Imagine going to an ex-gay convention, surrounded by people who believe that being gay is a perversion. Visualize going to a gathering of radical right politicos determined to replace our representative democracy with a theocracy.
Now immerse yourself in the pseudoscience called “intelligent design.” Michelle Goldberg, senior political writer for “Salon,” has done all that and more in her exhaustive first-person research for her book, “Kingdom Coming: the Rise of Christian Nationalism.”
“Kingdom Coming” outlines the moves of both popular culture and American government toward a rigid theocracy based on Christian fundamentalism. From the Concerned Women of America to the roots in the John Birch Society, Goldberg makes a chilling case for her premise that the radical right is on the move, devouring our social institutions with no end in sight.
Goldberg’s first glimpse of right-wing hatred came during her high school days in her native Buffalo, New York. During that time, she helped guard women accessing Buffalo GYN Services in the face of aggressive actions by Operation Rescue. Now 30 years old, she remembers when Dr. Barnett Slepian, clinic physician, was murdered at his home in that area on Oct. 24, 1998.
As she completed her graduate studies at UC Berkeley, Goldberg began to write a series of articles about the “ex-gay” movement, finding a surprising breadth and scope to this offshoot of the religious right. Her research led her to examine such groups as Exodus International, based in South Florida.
What she discovered was an alternative reality – a subculture with its own books, movies, music, and activities, separate and apart from mainstream culture as much as possible. She expresses nothing but sympathy for the young people caught up in this tangled web.
“They are set up for tragedy,” observes Goldberg.
Following a year of travel and investigative reporting in Asia, Goldberg came back to the U.S. to land a job as a political writer for “Salon.” Her attention was drawn once again to the machinations of the radical right, a group she has dubbed “Christian nationalists.” In following the unfolding events back at home, her attention was inevitably directed to the “ex-gay” movement once again.
She notes that, George W. Bush’s recent announcement of another push toward passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment included a right wing cheering section invited to the White House for the media event. Among the invitees were Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas of Exodus International, leaving no doubts as to the President’s views on the matter, despite opposition by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the scientific world in general.
Divergence on scientific matters is a hallmark of the Christian nationalists (CN) according to Goldberg. Their insistence on inclusion of “intelligent design” theory in state-funded educational institutions harks back to the days of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant’s famous legal duel over a teacher in Rhea County who dared speak the name of Darwin in the classroom. But classrooms are not the only targets for CN injection of creationism by any name. The Grand Canyon, part of the National Park Service funded by federal tax dollars, now includes various books containing CN versions of natural history in their bookstores.
But the crème de la crème of CN convenes annually at the Center for Reclaiming America, an “outreach of Coral Ridge Ministries” located in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Under the guidance of fundamentalist televangelist Dr. D. James Kennedy, senior minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and president of Coral Ridge Ministries, this public policy group provides the backdrop for the “big picture” venue for these Crusaders. It is their annual convention that provides an opportunity for leaders in the “ex-gay,” “pro-life,” home school, abstinence-only sex education, “intelligent design,” anti-judiciary, and all other CN sub-movements to gather and rejoice in their stated goal of “reclaiming America for Christ.”
Goldberg attended the 2004 convention where she learned details about the massive transfer of federal dollars into local churches and other CN institutions otherwise known as the “faith-based initiatives.” Under the guise of providing sex education, drug rehabilitation, homeless services, and other social services, billions went into sectarian coffers including many programs that mark conversion to Christianity as a hallmark of progress. In addition, Bush has exempted these programs from federal employment anti-discrimination laws.
“I spoke with a woman who worked for the Salvation Army in New York City for 24 years in their department of children’s services,” explains Goldberg. “After the faith-based initiatives came into being, she was asked to fill out a form listing all of her churches for the last ten years along with her pastor’s name and phone number. The worker was Jewish. She found herself in a hostile work environment after more than two decades of service.”
“Kingdom Coming” also outlines how CN’s are targeting our courts, schools, and other basic cultural institutions. The picture painted by Goldberg is at once frightening and fascinating. This is easily one of the best books of 2006.
In addition to her job as a senior political writer at Salon.com, Goldberg is also a regular contributor to “The Huffington Post.” Her work has appeared in “Rolling Stone,” “The New York Observer,” “The UK Guardian,” “In These Times,” “Newsday” and many other newspapers nationwide. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her Web site at www.kingdomcoming.com for further information.