalid Griggs, who had been asked to serve as chaplain to Muslim students at Wake Forest University.  While we don’t want to give the attacker a bigger soapbox, we have made a JPG of the ad available HERE for those who do not receive the Winston-Salem Journal.

We have a great deal to fear in our country.

The appalling personal smear ad placed in the May 21st edition of the Winston-Salem Journal by “Alumni for a Shariah-Free Wake Forest” represents one of the true and constant threats to religious freedom in our country: fearmongering demagoguery.

I do not know Don Woodsmall, the person who placed the ad, but I do know Imam Khalid Griggs personally. He and I have met on numerous occasions. I serve a congregation that is in the same area as the Community Mosque. Our church youth group has visited the Community Mosque, and their youth have in turn visited a Moravian Church in order to better understand one another. Far from being the fanatical Jihadi extremist that Woodsmall’s diatribe portrays, I have found Imam Griggs to be a reasonable and fair man who has worked hard for justice and mutual understanding in our community. Finding the accusations of Woodsmall’s smear completely unsupported by facts or experience, I spent some time reading some of the articles on the website Woodsmall references, and a little digging there revealed the classic toolbox of the inflammatory propagandist. Tenuous connections are exaggerated, words are selectively defined, important and pertinent information ignored. A close look at the qualifications of the contributors to the website reveal lots of self-referencing; the author of the article cited by Woodsmall is credited as being a “senior fellow at the Clarion Fund,” but that is the same group that funds the web site itself; a few attempts to verify her credentials revealed a circular referencing of several incestuously-related reactionary “think tanks” which are very vague about their sources of funding.

I recognize the exact techniques used by Joseph McCarthy, by Hitler, by Mussolini, by Stalin, and by every other group of witch-hunters of the past.

 

Not knowing Don Woodsmall personally, I cannot speculate on his motives. I am sure he believes every word he said in that ad. But I do recognize in his ad and in the web site he cites the classic demagoguery of the fearmonger, I recognize the exact techniques used by Joseph McCarthy, by Hitler, by Mussolini, by Stalin, and by every other group of witch-hunters of the past. All have used a broad brush, a smattering of a few facts, and a bucket of convincing-sounding fallacies to spread misinformation and fear among the gullible, to demonize ordinary people into fearsome threats in our own back yard. These are powerful weapons, weapons of hate and fear that work to undermine the very freedoms that our country is supposed to be about.

Dr. Hatch is right to simply ignore Woodsmall’s demands for a symposium, which I suspect would be anything but “civilized and rational” given the tone and tenor of the Journal ad. Hatch would be equally right to ignore demands from an extremist alumni to hold a symposium on alien abductions.

Most Muslims in the world are not extremists. It is as wrong to paint every Muslim with the Al-Quaida brush as it is to claim all Christians are the same as Timothy McVeigh or to claim that the Lutheran church down the street is secretly recruiting neo-Nazi white supremacists.

What I fear far more than having a Muslim chaplain to appropriately serve the needs of Muslim students on the Wake Forest campus are radical Christian Dominionists who believe that they have the God-given right to impose their narrow and questionable interpretations of the Bible on everyone. Yes, it’s wrong for actual radical Muslim terrorists to advocate for violence against innocent Americans; it’s equally wrong for TV preacher John Hagee to advocate for the bombing of the Middle East and the killing of thousands of innocent people in order to bring on his version of Armageddon. The frightening thing is that the radical extremists of all persuasions have more in common with each other than they have differences. They are all willing to use fearmongering diatribes to spread hate and fear without conscience or honor to achieve their distorted goals. This is the threat from within that I fear.

We have recently celebrated Memorial Day, a holiday to honor the brave men and women of the military who gave their all in defense of the freedoms that our nation is supposed to stand for. But we must each stand up for religious freedom in our own communities, and the first way we must do that is through understanding and respect of the rights of our neighbors, no matter what religion they are – or if they have no religion. Religious liberty doesn’t mean much if you feel free to keep it only for yourself deny it to others.

Journal Response

I am hard pressed to recall any time that the Journal has run a similar ad attacking a local clergy person (of any faith) who was not running for public office.  In fact, I don’t recall a political ad that was quite as personally attacking as this one was.  The Journal did run a story reporting on the controversy about the ad: Wake Alumnus Wants School to Address Shariah Law. They also ran a few letters addressing the issue, including a letter from Don Woodsmall reiterating his accusations: 5-24-12 and 5-28-12.  The editorial above was submitted to the Journal, and editor John Railey declined to run it “because we want to move on to other issues.”  No doubt, no doubt!  I suggest that the Journal should think long and hard before accepting another such scurrilous attack on a local religious leader who, after all, is not seeking public office or any of the other posts that might make him “fair game” for a public attack in certain circumstances.

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Book Review: “Crazy For God:”

Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

by Frank Schaeffer

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Pbk. Ed edition (September 30, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0306817500ISBN-13: 978-0306817502

Frank Schaeffer is the son of conservative theologian Francis Schaeffer (How Shall We Then Live?, The God Who Is There) regarded by many as the intellectual defender of fundamentalism in the 70’s and 80’s.  Francis Schaeffer’s ideas, combined with the films of his son Frank, helped spark the rise of the Christian Right in the United States and were strongly influenced by him. Among them are Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson, Prison Fellowship’s Charles Colson, columnist Cal Thomas, preacher and author Tim LaHaye, and Liberty University and Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell .

Frank, almost by accident, stumbled into the world of Christian filmmaking, producing the film series How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976) with his father and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979).  Father and son became obsessed with the anti-abortion movement, and Frank in particular was sucked into the big-money world of Christian broadcasting and worked hard to create the hyper-politicized Christian Right.

But Schaeffer ended up in a genuine moral and spiritual crisis in the mid-eighties when he realized that the money-driven right wing machine he had been a part of forming was out of control and had little to do with true spiritual life.  He left the movement and had to rebuild his life from scratch.  In 1990 he joined the Greek Orthodox Church, and  today “embraces paradox and mystery.”

The book is part autobiography, part tribute to his parents, and part a political commentary on the movement he abandoned.  He is uncommonly blunt in his behind-the-scenes storytelling about Dobson, Falwell, and Robertson.  Many conservative Christians will find this book to be either very disturbing or a betrayal; more moderate Christians will learn more about how the Religious Right came to be the pervasive and disturbing political influence that it is today.  Having had some contact with this world over the years, I have little doubt that Schaeffer’s most cynical and negative stories are quite close to reality.

Schaeffer’s narrative is brutally honest about his own weaknesses, his father’s struggle with bipolar illness, and the hypocrisy of the Christian broadcasting market where too much money and warped celebrity worship create a world disconnected from most people’s experience and reality.

On a personal level, I connected deeply to Schaeffer’s description of dealing with the mood swings of his father and their impact on the family (my father was bipolar) and also to the strange world of religious celebrity. Crazy for God is an unflinchingly honest, if imperfect, book.  Schaeffer himself would not say that he is an objective witness in any way; but his story is worth reading and worth understanding as we wrestle with the damage the movement he left has done to our society and to the Church of Christ itself.

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Unintended Consequences

Grouchy Curmudgeon

Anyone who has served on a committee with me or been at a Moravian Church synod with me knows that I am a grouchy curmudgeon about unintended consequences of bad legislation.  That’s because I’ve lived long enough to have to deal with the effluvium of poorly thought out and poorly worded proposals which didn’t end up doing what was intended and had far-reaching and unplanned effects.
North Carolina’s Amendment One is right smack in that zone.  Intended to prevent the state from ever allowing gay marriages (something that is already illegal in NC) the act overreaches fantastically beyond the announced scope.
If approved, the proposed measure would amend Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution by adding a new section:
Sec. 6. Marriage.
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.
Despite huffy assurances from proponents that the amendment will only affect the intended target (gay marriage), the legal sources I have checked into unanimously say that there will be far-reaching implications for the many unmarried heterosexual families in the state.  There will also be significant consequences for elderly unmarried couples, who are in many cases living as a couple but without getting married to avoid the unintended consequences of some other poorly thought out laws that cut their already meager income if they are legally married. One thing that opponents have claimed that is probably not true is that the amendment will impact protection orders.  But other concerns seem to be well-founded.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of marriage when it’s done well!  After all, I’m the guy in the robes who does the ceremony and pronounces the couple man and wife.  I am deeply saddened every time I hear of a widow and widower who fall in love but can’t take that legal step of getting married because of the impact it would have on their health care or income.  I’m horrified when I run into a case (one just recently) where an elderly couple with limited income gets divorced in order for one to qualify for needed long-term care — bet you didn’t know that was going on!

County-by-County Consequences

Unfortunately, the blunderbuss wording of this amendment will indeed affect children of unmarried parents, elderly in certain financial straits, and in fact many other situations beyond the intended scope.  The exact extent may not be known for years, since some of the consequences will only appear as specific circumstances are reviewed by courts. But worse than that, the consequences will play out on a county by county basis, entirely dependent on the whims of county judges! Bad, bad move and sloppy policy.
No matter what one thinks of gay marriage, this poorly written amendment is a foolish idea either way.  It will have unintended consequences for many existing heterosexual couples in the state, thousands of children who have nothing to say about their situation, and it won’t make any positive difference that I can see.
My libertarian friends point out that constitutional amendments should protect the rights of the individual rather than expanding the role of government, and most of them will be voting against this amendment for that reason.
I’ve really annoyed some of my best friends and colleagues by railing against poorly written legislation at church Synods.  But the fact of the matter is that badly worded, ill-considered legislation can have damaging impact for years to come, damages that are easy to inflict and hard to undo.  When serious concerns exist about the impact of such legislation, I go back to the oath that doctors must take:

First, do no harm.

Even if you are ambivalent about the amendment, I think you should get out and vote against it so that we don’t all have to deal with undoing the damage the amendament will cause.  Just my opinion. Thanks for listening.


Update

Well, as those concerned already know, Amendment One passed.  Only time will tell whether my concerns about the unintended consequences was correct; but it is certain that the amendment will now cost the State millions in lawsuits that are already underway.

The last Constitutional amendment that was passed in this state was in 1875, the anti-mescegenation amendment which declared that “all marriages between a white person and a Negro or between a white person and a person of Negro descent to the third generation inclusive are, hereby, forever prohibited.”  This unenlightened law was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1967, but remained part of our state charter until a new constitution was adopted in 1971.

I will be very surprised if Amendment One is not repealed within a decade.

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