It’s a banner month for Americans United. First, we’re named one of the greatest “enemies of Christianity” in the U.S. by our old friends the Liberty Institute. Now, not to be outdone by their competitors, the American Family Association (AFA) has placed us on its “Bigotry Map.”A note on the map: the AFA, which is known for many things but not necessarily for innovation, appears to have copied the idea directly from the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC, founded in 1971 to combat hate crime in the southern United States, produces a “Hate Map” that documents active white supremacist groups, extremist militias, and anti-LGBT hate groups. To most, it’s a useful resource. To the AFA, it’s an insult: The group earned a spot on the Hate Map for, well, hate.
And now, behold the Bigotry Map. It isn’t particularly impressive. The AFA seems persistently confused about the actual location of our national office. That office is located in Washington, D.C. The AFA either doesn’t know this, or decided to ignore it in favor of dotting its map with the locations of our various local chapters – and it didn’t get most of the chapter locations right, either.Geography is merely the first of a litany of failures here. To address the deeper problem with our inclusion on this map: Americans United is not an anti-Christian organization. We’ve never been an anti-Christian organization. Most of our founders were Christians, and we’re led by a Christian minister now. Although Americans United is diverse, we have many Christian members and chapter activists, and we regularly form coalitions with a number of faith traditions.
The AFA doesn’t mention those facts, but I suppose it doesn’t need to; it knows that its supporters will dig no deeper for the truth.
AU’s great sin, as far I can tell, is that we understand that the First Amendment creates a wall of separation between church and state. We understand that the Founding Fathers weren’t actually fundamentalist Christians, and that religious liberty can only be adequately safeguarded by a secular government.
Those facts – and they are facts – are antithetical to the AFA’s mission. The group depends on a revisionist nostalgia that positions the United States as a fundamentalist Christian country, and makes it the true gatekeeper of this dogmatic legacy.
This nostalgia has no basis in reality, and that means it’s very fragile. Advocates for secular government threaten its political power. And that explains the rest of the AFA’s map. Its creators attempted to list all active atheist groups, no matter how small they actually are, as “bigoted” groups to watch. In a confusing twist, it places humanist groups in a different category and they’re identified separately on the map. The AFA defines atheists as anyone “critical of those who express their faith in public,” and humanists as individuals who “critical thinking and physical evidence are the sole basis for beliefs.”Not all atheists are humanists, of course; this is a source of continuous debate in the non-theistic community. But that’s probably not why the AFA listed the groups separately on its map. A far more likely explanation: They needed to fill space.
The truth is that there aren’t any real threats to Christianity in America. Fundamentalists who want to argue otherwise have to invent their enemies. So our local chapters get listed right alongside local gatherings of atheists and, for a reason none of us can fathom, the American Association of Retired People (AARP).
According to the Bigotry Map, the AARP supports marriage equality, and the map lists pro-LGBT groups alongside atheists, humanists, and “anti-Christian” foes like Americans United. It’s still an odd choice. Even odder: Larger secular groups, like the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., are missing from the map.
The AFA’s map is full of holes, and so is their definition of “bigotry.” Secular government doesn’t threaten Christianity; LGBT equality doesn’t threaten Christianity; the mere existence of atheism doesn’t threaten Christianity. The greatest threat to Christianity is the brand of fundamentalism the AFA is trying to promote.
For all these reasons, we're glad to be listed. If we annoy the AFA this much, it’s proof we’re doing something right.