Sam Rodriguez Leaves Oak Initiative over Anti-Muslim Organizing

September 22, 2011, 2:22 pm | Posted by

sam rodriguez.jpgEarlier this month, Rachel Tabachnick wrote a story on The Oak Initiative, a Religious Right group that has partnered with right wing extremist Frank Gaffney to promote anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

Tabachnick noted in particular that the vice president of the Initiative was evangelical leader Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. This revelation was surprising given Rodriguez’s previous vocal support for religious pluralism and against extremism.

Blogger Greg Metzger noted this apparent contradiction and approached Rev. Rodriguez about it. After Metzger read some of the anti-Islam propaganda the Oak Initiative was sponsoring, Rodriguez appeared to have a change of heart:

I found that Rev. Rodriguez was genuinely troubled by Tabachnik’s charges. He challenged some of the details of her story, but on the principal point–his relationship with the Oak Initiative–he agreed that there was cause for concern. He knew instinctively as I read to him the Oak Initiative’s views about Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood that this was an affront to what he wished to stand for.

Metzger reported that Rodriguez told him he would be denouncing this extremism and resigning from the board of the Oak Initiative. This step was a major victory in the fight against anti-Muslim extremism and a testament to the power of truth. When confronted with the full-throated extremism of people like Frank Gaffney, no person of good faith should be able to excuse or justify it.

But although Rodriguez indeed left the Oak Initiative, we haven’t yet seen a public denunciation of their extremism.

We appreciate Rodriguez’s admirable decision to distance himself from a group promoting fringe theories about Muslims, and hope this can be an opportunity for him and other people of faith to stand firmly against bigotry and the spread of harmful misinformation.

Photo credit: National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

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Mercury Poisoning is Not a Pro-Life Value

September 16, 2011, 5:11 pm | Posted by

When political leaders claim that businesses need less regulations, they don’t usually provide specifics about which rules should be cut. Instead they seem to hope that general anti-government sentiment will provide cover when they try to eliminate common-sense policies that protect the American people from dangerous abuses by companies trying to cut corners.

This week, a coalition of evangelicals and Catholics are speaking out against this very effort, targeting new attempts to delay regulations on mercury emissions from cement plant smokestacks. The campaign includes letters from evangelical leaders and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as radio ads targeting the three Congressman most responsible for this roll back effort–Reps. Ed Whitfield (KY-1), Fred Upton (MI-6) and Joe Barton (TX-6).

Appealing to these politicians’ stated pro-life principles, these leaders specifically highlight the danger mercury poisoning poses to pregnant women and children. Directly challenging the corporate industry groups behind this effort, they lay out the moral choice before Congress:

Opponents of the mercury standards are seeking to weaken or delay the regulations. They argue that the cost of cleaning up our air (about $3-7 per month per family) is too expensive. We welcome an honest debate about how much our children’s health is worth.

The radio ads are sponsored by the Evangelical Environmental Network. Listen to one here:

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Chuck Colson’s Mixed Messages on Taxes and Budget Cuts

August 5, 2011, 4:47 pm | Posted by

The biblical challenge to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17) is subject to an array of interpretations but clearly claims that government has legitimate purposes that place real obligations on individuals, while also providing a reminder that the dictates of one’s faith and the demands of one’s government often create tension.

Despite this injunction, Washington abounds with examples of faith being subverted, dominated, and used by political ideology for partisan gain by organizations and individuals who claim the Christian faith. Perhaps the most severe example of this is the embrace by conservative Christian legislators of economic policies that protect tax breaks for corporate special interests and the wealthy at the expense of funding for programs which serve the neediest and most vulnerable members of society.

While I have significant disagreements with the conservative theology and political beliefs of Chuck Colson, I also must give him credit for this recent commentary calling out ideological extremists on the right who refuse to raise taxes, even on the wealthy, as we address our nation’s economic challenges. He writes:

I see no biblical warrant for the two positions being embraced in Washington today – a total refusal to raise taxes on one hand; a total refusal to cut government spending on the other. They are both based on man-made ideology.

Unfortunately, Colson recently failed to put his principle into practice by his signing onto a letter that advocates steep budget cuts while promoting the same anti-tax extremism he criticizes. I’m glad to see Colson call out the ideological extremists, now I hope he remembers to follow his own advice.

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Free Contraception: Common Ground Victory

July 19, 2011, 3:27 pm | Posted by

Today, the Institute of Medicine affirmed contraception as preventative service, smoothing the path for the Department of Health and Human services to include it in the list of services insurers must make available with no cost-sharing (that is, for free) under the Affordable Care Act.

This is a real victory for women, families and those seeking common ground on abortion. Access to contraception is one of the best ways to avoid unintended pregnancies (and thus many abortions).

The report also noted unintended pregnancies are riskier:

Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol, be depressed, and experience domestic violence during pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems.

Healthier women, babies and families is a goal people of good will can — and in fact do — support. Despite what the religious right might want you to think, contraception is popular.

Last fall, pro-choice and pro-life leaders came together in support of contraception access, and poll after poll shows the people in the pews are right there with them. Yes, even the Catholics and evangelicals.

Religious right leaders often claim to be the defenders of “the family,” but every time they come out in opposition to commonsense, common ground measures like this, it seems more and more the only thing they’re protecting is an outdated, rigid ideology.

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Signs of Fissure Between GOP Establishment and Religious Right

June 9, 2011, 5:17 pm | Posted by

Last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, intended to unify the Tea Party and conservative Christian wings of the GOP base, interestingly highlighted some latent but emerging fissures between these two camps.

In his opening remarks, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “We cannot fix the fiscal until we fix the family.” He also made a less-than-subtle jab at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who only just recently announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president because, as he put it, “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one. The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all.” From Perkins:

You know, the voices of division cry out that America’s fiscal and economic crisis deserve all of our attention. They argue that government spending, budget deficits, and the national debate are out of control, and other matters are unrelated and must be put aside. One prominent political figure, a man who actually has compiled an impressive record on fiscal issues, educational policy, health care, and other topics even called for a truce on the core social issues. Ironically, the priority of his own family–a priority I commend him for embracing–has dissuaded him from seeking higher office.

Perkin’s use of irony here seems to serve as both a subtle personal dig at Daniels and a disingenuous way to suggest his “truce” represented an abandonment of other families.

Most of the presidential and almost-presidential candidates in attendance at the conference kowtowed to Perkins’ prioritization of social issues. However, Mississippi Governor and political heavyweight Haley Barbour, who like Daniels recently announced his decision not to run for president, made a push for party unity by pointing out that, “statistically speaking,” whichever candidate attendees chose to support likely wouldn’t win the Republican primary. Barbour, who ran against an evangelical Democrat in his 2007 reelection for governor, instead told the crowd:

In political campaigns, in great crusades, in the effort to get our country back on the right track, we got to stay focused on the main thing. The main thing is winning the election. We can’t change the country like we want it unless we win the election. Okay? Remember, purity, in politics, purity is the enemy of victory. Okay?

Barbour’s appeal met with a luke-warm reception from the crowd, and caused a bit of a stir among conference speakers. At an afternoon panel on Catholic grassroots action, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser pushed back on Barbour’s suggestion by warning that “We could win back the Senate, we could win the White House and if we weaken on the fight for life and marriage, we will lose the entire battle and what will it have been for?” But fellow panelist Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate, echoed Barbour’s sentiment, suggesting the governor was just asking social conservatives not to “start getting into the game of ‘are they pro-life or pro-marriage enough,’ don’t start parsing it too far.”

It will be interesting to see how this tension plays out in the coming Republican primaries and the 2012 election, especially if religious conservatives don’t get their candidate of choice.

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