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The Public Eye, Fall 2009
Pam Chamberlain is a Public Eye editorial board member and senior researcher at Political Research Associates.
Exactly two months before abortion provider George Tiller was assassinated in the foyer of his church in Wichita, Kansas, Janice Shaw Crouse lent her voice to the chorus of pundits criticizing Tiller’s unwavering support for women who sought his services. In a column published by the right-wing site Town Hall, Crouse is unsparing in denouncing not only Tiller for his “barbaric slaughter,” but also the women who use his services.
So Tiller takes upon himself the role of God and condemns to death any innocent child whose mother chooses to label it “unwanted.” Then he executes them. 
To Crouse, both doctor and patient are murderers, both stepped outside their special roles as healer and nurturer, and both deserve to be attacked. The harsh column is quintessential Crouse: she chooses her words carefully, but not cautiously.
Janice Crouse, 68, is the Zelig of socially conservative spokespeople, popping up on the central battlefields of the Religious Right over the past 20 years. First you will find her attacking the United Methodist Women as a virtual communist front on behalf of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), a notorious right-wing organization challenging the liberalism of mainline Protestant churches. Then you will find her challenging liberals in the halls of the United Nations. Now she is the director of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based think tank of the Christian women’s organization Concerned Women for America (CWA), which claims half a million members. A communications specialist – she holds a Ph.D. in the field – Crouse enjoys the considerable support of the conservative press and is able to test soundbites and political arguments on their websites and in their pages. But while Beverly LaHaye, the founder of CWA for whom her think tank is named, focuses almost exclusively on reaching conservative Christian women in the United States, Crouse goes out into the broader world, spreading her message through mainstream television.
Conservative pundits Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter are all independent commentators who push the envelope of acceptable public rhetoric. They are free-wheeling self-promoters working the power of their “brand.” Crouse’s power, by contrast, comes from her association with movement organizations in a conservative White Christian world – whether as a staff person with the IRD in the 1990s, or at the Beverly LaHaye Institute today. In that, she is similar to other female Christian Right spokespeople, including her boss Wendy Wright, the president of CWA, and her daughter Charmaine Yoest, President of Americans United for Life, whose voices are heard because of the organizations which back them.
As an organizational player, Crouse is focused not just on wordsmithing but on strategizing and devising tactics to enhance her group’s power, and diminish that of liberals and the Left, much like a leading spokeswoman of earlier years, Phyllis Schlafly. Unlike Schlafly, Crouse is not a player within the Republican Party and certainly hasn’t achieved her prominence. Yet working through the sphere of a women’s organization, she pushes the boundaries of power for a conservative Christian woman thinker.
Family and faith are the two poles of Crouse’s moral compass. The oldest of seven children, she spent her childhood in Milstead, Georgia. Both parents were of strong religious faith, and each became Methodist ministers later in their lives following study at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. In 1961, Crouse also graduated from a Methodist school, Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky, her father’s alma mater. She majored in speech and English and was a news anchor on the campus radio station. At Asbury, she met her future husband Gilbert Crouse.
Janice Crouse’s views are firmly rooted in her religious convictions, shaped by her Methodist upbringing and her solid commitment to the most conservative traditions of her church. Yet her doctoral dissertation in communications theory at State University of New York at Buffalo (1979) was on the decidedly secular topic of who won the Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford 1976 televised presidential debates. By the time she finished her degree, she had two children. 
Still, even her academic analysis of how media can help or hurt a candidate contains evidence of Crouse’s religious beliefs. She dedicated her thesis to her husband and children with poems that read as prayers to a God who has ultimate power over men and women and under whose gaze a wife gratefully finds her place in the family.
Like many conservative women, she sees feminism as an unnecessary crutch for an ambitious woman who is capable of succeeding on her own individual merits. Her own professional career began in academia, as a teacher, debate team coach, and administrator at a series of schools: Asbury, Purdue, and Ball State, where she learned to balance the competing demands of home, relationships, and work.
Her critique of feminism is also based on a belief that it is a secular solution to problems that are basically spiritual in nature. In a 2003 reminiscence of meeting Betty Friedan on Capitol Hill, she criticized the feminist for her personal shortcomings (“rude, nasty, self-serving, and imperious”) and her failure when it came to developing a lasting relationship with a man.  Contrast this snide personal attack with Beverly LaHaye’s political one, who, by her own account, founded Concerned Women for America to provide a conservative Christian response to the growing feminist movement.
On the other hand, Crouse is moved so strongly by issues she shares with feminists, domestic violence and sex trafficking, that she has become a fervent activist, lobbying on behalf of protective legislation. In this she shares the political goals of CWA as a whole. Begun as grassroots prayer circles for women, and nurtured through effective direct mail, CWA was launched in 1979 to mobilize church women to become more active in conservative political causes. With guidance from Beverly LaHaye and a group of men who recognized the value of organizing conservative women, the group has grown into an influential lobbying force in Washington. As a women’s organization, CWA recognized the need to respond to feminism as a movement and to try to attract those whom Crouse calls “mainstream.”  Occasionally this takes the form of an issue that resonates with women across a broad political spectrum, like the sexual exploitation of women.
Crouse mused in 2003 that feminism rests on a “fundamental misunderstanding of the origins of power.” Instead of mobilizing a special interest group to make demands on the structural shortcomings of the status quo, women need to see that the power they seek comes from another source, an individual relationship with God. According to Crouse, this power analysis is rooted in Judeo-Christian thought. Authentic power originates in God, not in humans, and people who believe otherwise are misguided.
In the Old Testament, God says clearly that power comes from his spirit, “not by might, nor by power.” In the New Testament, Jesus reiterates that all “power and authority” are from Him. 
Crouse often returns to this analysis of feminism, discounting it as a mistaken, “utopian” approach to social change. Instead, she promotes the purer, more individualistic solution presented by “The Strength of a Godly Woman,” a phrase that became the title of her 2001 book coauthored with Beverly LaHaye. According to this view, a deep faith in God will allow women to realize their individual sources of strength, the true center of empowerment. “People were happy to have a secular and sophisticated sounding label for their spiritual hunger, and thousands sought to fill their emptiness with feminist manna,” she said of the popularity of Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. 
In 2003 Crouse spoke before a Princeton college group called the Organization for Women Leaders (OWL) which seeks to “rewrite the definition of feminism at Princeton.” Standing at the podium, she described the intersection of conservatism and feminism as sharing noble ideals while blaming the feminist movement for modern society’s social ills. Quoting supermodel Cindy Crawford, a celebrity not known for her political views, Crouse said, “‘The word feminist has such negative connotations to me.’” Crouse continued, “[F]eminist ideals have betrayed us and produced massive damage both to women and to their children,” and then detailed the social problems she claims feminism and the sexual revolution intensified: divorce, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, and out-of-wedlock births. “Feminism has gone the wrong way, baby! Feminism is out of step with mainstream women.” 
In an attempt to attract ambitious women (like her Princeton audience) away from identifying with a progressive social change movement, she delivered her final argument: Success for women is not just a paycheck and status.
Feminism has lost sight of what it is that women REALLY want. Most women want to love and be loved. They want the freedom to be all they can be and they want to be treated with dignity and respect. They also want the opportunity to have meaningful careers and productive lives—but most aren’t willing for their ambition to harm their relationships or damage their children. 
Central to her belief that feminism is misguided is her rejection of alternative lifestyles and families in favor of traditional roles for men and women in family life. Crouse’s own life story reflects her preference for a conventional nuclear family: she came from one and she lives in one. She attributes her success in balancing home and work to her marriage to her husband Gil, a man of “integrity and character” with whom she “made a covenant to make our marriage a priority, to put each other first, and to grow together in our interests and activities.”  She is proud of their accomplishments and those of her children, and she revels in her grandchildren’s lives. This history suits her public role as a spokesperson for traditional family structures, and like feminists who bring the personal and political together, she discusses it publicly, often.
Crouse’s history as a conservative religious woman with an ability to write has stood her in good stead for finding jobs. Moving to Washington in 1991, she landed a job as a speechwriter in George H.W. Bush’s White House. By the mid-90s, she was executive director of the Ecumenical Coalition on Women and Society, a project of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).  IRD is a right-wing group founded by neoconservatives to weaken the liberal political influence of mainstream Protestant churches. Working with movements within the denominations that support conservative theology, its stated purpose is to promote spiritual renewal. But its influence has been divisive, creating schisms between progressives and conservatives in those churches, largely around culture war issues such as gay and women’s rights. Writing on behalf of IRD, Crouse authored “A Christian Woman’s Declaration,” first published in 1997, laying out a set of religious and political beliefs intended to unite conservative women across mainstream denominations to support IRD’s agenda.  It is a tactical document, aiming to dissolve denominational boundaries, and attract and mobilize women with a new evangelical-flavored sense of themselves. At the same time the declaration reveals much of the ideology that guides Crouse’s personal and political life.
As an ecumenical document, the language carefully reflects a conservative, broadly evangelical perspective for women: the authority of the Bible, the universality of sin and redemption through Christ, and the primacy of a natural, God-given order that allows men and women to unite in complementary roles through heterosexual marriage. It reflects a Christian Nationalist view of social institutions “including family, church and government” as “ordained by God.” 
But the document is unequivocal in its stance on social issues. It identifies culture battles on several fronts and asks women to pledge to respond to them as threats to democracy. They include moral relativism that denies absolute truth (a reference to secularism), the perspective that looks at social problems in terms of victims and oppressors (a reference to Marxism), the preference of individual rights over personal responsibility (especially in the realm of sexual activity) and individual autonomy at the expense of family, and pleasure-seeking and materialism as the misguided twin purposes of life.
According to the declaration, these trends dangerously feed feminism, which she defines negatively as “revolutionary” since it seeks to restructure society in ways that negate these basic ecumenical principles. “Radical feminism” has defined gender as a social construct, not a set of God-given differences, and feminists see equality as identical outcomes between men and women rather than equal opportunity. The document goes on to say that feminists portray women as victims, which exaggerates women’s suffering, and it rejects “Biblically-based faith and time-tested moral behavior” such as abstinence before marriage, monogamy, and the importance of marriage “between one man and one woman.”
Taking on Playboy
Janice Crouse’s better thinking emerges when she uses her training in media analysis, as in her June 2009 Town Hall Online contribution, “Playboy Takes on the Ladies.”  This challenge to Playboy’s tasteless web article about having sex with the top ten conservative women “hotties” fueled a campaign forcing the article’s removal. In her piece, she untangled a knot of issues around the exploitation of women and free speech and flung it back to liberals, while fiercely defending her female colleagues. And she took on the charge that right-wing pundits have incited violence, a reference to the recent criticism of the factors influencing the Tiller murder.
This latest incident is just another in a long line of insulting articles filled with “hate speech” about Conservatives that Liberals routinely churn out, while screaming about the supposed prevalence of incendiary right-wing language.
What is perhaps the most interesting part of the document is the skill with which it calls for women to resist changes within the church because they “undermine” the churches themselves. After linking theological challenges to orthodox tenets of faith with congregants’ embrace of modern social values, especially in the area of sexuality, the declaration then calls on women to “repudiate the tolerance of sinful behavior patterns” by actively speaking out in the political arena. This IRD document lays out a philosophy that would give religious strength to an ideological challenge to United Methodist Women’s (UMW) national policymaking arm, the Women’s Division, from the RENEW movement, the Methodist women’s group affiliated with IRD. That challenge remains today, as RENEW continues to question the motives, funding, and religious beliefs of the Women’s Division, and ensures gay clergy and same sex marriages find no place within the United Methodist Church. It was Crouse who set out the blueprint and the call to arms, picked up not only by RENEW but by women in the Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Episcopal churches that continues to this day.
Even though she had by then been directing CWA’s Beverly LaHaye Institute for six years, in September 2005 Crouse was still engaged enough in this battle to join a panel of RENEW women at a public discussion with United Methodist Women (UMW) leaders at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.. The format, akin to a formal debate with short presentations and rebuttals, was designed to subdue some of the rancor developed over years of struggle between the two groups. The forum likely reinforced each side’s views, but Crouse’s presentation stood out in an interchange otherwise characterized by stolid, even tempers.
The UMW’s leaders asked the question, “Do you think that conscientious Christians working to further the mission of Christ can have legitimate differences about matters of biblical interpretation and about matters of appropriate social engagements in the world?” In a prepared response, Crouse began her answer with a shot across the bow. “We cannot accept theologies that are saccharine substitutes for the hard thinking that faith requires,” she responded and then cited an Anglican, William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury. “If your conception of God is wrong,” she quoted, “the more religion you get, the more dangerous you become to yourselves and others.”  Strong feelings characterize Crouse’s opinions, and she continues to serve as a consultant to the RENEW movement.
Crouse’s views are perhaps most forcefully expressed when she writes about sex. During the debates over the content of sexuality education, which reached a peak in 2007 and 2008, she was a fierce supporter of abstinence until marriage education. When newly released figures showed a sharp decline in the pregnancy rate of 10-to-14 year olds in the United States, she wrote that the decline was due not to increased access to sexuality education and contraception, as public health officials believed, but to the success of abstinence-until-marriage teaching in the schools, an approach financially supported by the George W. Bush administration. She turns on those public health advocates as “pathetic feminists and their liberal supporters who are hell-bent on de-funding government support for teaching abstinence to the nation’s children and teens.” 
Crouse isn’t shy about using harsh language in public, and she equates liberals with all manner of misdeeds, including supporting child prostitution. Listen to her response when the host of PBS’s weekly news show NOW, David Brancaccio, asked her about possible downsides of Bush requiring international groups receiving U.S. HIV-AIDS money to pledge their opposition to prostitution and sex trafficking.
Brancaccio: Do you feel that this kind of pledge against prostitution would get in the way of condoms getting to places where maybe condoms should be used?
Crouse: Well, it definitely does get in the way of condom distribution. But the thing that I think is really important for the American public to understand is that condoms are not a solution to the problem….I’m against condoms as a solution to the problem of sexually transmitted diseases. I’m against condoms as a solution to the AIDS epidemic. I hear so many people blithely say, okay, let’s distribute condoms and we’ll cut down on the disease. We’ll make it much safer for a girl to be a prostitute. And she can choose this as an appropriate career option.
Brancaccio: You really see people, officials, promoting prostitution as some sort of legitimate career path?
Crouse: There’s no question. And there are people who passionately believe that it’s a matter of women’s rights, and this is a way to make a living, particularly for people in very poor countries where there are not a lot of options for women. 
Here Crouse reworks a defense of sex workers to seem as if everyone who supports condom use also supports prostitution for young girls.
When Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York reintroduced Prevention First, a package of moderate legislation designed to decrease unintended pregnancies in 2007, Crouse was there to respond.
There’s a utopian view that women ought to be able to have sex any time they want without consequences—that’s the bottom line of all these bills. 
While social conservatives would agree with Crouse and would find nothing untoward about her statement, supporters of Prevention First were outraged at her willingness to make categorical statements about sexual mores governing the writing of family planning legislation. As a writer of a letter to the editor at Salon.com responds to Crouse, All actions have consequences. What the Right is talking about when they say "consequences" is really PUNISHMENT. They believe that women who have sex outside of heterosexual marriage (and those who engage in homosexual sex) need to be punished because they have sinned. 
This exchange illustrates a problem that someone in Crouse’s position must encounter frequently. How do you speak about political positions on behalf of Christian conservatives to a general audience that may disagree with your religious beliefs? For someone with a background in communication theory, this must come as a particularly sensitive challenge.
At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in February 2009, Janice Crouse was a little out of her element. Although introduced as “a mentor to every conservative woman and man in Washington” by Marjorie Dennenfelser of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, Crouse was bringing her message of the renewed battles in the culture wars to a young audience seemingly more interested in reducing the size and level of government intrusion into American lives than in hearing about abortion or homosexuality. CPAC is sponsored by the American Conservative Union, a pro-business lobby supporting free market capitalism while embracing continuity and “tradition.” The conference attracts conservatives of all ages, but ACU especially encourages attendance by college students. Was the thin crowd at her panel because the culture wars rhetoric seems worn out to this audience?
Crouse began by hitting Obama hard: “His rhetoric to reject the worn out language of the past was a threat to life, free speech, religious liberty, democracy, and national sovereignty….Shrewdly and shamelessly he has used the financial crisis to provide cover as he takes territory… His two causes are women’s issues and the radical leftist cause.” She covered the most salient issues of the Christian Right in a few short minutes: abstinence education and welfare reform; the Fairness Doctrine (which would “decimate” Christian radio – “There go our opinion leaders off the dial!”); the United Nations; hate speech. “The unrelenting efforts to bulldoze Judeo-Christian values from the public square will be increasingly more blatant under the Obama administration,” she asserted. Using the Oscars award ceremony as an emblem of American depravity, she decried:
The whole evening was an insult to mainstream American values. Sean Penn spent his few minutes of fame shaming Americans who are opposed to homosexual marriage. And the Best Actress Award went to Kate Winslet who played a Nazi pedophile! 
Avoiding obvious references to specific Christian thought, Crouse is left with rhetoric that resonates with many social conservatives but sounds shrill and desperate to secular ears. For this speech she garnered polite applause from the sparse audience.
Navigating the boundaries between Christian conservatives and the outside world moved Crouse beyond punditry and manifestos to policy. In her first major political role, she coordinated the presence of IRD’s Ecumenical Council for Women and Society at the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. By 2002, the Bush administration appointed her as an official U.S. delegate to U.N. meetings such as the 2002 Children’s Summit and the 2003 meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Representing CWA at other U.N. meetings that deal with children and women, she has made a name for herself among conservatives as a shrewd strategist and among liberals as a tireless opponent. Crouse has exercised perhaps even greater influence at the United Nations than in the Methodist Church.
Her work at the United Nations has included efforts to block the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW. She claims that it defines discrimination too broadly and creates an opening for a new drive for the ratification in the United States of the Equal Rights Amendment. To Crouse and her allies, the United Nations robs America of national sovereignty on women’s issues, since its treaties would challenge existing laws in the United States. She testified before Congress that, “Abortion is the driving force behind the CEDAW treaty.”  For similar reasons she opposes liberal control of the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meetings, a body which has as its core goal the promotion of gender equality in the home, the workplace, and in public life. Should a liberal view prevail based on these concepts, she has warned, “These issues coalesce into demands for universal abortion rights and an insistence of the rights of the child to the neglect of parental responsibilities.” 
Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly, two powerful conservative women of an earlier generation, differ from Crouse in their assessment of global power dynamics and have a broader analysis of the United Nations, seeing it as a threat to U.S. sovereignty and an attempt to weaken U.S. global influence. Crouse, on the other hand, chooses to focus exclusively on the moral issues of international bodies having the power to legislate secular values, such as full reproductive rights for all women.
Charlotte Bunch, senior scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers, suggests Crouse’s work “attacking reproductive rights is convenient because it also delivers for the right wing” wanting to weaken the U.N. in their pursuit of militarist foreign policy and global capitalism.  In this, Crouse’s work for CWA in the United Nations parallels her IRD work in disrupting mainline denominations. But at the U.N. she and other conservative delegates give the Christian Right a sense of empowerment on a global scale, while they, consciously or not, contribute to the overall lessening of U.N. influence.
Indeed, tactics used by the opposition at the U.N. look surprisingly similar to how the IRD functions within mainline church denominations. Dissenting church members or vocal NGO representatives acting divisively within their organizations can hinder, or at least slow progress, even though a majority of the organization has found agreement on the issues at hand. Crouse’s active involvement in both arenas, encouraging the adherence to traditional, conservative Christian values while blocking resolution to issues affecting women and girls may be her greatest legacy.
Crouse promotes an active international alliance with conservatives outside the U.N. as well. This year Crouse secured CWA’s cosponsorship of the August 2009 World Congress of Families, which brings together conservative activists every few years to promote the so-called “Natural Family,” a phrase popularized by the conservative thinker Allan Carlson. Her relationship with Carlson, a former Heritage Foundation scholar now leading a think tank called the Howard Center, goes back many years. When his book, The Natural Family: A Manifesto, was published in 2005, Crouse, together with representatives of the Heritage Foundation, Alliance for the Family, and Priests for Life, joined the book launch at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where Carlson called for battling liberal forces with an international declaration that defines the family as a married heterosexual couple and their children. “Conservative social change at the global level requires, we believe, this networked alliance of orthodoxies,” he said.
Crouse’s statement was more emphatic, even caustic:
The alternatives to marriage, casual sex, cohabitation, single parenting are disastrous for women and children. The data clearly show the pathetic results of America’s experiment in sexual liberation. The abandonment of the natural family has left women both rocking the baby and paying the rent. 
In this case, the strategy of using exclusively secular language in describing religiously informed ideology seems to be working as a way to develop alliances across religious and international boundaries, attracting conservatives of several faiths. But such a feat is easier to accomplish when your audience members share a similar political orientation.
For many liberals and progressives who do not share her perspective, she can elicit strong reactions. Kyle Mantyla, senior analyst at People for the American Way explains:
Janice is predictable; I’ll give her that. You always know where she’s coming from. But she irritates progressives who can’t stand the way she insists that her brand of conservative Christian morality must become public policy and apply to everyone. 
Her coauthor and mentor, Beverly LaHaye, by contrast, says, “It takes a gutsy professional…to stand up for the family. I can tell you from my experience at the U.N., it’s no easy job.” 
More and more these days, Crouse quotes other people’s research and rarely publishes reports of her own, as she did after the Beverly LaHaye Institute began in 1999. Her doctorate keeps her branded as an “expert” although she insists she is no authority in any particular field. “I’m a Jack of all trades.” 
Perhaps. But Crouse rarely addresses other domestic issues like the economy, health care, or immigration, nor does she tackle the big issues of foreign policy: nuclear proliferation, terrorism, or war. Interestingly, she never talks about race. Instead, the dangers of casual sex, the promotion of heterosexual marriage, the misdirection of the United Nations, violence against women and girls, and on occasion, political analysis about the Woman Vote keep her interest.
Now pushing 70, Janice Crouse continues to rise in visibility as a Christian Right spokeswoman appealing to the older hard core of the movement. She does not have the youth or glamour of a Laura Ingraham, or the willingness of a Michelle Malkin to comment on a full spectrum of political topics which would make her a popular pundit. Instead, she functions under the liberal radar as a sort of stealth pep squad captain for conservative Christian family values, helping to generate the buzz that is required for a movement to maintain its foothold and perhaps gain a little ground. Her bitter rhetorical style may diminish her influence on those waiting to take charge once her generation retires from the scene. But for now, her ability to channel institutional energy in force against her opponents in the culture wars – whether in mainline churches, feminist groups, or the United Nations – makes her one of the most reliable, if underrecognized, representatives parlaying conservative Christian beliefs into political ammunition.