Family, Faith, & Freedom: To Protect the Children
Tony Perkins established the main frame of the event, using scare tactics when he said, “we are facing threats from within and from without.”~32 Against these threats conference organizers promoted a variety of ideas under the event slogan: “Family, Faith, & Freedom.” Although these three values seem benign, the framing strategy constructed by the FRC painted a dire picture in which same sex marriage and abortion are threatening America from within, while terrorism is threatening the family from without—a frame that points to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, while leaping over criticism over the war in Iraq, other specific military interventions and the economy.
Here is how it works:
Family is most important societal unit, sanctioned by God, limited to “traditional” heterosexual forms and designed for the procreation and protection of children.
Faith guides our lives, and defines our politics.
Freedom requires eternal vigilance and support for the war on terror.
Let’s review what specific speakers actually said, and what they implied. The two main thematic areas we will dissect are domestic, primarily gay rights but also abortion; and foreign policy, centered on the 9/11 terrorist attacks and “Islamic fascism.” ~33 We’ll examine the messages, frames, and their subtexts, to understand what resonates for supporters of these groups and, potentially, other “values voters.”
Families At Risk
Echoing many at the Summit, George Allen (R-VA), running in a close race to maintain his Senate seat, said, “The most important institution in our society is the family.” Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced that the “culture of America is under attack” by same sex marriage.~34 According to Romney:
Now my state’s Supreme Judicial Court, about a year ago, struck a blow against that family unit, in my view. It said that our Constitution, written long ago by John Adams, requires people of the same gender to marry.
Every child has a right to have a mother and a father....the impact on children will be felt not just in a day or two or a year or two but over generations as we think about the development and nurturing of children.
And as a way to explain his exclusive support of heterosexual marriage Tony Perkins said, “Marriage gets benefits because it benefits society.”
According to these speakers, same sex marriage is the major threat to the institution of the family. Gay men and lesbians threaten the family by raising children in homes without both a mother and a father. Gay adoptions and foster care are also unacceptable. “The ultimate child abuse is placing a child in a gay home,” said Jennifer Giroux of Citizens for Community Values. Tony Perkins observed, “There’s nothing in American politics today that brings people together than [sic] the defense of marriage.”
Some speakers implied that just being gay is an insult to people with values and is the embodiment of evil. Two African-American pastors spoke about their views on homosexuality. Startling statements came from the Rev. Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. “I believe it’s from the pit of hell itself that this movement is inspired, that it has a satanic anointment,” said McKissic.~35 Citing a passage from the Book of Daniel which states that the anti-Christ will have no desire for a woman, he asked rhetorically, “Could it be that the antichrist himself may be homosexual?” Linking his tirade to defense of the Christian family, McKissic told the crowd, “I don’t think there is any issue more important than how we are going to define the family.” He said that television shows portraying homosexuality in a positive light have put us “on the road to Sodom and Gomorrah,” and “God’s got another match…He didn’t run out of matches.”36
Bishop Wellington Boone, from Norcross, GA, equated being gay with being weak on values: “Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don’t stand strong on principle, we call them ‘faggots.’ We say you sissified out. You a sissy. That means you don’t stand up for principles. God hadn’t called us to be sissies, we’re called upon to stand up, called up on a principled level.”~37 Standing for the traditional family is supporting Christian values.
The Summit maintained a much stronger focus on same sex marriage than it did on another topic that conservatives often cite as a threat to the family: abortion. Surprisingly, speakers did not often refer to abortion as a direct reason for voting. Instead they used it as way to talk about other issues, such as the opportunity for evangelism or their dissatisfaction with activist judges.
Georgette Forney, “abortion recovery” advocate, spoke about the Silent No More awareness campaign, which encourages women who regret having had abortions to speak out. She praised the many types of recovery programs as chance to practice evangelism, noting that they are all Christian based. “It is the opportunity to reach out and find people who are out there and don’t know of God’s love and meet them where they are in their pain,” she said.
When right wing pundit Ann Coulter referenced abortion, she implied that the killing of seven reproductive health providers was a restrained response to court rulings unfavorable to anti-abortion activists:
For two decades after Roe, no abortion clinic doctors were killed. But immediately after Planned Parenthood v. Casey, after working within the system did not work, produced no results…for the first time an abortion doctor was killed. A few more abortion clinic workers were killed in the next few years. I’m not justifying it, but I understand when you take democracy away from people, some of them will react violently. The total number of deaths attributable to Roe were seven abortion clinic workers and 40 million unborn babies.~38
These critiques of abortion were met politely but without the enthusiasm and energy the anti-gay comments were able to generate.
Faith Under Fire
A common theme of the conference was the centrality of Christian values in American culture. “Christians create a core of conviction in this society,” said Tony Snow, White House press secretary.
According to many speakers the ability to practice one’s religion in the United States is being threatened by secularist movements. Panelists and a special exhibit booth addressed the alleged “War on Christmas,” which refers to disputes over the boundaries of bringing the religious aspects of the holiday into the classroom and shopping mall. References to IRS examinations of church political practices and other enforcements of the separation of church and state were seen as attempts to limit religious expression.
Judging from the strength of the attendees’ applause, many felt their ability to express their faith in everyday life was being threatened by secular forces. They were, therefore, appreciative of speakers who acknowledged their faith and its link to political power.
Bishop Wellington Boone asked, “How can someone who doesn’t feel a need for God lead me?” It is the Christian’s duty to participate in the democratic process. When Mike Pence (R-IN) reminded the audience that “God placed the miracle of democracy on these shores,” he asked the audience to translate “timeless principles into timely action” by voting.
Freedom at Risk
At the Values Voters Summit, defending freedom meant supporting the war on terror. Overlooking the enormous problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, speakers encouraged the crowd to rally against a common enemy, terrorists, wherever they are found. In an astonishing declaration that provoked loud applause, author and radio host William Bennett said, “When four Americans are burned, torched, stomped on, and hung and the city cheers, you take out the city. You level Fallujah.” He suggested the country’s leadership has sometimes been too tentative. “The discussion that is taking place, it is culturally weak…. We are probably going to have to talk more about the more we have to do to win this third world war. These should be the terms of discussion…. You’re either on offense or you’re on defense. And right now, the good guys are too much on defense.” Quoting Alexander Hamilton, Bennett said, “When the government and the military appear anywhere in the world, they should appear like Hercules…. America, along with the rest of civilization, in this war, is our mission.”~39
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said of George W. Bush “When it comes to the war on terror, he gets it.”~40 Dobson told the crowd that they should face the fact that millions of Muslims want to kill Americans.41 “When the point of negotiation is that the other person wants to kill you, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. We’re in a war, and it’s time that we recognized it.”42 According to a report in Agape Press, Wildmon’s news outlet, in a neat linkage of freedom to family, “Dobson said he views the war on terror as a family issue because without security for today’s children and those in future generations, there is no future for the family.”43
Gary Bauer, president of American Values and leader of Americans United to Preserve Marriage, described how passengers of United Flight 93 heroically ran toward the cockpit on 9/11. As a way to protect our freedoms he reminded the audience, “All you have to do is run to the voting booth.”~44 Agape Press reports that Bauer suggested that “the left-wing appears to hate conservatives and George W. Bush more than they hate al Qaida [sic], the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden.”45
Ann Coulter picked up on this theme, suggesting that “the Democrats hate George Bush because he is fighting the war on terrorism.” Tony Perkins linked liberal evildoers with Islamic militants.~46
This linkage of liberalism with a failure to confront terrorism is effective. Cass R. Sunstein in the New Republic points out that “by stoking fear, Republicans gain an edge over Democrats.” Sunstein reports:
The London air terrorist plot has touched off endless debate, much of it centering on politics: Will it help Republicans or Democrats in 2006 and beyond? Republicans say that national security is a winning issue for them; Democrats say the same thing. Social science evidence strongly suggests that the Republicans are right, because the politics of terrorism touches a chord that produces much more support for them than for Democrats: our own mortality. A crucial question is whether Democrats will be able to change the underlying dynamics.~47
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