1. "Persecuted" in China
Three fellow soldiers in the American anti-abortion movement, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition and a former Operation Rescue spokesperson; Brandi Swindell, the national director of Generation Life; and Michael McMonagle, founder of Generation Life, took their cause to China last week, where they were twice detained and eventually deported on Aug. 8 by Chinese officials for demonstrating in Tiananmen Square against abortion and religious persecution.
The three said they went to the site of the 1989 government crackdowns to "stand in solidarity with our oppressed Chinese brothers and sisters," focusing particularly on religious persecution against Christians and other believers (namely the Falun Gong, on whose behalf Mahoney and Swindell have protested before), and the forced abortions that sometimes occur under China's one-child population policy. The activists unfurled a banner that read, "Jesus Christ is King," and shouted to bystanders, "End the brutality. To those who are forced to go through forced abortions and have no voice, we are your voice."
In an unusual display of laxity by China, which is rarely tolerant of protesters -- particularly domestic dissenters -- the three were questioned and quickly released after their first protest. Nonetheless, U.S. anti-abortion groups dispensed hand-wringing press releases at the 14-hour silence following the group's arrest, before the three were flown home at China's expense.
Claiming to be persecuted has become a familiar feature of Christian right rhetoric used by everyone from pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions to public officials erecting Ten Commandments monuments. But the most savvy religious-right activists hitch their complaints to actual instances of repression, such as the growing number of American evangelicals claiming common cause with "the persecuted church" as it exists in countries like China, and thereby gaining martyrdom-status by proxy.
This applies doubly for abortion and population politics, where the abuses of China's one-child policy are put to full use by anticontraception activists such as Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute -- a self-described "China watcher" who has written nonfiction books and thrillers about China's impending world takeover -- to equate forced or coercive sterilizations and abortions in some developing nations with all family-planning efforts worldwide, and thereby justifying the defunding of the United Nations Population Fund, which helps governments enact family planning and population policies and expand access to reproductive health services, to the tune of $34 million for the past seven years.
2. And in Ecuador
The Population Research Institute's (PRI) parent organization, Human Life International (HLI), founded by the zealous anti-abortion activist Father Paul Marx (who has said that Jews control the abortion "industry") declared on Aug. 8 that pro-lifers are under attack in Ecuador, presumably by prochoice assassins. According to the group, Amparo Medina, the head of HLI's Ecuadorian affiliate, and Catholic Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza, have both received death threats, allegedly from prochoice activists angry at their opposition to Ecuador's new constitution, which includes protections for same-sex couples and what critics call "ambiguous" language on abortion, which could open the door for liberalized laws down the road.
HLI claims that the threats came with gory accompaniments -- a dead rat left for Medina and a severed dog's head bearing a communion wafer in its mouth for Archbishop Arregui -- as well as the strangely disjointed message sent to Medina that reads like a right-wing fever dream, combining bogeymen from the Cold War, the sexual revolution and mafia films.
Written by an author advocating "21st Century Socialism" under the pseudonym "Commando Salvador Allende," the letter called for "death to prolifers," and read in part: "Remember that accidents exist, remember that accidental deaths happen daily in our country. DO NOT CONTINUE YOUR ANTI-WOMAN AND HOMOPHOBIC CAMPAIGN... death to traitors, death to those who oppose the nation, DEATH OR REVOLUTION."
HLI's president Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer summarized the moral of the news: "Anyone who doubts the criminal, diabolical, nature of the international abortion lobby needs look no further."
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the news of the death threats comes in the midst of conflict between President Rafael Correa of Ecuador and the country's Christian conservatives who have denounced the new constitution as statist, totalitarian and "abortionist." After Correa accused Catholic priests of meddling in politics, conservative politicians and clergy responded that Correa was waging "a frontal and disgusting attack" on the curch. Though it might be overly cynical to doubt such a gruesome -- and timely -- validation of the prolifers' claims, what's indisputable is how neatly this latest conflict fits into HLI's and PRI's history of inserting themselves into internal domestic debates over reproductive rights around the globe.
From Eastern Europe to South America, they have positioned themselves as defenders of hapless conservative local norms against the imperialist forces of Western abortion-rights advocates -- a brilliant co-option of liberal rhetoric, taken through the looking glass as the U.S. religious right "fights cultural imperialism" by threatening to cut U.S. aid dollars of countries liberalizing their reproductive-rights laws, unless those local governments get in line with the right's agenda.
3. Exodus on Hold
Cory Burnell, president of the secessionist group Christian Exodus, which aims to populate South Carolina (and Idaho) with enough fundamentalist Christians to swing city elections and eventually win control of the state, has stepped down from his position, citing his inability to find work in South Carolina that would allow him to relocate to the state himself.
Christian Exodus, which was formed in 2004 (partly inspired by Lawrence v. Texas) and claims to have 1,500 members, hoped to move 50,000 Christians to South Carolina to enact a Christian government that would ban homosexuality and abortion, cease public school funding in favor of parents homeschooling their children, and protect all Christian religious displays in public. Furthermore, though the group claims to support racial equality in its statement of positions, it also seeks to repeal the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed rights to former slaves, and all laws or rulings associated with it (not to mention the group's work with far-right groups such as the neo-Confederate League of the South).
Christian Exodus will continue on under the leadership of new Executive Director Keith Humphrey, who described the group as shifting in institutional vision from secession through mass relocation to the joint work of "many other intentional Christian activist communities springing up nationwide, [working] to disentangle ourselves from Statist idolatry at an even more basic level."
4. The Religious Right's Travel Lobby
A recent study undertaken by The Hill finds that nearly a quarter of the trips taken by White House aides for an 18-month period between 2006 and 2008 were paid for by churches or religious groups.
Two aides in particular benefited from the arrangement. Tim Goeglein, a disciple of Karl Rove who served as President Bush's liaison to conservative evangelicals (until his resignation this year over plagiarism charges) and who helped found the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, took 23 trips worth $23,000. Jay Hein, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, took 10 trips valued at $5,000.
Two of Goeglein's trips were made in order to deliver speeches to the Council on National Policy, the secretive right-wing coalition founded by Tim LaHaye, and the conservative National Religious Broadcasters Association (whose annual convention Bush addressed this spring). Other funders included conservative and orthodox churches and synagogues. Before his resignation, Goeglein seemed to return the favor to the groups that financed him, earning the accolades of religious-right leaders such as Chuck Colson, Ralph Reed, and Ted Haggard (pre-fall, before Haggard's 2006 drug and prostitution scandal made him irrelevant as a national leader), who praised the aide as "the key person that actually produced the evangelical vote in America," and the contact who reliably brought their issues to the Bush administration and helped turn them into laws.
5. Not "The One"
Time magazine's Amy Sullivan recently denounced the McCain campaign's "Antichrist" Obama ad, "The One," as worse than the infamous "Willie Horton" ad of 1988. On the surface, the McCain ad mocks Obama for having a messiah complex, but it actually draws insidious parallels between Obama's sudden popularity and a particular depiction of the Antichrist known to millions of American Christians as Nicolae Carpathia, the coming "Man of Sin" described in the bestselling apocalyptic thriller series, Left Behind.
Meanwhile, Obama's Christian fact-checkers at the Matthew 25 Network, rallying Democratic Christians to "put away falsehood" by combating internet rumors about Obama, scrambled to petition McCain to repudiate the spot. Some conservative Christian authors who write about the end times have encouraged speculation that Obama could be the Antichrist. Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, wrote on World Net Daily that "Obama is correct in saying that the world is ready for someone like him — a messiah-like figure, charismatic and glib ... The Bible calls that leader the Antichrist. And it seems apparent that the world is now ready to make his acquaintance."
But the high priests of rapture lit, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series, stepped in as surprising voices of moderation, explaining that they don't anticipate the Antichrist coming from American politics and that while they "can see by the language [Obama] uses why people think he could be the Antichrist," they find that "from [their] reading of scripture, he doesn't meet the criteria."