In my time working for LGBT causes and pushing back against the religious right, I have always cringed at the buzzword “Judeo-Christian.” I know that most Christians I know don’t conform to the beliefs of those who bandy that term about, and I also imagined — correctly — that the great majority of American Jewry, which supports social justice, women’s rights and LGBT equality, also cringed at it. Furthermore, I imagined that even that small minority of the Jewish population who see the world as the Christian right does secretly cringed when they heard the Pat Robertsons and Tony Perkinses of the world regurgitate the phrase. I was incorrect, at least if Don Feder, communications director for the World Congress Of Families, is any indication.
In studying Feder’s book, Who’s Afraid Of The Religious Right?, as well as his other writings and speeches, I discovered that, for a small subset of the population, the term “Judeo-Christian” is indeed meaningful, a descriptor for a set of values which its adherents wish to foist on the population at large, in the United States and around the world. It is a supremacist philosophy, and it goes a long way in explaining what precisely the American religious right ultimately wants to accomplish.
Recently, news came that the World Congress of Families, having cancelled their 2014 Moscow summit, will be holding their 2015 summit in Salt Lake City, where the theme will be “religious freedom,” another buzzword that means something far different when it comes out of a religious right mouth than it does when it comes from the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, to understand the idea of “Judeo-Christian” supremacy as taught by men such as Feder, it is necessary to understand their vision of “religious freedom.” In essence, it’s that anyone should have the right to worship — or not — as they please, as long as society is built upon the far right tenets of “Judeo-Christian” supremacy. They believe that society will simply cease to function — or already has — if religious freedom actually means what it means. And if their “religious freedom” isn’t given the pedestal they believe it deserves — if their “religious freedom” doesn’t trump your and my constitutional rights — then they will go to great pains to depict themselves as oppressed victims.
The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood were recently able to successfully portray themselves as victims of religious discrimination, as the Supreme Court ruled that being required to cover certain kinds of contraception in their employees’ health care packages was an undue burden on their religious beliefs. Of course, the ruling was one of the worst in modern history, since corporations are not actually people and, moreover, insurance coverage is part of an employee’s compensation and is thus no longer “Hobby Lobby’s money.” But that didn’t matter. Astute observers have pointed out that it’s unlikely the Court would have ruled the same way if it wasn’t a certain strand of Christian belief that was allegedly being attacked.
This brings us back to the idea of “Judeo-Christian” supremacy. This is the belief, expounded by Feder and others, that a certain blend of beliefs held by extreme conservative Christians and Jews are, in fact, more respectable and to be more highly valued than others. If you are a Jewish person reading this, chances are that Don Feder doesn’t consider you to be truly Jewish. He finds Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins to be more authentically Jewish than you are. If you are a Catholic person reading this, chances are that Don Feder considers himself — a very conservative Jew — to be a better Catholic than you are. And if you’re a Protestant Christian, unless you are an extremely conservative Evangelical, he’s probably a better Protestant than you are. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out these quotes from Feder’s Who’s Afraid Of the Religious Right?:
“In fact, the more orthodox a Jew and the more orthodox a Christian, the more common cultural ground between them, as may be seen in the alliances formed in recent years among Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and traditional Jews to oppose abortion on demand, euthanasia, gay rights and condom-proselytizing in the public schools.” (p. 28)
“Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Beverly LaHaye are better Jews than the leadership of the American Jewish Committee. No, I am not suggesting these luminaries of the religious right keep kosher or celebrate Shavuot, but that they defend Jewish values — the Torah’s moral code — far better than the sachems of secular Jewish organizations.
Their ‘long-range goal is to have abortion declared unconstitutional.’ They favor school prayer and vouchers and ‘adamantly oppose social acceptance of homosexuality… They base their arguments on Leviticus’ — a Jewish bestseller of a few years back.
Said positions ‘are in direct conflict with views held by most Jews, who tend to give strong support to… feminism, choice on abortion, increased legal protection for gays and lesbians, a national commitment to the public school system, and the teaching of evolution and sex education,’ the report advises. These may well be the views of a majority of American Jews, but they have absolutely nothing to do with historic Judaism, which invariably takes the opposite position on each of the issues cited.” (p. 29-30)
Feder has equally unkind words for the majority of American Catholics who don’t toe the Vatican line on social policy:
“What qualifies opinion-poll Catholics to have an opinion on a faith from which they are alienated and of which the majority are clearly ignorant? … “Opinion-poll Catholics will be found in church only for weddings and baptisms. (The average Evangelical has a better understanding of Catholic teaching.)” (p. 37)
Not only is Pat Robertson a better Jew than you are, he is also a better Catholic. These Feder quotes come from the 1990’s, but nothing in his rhetoric has changed, as he recently stated that, due to President Obama’s support for reproductive rights and LGBT equality, he is a greater threat to American national security than Vladimir Putin is. Men like Feder don’t have a particular allegiance to our nation, at least not as the secular state that it actually is. They bemoan the loss of a nation that they believe used to exist, and they rely on revisionist history to tell the story of that supposedly utopian place when “Judeo-Christian” values ruled the land and everyone else — this is implied — knew their place.
Not to leave the mainline Protestants out, Feder also discsussed the climate at Harvard Divinity school, where he supposedly had a friend who was a “closeted conservative.” This alleged friend claimed that he was a “mark” because he was white and heterosexual, and that he must hide the fact that he’s a Republican. This is because “friends” in stories like Feder’s tend to jibe with the narrative of repression and victimization almost too well, as if they might have been invented for the purpose of making a point. Feder and his friend are, of course, better Christians than those studying and teaching at Harvard:
“A panel discussion with Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish feminists considers the pressing question of whether to attempt to reform male-dominated, misogynistic (blah, blah, blah) religion or leave en masse. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.
Almost every course has a healthy dose of estrogen and a revolutionary spin…
These poison-ivy-covered walls harbor a deep-seated contempt for Christianity.” (p. 39)
You’re just not a part of the equation unless you subscribe to Feder’s extremist version of one of the three Abrahamic faiths that isn’t Islam. And you really shouldn’t be in charge. Feder, the leadership of the World Congress of Families, and the cohort of discrete organizations that make up its membership are fighting, at home and abroad, to remake society in their own, explicitly religious image.
In coming pieces over the next week, I’ll be examining exactly what they believe on a variety of issues and what exactly a world made in the image of their reflection of God would look like.
Hint: it’s scary as hell.