“The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right” is the subtitle of Mel White’s brand new book, Religion Gone Bad. It’s his latest intimate analysis of the intentions of the extreme right-wing of Christianity that’s been setting the national agenda for over a decade.
Most well-known for his “coming out” story, Stranger at the Gate (1998), White has the deep insider knowledge of the Christian right-wing that makes his own stories insightful, even crucial, reads for the rest of us. As a former ghostwriter for some of the biggest names in Christian bigotry today, and as someone who remains in touch with the thinking and feeling of the usual culprits behind Republican Party Christianity, his warnings and analyses provide a sobering look into the totalitarian goals of the radical right-wing.
Close followers of the right-wing won’t be surprised by his sense of alarm. They’ll find new evidence to back up their concern here.
Those who still think that these authoritarians should be valued for their sincerity, made objects of laughter on Comedy Central, pitied for how persecuted they feel, or enabled by the usual liberal attempts to “understand” them better, will need this wake-up slap. The only danger is that these people won’t want to face Mel White’s sobering analysis head on.
Though the book has broader implications for all progressive Americans, White intends to persuade his readers that “the struggle for ‘gay rights’ is the next stage in the broader struggle for civil rights” as well as other progressive struggles in this country.
“Consciously or unconsciously, fundamentalist Christians are using their anti-homosexual campaign,” he writes, “to test how much intolerance the American people will tolerate. . . . It is a struggle against fundamentalist Christianity (to use their words) ‘for the heart and soul of the nation.’ It is a struggle we dare not lose.”
White sees the struggle as a war. He documents, again with much inside information since he knew most of the protagonists personally, their call to war, its warriors (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson), its enforcer (Focus on the Family’s James Dobson) and its extremist (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church’s D. James Kennedy).
Part Two discusses how fundamentalists fight and win their battles beginning with an analysis of the May 1994 summit of 55 fundamentalist leaders at the Glen Eyrie conference center outside of Colorado Springs. His chapters on the meeting that set the tone and agenda for the right-wing takeover document the setting of the “fascist” strategies and authoritarian goals we’ve since seen put in place.
In the final section, White fights back with his recommendations for resisting the looming fundamentalist take-over of the country. Taking back progressive constitutional political values and reclaiming the progressive moral values of Jesus and the Bible are central to his argument.
At this point some may be tempted to leave White, but this may be the most important time to continue reading. White still identifies as an “evangelical,” but one in no sense like those who claim the term. He really believes that the “good news” is really good news for everyone, inclusive of all religious and non-religious people.
In my mind, the last few pages of Religion Gone Bad are worth the price of the book, though they end too soon. As White tells how Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King, Jr’s method of “Soul Force” grabbed him, and how he has evolved after discovering and practicing for over ten years this life-style of “out-loving” the enemy, we find the activist-tested wisdom he has for us today.
Though he learned from King how morally important it was not to write off the fundamentalists or give up on them, his activist “Soul Force” experience and principles have brought him today to the point where he sees that the time to negotiate with them is over.
“For decades we’ve tried to negotiate with fundamentalists to end their anti-homosexual campaign. They’ve refused. It’s time to take the next step,” this front-line fighter against the Christian right-wing advises. “Agape love demands it.”
What follows are exciting paragraphs advising what “love demands” we do or, as I would put it, how to step out of the victim role toward the Christian right-wing, in order to stop enabling their addiction.
“Love demands we take it to the street,” he writes. It also demands that LGBTI people stop agreeing to participate in church debates and studies of issues that discuss LGBTI people as if they’re lab rats and specimens. Out of the dysfunctional emotional need to be accepted by the religious institutions in order to feel better about themselves, LGBTI people have agreed to have their very humanity analyzed — “the ultimate act of self-denigration.”
Such actions, White argues, not only contribute to the postponing of justice but actually further prop up the very structures that promote religion-based bigotry. Continuing to support institutions that oppress one after already expressing concerns and demonstrating ones case is what Gandhi would call “cooperating with evil.”
How many continue to give money to, and continue as active members of, institutions that respond only by abusing them? How many continue to believe that more cooperation will change these abusers’ hearts even while the leaders harden their hearts further?
There will be people who will respond that White is too much of an activist for them, no matter how extensive now White’s experience of the Christian right-wing’s real threat is. They might settle instead for check-book activism or something much safer. They might prefer to hide in their relationships far away from the world out there.
Yet it’s fear that keeps us from doing what will fully change things. So, the ultimate beneficiary of stepping out of the victim role is always the person who does it.
In White’s terms, it’s not just about changing the world out there. “The person who benefits most from demanding justice is the person who demands it…. Win or lose, we take it to the streets because just being there enriches and empowers our lives.”
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.