The case in Houston, Texas of pastors’ sermons being subpoenaed for a court case has spurred a religious movement called “I Stand Sunday” meant to galvanize and fundraise for the cause of religious liberty. Most of the November 2 event hosted by the Family Research Council is a recounting of the violations of religious liberty in the United States, but there is just one problem: religious liberty is not being violated. A lot of misinformation about the Houston subpoenas has been circulated by right-wing media like FOX News creating an atmosphere where falsehood is used as propaganda. This propaganda has no other aim except to attack the LGBT community and prevent equality from becoming the law of the land. “I Stand Sunday” and other movements like it are not causes for furthering the truth. Instead they are discriminatory rallies masquerading as honesty.
There are two key myths that the “I Stand Sunday” crowd and its organizers are perpetuating. The first is that their rights are being violated. Religious freedom and freedom of speech are both appealed to as fundamental rights being violated both by the government and the LGBT community. In many ways, the Religious Right has concocted the idea that the government is in collusion with militant LGBT activists who hate Christianity and are trying to dismantle it. If this sounds extreme, look at how the event has been advertised. On the Christian Post Blog, a post advertising the rally noted, “These governmental strong-arm tactics could be a harbinger of similar intrusions ahead for us all.” Pastor Alan Robertson, son of the Duck Dynasty patriarch, told one conservative show that “‘the Evil One’ is coming after his family and others who are criticized for ‘telling the truth.'”
In the minds of conservative Christians in America, government prevention of harmful discrimination and the machinations of the Devil are one in the same. A political struggle for equality is spiritual warfare. All the alleged rights violations are part of a plot to persecute Christians. But there is a problem with that belief and the problem is that it simply is not happening. The example of the Houston subpoenas which spurred the “I Stand Sunday” event into existence is a prime example of the persecution myth. The narrative being told by Christian activists is that the city’s first openly lesbian mayor did not want to put the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) to a vote. Instead of following the guidelines of political practice, she attacked the good guys looking to use a petition to put it on the ballot. She issued wildly inappropriate subpoenas for personal communications and Sunday sermons in order to discredit the pastors of Houston and further her own extreme LGBT agenda.
That is a great story, but it is only a story. The truth is that the petition to put HERO on the ballot failed. There were not enough signatures and some of the signatures were not allowable. The city’s attorney noted that there were “too many documents with irregularities.” The HERO bill also passed through the correct political process of government, namely a vote by city representatives. There were no violations of the political process nor were any rights stepped on. The subpoenas, however, are a bit tricky. They were in fact too broad to serve the purposes of the lawsuit filed by Christian activists. Therefore, the lesbian mayor of Houston withdrew them, stating that they had been drafted by outside counsel, not by the city itself. So in this case, there was a problem of overreach and it was fixed by the same mayor who supposedly is persecuting Christians. When story gives way to reported fact, the situation looks less like persecution and more like failure.
But this is not what the speakers at the “I Stand Sunday” event are telling their audience because it is not part of their cause, which has less to do with truth and more to do with a persecution complex used to drum up political support. That is the second myth driving the runaway train of untrue accusations: the myth that it is all a plot against Christians. The People for the American Way organization which runs Right Wing Watch has put together evidence of this persecution complex, offering a cogent and clear-headed look at Christian conservative movement’s tactics. “By reframing political losses as religious oppression, the Right has attempted to build a justification for turning back advances in gay rights, reproductive rights and religious liberty for minority faiths.” As equality for all Americans moves forward, the losses for Christian activists pile up, creating more food for the flames of panic and fear. By keeping Christians afraid that they are being persecuted, the movement gains strength.
The truth is that the Christian Right is losing, but it is not part of an evil plot. Instead they are losing because people simply do not agree with them. In America right now, there is more support for LGBT rights than ever before. More than half of American citizens believe in equality for all. The Christian Right and its agenda of denial and spiritual warfare is simply outnumbered by the people who think they are wrong. The “I Stand Sunday” movement and all of its supporters are losing because the very political processes they say are being ignored are working, just not working in their favor.
Go back to the story about Houston and the petition against the HERO bill. One of the main reasons why the petition failed was that it did not get the signatures it needed. What does that mean exactly? It means that not enough people agreed with the state aim of the petition and its creators. It means that more people disagreed with it than wanted to see it passed. It means that the Christian Conservative movement simply does not have enough support to win in the political process. That does not equal persecution. Instead it means that the will of the people, by the people and for the people is not what they want it to be. Instead of facing facts, however, the Christian Right created the myth of persecution to make itself look better than the losing side it really is. People will support someone being treated unfairly because that is part of the American ethos. America always supports the underdog. But the Christian Right is not the underdog it would have everyone believe it is. Instead it is the child trying to get someone else in trouble by saying they were pushed when they really tripped.
The “I Stand Sunday” event and the Christian Conservative movement are both causes about truth, but not the truth as it is. Instead, they are trying to make the truth work for them. They use smokescreens, panic, fear and carefully crafted myths to hold on to power. This is a political movement, not a spiritual one. For evidence of that one need only look at Twitter right now, where the “I Stand Sunday” hashtag has become a battleground for the truth. LGBT and Christian activists are both using the hashtag to fight back against the hate-mongering of the extreme Christian Right. Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans tweeted an appeal to the LGBT community directly, letting them know that “there are many Christians and many churches who love and stand with you.” She also commented that “I see no Jesus in this,” referring to the Sunday event. This and the many thousand other tweets prove that the community of Christians are not in consensus about the issue and that the extreme right-wing movement is not representative of all Christians. That is the truth, but it is the very truth that “I Stand Sunday” and other such movements would like people to hear.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury