The FundamentaList (No. 51)

1. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Comparing Obama to Hitler.

The meaning of the Declaration of Independence was supposed to take center stage at a forum for religious outreach representatives from both presidential campaigns yesterday, but the lunchtime crowd of conservative activists and congressional staff at the Capitol Hill Club was instead treated to a lineup of speakers tossing out apocalyptic rhetoric about Barack Obama.

The event was sponsored by the Capitol Hill-based Faith and Action's Reese Roundtable, an annual luncheon about the moral meaning of the Declaration of Independence. Faith and Action's motto is "bringing the word of God to bear on the hearts and minds of those who make public policy in America." One of its goals is to "restore the moral foundations of our American culture" through placing Ten Commandments displays in public buildings.

Faith and Action's Rob Schenck, a perennial religious-right adviser and gadfly, moderated and wasted no time in lambasting the Rev. E. Terri LaVelle, the Obama campaign's senior religious adviser, who had committed to attend but cancelled at the last minute. "A snub!" protested Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America.

With McCain's conservative-coalitions director Robert Heckman looking on, and at one point chiming in that Obama's recent faith and values outreach was a "colossal flop," Obama was portrayed by speakers as a figure of evil and doom. No one came right out and called him the Antichrist, but the apocalyptic message was clear.

Bernie Reese, the octogenarian founder of the Reese Roundtable, said, "I grew up during [the] days of Hitler; we've almost got a blueprint to what brought Hitler to power. He rode in on an economic crisis and promised the moon to the middle class. He was a man who had glittering rhetoric; he could sit in the room and have his audience in his hand." Alveda King, niece of the civil-rights icon and an adviser to Priests for Life, the militant anti-abortion group, said abortion in the African American community had been done "deliberately, by genocide." We're "beyond chastisement," she went on. "We're in judgment."

"Lord," prayed Johnny Hunter, an African American pastor who gave the benediction, don't let us elect someone who might "bring this nation down."

2. There's Nothing Scary About Speaking in Tongues.

After syndicated political cartoonist Pat Oliphant penned a cartoon about Sarah Palin that mocked the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues, condemnation came quickly from within and without evangelical circles.

The cartoon shows Palin speaking gibberish, McCain talking about how that gives his campaign a direct line to God, and God complaining to Peter that he can't understand a word.

Sarah Palin may or may not speak in tongues. That's neither here nor there. Speaking or praying in tongues is a common -- some would say required -- practice in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity, the fastest-growing form of Christianity in the world. According to Pentecostals, the practice dates back to the first followers of Jesus who, as documented in the Book of Acts, were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in other tongues as evidence of it. Palin's religious practices shouldn't be ridiculed -- but it is essential to explore how she would inject her religious beliefs into governing and policy-making.

3. But Palin's Beliefs About Government and Religion Are Scary.

The Republican Party and Palin's supporters have touted her strong Christian faith as one of the reasons John McCain tapped her to be his running mate. The chief political goal of the religious right is installing likeminded Christian soldiers into government, and so it stands to reason that its love for Palin is due to her commitment to the cause.

That has nothing to do with her Pentecostalism as religious practice and everything to do with how Pentecostals and charismatics, because of their growing numbers, are increasingly influential in the religious right.

But, while Palin's religion may be enough to make some in the religious right overlook her lack of experience, it doesn't excuse that deficit. Does her faith, and particularly her religious tradition's belief in the rapture and end-times, fill in the blanks on her empty foreign-policy resumé? Does it give her some pointers on how molecules don't flag, or inform her rejection of the idea that humans caused global warming? Do religious principles inform her hiring and firing decisions, including Troopergate? Her speech, planned for the anti-Iran rally at the U.N. before she was disinvited, was laced with references to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "final solution," and reflects a real affinity with the thinking of John Hagee of Christians United for Israel and other end-times prognosticators.

4. Daddy's Roommate and Other Stories.

Palin found it unnecessary to even read a book she thought was inappropriate for the Wasilla Public Library -- she just knew, without further investigation, that the book, Daddy's Roommate, about families with same-sex parents, was wrong for Wasilla.

Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality -- which routinely prints [warning] graphic depictions of sex on its Web site under the guise of "educating" the public -- has come to Palin's defense, arguing that the real book banners are "leftists" who believe in the shocking idea that LGBTQ people are human beings with the right to be free from ridicule and condemnation masquerading as "Christ's love." Give me a break. All LaBarbera wants -- along with Focus on the Family's latest ploy, called "True Tolerance" -- is to push his own propaganda about how Jesus can save you from sexual sin into public and public school libraries.

"True Tolerance" claims to help students engage in an "equal access" initiative by equipping them to "winsomely express their worldview," (translation: Be nice while you're telling LGBTQ students they're going to hell), "respond in a compassionate way to one-sided messages about homosexuality," and "offer an alternative message of hope and redemption" (translation: Tell LGBTQ students advocating for equal rights that they can only be saved if they turn straight).

Like "True Tolerance," LaBarbera's "Library Fairness Project" encourages people to force their public libraries -- including school libraries -- to place books by and about "ex-gays" side-by-side with books, even fiction, about LGBTQ people. These books are not only based on reactionary religion that plucks a handful of Bible verses out of context to advance a political agenda, they also promote "therapeutic" (i.e., religious indoctrination) programs that the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association oppose because of their harm to patients.

"The potential risks of reparative therapy are great," reads the American Psychiatric Association position paper, "including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient." But don't worry, Jesus loves you!

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