Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about this week.
Activists saw the political terrain shift in 2010, and as a result, political advocacy groups will likely need to change strategies next year. Here are six events from the past year that are likely to continue to shape politics in 2011.
6. The Line Between Debate and Hate
Next year, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will list 13 "anti-gay" groups as "Hate Groups." The SPLC said that these groups use propaganda; it does not list groups simply for believing that homosexuality in unbiblical. While some groups listed might be considered extreme and incendiary, others are considered mainstream groups within conservatism. The SPLC designations included the Family Research Council (FRC), American Family Association (AFA), and Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). The SPLC stopped short of lableing Concerned Women for America (CWA), Coral Ridge Ministries, and The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) as hate groups, but it did list them as anti-gay groups that use propaganda.
SPLC's Mark Potok debated FRC president Tony Perkins on the hate group designation during Monday's Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC. Potok said one reason for the FRC designation was Peter Sprigg's statement in February that homosexual behavior should be outlawed. Perkins responded by saying that Sprigg was referring to the FRC's position in 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence and Garner v. Texas that sodomy laws were unconstitutional. Perkins said the FRC is not currently working to criminalize homosexuality.
5. Who Does Bryan Fischer Represent?
Bryan Fischer is an analyst, radio talk show host, and blogger for the AFA and American Family Radio. Earlier this year the AFA put a disclaimer on his blog posts that Fischer's opinions are not those of the AFA.
Over the past year, Fischer found God's judgment in stories of baseball, bears, and killer whales. He said Latinos—particularly Catholic Latinos—are not pro-family. Fischer said homosexuality should be outlawed and that homosexuals caused Nazism and the Holocaust. His harshest words, however, were aimed at Muslims. Fischer proposed that the government deport all Muslims, expel them from the military, and forbid more mosques. In addition to his view that moderate Muslims do not exist, Fischer also says, "The massive inbreeding in Muslim culture may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health."
Fischer continues to make headlines. He was a featured speaker at this year's Values Voters Summit. National Public Radio and The New York Times have interviewed Fischer as a representative of social conservatives. Even the Colbert Report featured him.
4. 'Public Outrage' Alters Battles Over Courts
For most of the year, social conservatives lost battles over the courts. The summer brought the vacancy left by retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. President Obama's nominee, Elena Kagan, was instantly vilified by conservatives as inexperienced, activist, and political. Activists pushed Republicans to filibuster her nomination, but in the end, she was approved.
In August, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violated the U.S. Constitution. This 2008 proposition amended the California constitution to include a definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Not surprisingly, social conservatives were outraged. Chuck Colson said at BreakPoint, "my hopes are … in the groundswell of public outrage and resistance."
Nowhere was this groundswell seen more clearly than in Iowa. In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a law prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the Iowa constitution. Three of the justices were on the ballot this November in a retention vote. All three judges lost, despite facing no opponents. The fact that these justices did not win their retention election is an unprecedented check on judicial selection. Eleven other states have the same retention system, and many others have judges elected. The result in Iowa may signal a new method for grassroots groups to take on these judges.
3. Glenn Beck vs. Sojourners
Perhaps the strangest political fight this year took place between Fox News host Glenn Beck and Sojourners president Jim Wallis. Beck made headlines when he said that people should leave any church if they see the words social justice. Since nearly all religious groups (including Beck's own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) see social justice as important, the reaction was swift. Beck then turned the focus to Wallis, who Beck said believes "in the devil's way." Wallis made public statements about the conflict and the meaning of "social justice." Sojourners also ran campaigns against Beck and published articles on their disagreements with his views.
2. Evangelicals Quietly Push Policy
It may not receive as much attention, but Christian political activists took positions on more than sexuality and abortion. Evangelicals, including avowed conservatives such as Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pushed immigration reform. Several flanked President Obama during his key speech on the issue. They also pushed for successful reforms of sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine possession. Activists also worked with a wide spectrum of groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, to raise awareness of the importance of improving the safety of prisoners.
1. Pro-Life Groups Lose Big, Win Big
Hail it or hate it, the health insurance reform law was a big deal. For activists left-of-center, the bill was a step toward justice. For those on the right, it was one of the worst policies enacted in American history.
Nearly all pro-life organizations saw April's health care law as an expansion of abortion coverage. To add insult to injury, the bill passed because a coalition of pro-life Democrats switched their support in exchange for an executive order stating that federal funds could not be used to pay for abortions. Pro-life groups responded by taking aim at these Democrats, 20 of whom lost their seats.
Despite the loss of so many pro-life Democrats, pro-life groups are on the rise after making historic gains in the election. In January, the majority of legislators in the House of Representatives will be pro-life. Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) said there will be 40 to 55 more pro-life votes in the next Congress. NARAL Pro-Choice America has a similar forecast; it expects the number of "anti-choice" legislators to increase by 43. FRC Action predicts the House will gain as many as 52. This increase in pro-life legislators may not translate into new laws, however. The Senate is expected to have a half-dozen more pro-life votes. On most issues, this will not be enough for passage.
With Congress split over abortion, some activists are looking for areas of common ground. One is the availability of contraception. An ecumenical coalition that includes Joel Hunter and Brian McLaren is advocating designating contraception as a "preventive service" under the new health care law. This designation would make contraception available without a co-pay.
Abortion politics will also be waged in the states where pro-life legislators and governors won. According to Americans United for Life, there will be new pro-life governors in 11 states. Nineteen state houses also changed partisan control, with several opening the door for new abortion-related laws. The NRLC is developing strategies with pro-life activists and legislators. One goal is to develop a model bill similar to Nebraska's act, which outlaws abortions after 20 weeks. The Nebraska law took effect in October and appears to be forcing some abortion providers out of business.
Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on Christianity Today's website.
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