Yesterday Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), issued a rather hysterical email appeal for funds. No news there. Perkins does that all of the time.
This particular message, headlined “Help stop secular tyranny,” took a line that’s increasingly popular with the Religious Right these days: “Woe is me! We’re being persecuted.”
The message contained this bizarre assertion: “Recently, a top liberal attorney – the head of the anti-Christian Americans United for Separation of Church and State – said that COMMUNIST CHINA was a good model for how to deal with conservative Christians.”
Wait a minute. I work closely with that “top liberal attorney” and head of Americans United. He’s my boss, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn. It’s my job to keep tabs on his comings and goings, and I don’t remember anything like this.
It turns out Perkins was referencing a recent debate Barry took part in during the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville. That city is the home of Vanderbilt University, a private institution that requires all campus clubs to be open to all students. Fundamentalist Christians have been complaining about this, saying it will require Christian clubs to admit gay students.
Barry, noting that Vanderbilt is a private school that is free to determine its own policies, advised the crowd to “stop whining.”
The Christian Post picked up the story and quoted Barry as saying: “I would suggest that people in this position – to use a phrase on a button in my dentist office that he always wears when he works, it says, ‘stop whining.’ I'd say stop whining here. Why not do what evangelicals do: Go out into the world, out into the community [and] have your meetings, if you have to, off campus. Show your faith [and] meet with students not in a club room somewhere in the university, but in those home churches that kept Christianity alive during the darkest days of communist China.”
I think it’s pretty clear from the context what Barry was saying here: If Christianity can survive official persecution in China, fundamentalists in America will probably endure, despite this policy at Vanderbilt.
Perkins surely knows this, but I guess he felt compelled to distort Barry’s meaning to stir up his rabid followers. He may have had another motivation as well: Perkins is trying to draw attention away from his antics. You see, the FRC chieftain has hit a rough patch lately.
On Friday, Perkins was slammed for saying that the “birthers,” perhaps the biggest kooks in the right wing’s cacophonous collection of crackpots, have raised “a legitimate issue.”
A few days before that, Perkins was ridiculed nationwide when he attacked Mike and Ike, a popular fruit-flavored candy made by the Just Born firm of Bethlehem, Pa. As part of a publicity stunt to spark new interest in the brand, the company’s owners announced that Mike and Ike are splitting up over creative differences.
Just Born never said Mike and Ike (who, by the way, don’t actually exist) were doing anything other than ending a business arrangement. Perkins immediately assumed it was a case of “gay divorce.”
On a radio spot, Perkins fulminated, “The duo is staging a gay divorce as part of a new ad campaign to draw in younger customers. In this society, even candy has an agenda!”
The Perkins salvo led to an amusing response from the Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart, who mocked Perkins while lurking behind a “Perkins Cam” that took the shape of a giant penis. (Beware: If you are offended by off-color humor, best skip this clip.)
Perkins also came under fire after he weighed in on the Secret Service prostitution scandal. According to Perkins, the fiasco was caused by the decision to drop the military’s “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy on gay service members.
“You cannot maintain moral order if you are willing to allow a few things to slide,” Perkins intoned.
The connection was so strained that one blogger observed, “I am not sure how to react to this. It makes absolutely no sense at all, but apparently, gay people – the mere presence of us – causes straight people to do all kinds of heterosexual naughty stuff. I don't know. I am trying but it hurts my brain too much to attempt to make sense of this.”
So, yes, it has been a tough couple of weeks for Tony Perkins. But that’s nobody’s fault but his. He said crazy stuff and is being called on it. Going psycho on Barry Lynn won’t change that.
P.S. One more time, Tony: Americans United is not an “anti-Christian” organization. As you know, Barry Lynn is an ordained Christian minister. AU supports the right of all Americans to join the house of worship of their choice (Christian or non-Christian) or to eschew religion entirely. We simply insist that the government stay neutral on theological matters. If that makes us “anti-Christian,” we’re in good company because the Founders believed that too.