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Monday, October 24, 2016

By Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register

Of everything coming out of this year’s Iowa Family Leadership Summit, the fear factor is what stayed with me.

It was a constant, discomfiting undercurrent, like a loose nail poking up in your shoe. It was organization President Bob Vander Plaats declaring this a time of “spiritual warfare,” and speaker Joel Rosenberg announcing America is “on the road to collapse” and “implosion,” and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, warning grimly, “We are living in some very dangerous times.”

The third year of the event sponsored by the self-described Christ-centered organization that seeks to influence policy and elections, brought big name politicians Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry to Ames, Iowa, this past weekend. They were there to rally the Republican base in the lead-off caucus state. But the upbeat, love-God-and-country tone of previous events appeared at times to have been replaced by a somber, calamitous note of foreboding. Even Satan got a few mentions.

Projected onto a giant screen to punctuate Vander Plaats’ remarks was a video filled with haunting images of Osama bin Laden, Adam Lanza and the Boston marathon bombings. It depicted a rising national debt, marijuana, Boys Scouts, gay rainbow flag and a woman holding up a “Keep abortion legal” sign. It ended with someone yelling, “God is dead. Hail Satan!”

Sponsors and speakers still exalted matrimony and procreation in heterosexual relationships, called for putting God back in the classroom and government, and called abortion murder. But this year’s message was: The nation is in moral decline. Ignore it at your own peril. That was even carried into foreign policy.

Rosenberg, an evangelical Christian born to a Jewish father, said the United States must not support a two-state solution in Israel because a sovereign Palestinian state “defies the biblical mandate.” Interesting that a Christian American would presume to tell Palestinian Muslims they don’t deserve a homeland because of what the Bible says. This follows an evangelical belief that Jews from around the world will gather in Israel, where the second coming of Christ will occur, and — though Rosenberg didn’t spell this out — be converted to Christianity.

“God loves you but if we don’t receive Christ, there are consequences,” Rosenberg warned.

Is fear a new strategy for the Family Leader and its affiliated Family Research Council and Focus on the Family? Is it a response to flagging interest and political losses? Organizers said there were 1,200 attendees, and that there has been steady growth in three years. But many seats were empty. Is it a concession they’re losing the battle over abortion and gay rights? Abortion has not been completely outlawed, even under a conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority. Having succeeded in getting three justices of the Iowa Supreme Court voted out over same-sex marriage, a few years ago, the Family Leader failed in its more recent campaign against a fourth. Same-sex couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries with children and grandchildren, and the planet has survived.

What the planet might not ultimately survive — global warming — wasn’t on the agenda. In fact, if this were a true gathering of faith leaders, one might have expected some commitment to keeping the environment healthy, some compassion for the poor and immigrants. There were calls for abolishing the entire tax system that sustains the poor in times of need. There were calls for boosting border patrols to turn back young asylum seekers before their cases are heard. Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, boasted of having cut 1,400 state employees and cut property taxes, which fund education, more than ever in Iowa history.

But if it were a political forum to vet candidates, a Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist one would have had no place there. In one video, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, said, “The only place you get right with God is at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Outside in the parking lot, some protestors from Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers, which describes itself as a social and educational organization, objected. “The summit is attempting to define legislation through Christian dogma,” said protestor Jason Benell. “They want to blur the line between church and state. That’s not what Iowans want.”

He also objected to the idea that faith was necessary to have a good family. His group sees a ramping up of religious rhetoric in response to the Family Leader’s “fear of losing its base.”

Everyone will, of course, vote according to their own priorities. But America is not a theocracy, so it’s alarming to see politicians, by attending and playing to the sponsors, play into the notion that worshiping Jesus should be a prerequisite for federal or state office. America also cannot base its Mideast policy on some biblical interpretation about Israel. Whatever our religious affiliation or lack of it, I’d guess most voters have better explanations for Sept. 11 or the Sandy Hook shootings than God’s revenge — and would like to practical, reason-based solutions from those seeking office.

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at [email protected]

Photo: Dave Davidson via Flickr

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  • Sand_Cat

    America is not a theocracy – yet.
    Not sure which would be worse: the corporate kleptocracy craved by some of the GOP or the fire and brimstone theocracy of hate pushed by the rest.

    • Dominick Vila

      The most fascinating part of this issue is that the most fanatical Christian zealots are pursuing a system not too dissimilar from what exists in the Islamic world, which they purportedly hate.

      • ericlipps

        Not even that, since Muslims recognize Christians and Jews as fellow “people of the Book” and acknowledge that they worship the same God. It’s just that they, like Jews, reject the ideas of the Trinity and of Jesus as the “Son of God” (they consider him a prophet), and that they believe that Muhammad had the final revelation. (Joseph Smith doesn’t count.) Their hostility toward Christians and Jews springs from the latter two groups’ refusal to accept that revelation.

        • Allan Richardson

          In the early days of the Muslim community, Jews and Christians were generally to be respected as “people of the Book” except when hostilities about specific issues arose, with the primary enemy being idolatrous pre-Muslim Arabs (who exiled Mohammad and his group from Mecca to Medina, where they regrouped and grew strong enough to retake Mecca).

          Just as there are wide differences in the extent of respect and toleration for other faiths in Christianity (compare Unitarians with the people in the group whose meeting we are discussing), there are differences in the attitudes of Muslims to other faiths. To the majority (what Nixon’s campaign called the “silent” majority?) of Muslims worldwide, the state of Israel is their enemy for purely political reasons, which can in theory be resolved, and the west is criticized primarily for interfering in the politics of Arab and Muslim nations from the Crusades to the present. The MOST fanatical and intolerant Muslims are the ones who make the most noise and the most carnage against everyone else including their fellow Muslims.

          As an aside, remember President Bush’s FIRST speech against the Taliban, which he later rephrased? He used the word “crusade,” which to westerners is a generic term for any organized campaign against an evil, including nonviolent struggles (the civil rights crusade), humanitarian medical projects (the crusade against polio), as well as military ventures considered secular “good” wars (the crusade against the Nazis in World War Two). But to people in Muslim countries, the equivalent translation of that word has its ORIGINAL meaning, the centuries of wars to occupy the Middle East on behalf of the Catholic Church; this is why even our allies in the Muslim world were offended.

          Essentially, the word “crusade” is the mirror image of “jihad,” which is used by their militants to describe a holy war for Islam, but (to most Muslims) also means the struggle to become the best possible Muslim in one’s personal life and the struggle to promote Muslim virtues within the Muslim community.

          So yes, there are theological disputes between Muslims and other monotheists, but MOST of the people in all three faiths believe in discussing these differences in respectful and humble terms, rather than demonizing (or trying to destroy) one another.

        • … some very, VERY interesting points here, which brings us back again to why OUR Constitution was conceived originally. Above, the term ‘freedom OF religion’ should be enough to settle these people into complying w/all the over Civic Societal edicts, protecting the poor, the laborer, families and the tax-dependent ‘state’ from the potential abuses of the rich & monarchs (corporations today). Young people exercising their Constitution prerogatives to reject dying in an unjust (Vietnam) war was a direct POWER threat to Nixon & his corporate masters & so, Civics instructions was removed from the broad Public Educational curriculum. It’s manifesting itself now, w/the ignorance of an entire nation reading those words so completely out of context, that the ‘inquisitionaries’ now seem a bit warmer & fuzzier than in the 17th & 18th centuries… but no less dangerous –

      • sleepvark

        You mean the christian version of the taliban

      • They’re mutual allies for two reasons:

        1) They both want to establish a strict non-democratic plutocracy with themselves as the permanent ruling class.

        2) They’re both not even remotely religious and just use religious labels as a flimsy camouflage for what would otherwise be easily recognized as pure fascism.

        In truth, they both want the exact same thing, so one acts as the enemy to the other, and in exchange, they are each able to rally a paranoid base of zealots which is easily directed to attack the moderates at home (take a look at this week’s two This Week In Crazy “winners” if you don’t believe that).

        It’s similar to how, in 1984, the Oceanians were always at war with either the Eurasians or Eastasians even though all three sides were reported to believe in the exact same thing: Because they needed antagonists to constantly distract the people away from the fact that they were murdering more of their own people than the other two sides combined ever could.

    • ericlipps

      What, you couldn’t have both? Some of the most wild-eyed religious rightists are also big fans of corporate capitalism, which they see as God’s way of rewarding the worthy and punishing the undeserving in this life. (See the “parable of the talents.”)

      • Just another indian

        It occurs to me, finally, that religious extremism is one of ‘nature’s’ ways of controlling human population. As population rises, resources grow scarce, then the fun begins. Even among Muslims, the Shiites and Sunnis will kill each other over minor differences in how they fold their hands during prayers. Every religion has espoused a commandment, in different words, about not taking a human life. How has that worked out for us so far? Not to mention stewardship of the environment, etc. In the end, we will be the force behind the next large extinction, which includes our own, and the earth will continue on her merry way. Hard wired into our very beings is our own destruction. Also hired wired into us is to struggle with these issues. Will we figure it out before we disappear? Stay tuned.

  • America is not a theocracy. And that’s what pisses these people off the most.

    In truth, of the 1,200 people reportedly in attendance, you would not find one single true Christian. What you instead have are 1,200 people who are incredibly sore over the fact that everything was not handed to them by birthright — that we are a democratic nation in which the majority rules — and who see name-dropping Jesus as a means by which to abolish democracy and establish themselves as the permanent ruling class.

    This is why, despite constantly reminding everyone that this was a “Christian” event every other sentence, their agenda runs completely contrary to everything the Bible says. This is not about religion and politics mixing — this is about trying to hide dirty and corrupt politics behind the facade of religion.

    • Independent1

      Well said!!

  • Dominick Vila

    Our top priority, as a nation, should be to do everything we can to keep money and religion out of our political process. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, that does not mean that those seeking spiritual comfort have the right to impose their beliefs on others, and interfere in our political processes. The same goes for money and lobbyists. We are neither a theocracy nor a plutocracy, and we should do everything possible to keep it that way.

    • ericlipps

      Of course, religious right-wingers say that “the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Or, in other words, you can choose any religion you want, but you’d better choose one, or else.

      Not that they’re consistent. They call “secular humanism” a religion, but say Americans aren’t allowed to adhere to it.

      It’s all BS anyway. This is about fundamentalist Protestants demanding supremacy. The only reason they aren’t still attacking Catholics as servants of the “Whore of Rome” is that they need the Vatican’s money and political clout in the anti-abortion fight. And the only reason they’re not going after Jews the way they used to is that they decided Israel was necessary to their prophecies of the Second Coming–but those prophecies supposedly say that when that happens, all but 144,000 of the world’s Jews will be thrown alive into a lake of fire with the other unbelievers. (The 144,000 will convert to Christianity.) When 9/11 happened, it gave them a perfect opportunity to displace all that suppressed viciousness onto a new target, Muslims, whom they’d previously mostly ignored.

  • ericlipps

    Religion and politics can mix; religious values can inform political views, as in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements. But religious dogma and politics are a poisonous combination.

    • latebloomingrandma

      Yes. And if you’ve ever been around some of these people, it is really creepy.

    • Far too many on the right cannot understand (or more likely have willed themselves to forget) that there is a difference between being religious and being fundamentalist.

      Hell, most of them don’t even understand the concept of karma. They are literally incapable of behaving themselves without the constant threat of damnation looming over them. . .

      Oh who am I kidding? They don’t behave themselves even then! So it’s not enough that they need to have it written in the Bible — they need to copy-paste it all word for word into the U.S. constitution as well (and then they will still continue to sin their asses off anyway).

  • howa4x

    These people want to establish the Christian Caliphate in America and are no different than ISIS whom they claim to loathe. They want their own brand of sharia law to be forced on Americans just like they are doing in pockets of the Mid East. Both Islamic radicals and evangelicals claim they are doing it to reclaim Gods laws from the Satan worshipers or infidels, and both want harsh measures to be placed on individuals curtailing their freedom in the name of god. Each singles out women as people who should bare the harshest punishments by being forced to accept poverty wages, be subservient to their man,or actual enslavement as ISIS wants, and both want women to dress modestly. It really points out that those on the extreme right of any religion want the same things to happen, and how more alike they are than different.

  • ExRadioGuy15

    What the GOP, Fascist Christian Plutartheocrats (FCPers) and Religious Zealots want is a Fascist Christian Plutartheocracy (FCP), in violation of the US Constitution and in adherence to one of the 14 defining characteristics of Fascism: religion and government intertwined…

  • 503me

    The American Taliban is trying hard to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.

  • 1standlastword

    I don’t see anything novel or inherently dangerous in this! In times like these religiously inclined people have always clung to their god for succor. Let them have their rally. They are thoroughly distracted from the real enemies and some of those enemies are the sponsors and the politicians standing right next to them. Their Satan cloaks itself as one of them…it stirs them up and moves them to do its bidding!

  • herchato

    Iowa seems to want to join the extremist. They sound a little too much like the Taliban. Yuk

  • charleo1

    It’s interesting, that yesterday Limbaugh, commenting on the death of Robin Williams. Attributed his suicide to his, “Leftist views.” Does he even listen to his Party? More likely that little transference thing the Right does all the time. You know, how the Left are the puppets of Wall Street. And Obama is building a Plantation where he’ll impose something worse than slavery on the people. A regular doctor!!!

  • John Young

    Bob Vander Plaats continues to stir this pot of poison for one reason: he wants the feeling of power and control that leadership gives him. People in Iowa now recognize him for what he is, and he is largely irrelevant on the political scene – but he struggles on with his small group of like-minded extremists.

    The key to understanding this man’s world-view is to understand his religious/ethnic heritage. He is part of the community descended from Dutch “Separatists” who emigrated to Iowa beginning in the 1840’s. They came here for religious freedom – they wished to escape teaching of theological doctrines required by the official state church of The Netherlands. See the irony?

    Most of us who share this background have come to a more mature understanding of faith and have escaped the isolating and self-referencing nature of the group. Vander Plaats seems to be one of those who holds tight to the pat answers and belief in a moral superiority that the “old religion” supplies – the same one that contradictorily inculcates feelings of guilt, unworthiness and fear of a God quick to judge and condemn.

    Now, if only the other right-wing extremists that have hi-jacked our state Republican party would become irrelevant, we would all cheer. It’s time for someone, like another son of Iowa once asked, to ask these people: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

  • This is exactly where & why a quality, comprehensive education, is so vital!!! If only for the essential quality of keeping individual home life secure & stable, the extremists described in this article, exhibit signs of deep, emotional trauma from early in their lives. It’s truly difficult to try understanding what’s going on w/conservatives & takes some restraint to refrain from using words like ‘psychopaths,’ or ‘sociopaths,’ just plain ‘crazy,’ but we should NOT refrain from REMINDING conservatives that WE LIBERAL/PROGRESSIVES openly WARNED conservatives NOT to vote for George W. Bush. We let them know in NO uncertain terms. Now, they want to speak of living in ‘dangerous times?’ Why NOW? If they were uncertain, all they had to do was sit out the 2000 election. It’s too late rehashing this all now, but families, the nation, the globe, were ALL safe, secure, prosperous, under the watchful, proactive & responsible OVERSIGHT of the Clinton-Gore executive initiative, which was in the process of expanding Democracy globally. This would have resulted in dozens of nations yearly SINCE 2000, becoming more stable & self-sustaining, meaning they would have been less of a threat to themselves & to us, as a consequence. Is it yet becoming plain to Americans, what a ‘disease’ modern conservatism is? Democrats tried to reason w/conservatives in power the whole time. World leaders tried, then backed off, thinking we’d eventually reach the point of better judgement. Events themselves told conservatives their perspectives were ALL WRONG!!! In every case, they rejected calm consideration & cool reasoning. Now, they want to ‘construct’ a religious imperative as a response to the secular CALAMITY their conservative policies are DIRECTLY responsible for?!?! The Constitution also DIRECTLY spoke to the ‘assembledge’ of religious overstructures to our ‘SECULAR’ government. The Constitution is more than plain on this point, but the mindset of conservatives being the way it is, we should take as a threat to all planetary life, their gaining another majority of ANY TYPE in government EVER again. Unless the world that was Europe & new world America in the 17th & 18th centuries, w/barbaric & tyrannical religious repression across the board seemed a wonderful lifestyle? Learning THIS history would have gone a long way in educating a nation how to deal w/scam artists & sharlatans as Bush & Cheney, in weighing their false claims, from creating a better economy to a more peaceful world. That ‘peaceful world’ was Clinton-Gore. Hell is what ensued, due to conservative policies. THAT was OUR education. We should now know a Liberal/Progressive electoral majority will be a life preserving national act, taken then, globally, if we ever hope to regain peace, prosperity & national sanity ever again…