The Christian Right's Compassion Deficit
It took President Bush three days to ready himself to go before the television cameras and make a public statement about Sunday's devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck southern Asia. Even though he was late, and much more money will be needed, the president pledged at least $35 million in aid to the victims of the disaster. But, as of December 30, some of the president's major family-values constituents have yet to be heard from: It's business as usual at the web sites of the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the Coral Ridge Ministries.
These powerful and well-funded political Christian fundamentalist organizations appear to be suffering from a compassion deficit. Organizations which are amazingly quick to organize to fight against same-sex marriage, a woman's right to choose, and embryonic stem cell research are missing in action when it comes to responding to the disaster in southern Asia. None of their web sites are actively soliciting aid for the victims of the earthquake/tsunami.
In fact, there is no mention of the giant earthquake and tsunami that devastated southern Asia. There are no headlines about the dead, injured or the tremendous damage; there are no urgent appeals for donations; there are no phone numbers to call; there are no links to organizations collecting money and providing aid for the victims.
Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand were among the countries hardest hit by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which sent huge waves that smashed boats, uprooted trees and destroyed structures from Malaysia to Africa, the Associated Press (AP) reported. As of Thursday, the death toll had soared to more than 114,000, millions were homeless from the disaster, and many more were still unaccounted for.
The web sites of the same organizations that organized a campaign to block Arlen Specter from ascending to the chairmanship of Senate Judiciary Committee within hours of his post-election night warning to President Bush about radically conservative judicial nominees are now silent.
At the Reverend Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based American Family Association (AFA) web site, the preferred cause -- and top story -- concerns the upcoming battle over the president's judicial appointees. The AFA hasn't forgotten about gays and lesbians: Under the headline "P&G Chairman Gives Thousands to Promote Homosexual Agenda" the AFA claims that "A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble, recently gave $5,163 in P&G stock to help the homosexual community repeal a law in Cincinnati that prohibited giving special rights to homosexuals."
The web site also salutes the Rev. Wildmon for being named one of "10 Who Made a Mark on Marketing" in 2004, featured in the December 20 issue of Advertising Age.
"Like him or hate him, this family-values crusader is having a big impact on marketing," the magazine states. "Although his American Family Association has been around for more than 20 years, the influence of Wildmon's group, which targets advertisers in TV shows it finds offensive via its 200,000-strong One Million Moms and One Million Dads e-mail network, is growing. Most recently, AFA convinced Lowe's and Tyson to pull their advertising from ABC's hottest new property, 'Desperate Housewives.'"
As of Wednesday evening I hadn't received any e-mail alerts regarding the earthquake from either the One Million Moms or the One Million Dads. The "current issue" at One Million Moms and Dads is a campaign to get the Burlington Coat Factory to cease advertising on "Life as We Know It" and "Desperate Housewives," television programs the AFA finds objectionable.
Over at the Family Research Council's web site, the powerful Washington, DC,-based family-values lobbying group is outraged that Christians are getting cheated out of Christmas, with two stories, "Is the Grinch Stealing Christmas?" and "Merry BAH HUMBUG-mas!" focusing on this. There are no alerts about the earthquake/tsunami.
At the Christian Coalition's (CC) web site, the organization's president, Roberta Combs, is busy thanking CC supporters for their "time and effort in getting millions of Christian Coalition voter guides (English & Spanish) distributed to your family, friends, churches, Christian bookstores and neighborhoods all across America."
Family.org, the web site of Dr. James Dobson's Colorado Springs, Colorado-based multi-media mega-ministry, Focus on the Family, is all over the map with its features: From messages to "remember Focus on the Family in your year-end giving," to helpful hints on how to survive Christmas without "The Lord of the Rings," to movie reviews of "Fat Albert" (thumbs up), "The Aviator (thumbs down), "Meet the Fockers" (a disappointed thumbs down), and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (a reluctant thumbs up).
First and foremost, Concerned Women for America (CWA) wants you to know "The Truth About Alfred Kinsey." The twenty-five year-old organization, which bills itself as "the nation's largest public policy women's organization," is also offering a "Special Christmas Feature" from Dr. Beverly LaHaye, founder of the organization, and Dr. Janice Crouse. But not a word on the earthquake/tsunami.
Coral Ridge Ministries (CRM), Dr. D. James Kennedy's Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based operation, is also looking in other directions. At its web site there are advertisements for the CRM's upcoming Reclaiming America For Christ Conference, which will be held in mid-February, and for several of Dr. Kennedy's sermons.
At townhall.com, the mother of all conservative web sites and "the first truly interactive community on the Internet to bring Internet users, conservative public policy organizations, congressional staff, and political activists together under the broad umbrella of 'conservative' thoughts, ideas and actions," current headlines are totally absent earthquake/tsunami news. Here are the top five stories as of December 29: "Reggie White, defender of faith -- on and off the field"; "Focus should shift from testing to teaching"; "False friends"; "Cheap drugs or safe drugs?"; and "European court forces Microsoft to alter its products."
Over at falwell.com, the Rev. Jerry Falwell is explaining "The True Meaning of Christmas," recruiting for his new organization, The Moral Majority Coalition, and soliciting cruisers for a late July sojourn aboard the Queen Mary II.
While many Christian evangelical organizations have rushed to help the victims, why aren't the nation's major religious right political groups -- quick to claim the moral high-ground at every opportunity -- putting their organizational muscle to good use? Why hasn't the devastation from the earthquake/tsunami been on the radar screens of these groups? Are they all on a values vacation?
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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