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(DV) Berkowitz: War on Christians?







War on Christians?
by Bill Berkowitz
March 24, 2006

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"The left will continue to accuse us of trying to 'Christianize America.' Because it can't debate us on the issues, it seeks to demonize us. But we are the inheritors of the faith tradition that is part of the fabric of America. We seek to return America to the Godly values espoused by leaders like Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Reagan. And we have just as much right to be actively involved in the political process as other citizens."


-- Pastor Rick Scarborough

"A specter is haunting America, and it is not socialism and certainly not communism. It is the specter of Americans kneeling in submission to a particular interpretation of a religion that has become an ideology, an all-encompassing way of life. It is the specter of our nation ruled by the extreme Christian right, who would make the United States a 'Christian nation' where their version of God's law supersedes all human law -- including the Constitution."


-- Rabbi James Rudin, "The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us" (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006).

If this past holiday season's "War on Christmas" -- which occupied a disproportionate amount of air time on the 24/7 cable television networks, especially over at the Fox News Channel -- didn't really gain traction, and the "War on Valentines Day" -- a battle initiated by Christian conservative parents that claimed their children were discouraged from bringing Valentines Day cards with religious messages to their classrooms -- was a profound dud, what should we make of the latest evocation of "war on" phraseology by Christian conservatives?

According to the good folks at Vision America (VA), there's a "war on Christians" being waged in this country. You want proof? Consider the following nuggets provided by VA:

  • Christmas symbols and greetings purged

  • Judge bans "In God We Trust" from Pledge of Allegiance

  • Chaplain told he can't pray in Jesus' name

  • Removal of 10 Commandments monuments

  • Move to stifle religious expression at Air Force Academy

  • Christians arrested for praying at a "gay pride" rally in Philadelphia

  • Homosexual "marriage" by judicial decree in Mass.

  • Blasphemous "Da Vinci Code" movie hits theaters in May

  • Churches torched in Alabama

  • Court says parental rights end at schoolhouse door

While whining about Christians being under attack has been a standard operating tool of the religious right, Vision America has taken it to a new level, organizing the first full-fledged conference devoted to presenting evidence that there's a "war on Christians" in the United States.

The conference, called "The War on Christians and the Values Voter in 2006," will be held on March 27 and 28, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.

In full martyr mode, Pastor Rick Scarborough, the President of Vision America, recently said that he expected "attacks" on "our 'War On Christians' conference" would "accelerate" as conference time "approaches."

"The left will continue to accuse us of trying to 'Christianize America.' Because it can't debate us on the issues, it seeks to demonize us," Scarborough said. "But we are the inheritors of the faith tradition that is part of the fabric of America. We seek to return America to the Godly values espoused by leaders like Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Reagan. And we have just as much right to be actively involved in the political process as other citizens."

Promised speakers at the "War on Christians" conference include "such Values Vote leaders" as Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, Alan Keyes, the recently defeated Republican Senatorial candidate from Illinois, Phyllis Schlafly, the founder of Eagle Forum and a 50-plus-year conservative activist, Janet Parshall, a popular right wing radio talk show host, Ohio's Pastor Rod Parsley, the founder and president of the Center for Moral Clarity, the beleaguered and indicted Congressman, Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).

Scheduled panels include The Gay Agenda: America Won't Be Happy; The ACLU And Radical Secularism: Driving God From The Public Square; Hollywood: Christians Through A Distorted Lens; Jews Confront The War On Christians; The Judiciary: Overruling God; The Media: Megaphone For Anti-Faith Values; and Taking Our Faith To The Ballot Box.

Conservative columnist Don Feder is the spokesman for the conference. Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D., a contributor to Online Journal, recently pointed out that in an article that first appeared on chronowatch.com and was reposted on the website of The Christian Underground, "Feder labeled the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union the 'Anti-Prayer Axis.'" Feder described himself on one of his own websites as being "to the right of Sharon on Zionism, to the right of Pat Buchanan on immigration and Americanism, to the right of Mother Angelica on abortion, to the right of Chuck Heston on Second Amendment rights, and generally mak[ing] the legendary Attila look like a limousine liberal."

According to its website, Vision America's mission is "to inform, encourage and mobilize pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values to the moral and civic framework in their communities, states, and our nation."

The organization's advisory board includes such Christian conservative leaders such as the Coral Ridge Ministries' D. James Kennedy, the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Adrian Rogers and Laurence White, a Lutheran minister who serves as the national co-chairman along with Scarborough.

The organization was founded "to reach across the nation and help mobilize thousands of his fellow pastors of all denominations...[to] promote active citizenship."

Scarborough's country

And. according to several articles published over the past year or so, Rick Scarborough has been doing just that. The May 16, 2005 issue of Time magazine reported that "Scarborough has been the kind of dedicated activist the G.O.P. has to thank for much of its current dominance." For more than a decade he "has used his pulpit to help elect conservative judges and politicians," while Vision America, "has recruited 3,000 to 4,000 'patriot pastors' in parts of the South and Midwest to help get out the evangelical-Christian vote."

Scarborough received a master's of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas and a doctorate in ministry from Louisiana Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1990 he settled in Pearland, Texas, and from 1990 to 2002 he was senior pastor of First Baptist Church.

When he "attacked high school sex education courses, experimental medical treatments and transsexuals trying to change their gender identification," Scarborough gained a measure of national notoriety, the Washington Post reported in May 2005. "He recruited like-minded candidates to run for the local school board and city council. He crisscrossed the country to protest the ousting of Roy S. Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, for installing a Ten Commandments tablet at his courthouse. And Scarborough created a network of 'Patriot Pastors' to lead evangelicals to the polls in 2004."

The Washington Post article appeared after Scarborough had organized a conference in Washington D.C. on "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith," which according to Dr. Bruce Prescott, the Executive Director of MainstreamBaptists.org and President of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State - Oklahoma, who posts regularly under the name "Mainstream Baptist" at Talk to Action, "launched the movement against the filibuster in congress and inspired three 'Justice Sundays.'"

Dr. Prescott described Scarborough as "a Dominionist Southern Baptist minister who first emerged as a leader of young pastors who [in 1989] supported the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention." Dr. Prescott provided this additional background information:

In 1990, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas. From that pulpit, with help from the fundamentalist leaders of the SBC that he helped elect, he continued to work to takeover the Texas Baptist state Convention. His 1996 book 'Enough is Enough' begins with two full page letters of endorsement. One by Paige Patterson, then the President of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in North Carolina, the other by Jimmy Draper, then President of the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in Tennessee. The book was mailed to the pastors of all the churches in the Baptist General Convention of Texas. That same year he ran against moderate incumbent Charles Wade for the presidency of the BGCT and lost by a 2-1 margin.

While in Pearland he moved from denominational politics to secular politics. He helped elect members of his congregation to the city council and school board, and encouraged church members to fill top local government jobs -- including city manager and chief of police. He also worked out a sweetheart deal with the city on the purchase of land for his church to relocate.

In 1994, after a member of his congregation, Republican Steve Stockman, defeated long tenured Democratic Representative Jack Brooks for his seat in Congress, Scarborough credited political action by his church with helping Stockman win the election. Unfortunately for his church, he bragged about it publicly in an article that he wrote for Jerry Falwell's Liberty Journal. The IRS investigated his church and they nearly lost their tax exemption. At one time pressures were so great at his church that he resigned, but Jerry Falwell wrote a letter to the church asking them to rescind his resignation and the church did.

In 2002 Scarborough resigned the pastorate and began working full time for Vision America -- a political organizing ministry he founded with the help of Jerry Falwell.

Scarborough is one of many Christian conservative pastors who have developed close ties to Tom DeLay; the congressman even calls him "one of my closest friends."

In the early spring of last year Scarborough "recruited 2,000 more Christian ministers for his Patriot Pastor network, boosting total membership of the three-year-old alliance to about 5,000 members," the Washington Post reported.

"One of my goals in life is to give the Republican Party courage," Scarborough said in a recent interview. "We have a lot of gutless wonders who wear the tag conservative Republican. Anytime there's any amount of fire, they crater."

Before a recent Florida appearance promoting his book, Rabbi James Rudin told Susan L. Rife of Florida's HeraldTribune.com that "Christocrats" -- evangelical leaders determined to create a Christian theocracy in this country -- "and the larger evangelical community really feel that they're under siege, under attack, beleaguered, and that their values are ridiculed and made fun of." Rudin, the now retired director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, added that "The Christocrats actually feel that America's been stolen."

Ultimately, whining about a "War on Christians" in the United States, staging a first-ever, star-studded "War on Christians" conference, selling "War on Christians" gear, and using it as a battle cry to galvanize Christian voters, does not make it so.

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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