Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.
The "homosexual agenda" took center stage this week for conservative evangelical groups as Congress worked on health care reform and other bills behind the scenes.
Kevin Jennings, "Safe School Czar"
In a half hour special edition of Focus on the Family sponsored by Focus on the Family Action, James Dobson and the other panelists discussed a series of policies and politicians that, Dobson said, "cause our hands to get sweaty."
At the top of this list was Kevin Jennings, President Obama's "safe schools czar" who has already been targeted by conservative groups (see previous column). Jennings condoned a sexual relationship between a high school student and an older man, a situation he said earlier this month that he handled poorly.
"Kevin Jennings has a very long track record of twisting the word 'safety' into a political tool to push homosexual activism into public schools," Focus Action Education Analyst Candi Cushman said.
Dobson noted Jennings's "lifelong commitment to children being taught homosexual propaganda."
Beyond the criticism of Jennings's past and fears of his future work, Jennings symbolizes Dobson's "greatest nightmare."
"I have been fighting for family values, and marriage, and family, and for schools that honor the values and principles that parents believe in for 25 years. And it's coming apart," Dobson said. "It's unbelievable what's taking place. And Kevin Jennings is the quintessential expression of that far left agenda."
Jennings is in the cross-hairs of other groups as well. Doug Carlson of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission also objected.
"Our children … need someone devoid of a history of purveying young people with a homosexual agenda, someone who instead points them toward healthy relationships," Carlson said. "By any objective reckoning, Jennings is not that man."
Family Research Council Action, which has spearheaded the push against Jennings and sponsors the website Stopjennings.org, pointed to a letter signed by 53 members of Congress asking that President Obama remove Jennings from the post. The Family Research Council praised the letter, saying that "Kevin Jennings has shown a disregard for parental rights and for our children's well being. … [He] has neither the temperament nor the ethical standards needed for public service."
Concerned Women for America, meanwhile, posted an interview with Rep. Steve King (R-Ia.),who initiated the letter on Jennings.
Gay Rights on the Hill
Gay rights legislation also made the Focus Action broadcast.
One bill was the hate crimes legislation that passed the House and was approved by the Senate yesterday. Focus's discussion ranged from the facts of the murder of Matthew Shepard (for whom the bill is named) to possible effects the bill will have on pastors condemning homosexuality.
Some evangelical leaders support new language in the hate crimes bill that protects religious liberty, but Focus and other groups are not satisfied. FRC Action claimed that the new religious liberty protections are "flimsy."
The bill lays "the legal foundation and framework for investigating, prosecuting and persecuting pastors, business owners, and anyone else whose actions reflect their faith," according to FRC.
But perhaps more important to Focus Action than the hate crimes legislation was President Obama's recent statement that he supports reversing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
"Can you imagine," said Dobson, "the President of the United States stands up there and essentially contradicts and defies the will of the American people in 45 states? What gall!"
Feldblum: FRC Friend or Foe?
Kevin Jennings has company in criticism from evangelical groups. Chai Feldblum, Obama's pick for leading the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is known for her work authoring the Americans with Disabilities Act and, more recently, Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). ENDA, which is poised to become law under the current Congress, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability by civilian nonreligious businesses with more than 15 employees.
This week the FRC described Feldblum as "a lesbian [who] comes with an impressive resume of radicalism." More interesting than the FRC discussion of her record was the end of the article, where the FRC wrote that one can "hear firsthand how she hopes to wipe out religious freedom with 'gay rights.'" The FRC included a link to a 2008 FRC panel on same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
Feldblum's comments (48:00 through 63:00) run contrary to many positions of the FRC, but they actually demonstrate her concern for the religious liberties of those who find homosexuality sinful and an understanding of the complexity of the issues.
She discussed whether gay rights and religious liberties must conflict—"it depends," she said. Under the free exercise clause, pastors and other religious leaders would not be silenced, and churches would not be forced to perform same-sex weddings. But there would likely be conflict on some issues, she said, such as for religious people that work in public life. She also used the example of a Methodist group that declined to allow lesbian couples to have a civil ceremony in their pavilion. The pavilion later lost its real estate tax exemption. She compared gay couples who are told to use another facility to people who are told to go elsewhere because they are black.
Feldblum, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, said her views are "not the norm of the gay rights movement," and she objects to those in the gay rights movement who are insensitive and tell religious people to "just get over" their disapproval of the gay lifestyle.
"To say 'just get over it' represents to me a complete lack of respect for what that person is feeling, in terms of their sense that they're facilitating sin," Feldblum said. "You do not say to someone who feels that they're facilitating sin, 'Get over it!'"
But Feldblum does believe the liberties of gays should be protected. The issue for gay people is to have "their liberties recognized … but not at the cost of overly crushing the liberties of religious people."
The key, she said, is to "stay in a reasonable conversation"—her goal in joining the FRC panel. She hopes religious people and gays will begin to work together.
"We have similar liberty concerns going on here," she said. "Gay people should understand religious people, and religious people should understand gay people more than they do now."
That was in 2008 at an FRC panel. Now, with Feldblum ready to run the EEOC, the FRC points to her panel comments as evidence that she "hopes to wipe out religious freedom with 'gay rights.'"
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Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers include:
A Czar, a Cross, and Prayer Chain for Liberals | Conservative groups take aim at safe schools 'czar' Kevin Jennings. The Supreme Court considers the fate of a cross in the Mojave Desert. And all while Congress continues to work on health care. (October 9, 2009)
The Baucus Ruckus | This week the debate over health care reform moved from broad platitudes to specifics on abortion funding and abstinence education. (October 2, 2009)
Two Summits, Countless Agendas | Faith Leaders Summit urges G-8 to focus on poverty while Values Voter Summit targets domestic issues. (September 25, 2009)
Where the Health Care Debate Lies | Introducing our new feature rounding up what evangelical political groups talked about this week. (September 22, 2009)
Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.