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Running Against Sodom and Osama

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Why This Shrill Rhetoric Now?

The use of inflammatory rhetoric is a practiced political tool, but it might be instructive to examine why such shrill language is in such widespread usage among Christian Right spokespeople. Several possible explanations exist.

Some of the speakers at these events, generally clergy, regularly use vivid images and alarming claims in their speech. This is in keeping with evangelical preaching, which uses a style of delivery that plays to the emotions of the congregation and relies on creating catharsis and a resulting spiritual renewal. It reflects a dualistic worldview that sees the world divided absolutely into good and evil people and ideas. On the one hand, this can create the impression of sticking to principles, valuing the earnest conviction of those few who dare to speak the truth. In the case of the Summit or Liberty Sunday, such rhetoric could reassure some listeners that the Christian Right is not selling out to the Republican Party and remains firm in its standards. This approach can marginalize the speakers, though, pushing them to the edge of what their sympathetic audience tolerates and rendering them buffoons in the eyes of the public at large. It also can make those who sound a little less extreme appear more moderate, even as they continue to advocate hate.

Another reading of the demonization of gay men and lesbians, liberals, and feminists is that the speaker fears the power of these groups. This dehumanizes them and makes it possible for listeners to judge members of these groups negatively, as one- dimensional embodiments of evil ideas, not as human beings. But this can backfire as it did in the 1990s when the contradiction between Christian love for everyone and harsh judgment for sinners became intolerable. The realization paved the way for the construction of the idea of calculated compassion, which emerged as a core principle in the ex-gay movement.

The use of hardened language has been a successful technique in the past for mobilizing “values voters.” Choosing to use it again may indicate a deliberate tactical decision to go with what has worked before.

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