Iowa activist Jody Ripper caught "fight the right fever" when she discovered the dangers posed by religious political extremists. Ripper pulled out all stops and took on the radical right single-handedly.
Ripper is president of The Northhaven Company, a public relations firm she started in 1988. As a result of Ripper's social activism, The Northhaven Company has broadened its scope to include political consulting and tracking political and social movements. Ripper makes presentations, conducts workshops, and facilitates discussion groups related to radical right movements.
Born in Iowa, Jody Ripper graduated from an Episcopal high school, and earned an MBA at the University of Iowa. In 1991, Ripper heard about a movement to eliminate public housing. As an inquisitive person, she began researching this rumor. This led her to the Iowa Republican Party.
"The Republican Party in Iowa had been moderate for years," Ripper told Freedom Writer. "But then the Christian Coalition came along."
She attended the party's caucuses in February 1992 and was elected to be a delegate to the district and state caucuses. She soon learned that the proposed party platform was written by the Christian Coalition and its allies.
"The platform shocked me," Ripper said. "I was horrified; it was not a platform that was written by agreement, committee or negotiation; it had the earmarks of history's totalitarian regimes.
"The party planks were discriminatory and represented oppression of the rights and liberties of women, minorities, and children."
The platform, for instance, supported corporal punishment in schools and opposed "homosexual rights and lifestyles, alternative value systems, animal rights, secular humanism, political correctness, New Age concepts, and situational ethics."
Ripper said that the Iowa Republican platform contained about 250 planks. "They were calling for elimination of all cooperative global organizations, such as the UN and the World Monetary Fund. I was upset across the board, but especially by the human rights and education issues. The most vulnerable in our society were being punished without committing a crime." Ripper describes herself as antiabortion, but believes that it is a woman's choice whether or not to have an abortion. She favors and promotes research on fetal transfer. "This way," she said, "the fetus can be born into a healthy environment."
Ripper, a lifelong Presbyterian, told Freedom Writer, "A great deal of my convictions are based upon my religious belief system, my fundamental faith. The Christian Coalition doctrine, to me, wasn't Christian. In fact, I saw in the movement a threat to Christianity on the horizon. It could damage or even ultimately destroy Christianity. They were using democracy to destroy democracy. They have a convert or convict mentality. If, for example, a mother has a child out of wedlock, that action alone would prevent her from receiving funds. Either repent and marry, or suffer the consequences, both financially and politically."
Immediately after the Iowa Republican caucuses, Ripper began researching the religious political extremists groups that appeared to be taking over the party. She started her research at the Planned Parenthood library in Des Moines. The media was also there, because Pioneer Hybrid International, Inc., under pressure from antiabortion groups, had withdrawn its funding for Planned Parenthood's rural clinics. "The irony is," Ripper said, "that no entity does more in Iowa to prevent abortion than Planned Parenthood. In fact, 97% of Planned Parenthood's services in Iowa are for things other than abortion."
Her next step was to form three task forces comprised of moderate Republicans, Democrats, religious leaders, and educators. One group, Islands for Democracy, consisted of 150 leaders from 60 organizations. This group eventually became The Democracy Network, and recently became the Iowa Interfaith Alliance.
In 1992, Jody Ripper worked unsuccessfully to help pass the Iowa Equal Rights Amendment. It was during this campaign that Pat Robertson's now infamous quote emerged: "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, antifamily political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."
"My involvement had such a profound impact on me," Ripper said, "that it changed my life."
By now, Ripper was networking and sharing her research with activists around the country. She began meeting with religious leaders, and appeared on local television talking about the Religious Right.
Her research at the time was focused on Christian Reconstructionism and dominion theology, movements that are trying bring all society under the dominion of the Bible.
In spite of the efforts of Ripper and many other activists, the Radical Religious Right maintains the upper hand in Iowa politics. "Without question," Ripper told Freedom Writer, "the Christian Coalition and its allies control the Republican Party in Iowa. One hundred percent of the delegates to the San Diego convention were from this group."
"They so closely control it," she said, "that they didn't allow our former five-term governor, Bob Ray, and Mary Louise Smith, who served for 20 years on the Republican National Committee, to go as delegates to San Diego. Instead, the fifty-member delegation was made up of people like Bill Horn, the antigay activist who moved to Iowa two years ago."
She feels it is important to build up groups that promote pluralism and democracy, such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State and The Interfaith Alliance. Jody is actively working with both groups, and helped Americans United set up its first chapter in Iowa in 1994.
"Our generation fell down on the job," Ripper said. "We took it for granted that things were okay. The mainstream was totally unaware of the groups rising on the far right."
Ripper feels that far right volunteers seem to commit more time to their issues than do moderates or liberals. Also, "believing in equal rights, we hesitated to criticize other's belief systems."
Today, Ripper says she is keeping her "ear to the ground, listening, and trying to remain flexible. I'm continuing my research...observing where the right wing is going."
"Importantly, I believe in talking to the right wing followers to help them understand where their movement is going. I don't believe in preaching to the choir."
When asked where the movement is going, Ripper replied, "Capitalists are headed toward a collision with religious activists, and dominion theology is engaging in a battle with liberal Christianity. They are going beyond theocracy, to a thearchy. That means that individuals see themselves empowered by God to rule like God on earth. They think they're given the power to judge what's in someone's thoughts and deeds. Christian Reconstructionism is new; they believe that they are the first in history to get it right, that, until now, everyone else has interpreted the Bible incorrectly."
Based on her on experience, Ripper offered her wisdom for other activists. "First, we have to take a hard look at our personal belief system. What we are really committed to? What is our purpose on earth? What are the responsibilities and duties we have to ourselves, our families, our communities, the world?"
"Challenging the radical right can be a very stressful experience, so build a support network with your family, friends, colleagues, clergy, and/or professionals."
Ripper has also learned that it is important to be open to new ideas and to be a good listener. "Do your best to understand what others are saying and what they mean."
"Harsh criticism can be very hurtful," she added. "If you lose your temper, pause, concentrate on your purpose, your goal, to bring you back to a balanced frame of mind."
Ripper, who calls herself a "radical moderate," says that "we are all children of God, we're all here for a reason, but we have free will to do what we want."
Jody Ripper can be reached at (515) 222-4478, or firstname.lastname@example.org.