By now, many of you have heard about the preacher in Tempe, Ariz., who is praying for the death of President Barack Obama.
Thanks to You Tube, Pastor Steven L. Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church has become kind of famous. Anderson's recent "Why I Hate Barack Obama" sermon has attracted wide attention.
The night before an Obama speech in Phoenix, Anderson howled, "You're going to tell me that I'm supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things – you're gonna tell me I'm supposed to pray for God to give him a good lunch tomorrow while he's in Phoenix, Arizona? Nope. I'm not gonna pray for his good. I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to hell."
Asked by liberal radio talk-show host Alan Colmes if he really wants Obama to die, Anderson said, "Absolutely. Now that doesn't mean I'm gonna kill him. But you know what? I believe he should reap what he's sown.... [Obama] deserves to die, because he's a murderer."
Not long after that, Anderson gave another speech, this time saying, "I hope that God strikes Obama with brain cancer so he can die like Ted Kennedy. You know, and I hope it happens today."
Spurred by Anderson's rhetoric, one of his congregants, Chris Broughton, showed up outside Obama's Phoenix event carrying an assault rifle and a handgun.
Anderson also blasts gay people, calling them "predators" who are "infecting our society." He has stated that God wants gays to be "taken out and killed."
Reflecting on all of this, longtime Religious Right researcher Fred Clarkson made an interesting point: Stuff like this doesn't happen in vacuum. Anderson is extreme and strange, but he's merely the latest manifestation of a long-running impulse in American religion and politics.
Christian Reconstructionists have for years called for the imposition of "God's law" in America. They believe in a literal application of the Old Testament's legal code and talk openly about executing gays, adulterers, fornicators, "witches," those who worship false gods and even disobedient teenagers.
Reconstructionists tend to publish their ideas in fat books and obtuse journals that most people don't see. When they gather for meetings, they usually look bland and non-threatening. Most people see them as cranks and write them off as a band of eccentrics with a bizarre philosophy that few take seriously.
The problem is, the Reconstructionists have influenced the Religious Right in ways most don't fathom. The idea that government has a duty to enforce the laws of God – which is at the end of the day the bedrock of the philosophy of the Religious Right – springs from Reconstructionism.
Prior to the rise of Reconstructionism, many conservative Christians believed politics was not their calling. There was another world awaiting them, they believed, and there they would enjoy God's kingdom. All they had to do on Earth was seek converts by spreading their religion through private channels and await the Second Coming.
Reconstructionists dismiss all that. They argue that society can be "perfected" – that is, "reconstructed" – right now. Indeed, they argue that the right type of Christians have an obligation to create a "godly" order and say Christ will not come back until society has been reordered along the proper "biblical" lines.
So religious liberty must go. Legal abortion must go. Gay rights must go. Evolution in the public schools must go. Salacious books and movies must go. Government institutions must be saturated with fundamentalist Christianity.
Preachers like Anderson are extreme, but in a sense they are simply taking the Reconstructionist philosophy to its logical conclusion. Theirs is not a passive Christianity. They are compelled to act.
We see echoes of this in people like California Pastor Wiley Drake (former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention) who has been praying for the death of Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn and others on the AU staff for years. We see it coming from Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain who also prays for the death of Lynn and some of our allies.
We see it when someone like James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, issues a disturbing "letter from the future" describing a fascistic America under Obama in 2012 where euthanasia is common, guns are banned, public school children are given pornography, the Boy Scouts are shut down, conservative talk shows have been silenced and terrorists run amok with impunity.
And we see it reflected in the people who do more than pray. We see it when people shoot abortion providers and bomb women's clinics. We see it in the actions of extremists who believe they know the mind of God and that this justifies all of their actions.
Religious Right leaders who claim to be "mainstream" cannot constantly engage in over-the-top rhetoric, hate-mongering and fear-mongering and then say they're not responsible when bands of extremists are whipped by their words into a frenzy and begin spewing toxic venom that makes a mockery of public discourse. They cannot claim to be innocent when some unhinged types are prodded to move beyond mere words to "save" America from Religious Right-proclaimed "moral decay."
Pastor Anderson may be another crank looking for 15 minutes of You Tube fame. Or he could be a truly dangerous extremist who has drunk deeply from the wells of a dangerous philosophy.
I'd rather not find out which he is. I'd rather someone rein him in now. The logical candidates for that job are the Religious Right leaders who have so worked him up over the years.
Today Americans United is asking Religious Right leaders to publicly denounce Anderson and call him out as the extremist that he is. The sooner the better, please.