This weekend promises to be interesting: Today and tomorrow, I’ll be surrounded by hundreds of far-right fundamentalists who hate the separation of church and state, despise the work of Americans United and believe people like me (and, most likely, you) are a threat to the nation.
Yep, it’s the annual “Values Voter Summit” sponsored by the Family Research Council (FRC) and allied organizations – two big days of food, folks and fundamentalism!
I’ve been going to this event (and ones like it) for more than 20 years now. To be fair to the FRC & Co., their staffers are polite, and no one has ever tried to toss me out. But the rhetoric from the speakers does tend toward the extreme.
I always see and hear interesting things. I remember the 2008 Summit, where a vendor in the exhibit hall was selling boxes of “Obama waffle mix” decorated with racist caricatures of the president and his wife. He was kicked out – but only after a reporter wrote a story about the waffles that embarrassed the FRC.
I recall last year when several young men from an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic group called the American Society for Tradition, Family and Property protested against same-sex marriage and gay rights – while wearing sashes, brooches and capes. (What – no tiaras?)
I’ve heard Newt Gingrich, the Religious Right’s favorite serial adulterer, rant about how we need to save marriage from those dastardly gays. (Who’s going to save it from Newt?) I’ve heard Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity make fun of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy – as Kennedy battled the brain tumor that later took his life.
I’ve listened to former Education Secretary William Bennett defend torture in the name of Jesus. I’ve heard non-historians spout “Christian nation” claptrap and circulate phony quotes by James Madison. I’ve listened as a minister prayed that God would incinerate his enemies.
Mostly I’ve sat through a lot of rage. These people have serious anger-management issues. From the speakers’ podium, one hears a constant blast of hate directed at the enemy du jour: gays, feminists, non-religious people, university professors, “liberal elites,” evolution, Democrats, the media, Muslims, Keith Olbermann, Hollywood, progressive Christians, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, public schools, global warming, France, etc.
Yeah, I know the Religious Right claims to love the sinner and hate the sin, but after listening to two days of this, I usually conclude that the movement’s followers don’t love anyone who fails to agree with them.
But behind all of the hypocrisy and rancor, there is something very serious going on at the Values Voter Summit. The Religious Right is going all out to elect its allies this fall, using ethically dubious methods like stacked voter guides and “prayer campaigns” that are, in fact, voter mobilization projects.
Events like the Values Voter Summit are designed to whip up the shock troops and politicize churches so legions of Religious Right followers will troop to the polls and “take back” America. They want to remake it – according to their fundamentalist theology, of course.
To be clear, they have the right to take part in the political process – and we have a right to oppose their dangerous vision for America. To oppose them more effectively, we must first know what they’re up to. That’s what this weekend is about for me.
Look for a full report on the Values Voters Summit in the October Church & State.