Editor's Note, March 2004:
The Promise Keepers were frequently mentioned in this article because it was published immediately following their event which was widely reported in the news media of the time. But it's important to point out that PK is one organization of many, including churches, that comprise this social movement. While we name this movement for the fact that it uses a particular interpretation of the Bible as a model for all government and social interaction, and it often relies on the creation of a personal religious experience to motivate people, we should also stress that it is a supremacist movement at its core. Any concept of religious pluralism, a government independent of religious belief, or the diversity of opinion regarding matters of personal conscience is, by design, an alien concept in this movement. The entire paradigm of supremacy necessitates that there be enemies to overcome, thus the fact that much of the rhetoric of Biblical America involves the selection and naming of enemies.
It's then important to consider, when dealing with a few seemingly independent individuals who have selected targets for protest or legal action, that such individuals are moved to action as a result of what is taught through such organizations, and through their media. To name one such example, they didn't just wake up one day and decide to show up at a bookstore and begin tearing up a book they found offensive. They in fact learned about that target because it was named in their media as an immediate threat, after years of being told that they live in a world full of people who are a threat simply because they don't agree with them, and act accordingly.
It is this black and white thinking - we call it a "symmetrical worldview" - that underlies the outlook of Biblical America. Unfortunately this habit provides little possibility of conflict resolution through negotiation, because their worldview presupposes that they must always fight enemies, even if they must be enemies that they must create of their own imagination.
The following article was published in the December 1997 issue of the Body Politic, and has not been changed or edited.
The recent Promise Keeper rally in Washington, DC may well have been the single largest religious indoctrination session in history. For six hours, in the hot sun and often fasting, men were broken down completely and then given explicit obedience instructions. They may have been instructions to follow God's word, but those of us who bother to think through such things know that God's word is delivered only by religious leaders.
While this mass event is met with some anxiety by many Americans, there has been very little credible criticism of the Promise Keepers in our media. The dissenting voices that do appear seem to be completely out of touch with the statements of PK wives and spokesmen, and images from the rally itself.
We see NOW leaders saying that PK is bad for women, while PK wives only insist that it's good for them. We see images of topless lesbians, another extreme image that gets airplay but doesn't make people think. And no voices are heard explaining why PK is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg - that these mass rallies are indicative of a larger mass movement or subculture whose presence is, with increasing force, gradually intruding on the everyday life of almost everyone.
At the climax of the Washington rally, we witnessed men coming to their feet, as if for the national anthem, for the performance of "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb." This moment is a perfect example of the politics of the Promise Keepers: explicit political messages are unnecessary when the only message of PK is that of a particular brand of Christian faith that pervades every imaginable aspect of life, including politics, and that becomes a constant, guiding focus of each participant's life.
PK is not overtly political, and it need not ever be so. What it is instead is an insidious means of changing our culture, by offering a whole package of values, some of them extreme, in a candy-coating that is too attractive and wholesome to criticize. Along with its allies, PK may initiate a very basic shift in American culture which will be felt far beyond the political sphere.
A "Biblical America" driven by inner experience
For the past few months, we've been attending a number of compulsory pregnancy advocate events and conferences along with the Promise Keeper rally in Washington. We've studied the websites of the "Christian Right" and piles of anti-abortion material, and we've been having considerable difficulty finding words to classify and describe the nature of this movement. We think that part of the problem is that we find ourselves in a kind of 'linguistic quicksand;' that the terms of debate, and even the basic terms for American values, such as 'liberty' and 'democracy' are slowly shifting in meaning, or are loaded terms when used by those inside the movement.
Often groups and individuals have been labeled as parts of the "Christian Right." We feel that this term implies political action; since the movement is not fundamentally political, but cultural, we've discarded this term. 'Right' and 'left' also lose their meaning, as we sometimes see the traditional 'left' support measures that spring from this movement, along with Democratic candidates that support the positions normally associated with the "Christian Right."
We could label this campaign a "Christian Reconstructionist" movement. This term only makes sense to those inside their group; in fact, there is nothing to 'reconstruct.' We don't feel comfortable with adopting their 'loaded language' - here, loaded with a particular version of history that is of their own making.
It's for these reasons that we've begun using the term 'Biblical America' to define this cultural movement; fundamentally, it's a movement that ultimately views "God's law" as supreme and secular government, institutions and people subservient or targeted for eventual destruction. Movement participants may appear to be motivated by some version of Bible teaching; in fact, the prime motivator for many participants is a carefully created and manipulated individual and personal experience, created and instilled under the careful guidance of their leadership.
Each participating individual will cite their conversion, being "born again," and their subsequent personal experiences of "Jesus" as justification and foundation for everything that comes after. Here, this particular strain of Christianity shares a key trait with Eastern religious movements, with the "New Age" that these Christians would find abhorrent - that ones' inner experiences (that could well be called delusional) are both motivation for action, and under some circumstances, inner experience or prayer causes events in the material world. This movement is thus dangerously narcissistic in nature. Participating individuals have been conditioned to rely upon their "hearts" before taking action, rather than carefully and rationally considering the true effect they may have upon others and society.
This inner experience is developed and strengthened through the discipling process, in a one-on-one or small group. This is why the PK small-group model, implemented on a large scale, may be particularly dangerous. Reading from the PK web site, it's clear that though the small groups may be advertised as a means to develop good moral character, it is the reinforcement of an inner experience that is the true goal:
In a small group, men are able to relate to each other on a personal level, supporting, encouraging and holding each other accountable. However, mens small groups are not the ultimate goal of Promise Keepers. The purpose of the small group, and indeed the purpose of Promise Keepers is to draw men closer in relationship to Jesus Christ. Promise Keepers stadium events are meant as a catalyst to motivate men to pursue spiritual growth.
"Go and make disciples of all nations"
Many discipling groups have no other goals other than their own perpetuation, and often, the enrichment of their leader. It's clear that the Biblical America movement, in contrast, clearly aims to eventually transform society and government, asserting that "God's law" will supercede any law of man. PK leaders couch this goal in softer terms such as "spiritual revival" and the above quote from Matthew 28.
The deeper you go into this movement, the more explicit are the calls for the assertion of "God's law," and on occasion, civil war to that end. It's clear that the usual democratic methods are considered to be insufficent. Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue, recently put it this way at the American Life League conference:
And we will win. We are not looking for a place at the enemy's table where we can negotiate with him. We are looking to kick the table over in the name of Jesus Christ and take over!
We also heard Star Parker at the same conference:
... we are not going to let up until we see a constitutional amendment to end abortion <applause> ... it'll be that way or it'll be a war.
Many would consider the idea of a theocratic movement coming to take real power in the United States to be very farfetched. We have reason to believe that the Biblical America movement has already gained substantial power, and that, should PK and other groups continue to grow unopposed, we will eventually find that Biblical America will demand submission from everyone who doesn't share their particular goals.
Previous waves of this movement - the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition - created an infrastructure for church-based organizing. This infrastructure, now under the direction of the Promise Keepers, is now directed toward social and cultural influence, changing the meanings of our words and icons through propaganda and indoctrination. It is through this process that a foundation for theocracy, by reforming our culture, will be laid.
As an analogy, consider PK the act of changing the computer's hardware, while politics is the computer's software. Current hardware is not capable of running Christian-based theocratic fascism. Should PK pull off the reforming of American culture that they seek, they may well replace the hardware of American culture with a system that will support a fascist regime.
"Under the radar" - Claiming language, icons and spaces
Democracy, pluralism, religious diversity, and the idea that people were free and had rights even if they disagreed with us, were values that this nation shared in the face of the Communist totalitarians. Our shared icons, in the form of the U.S. flag, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the monuments to our past leaders in Washington, were visible symbols of those values.
Perhaps because the free world no longer has one large threatening enemy to fear, while we live comfortably and enjoy an abundance of leisure time, it becomes easier for leaders of such movements to manufacture personal and social anxiety for their own ends. The leaders of this movement attempt to rewrite history and insist that this nation has become something different than its "founders" intended, and that all our social ills - many of which have been around in some form for decades if not centuries - are the result.
This may be why we see the leaders of the Biblical America movement rewriting history, claiming that some nebulous group dubbed the "Founding Fathers" were all Christian and intended the United States to be a Christian nation. The meanings begin to shift: "America" becomes a Christian ideal, not a secular nation; "Liberty" is redefined to give Christian religious practice a special place in public life; and "Freedom" doesn't exist unless one is free from the "bondage of sin."
When the Promise Keepers came to Washington, and arrived on the Mall, many of them looked around and saw things that we don't. To them, Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson were all devout Christians, and their monuments are shrines to their Christian faith. The National Archives houses the Declaration of Independence, which they see as a declaration of faith in God. They look to the Supreme Court and see, not a branch of our government, but the place where prayer and the Ten Commandments were removed from schools, and where abortion was made legal.
The Promise Keepers didn't just have a large rally in Washington; they came here to establish their church in a place ringed with monuments to people they are painting as Christian saints. They were here to take that space, those symbols, for themselves, excluding all others if not targeting them for intensive conversion.
Creating cultural isolation and control methods
Leaders of the Biblical America movement regularly organize boycotts against particular companies and media outlets, often claiming to be pressuring the media to drop programs that they find offensive. They try to pressure libraries to pull books, they pressure bookstores not to sell certain books, and in the case of Disney, they claim to be fighting against a broad "attack on America's families."
We are of the opinion that these boycotts and other actions are not intended to change the practices of their targets, as those who would participate are already seldom if ever buying these products. Their true purpose is to instill in the movement's followers a distrust and avoidance of secular media, along with a justification for the creation of their own alternative media.
On occasion, their true purpose is rather explicit. Recently, Chuck Colson, on his BreakPoint radio program, concluded a long diatribe claiming that the "Power Rangers" were an example of anti-Christian Buddhist influences, with an exhortation to watch Christian videotapes instead.
In past years such cultural isolation would have been impossible unless one renounced most if not all media. Over the past 20 years, cheap communications bandwidth has made it possible for religious electronic media to become ubiquitous, both through the acquisition of broadcast stations and through new satellite technologies.
The Internet also provides a means of transmitting print media that often replaces the daily newspaper; Christian Internet provider DIDAX Inc., a 'partner' of the Family Research Council and Promise Keepers, produces the "Christian Community Network," a daily online newspaper service. Parts of this service - particularly the movie reviews - make it clear that fostering suspicion and avoidance of secular media is part of their mission.
One example of how the Biblical America movement has already gained significant influence over American culture is exemplified by the slow legitimization of labeling and control of our media. The recording industry gave in to demands that "parental advisory" labels be placed on "offensive" music; today, at Congressional hearings, politicians of both parties consider whether stronger action to limit the expression of artists such as Marilyn Manson is necessary. A TV ratings system was put in place that was supposed to be 'voluntary;' today we learn that candidates for the FCC, from both parties, would actually consider license revocation for broadcasters who don't comply with the system.
We are also going to get to pay for more of these controls, by way of the V-chip to be added to every television receiver. A ratings system will then have become part of the infrastructure of our communications system; once the hardware is in place, a ratings system becomes a permanent part of the American cultural landscape.
Given that overt methods of media control, such as the Communications Decency Act, are usually still unsuccessful, we would argue that these allegedly "voluntary" methods of control, labeling, and classification are part of a long-term strategy to legitimize these methods as an acceptable extension of governmental control into our culture, as it would be under a theocratic system. They set a precedent, based on fear; that the content of our media are potentially so irreparably harmful that rigid classification and control prior to broadcast are necessary and a good thing. Again, suspicion and fear of the secular media are a driving force.
These methods of control and labeling are generally sold to the American public in the name of 'protecting children' in some way. We find, however, that the leaders of this movement are not trying to protect their children from influences that are clearly harmful, nor are the protections exclusively aimed at children. The true goals are to insure that they and their children are seldom if ever exposed to images or ideas that challenge the doctrines of the Biblical America movement, and to insure that both adults and children are given constant reinforcement of their beliefs through alternatives to secular media.
Growing a movement: coercion, conversion and birth
Much of the growth of the Biblical America movment may be attributed to the high birthrate of its members. But it's not just a high birthrate that grows their movement. Their children are seldom thought of as freethinking individuals; they're considered to be the 'second wave,' the means by which the movement's goals will be eventually fulfilled. We watch the current leaders of the movement expressing guilt and failure, regretting they were unsuccessful in, for instance, stopping abortion; they direct this guilt at their children, as they look to the next generation to complete their 'battles' for them.
The type of indoctrination these kids receive may stick with them more effectively than the kinds of religious education we've seen in the past. Their upbringing isn't just suffused with religion - it's a complete cultural isolation fostered through guilt and fear, secular media avoidance, home schooling and, for some, a separate, equally isolated education system through the postgraduate level. It may be considerably more difficult for these children to step away from their completely sheltered existence and take a critical look at how the outside world actually functions, and nearly impossible for them to eventually develop a more moderate worldview.
The movement also grows through an opportunistic program of conversion, of targeting groups of stressed individuals who are often vulnerable to coercive language and methods. These methods are so common, so much a part of religious practice, that they are usually considered to be completely acceptable and often justified as theraputic or of benefit to the target. Guilt and pain, along with ethically ambiguous issues such as euthanasia and abortion, are used as wedges to break the individual to begin the process of conversion. The methods used differ little from the thought-reform methods used by groups identified from both the Christian and secular viewpoints to be destructive cults.
We note that key figures of the Biblical America movement, particularly Chuck Colson, are promoters of prison ministry. Few groups may be more vulnerable to this kind of recruitment than prisoners who can't easily walk away from it, and that in some cases may be actively coerced into religious participation, particularly when religious groups may provide additional social opportunities or improved conditions. We note, as one possible indicator of growing acceptability for this kind of program, that Colson's organization is now running its Christian prison program in one whole unit of a Texas prison.
Attacks on the welfare system from the leaders of this movement almost always assert that Christian organizations could do a better job of helping the needy. Again we see an eagerness on the part of these leaders to be granted easy access to a population of stressed individuals on a large scale, and we question whether the true goal of such a program would be aid, conversion, or at least, to obtain acceptance and support of their agendas from those that they help.
Much of compulsory pregnancy advocacy centers on 'sidewalk counseling,' again targeting women who are particularly vulnerable. While it may appear that the focus of such counselors is on preventing abortion, it is clear from the presentations about sidewalk counseling given at conferences that the true goal is always conversion. One successful intrusion can gain two converts - the mother and her eventual child that she will inevitably bear after conversion. It's clear from hearing descriptions of the process that this counseling isn't motivated by concern for either mother or child, only by the necessity of directing the woman into their process of indoctrination that will result in eventual dependence or adoption.
While it may be true that sidewalk counseling is almost always a failure when seen from the outside, from the inside a few occasional successes are sufficient to both grow their numbers and provide women who will evangelize about how they were coerced into avoiding abortion; of course it will always be phrased as having been done for their own good. The complusory pregnancy wing seems also particularly adept at targeting 'trophies' for conversion who serve as icons, both for reinforcing the groups' own beliefs and commitment, and as examples to be used in future propaganda. Women who have had, or who were at one time considering abortion, serve this purpose, as well as providers who were successfully targeted for conversion, sometimes through many years of pressure and intimidation, finally giving in when they were most vulnerable.
Perhaps the most high-profile example of this process would be the long-term targeting and eventual conversion of Norma McCorvey.
Legitimizing vigilante action by religious leaders
In many ways we consider the compulsory pregnancy movement to be a laboratory, where the Biblical America movement tests new methods that will eventually be used against other targets. There is a process of attempted legitimization of certain behaviors on the part of people motivated by religion, often under the guise of freedom of speech, assembly or religion.
We question whether any activity - even that often characterized as "peaceful, prayerful" - in front of a clinic is ever benign. We see the statements of their leaders, and the training given to sidewalk counselors, to be oriented exclusively toward the coercion of each individual approaching a clinic towards their eventual conversion. Each person tranced-out in private prayer on the sidewalk is there in support of this effort, every one of them adding to the pressure simply through their mute presence. There is never simple speech in this environment about competing options to abortion - we would argue that any woman approaching a clinic already knows what those are - only an obsession with a one-on-one opportunity to coerce an individual not to enter the door. While these activities have always been technically legal, years of them having been unopposed by community and religious leaders - and even encouraged outright - has them socially acceptable. The practice of coercion of vulnerable individuals thus becomes further legitimized in society.
The blockading of clinic doors is clearly illegal; we find that again, because these activities are seen by some as political or religious in nature, and not as blatant aggression against legitimate business, they are tolerated or treated gently by law enforcement. We see this instead as a corrosive legitimization of the vigilante tactics that would become commonplace in a functioning theocracy; keep in mind that the enforcement of religious law under such a system is often the responsibility of groups led by religious leaders and not representatives of the state.
Today we're beginning to see current and former leaders of the compulsory pregnancy movement entering bookstores and destroying property. The tactics developed in front of clinics are now transferred to other businesses. We now ask, will the same individuals now be treated more harshly because they're trespassing on the property of a different business, or will they, having legitimized their methods in the name of religion or free speech, again be treated with kid gloves? Will the religion-based protest continue to be treated as a special case?
Resisting 'Biblical America'
We are witnessing the rise of a huge movement completely 'under the radar' of our secular media and news organizations that will eventually transform American culture and society - even if it remains only a minority. It has already demonstrated that it need not obtain the consent of the people, operating almost in contempt of democracy and government, while it gains great influence. It will continue to do so unless it is opposed by new methods. Politics as usual cannot be relied upon to moderate this influence, as the cultural changes in progress will eventually transform the politics of both major parties.
The most important immediate action, we feel, is to identify and coalesce one single 'front' of conflict between the rising Biblical America and those of us that oppose it. Their movement certainly identifies the oneness of its 'body of Christ,' working on all fronts against reproductive rights, gays, lesbians, free expression and a government based upon secular values.
We are not proposing a coalition, but rather, a process of individual self-identification of an unwillingness to submit to the will of those who insist that their particular interpretation of the Bible must take precedence over our lifestyles, choices and culture. They can all identify as Christian; we should all be able to identify, despite our particular interests and concerns, as part of one all-encompassing group that will never surrender, individually or collectively, to Biblical America.
The coercive behavior, and the targeting of vulnerable people for conversion, must be exposed for what it is - a cold, mechanical means of growing their group which is in no way based upon true concern for each individual. These practices should be socially unacceptable in any context - whether in public schools, in the workplace, in prisons, in the public square, or in front of clinics.
Once the coercive tactics used are exposed to the public for what they are, an educational process may begin that can help individuals that may be targeted for conversion, such as clinic workers and college students, with the tools to identify when such tactics are being used on them, and how to respond. Popularizing the idea that submitting to coercion to join a group, or change one's important personal decisions, particularly when feeling needy or off-balance, is seldom wise, may undercut the movement's recruitment efforts.
Other programs should be directed toward the members of the movement, and their families. We're convinced that the families of the most fanatically committed compulsory pregnancy activists, who have given up posessions and who seem almost addicted to the process of blockading clinics and getting arrested, are victims of their activism. Support groups for family members who recognize that this behavior is unhealthy and destructive, and for those who wish to walk away from the group but feel they cannot, may provide a path for some to exit the group. Similar efforts could help young adults who have known nothing but a sheltered, homeschooled life and who may be developing doubts about the beliefs that they've held since childhood.
On the political level, it must be recognized that Biblical America knows no compromise, and that any compromise will not end the battle for them but, as they see it, only bring them closer to their eventual goal. Voluntary programs that they propose will erode into government-mandated programs, and any regulation that they propose in the fields of human reproduction, media, and sexuality will only prime the system for more restrictive controls in the future.
Finally, we must strongly oppose all efforts to provide, through precedent or legislation, exemption from justice and law based upon religious belief. Likewise, we must strive for a climate where no business need tolerate constant coercive activity on its doorstep in the name of religion.
Mike Doughney is a recovering Internet entrepreneur; Lauren Sabina Kneisly is a recovering activist. Both live in the Washington DC area, and operate an Internet website, "Biblical America Resistance Front," at http://www.barf.org.
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