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The Rutherford Institute - John W. Whitehead

John W. Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute, has gone to great lengths to conceal the ideological leanings of his Christian Right legal center in statements to the mass media. He told the New York Times that "Oh, gosh, no," he had no political agenda in representing Paula Jones, and that he had founded the Rutherford Institute by himself. The New York Times reporter described The Rutherford Institute as "a kind of evangelical Christian civil liberties union."118

Whitehead's claims misrepresent the group. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is blunt, "Our files on the Institute go back 10 years. After examining the material, we can safely say Whitehead is not being honest in his description of his organization."119

From its founding, the Rutherford Institute has pursued a highly-politicized ultra-conservative agenda. A review of Rutherford Institute newsletters, reports, and direct mail appeals going back seven years shows a long pattern of attacks on liberals in government and President Clinton in particular. Whitehead consistently puts forward an apocalyptic conspiracist vision of devout Christian activists under concerted attack by corrupt and repressive government officials in the service of godless and immoral secular humanism.

In the late 1990s Whitehead claimed he had changed his earlier views, giving a detailed interview on the subject to Christianity Today in December of 1998.120 Yet Whitehead's shift is more tactical rather than a shift in basic ideology, and reflects the trend in the Christian Right toward re-applying the principle of "hating the sin, but loving the sinner," even when the goal is still theocratic and monocultural.121

From time to time Rutherford's periodical carries broad-based articles to buttress the organization's claim that it is just like an American Civil Liberties Union for people of faith. In the September 1996 issue, which carries a cover story on "Politics & Religion: A Recipe for Disaster," there are interviews with centrist political commentators such as E. J. Dionne, Jr. and Larry Sabato-as well as a column by Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation, rounds out the issue of Rutherford magazine with a litany of all the reasons he hates government under Clinton and his liberal allies. Claiming that "Liberals have dominated politics in this country for more than sixty years," Weyrich paints a paranoid picture of life in the US where "God-fearing, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens" live under a statist globalist tyranny. He then concludes that a nation with a government that is in opposition to his hard right view of Constitutional and godly laws, "will deserve the hatred of God and its people."122

In Facing the Wrath: Confronting the Right in Dangerous Times, sociologist Sara Diamond describes the political activism of the Rutherford Institute:

    "Active since 1982, the Rutherford Institute represents a variety of Christian `civil liberties' litigants, anti-abortion demonstrators, students asked not to read Bibles at public schools, parents whose home school facilities fail to meet government regulations. No doubt, Christians deserve as much legal protection as anyone else. But with much of the ACLJ and Rutherford case load, there's a fine line between defending the interests of clients and stepping on the rights of other people.

    In a...commentary sent to Christian radio stations, Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead argues that workplace seminars on gay rights are a form of `religious discrimination' against employees who are `told to rid themselves of stereotypes about gays and to accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle choice.'

    In an odd assertion of victim status, Whitehead claims Christian military personnel may jeopardize their careers if they `speak out against homosexuality....The immediate remedy is for the military to exempt religious people from compelled personal acceptance of homosexuality.'123

The politics of the Rutherford Institute, at least until recently, represented a form of theocratic Christianity that characterizes the hard right of the evangelical world. There is little reason to believe that a change in tone means a change in the underlying philosophy.

118 Neil A. Lewis, "Group Behind Paula Jones Gains Critics as Well as Fame," New York Times, 1/18/98, p. 18.

119 Americans United for Separation of Church and State, "Rutherford Institute, Other Religious Right Groups Have Long Track Record Of Vicious Attacks On Bill And Hillary Clinton, Says Church-State Watchdog Group," News Media Backgrounder, January 1988.

120 Ted Olsen, "The Dragon Slayer," Christianity Today, Dec. 7, 1998, pp. 36-42.

121 John Whitehead, "Point of View" column, Action, Rutherford Institute newsletter, August 1996.

122 Paul Weyrich, "Fear & Oppression: American Birthright?" perspective, Rutherford magazine, August 1995, p. 16.

123 Sara Diamond, Facing the Wrath: Confronting the Right in Dangerous Times, (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1996), pp. 110-111.

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