President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address last night was partly an attempt to calm a nation that is filled with anxiety. His words also offered a stark contrast to those of a Religious Right leader who seems to enjoy fanning the flames of fear.
Obama asked: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”
If it were up to Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins, America would choose that first path.
In what FRC called a “State of the Family” address on Monday, Perkins spent 30 minutes complaining about Obama, praising those who discriminate against LGBT people and rallying fundamentalist Christians ahead of the November elections.
Early in his talk, Perkins asserted that “there can be no liberty in America without religious liberty.” He’s right about that. The problem is, his concept of “religious freedom” extends only to people who agree with him on theology – like Kim Davis.
Davis, who also attended the State of the Union address, was in the audience for Perkins’ diatribe along with her attorney, Mat Staver of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel. Perkins said Davis “stood strong” when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples while also refusing to allow her deputy clerks to do so. These actions eventually landed her in jail.
Then Perkins uttered the least-believable line of his entire speech. He praised Staver, whom he said “successfully argued for [Davis’] release.” I’m not an attorney, but it’s my understanding that lawyers normally try to keep their clients out of jail. There, Staver failed. And Davis was released only after she agreed to stop preventing other clerks in her office from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Staver’s lawyering had nothing to do with that.
Perkins also called the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “a devastating principled loss for all of us,” but he praised the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which included a provision that would have given transgender individuals and others protections against discrimination. Perkins called that concept “nonsense,” showing how truly callously he views the civil rights of transgender Americans.
Since this was a “State of the Family” sermon, Perkins tried to convince his audience that traditional families are disintegrating. Obama, of course, is to blame.
“President Obama has extolled the virtues of fatherhood even as he has fought for same-sex marriage, in essence saying two same-gendered persons can parent as well as a mom and a dad,” Perkins opined. “And we pay a price for this incoherent ideological campaign with havoc in our homes and blood in our streets.”
Yikes. It’s unclear what sort of violence Perkins is talking about, and as is usually the case he offered no evidence whatsoever to support his claim that children are better off being raised by a man and a woman. That’s because there isn’t any. Research has shown that the children of same-sex parents fare no better or worse than the children of opposite-sex couples.
Perkins even attempted to portray the Founding Fathers as a bunch of fundamentalist zealots who “believed that the best account of our personal and civic duties…[is the] transcendent truths of scripture itself.”
Where did Perkins get that idea? He made it up. Nowhere did the founders say that American law is based on the Bible, and if Perkins would actually take the time to read the Constitution he would find no references to Christianity, Jesus Christ or even God therein.
Perkins closed his remarks with a plea for Americans to become politically active. But in actuality, he only wants certain kinds of Christians to take up the cause – the fundamentalist zealots who agree with him.
“I call upon all Americans, especially those who have faith in our lord, Jesus Christ, to pray, organize, donate, speak to your neighbors, proclaim truth in your views boldly,” he said. “We must do all of these things.”
For regular observers of the Religious Right, nothing Perkins said should come as a shock. But it is sad that he is able to circulate many of the same, tired old falsehoods. He does this because he does not want to “face the future with confidence” and achieve “incredible things” as Obama hoped. Instead, Perkins uses fear and anger with the goal of creating an America in his own image. If his allies do rally in November, he may get his wish.