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Running Against Sodom and Osama

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The FRC Action Values Voter Summit Washington Briefing

Built around the slogan “Family, Faith, and Freedom,” The Washington Briefing: 2006 Values Voter Summit used the Culture War as a central theme.~30 These sorts of Christian Right pre-election voter mobilization conferences used to be hosted by the Christian Coalition, with the title “Road to Victory.” Now that the Christian Coalition has unraveled as a national group, a new coalition has stepped in to fill the void. The conference was coordinated by FRC Action, the political action arm of the Family Research Council, with Tony Perkins at the helm. Co-sponsors included the political action arms of three other Christian Right groups: Focus on the Family Action (Dr. James Dobson), Americans United to Preserve Marriage (Gary Bauer), and American Family Association Action (Donald Wildmon). Most of these groups have close historical ties. Dobson’s Focus on the Family created the FRC to lobby Congress. Gary Bauer ran the FRC from 1988-1999. The wild card in this coalition is Wildmon, known for his inflammatory anti-gay rhetoric and occasional detours into veiled anti-Semitism. His American Family Association is located in Mississippi, and Wildmon’s participation pulls this coalition further to the right.31

Parts each pep rally, church service, and TV show, the September 2006 event held in Washington, DC attracted over 1700 Christian Right grass roots activists from 48 states. The audience, primarily conservative Protestant evangelicals, was a mix of heartland cultural warriors, grassroots Republican political activists, and local church staff, including ministers and lay ministry workers. They were rewarded for their attendance with a series of speeches from their leaders. In fact, one of the purposes of the event was to signal a passing of the torch, from older figures like James Dobson and New Right strategist Paul Weyrich to their successors, men like Tony Perkins and Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund. The event also showcased 2008 Presidential hopefuls like governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and Virginia Senator George Allen, who had the chance to float some political trial balloons over the crowd.

A majority of attendees were White, with a sprinkling of African-Americans, many of them pastors. Only a tiny handful of Latinos or Latinas were present. There were roughly equal numbers of men and women in the audience, with somewhat fewer women onstage; yet the fact that there were women, and even a women’s panel, is an ironic testament to the cultural shift leveraged by the feminist movement.

There were a few Catholics and Jews. If there were Muslims, secularists, or mainstream Christians present, they kept a low profile, with the exception of the tall, lanky Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. A well-known critic of the Christian Right, Lynn walked through the crowd trailing event staff like a file of ducklings. And it was a crowd that hissed every time Lynn’s name was mentioned; booed when the American Civil Liberties Union was trashed; and groaned at the mere mention of the city of San Francisco. The otherwise polite and attentive crowd was treated to one speech after another in the hotel ballroom, in a didactic style and hierarchical format typical of Religious Right rallies—tightly orchestrated logistically, skillfully crafted in framing and messaging. Top down/bottom sore…even in upscale convention seats.

The visual aesthetic was slick, modern, and high tech, including two huge projection screens and a booming sound system. Two side stage areas were designed to mimic television news stage sets, one with stools for interviews, another with a table for panel discussions. The proceedings comfortably accommodated the over 100 members of the media with plenty of riser space at the back of the room for network and cable cameras, and even a bloggers table with high speed Internet connections. A “Radio Row” of live broadcasting of reports and interviews sent to Christian stations was set up on a dais in the exhibit space. Tables in the exhibit area sprouted audio CDs and DVD videos.

There were special pay-per-meal breakfasts and luncheons where focused pitches were made. There was a breakfast for pastors hosted by FRC Action, and a breakfast hosted by American United to Preserve Marriage. Day two of the meeting dawned with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) breakfast, where there was much food, little tolerance for same sex marriage, and no room to get in. An overflow crowd of 250 sat through what was essentially an extended advertisement for the Alliance Defense Fund, which seeks to position itself as the major adversary to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Another luncheon was designed to introduce Donald Wildmon and his Tupelo, MS-based American Family Association, but by a show of hands, the majority of diners were already on his mailing list. The four cosponsors positioned themselves as the unified national voice of the Christian Right.

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