29 Jan Wayward Christian Soldiers
Did you find yourself aghast recently, stunned by the brazen hypocrisy of “Reverend” Franklin Graham and his fellow religious-right sin-denouncers who followed their endorsements of Alabama’s Roy Moore with the bestowal of a “do-over” for their darling Donald?
These fanatics thunder hellfire threats at lesbian and gay lovers, at women who disobey, use contraception, or terminate unwanted pregnancies, at people of other faiths, agnostics, freethinkers, and nontheists. But regarding Trump’s three wives, history of sexual predation and porn stars, lies, greed, bigotries, even language? Hey, praise the lord and give the guy a Mulligan. Were you staggered by such cognitive dissonance? Even some evangelicals relocated their principles and were staggered, publicly lamenting that they had lost all credibility for a generation.
Well, stagger no more. It’s politics.
In early January, an excellent op-ed piece in The New York Times cleared my sinuses and straightened my posture. It was written by Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right Stealth Assault on America’s Children. The piece warrants more attention. It sent me off in search of further information to trace the ripple effects of Stewart’s research.
Stewart was writing about the Museum of the Bible, which has planted its flag at the corner of 4th and D. Streets S.W. in Washington DC, a few blocks southwest of the US Capitol. The museum hosted Revolution 2017, a recent gathering of those bent on “transforming nations by igniting a holy reformation in every sphere of society.” It views itself as the “Ark of the Covenant,” as waging a long-term campaign to embed certain specific assumptions in the essence of our government, to the exclusion of all others.
For instance, last fall, Ralph Drollinger, founder and president of Capitol Ministries and a highly influential evangelical, held a training conference for 80 international associates at the museum on the topic of “creating and sustaining disciple-ship ministries to political leaders.” In his book Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint, he’s quite up-front about his beliefs: social welfare programs have no basis in scripture, Christians in government have an obligation to hire only Christians, women should not be allowed to teach grown men, and the institution of the state is and must be an “avenger of wrath,” because its “God-given responsibility is to moralize a fallen world through the use of force.” Drollinger was an early, passionate supporter of Trump.
Fringe views, you think? So extreme they’re not likely to have much serious impact? Maybe you’d better sit down. Or if already sitting, lie down.
Drollinger communicates these views in weekly Bible study groups—not just to any old believers but to certain select folks. The participants in Drollinger’s Bible study groups include an outhouse full of mid-level and senior officials in the Trump regime. But the most elite Bible study group of all includes Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education; Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; and Vice President Mike Pence.
Drollinger plans to institute similar groups in all 50 U.S. state capitals, and he claims to have planted 24 operations overseas, as well as hoping to create 200 ministries in 200 foreign federal capitals. His group was invited to found such a ministry in Belarus in 2015, and his wife Danielle attended as a representative of the museum. She promised the attendees that the museum’s Bible curriculum would soon be translated into Russian.
If their blueprint strikes you as a plan for turning Meg Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale from fiction to breaking news, understand that you are not paranoid, and that none of this is coincidental or accidental. Steve Green, the museum’s founder, is also president of the Hobby Lobby Crafts Store chain. Surprise! This is the man who became an extreme-right-wing hero thanks to the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court who, in 2014, gifted Hobby Lobby with the unconstitutional right to withhold federally mandated reproductive healthcare coverage from its female employees. The museum’s donor wall also boasts a dozen or more foundations from the militant Christian right, including scads of Amway money, and the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. (Has anyone mounted a boycott of Amway, by the way?)
So are you now glimpsing why Donald Trump gets a “do over” for his sins? After all, Cindy Jacobs, a leading figure of charismatic Christianity, predicts that “Trump will be seated and mantled with the power of God.” Cindy also describes the museum as “God’s base camp.”
Now perhaps your brain, frantically trying to steer out of having braked and skidded into a spin on the verge of a flip over, is trying to reassure your pounding heart that this well-financed, carefully plotted strategy is nevertheless incapable of corrupting the multiple layers of law and government our Framers deliberately established as pluralistic and secular. Well, your brain needs to steer faster.
Gretchen Borchelt of The National Women’s Law Center has already sounded more than one alarm: “This administration is focused on recognizing one set of religious beliefs. It’s going to do whatever it can to violate or reshape the law to do that.” Example: Deanna Wallace of Americans United for Life has said how “it’s so encouraging to have The Department of Health and Human Services on our side this time!” “On our side” is an understatement. Charmaine Yoest, former head of Americans United for Life, is now the top spokesperson at HHS; she steers the agency’s messaging. Example: Roger Severino, a Christian-right, anti-choice lawyer who now runs the HHS Office of Civil Rights, has created a “Conscience and Religious Freedom” division to establish new protections allowing health-care workers with objections to abortion to opt out of this Constitutionally protected, federally mandated procedure. Example: Matthew Bowman, now HHS deputy general counsel, is helping to roll back the same birth-control protections that he once argued against before the Supreme Court. Example: Valerie Huber, an advocate for sex-abstinence education to replace contraceptive information, is an emerging power in overseeing HHS Title X programs, which (used to?) include funding for contraception care.
Meanwhile, over at the Department of Homeland Security, we find Frank Wuco, senior adviser with a direct line to the White House. Wuco is executive director of DHS’s Executive Order Task Force, which was organized to implement Trump’s Muslim travel ban. He’s also a birther who believes President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and he has a long, foul history of anti-Muslim remarks, including his certainty that every Muslim is out to humiliate and destroy Christians. Wuco has also declared all same-sex lovers “faggots.”
I could continue, U.S. agency after agency, but I want you to steer your brain out of that skid safely instead of intentionally crashing yourself into the nearest brick wall in despair. Instead, check out the current state of struggle against this terrifyingly rich and organized extreme religious right by supporting organizations with a commitment to pluralism and to the separation of church and state—organizations that fight this American Taliban every day, with lawsuits, education campaigns, lobbying efforts, and apparently inexhaustible courage. My favorite (for its wit, and its strong feminist bent) is The Freedom From Religion Foundation. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Paine, were they alive today, would be proud to be supporters. You can find more resources in my book Fighting Words: A Tool Kit for Combating the Religious Right.
And if you’re feeling strong enough to see for yourself, next time you’re in Washington DC, why not stop in at the museum and leave some kind of . . . message in the guestbook?