Criticism Is Not Persecution

I guess it was inevitable that the Family Research Council would move quickly to paint itself as a victim of persecution and hatred after some nut-job shot (but fortunately, did not kill) a security guard at FRC’s Washington headquarters. After all, the single most remarkable distinguishing characteristic of America’s Christian Right, in which FRC has been a permanent and powerful fixture, has been the bizarre argument that Christianity is under constant assault in the United States, and perhaps even on the verge of extermination by powerful if shadowy enemies who don’t “get” that complete control of U.S. laws and institutions is essential to the exercise of religious freedom.

But in reiterating this claim, FRC chief Tony Perkins decided to go narrow rather than broad, specifically accusing the Southern Poverty Law Center of “giving license” to the shooting by labeling FRC a “hate group.”

While unsurprising, Perkins’ argument is almost like a parody of the “P.C” over-sensitivities conservatives invariably mock when expressed by any of their enemies. Is FRC interested in civil discourse with those who dislike it’s “world view?” Not so much. As for the SPLC, it documented its 2010 decision to include FRC on its list of “hate groups” for the very specific and heavily documented reason that the organization has a long and unrepentant history of calling gay folk inherently prone to pedophilia. If that’s not a “hate” tactic, I don’t know what would qualify.

But the SPLC can defend itself quite effectively. I’m more interested in the martyrology complex that Perkins’s blast at SPLC reflects. This is a group that wants to use the coercive power of the state to keep women from controlling their own bodies and to tell churches and other religious organizations whose relationships they may honor. It also engages regularly in slurs of anyone who doesn’t agree with its agenda as secularist Christ-haters. It has a stronghold in hundreds, maybe thousands, of comfortable suburban and small-town churches, and is in a close political alliance with the wealthiest people in America and with the party that controls one branch of Congress and over half the country’s governorships and state legislatures. It’s about as endangered as the Koch Brothers’ bank accounts.

I’m truly sorry some evil or insane person wanted to inflict violence on FRC and its employees, but do not think it logical to connect this act with some general persecution of the organization or the conservative evangelical Christians it claims to represent. Those determined to frustrate the Christian Right’s desire for total secular political power are neither Romans nor Communists nor Nazis, and it is far past time for smug powerful men like Tony Perkins to climb down from that cross and stop pretending they bear any resemblance to the actual Christian Martyrs who suffered and died–and still suffer and die–for their faith.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.