Values Voters Summit

Credit: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore

I perceive so many issues and so much material to critique from the recent so-called Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. that I find it difficult where precisely to focus.

I could talk about the cast of characters invited to present to the largely older, white, conservative Christian confab audience, with such notables ranging from current and former elected political officials including Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and David Dewhurst, to ultra conservative media pundits such as Erick Erickson (Editor-in-Chief of Red States) and Glenn Beck, to heads of far-right organizations like Gary Bauer (Pres., American Values) and Kelly Shackelford (Pres. & CEO, Liberty Institute).

I could center my comments on the “intellectual” and historical bloopers made by a number of the presenters. For example, Ted Cruz lambasted U.S. officials talking with Iranian leaders:

“This week the government of Iran is sitting down with the United States government, swilling chardonnay in New York City to discuss what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu rightly describes as an historic mistake…setting the stage for Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability.”

Cruz, like President George W. Bush before him, shows his utter ignorance of Muslims and their cultures, in Cruz’s case, by his ignorance of their ban on consuming alcoholic beverages.

And then there was half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who promised to bring “truth” to “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Well, does Palin plan to stand on a soap box in the plaza near the Willard Hotel to shout her truth, since that’s what she will find at that address? Or does she hope to see Russia from there? If, however, she meant to reference the White House, most elementary school students know it rests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

What I consider the most offensive, hateful, and bigoted comment to the assembled gathering at the Summit came from finally-retiring Representative Michelle Bachmann, who declared war on all of Islam first by asserting that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim, then warning,

“Yes, Mr. President, it is about Islam….And I believe if you have an evil of an order of this magnitude, you take it seriously. You declare war on it, you don’t dance around it. Just like the Islamic State has declared war on the United States of America.”

Bachmann assaulted the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which she asserted created “a smaller, diminished, less-powerful United States.”

Bachmann’s perspective on Islam is as accurate as if we viewed so-called “white supremacist” and neo-Nazi groups as representing true Christendom. What groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda, Khorasan, al-Shabaab, Hamas, Hezbollah, plus Aryan Brotherhood, Christian Identity, Ku Klux Klan, American Front, Aryan Republican Army, The Citizens’ Councils, White Patriot Party, and so many more all have in common is their hateful extremism in the guise of religion and religious freedom.

According to its website:

Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

The Summit’s chief organizing sponsor from its inauguration has been Family Research Council (FRC) Action, the legislative arm of the Family Research Council. James Dobson, founder of the group Focus on the Family (FOF) in 1977, created the Family Research Council in 1981, which has developed into a major influential theocratic right organization campaigning for so-called “traditional family values” as FRC sees it. In the face of Internal Revenue Service investigations of FRC’s overt lobbying activities, FRC administratively separated from FOF in 1992 to become an independent organization. Gary Bauer took over the helm as first president until 2003 when Tony Perkins succeeded him.

Ted Cruz Values Voters Summit

Ted Cruz speaking at the Values Voter Summit in 2011. Credit: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore

Though the term “Christian Right” has been used to represent this movement, I, on the other hand, find this terminology inaccurate and misleading. A good number of well-intentioned conservative Christians do not abide by many of the extreme stances taken by movement leaders — leaders who seem bent on hijacking the purpose and intent of Jesus’s message. While a number of leaders and organizations within this movement bristle against the notion of a large centralized government, paradoxically, they seem to work toward the imposition of a powerful theocratic government in their image. Moreover, “Christianity” cannot be viewed as monolithic since numerous denominations subscribe to disparate interpretations of scripture. Therefore, I use the term “theocratic right” to represent this ultra conservative movement.

I see the Values Voters Summit more as a train wreck than as a summit, a crew of hate-inspired politicians who sank to the lowest level of their “base” (a term I use here with multiple definitions) by stereotyping and scapegoating, and by further marginalizing those among us with little economic, social, and political power and those who require basic services from government to survive. In this vein, Ted Cruz promised during his diatribe at the Summit:

“In 2017, with a Republican president in office, we’re going to sign legislation repealing every word of Obamacare.”

Attendees at the conference voted in a presidential straw poll placing Ted Cruz on top with 25 percent, former neurosurgeon and author Ben Carson in second place with 20 percent, and rounding out in third place was Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum in fourth.

Using the definition of “values” as “Core beliefs that guide and motivate attitudes and actions,” what the drivers on the train wreck preached in Washington, D.C. poses grave dangers by further dividing an already divided nation, by broadening the wide gaps between the haves and have-nots, and by perpetuating the targeting of those they brand as “other,” since many in this crew already hold influential platforms and represent a formidable constituency.

 

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

 


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