Friday, March 28, 2008

What Moral Law? Sally Kern's Troubled Theology


There has been a lot of chatter online about Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern’s diatribe against LGBT (queer) people, but very little discussion about the claims that she makes. Most commentators are content to simply let Kern’s wing-nuttery speak for itself. That’s a problem. Academics and intellectuals are too quick to dismiss this kind of right-wing rhetoric as “not worth a response.” Views like Kern’s need to be broken down and confronted in ways that lay people can understand because they are part of an ideological pole of attraction that can pull the political ideas of the population in a certain direction. While most people may not accept many of Kern’s views, the right-wing theological program she espouses can still negatively influence the formation of the public’s political consciousness.

Here, I am going to be addressing some of the theological arguments Kern raises on the Oklahoma City cable access program Flashpoint. Some of the online responses to Kern’s appearance on this program criticized openly gay UCC pastor, Scott Jones, who appeared on the program opposite Kern, for even giving Kern’s theological arguments the time of day. That too is a mistake.

Christian theological imagery is part of the symbolic, meaning-making universe of many, many people. Appeals to biblical imagery, because the Bible is such a part of our culture, have a major impact—even, possibly, on a subconscious level. At the same time, there is a real tension—even a fundamental incompatibility—between the values of the Bible, which reflect the worldviews of ancient civilizations, and modern values of democracy and universal human rights. I believe that most people are aware of this tension, even if this awareness is in the back of their minds. And I want to bring these tensions and incompatibilities to the forefront in an attempt to prompt critical reflection on Christian theology.

There is also something politically significant in Kern’s appeals to the Bible. A refusal to admit that the Bible often represents the values of pre-modern societies allows her to appeal to these highly reactionary sentiments when she wants to—all the while claiming that this is just her religious belief. This is about more than just gay rights; it is about legitimating authoritarian worldviews in a democratic society by using the Bible. This tactic of promoting authoritarian ideas through appeals to the Bible has been used by conservative Christians in the United States for a long time, and it was most obvious in debates about slavery in the US.

So, before delving into the specifics of Kern’s theology, let’s get some things clear. We do live in a society that values independence over conformity to arbitrary customs and traditions. We live in a culture that values the individual, democracy, and freedom—even if we rarely put those values into practice. I say this lest there be any confusion: This is 2008, not the first millennium BCE—the period when the Hebrew Bible was written—nor, is it the first and second centuries CE—when the New Testament was written.

To suggest that the values of a ancient West Asian monarchy (i.e. ancient Israel) or texts written in an imperial Roman dictatorship (i.e. the New Testament) should be simply applied to a modern, post-industrial society is absurd and dangerous. Too many people have suffered and died because literalists refused to leave ancient customs and assumptions in the ancient world. But it is no surprise that right-wing bigots like Sally Kern would want to preserve as many values from authoritarian, hierarchical societies as possible.

Kern’s Theology

In response to Kirk Humphreys’ reference to Leviticus 18:22’s prohibition against some form of male-male sexual activity, Rev. Scott Jones the openly gay pastor of Cathedral of Hope UCC in Oklahoma City tried to point out that this prohibition appears next to passages that condemn weaving together two types of fabric before he was interrupted by the obnoxious Kern. Jones’ instincts were right and I wish he had a chance to follow his argument through. It is important to bring up biblical mores that strike modern people as bizarre to emphasize the fact that biblical moral priorities and assumptions were radically different from ours.

The biblical material does not see same-sex relationships as an expression of romantic feelings for people of the same-sex. It often has a very specific context in mind when it deals with same-sex activity. Levitical law prohibits a specific act between two males and not “homosexuality” in general and Paul sees same-sex relationships through the lens of Jewish polemics against Gentiles (Rom. 1).

Much of the Torah, as Kern was quick to point out, wishes to make a distinction between Israelites and the “Canaanites” that live in the land. Whether or not the text actually represents a historical situation (it probably doesn’t) is beside the point. The operative ideology of much of the biblical text is extreme xenophobia towards outsiders and its purity laws reinforce a biblical rhetoric of ethnic “othering.”

But xenophobia would be a flimsy moral foundation to base objections to homosexuality on, so Kern tries to weasel her way out of it with a distinction between “ceremonial” and “moral” law in ancient Israel:

“…In God’s Word there’s different kinds of law. There’s his moral law, there’s his civil law and there’s his ceremonial law. God was establishing his chosen people and for his chosen people he wanted them to be separate and different from the other nations he was sending them out into. And so he had ceremonial and civil law for them to set them apart, okay? God’s moral law applies to everyone…Jesus set us free from law, okay, he set us free from the cultural law—the ceremonial law, excuse me—and the civil law; he never set us free from the moral law…”

This argument has been made in a variety of fashions by fundamentalist Christians embarrassed by rules and customs in the Bible that collide with modern values. This way they can dismiss practices of the Israelites we find abhorrent today (slavery, genocide, sexism, xenophobia) as “ceremonial” and “cultural.” But is it really that clear cut? Perhaps there is a distinction between “moral” and “ceremonial” law in the Torah, but if there is someone would have to articulate criteria by which to determine the difference between a “moral” and “ceremonial” law.

This is harder than it looks because for many biblical authors (such as H) ceremonial purity is also moral imperative (you know, the “be holy as I am holy” stuff—Lev. 19:2). In Lev. 19, what many would consider “moral” laws appear alongside what many would consider “cultural” laws. By what basis would one determine what is “cultural” and what is “ceremonial”? By what basis do Christians say that Lev. 18:22 (which supposedly condemns “homosexuality”) is part of the “moral law” whereas other passages in the Torah are merely “ceremonial” or “cultural?” The distinction between “moral” and “ceremonial” law is actually a modern assessment of biblical material. No one has been able to satisfactorily articulate concrete, consistent criteria for determining the difference between an “ethical” or “moral” law and a “ceremonial” or “cultural” law—they just assume the distinctions exist.

What gets interpreted as ceremonial versus moral law is actually a reflection of conservative Christian political and social ideology. If someone wanted to make a distinction between “moral” and “civil” law, a good case could be made that the activity prohibited in Lev. 18:22 (whatever it is) is actually part of the “cultural” laws. After all, as many commentators have pointed out, the passage prohibiting uncovering a woman’s genitalia during her menstrual cycle is in the same section as Lev. 18:22. And yet, few Christians argue that this is a “moral law” (n.b.: orthodox Jews do follow this law). The prohibited man-on-man activity in Lev. 18:22 is also singled out as to‘ebah (abomination), a term often tied to what many Christians consider “ceremonial” and “cultural” laws (Deut. 14:3) as well as “moral” laws. Yet in Lev. 18:17 incest (or uncovering the nakedness of one’s own “flesh”) is singled out as zimmah (wickedness) and Lev. 18:23 refers to bestiality to as tebel (perversion)—more unambiguously “moral” terms. Why, then, couldn’t someone interpret Lev. 18:22 as part of the so-called “ceremonial” law? Because Sally Kern and people who agree with her believe that homosexuality is immoral and then make the passage part of the “moral” law.

The only clearly stated motives and priorities that informed the rules expressed in the Torah are ethnic distinctiveness and purity and pollution--and this ideology applies to all the laws. Of course, this ideological background also informs laws that we do not find reprehensible and with which we would agree. Nevertheless, the alien assumptions of the biblical text force modern theologians to be extremely suspicious of the moral laws contained therein. The biblical laws with which we agree, we agree with for wholly different reasons. We agree with the sentiments of Lev. 19:18b (“you shall love your neighbor as yourself”) because a feeling of reciprocity fits with the values of a democratic society that upholds individual and universal human rights and freedoms. We find Lev. 19:20, a law basically allowing masters to have sexual access to their slaves reprehensible because it flies in the face of such values.

The same interpretative problems of the Hebrew Bible plague the New Testament as well. Like the Hebrew Bible, the moral prescriptions of the New Testament are informed by different values than ours. And like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament contains passages which alert modern interpreters to be suspicious of its moral prescriptions—such as its infamous verses supporting slavery and women’s subordination.

Also similarly, instead of an arbitrary distinction between “ceremonial” and “moral” law, an irresponsible distinction between “cultural” and “moral” laws arise in discussions of New Testament ethics with conservative Christians declaring that some extremely embarrassing passages are merely “cultural” (i.e. the ones about slavery and women’s subordination) and insisting that other passages lay down eternal moral laws (especially the ones about “homosexuality”).

It may come as a shock to some fundamentalists, but the Bible rarely actually announces: “Oh, by the way, this was just a cultural prescription!” Most moral prescriptions in the New Testament make appeals to God, God’s will, and God’s order in some way—even the problematic ones. When Eph. 6:6 tells slaves to submit to their masters, it appeals to the “will of the Lord.” In my opinion 1 Cor 11:13-15 is the most embarrassing passage in the New Testament for conservative Christians (besides Romans 13) because it clearly shows that Paul’s views of “nature” and gender roles are radically different from ours:

Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a shameful to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering…

When Paul says here that women should have a physical symbol, such as long hair or a head covering, of their subordinate status to men, he makes appeals to “nature” and actually says that long hair “shames” men (the same word used to describe the “shameful passions” of “homosexuality” in Rom. 1:26!). Considering that Paul thinks nature should tell people the proper length of their hair (an absolutely risible idea to a modern person), I think that we can safely say that when Paul says that same-sex activity is “against nature” he is operating from problematic assumptions about gender and “nature”.

So here’s the bottom line: Until conservative Christians can articulate a clear and consistent way to determine what is “cultural” and what is “moral,” we can rightly say that they are just scheming to make the Bible fit their political and social ideologies.

Gay-affirming denominations have always argued that we should read Scripture by prioritizing the prophetic values of “justice” and “compassion” because these values more closely reflect our modern concerns for individual human rights and democracy. Conservatives use the pejorative expression “picking and choosing” to describe this necessary practice of prioritizing certain biblical themes and values above others, which all Christians do to some extent. But to me, this beats going into interpretative contortions, like conservative Christians do, to arbitrarily make some passages “cultural” and “ceremonial,” when they cannot clarify their criteria for doing so. The difference between progressive Christians and conservative Christians is that progressives are honest about the volatile, contentious nature of biblical interpretation while conservatives dogmatically cling to the idea that they never prioritize and emphasize certain passages at the expense of others.

Appendix: Sodom and Gomorrah

“…And the proof that God has moral judgment against the sin of homosexuality as well as rape, incest…um…is that he did condemn and destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of homosexuality…”

I had a hard time figuring out what Kern was trying to say here, but I suspect she is trying to say that because, in the biblical narrative, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah takes place before the Torah was given, that God must have a moral (not “ceremonial”) objection to homosexuality. This, of course, assumes that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for the “sin of homosexuality”—something that most modern scholars deny. And anyway, there are numerous customs and traditions promoted and condemned in the patriarchal narratives (see the Onan “levirate marriage” incident, for instance—Gen. 38:8-10) that are not considered normative today.

No one denies that the mob that confronts Lot actually wants to have sex with the male angels (Gen. 19:5), but the “hospitality” angle is emphasized by modern interpreters because this story is actually about the sexual violation or rape of strangers, not “homosexuality.” Even if the hospitality were not an issue, Kern would be off-base by conflating rape and “homosexuality.”

But hospitality is obviously a major issue in this story because Lot explicitly says to the mob, after offering his daughters as a substitute: “Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof (lit: they have come under the shade of my rafter)” (19:8). No other explication of the wrongness of the crowd’s behavior is stated in Gen 19 except this one. Also, Lot offers the crowd his own daughters. You have to go through backflips to say that strong social taboos about hospitality are not at play here if a man is willing to incur major economic loss by offering his own virgin daughters to be gang raped!

Judges 19, a brutal story similar to the Sodom and Gomorrah episode, also makes it clear that the crime of the Sodomites is sexual violation of a stranger, only this time the mob violates the stranger’s concubine. And this text is more explicit than Gen. 19 in using the language of rape and sexual abuse. Here, an Ephraimite staying in the Benjaminite town of Gibeah tells a crowd who wants to have sex with his Levite guest, “do not do this evil thing because he has come to my house” (19:23). Instead the man offers the mob his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to “abuse” or “rape” (the verb here is ‘nh, a verb also used many times to describe oppression in a social-justice sense). The man then seized the Levite’s concubine and threw her to the crowd, which then rapes her all night, showing that the issue here is not just sex but sex that involves oppression (‘nh—cf. Judg. 20:5). Afterwards the Levite, whose concubine was violated, calls an assembly of the Israelites who then go to war against the Benjaminites for the crime that happened in their city.[1]

Yet, anti-gay Christians think it’s just ridiculous for people to interpret the passage as a condemnation of inhospitality—as if Gen. 19:8 said, “Do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof and by the way, they’re men too.” Where is the evidence that the text is concerned with sex with the “wrong gender”? And would Kern and other conservative Christians deny that there are not other biblical passages that imply that social injustice and inhospitality are sins of Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezek 16:49-50; Matt. 10:11-15; Luke 10:8-12)? If not, then the interpretation of Sodom’s sin as a sin of inhospitality is a very reasonable theological interpretation.

Kern mentioned the late first/early second century New Testament book of Jude as a reason to interpret the Sodom and Gomorrah story as a condemnation of “homosexuality.” I personally have a problem with using a late first/early second century Christian text to interpret Genesis 19 but since Kern brought up Jude, we might as well address it.

Jude 7 indeed says that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah engaged in “great sexual immorality” and “went after sarkos heteras (‘strange/other flesh’).” But does this necessarily mean same-sex activity?

The background of Jude 7 is Jewish Pseudepigrapha, extrabiblical Jewish literature written during the Hellenistic period about characters and events in the Hebrew Bible. One of those books was 1 Enoch, a book probably cited by Jude (14-15). Most of 1 Enoch tells the story of the Watchers (angelic beings) who come to earth and impregnate human women (see Gen. 6:1-4 for material 1 Enoch is interpreting). So, with this background in mind, Jude 6-7 says:

And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued sarkos heteras, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

In other words, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were like these derelict angelic beings. The “strange flesh” is probably a reference to the fact that the people of those infamous cities tried to have sex with angels—after 1 Enoch discusses angels who cross the boundary between human and heavenly being. While we could infer that a late first/early second century text, influenced by Hellenistic Judaism, may have had same-sex relations in mind when it talked about the “sexual immorality” of Sodom and Gomorrah, we need not interpret Jude 7 in that way. I personally believe that Jude 7 refers to sexuality that transgresses boundaries—of which gender could be one. However, theologically speaking, most inter-biblical interpretations of Gen. 19 suggest that Sodom and Gomorrah’s crime is related to inhospitality and social injustice. Why not interpret Jude 7 in that way as well? The boundary transgression of Sodom was not simply metaphysical (human-on-angel) but also crossed a social boundary concerning hospitality.

The inability to accept the idea that inhospitality was so offensive that they saw it as a reason to destroy a city is once again reflective of the inability of conservative Christians to let an ancient text reflect ancient values. But hospitality was, in fact, a major theme as the texts themselves show. Conservative Christians cannot accept this fact even when there are clear textual clues that this is what the story is talking about. So much for letting the Bible “speak for itself”.

[1] The Israelites then decimate the Benjaminites and put the entire city of Gibeah to the sword. The text does not say what happened to the Ephraimite man who seems to have committed a major blunder by offering the concubine of his Levite guest to the crowd. We should note that unlike Lot, who escapes the conflagrations in Sodom, the text does not suggest that this man was spared.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

September 29 2007 Anti-War March

Photos & Videos from the Troops Out Now Coalition Ant-War March September 29, 2007. Click to enlarge.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


On Saturday May 12, 2007 Amy Contrada, the writer of MassResistance, finally revealed herself to the LGBT community. For the first time she put herself out there, willing to be photographed and interact with our supporters.

Amy, wearing an ill-fitted tan blazer and sporting greasy unkempt hair, began her day at the Youth Pride Celebration on the Boston Common where she (and a man wearing a red cap) lurked around taking photographs of our youth and adult leaders. She carried both a video camera and digital camera to capture as much "depravity" as possible. Amy especially focuses on the young people who are brave enough to express their gender in a way that deviates from societies rigid binary gender norms so that she can "shock and appall" her misinformed readers.

After Youth Pride Amy headed over to the BAGLY Prom where she showed her true colors. When Trevor Wright, organizer for the Prom and blogger for QueerToday, yelled at her to move she became infuriated. During their interaction, Amy hastily asked Trevor if he knew what "cum vomit" was. She insisted she read about "cum vomit" on the GLSEN web site, and that we were brainwashing young people to be "crazed homosexuals."

Later she claimed that there was no real difference between a pedophile and a homosexual. She insisted sex and "depravity" were going on inside the BAGLY Prom, and demanded to be allowed inside. The obvious truth is there is an adult volunteer for every 10 youth in the Prom, and as the BAGLY web site indicates all sex, drugs, and violence are banned.

Amy tries to portray herself as an innocent, quiet and lonely suburban mom. But in reality she is a confused, and mentally disturbed individual who is OBSESSED with homosexuality. Perhaps she is afraid that her son Anthony, a student involved in music at Oberlin who has a gay roommate, is going to turn out gay. (Pssst.... rumor has it Amy's daughter is supportive of GSAs! We're on it!)

Amy informed Trevor that her son's roommate is going to die an early death due to AIDS because he is gay, and that she is very afraid for her son because he lives with a gay student.

This is the real Amy Contrada folks.

In addition to Amy, the MassNews Troll (who we exposed last October) was videotaping the day's events as well. She is at EVERY gay event with her video camera.... just waiting for another "fist gate" opportunity.

There was also a man in his early 40's lurking around, who from time to time would chat with Amy. The way he stared down the youth outside of City Hall freaked us out.

On May 15th, Amy updated her website of lies with some proposterous claims regarding Youth Pride Day. Almost every sentence in her most recent posting on massresistance includes a lie....from her misinformation about the BAGLY Prom to her made-up accusations. She said she sought out police protection - lie. The truth is Amy was following the youth around with her cameras all day long, and never needed any police protection. It was Amy who was the creepy adult following young people around, not the supportive accepting adults cheering alongside the parade route. She said MassReistance's calls were the reason Deval Patrick could not make it to the event- lie. The truth is he had a prior comittment. She said it was quietly announced that Deval couldn't make it - lie. The truth is Deval Patrick sent a message to the youth at the celebration: that he supports them and supports safe schools. Deval also wrote a letter to PFLAG recently in support of their Pride & Passion event to support safe schools work.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tremont Temple and the Racists

Tremont Temple and the Racists

Brian Rainey and Carlo Baca

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Max Blumenthal and Edward Sebesta of the Southern Poverty Law Center for their help in researching this paper.

Providing a platform for ultra-right, anti-gay propaganda seems to have become an October tradition for the predominantly black Tremont Temple Baptist Church.

Last October, Tremont Temple hosted the so-called “Love Won Out” Conference, a conference where the speakers said they “loved” LGBT people but nonetheless told participants that LGBT people are so evil and sick that they should be seen as a threat to society, denied legal recognition of their relationships and, of course, “changed” into heterosexuals.

This year, on Oct. 15, Tremont Temple will be hosting another event with an Orwellian name. A telecast of the infamous “Liberty” Sunday, whose purpose it is to cast same-sex marriage as a threat to religious “liberty,” will be put on at Tremont Temple. Tremont Temple’s pastor, the Rev. Ray Pendleton, is listed as a speaker along with Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC).

Outrageously, both of these October events, which the historically abolitionist church agreed to host, have ties to organizations or individuals explicitly connected to racism.

NARTH’s Slavery Apologist

Last year, one of the “Love Won Out” conference’s featured speakers was Joseph Nicolosi, President of the anti-gay “professional” organization, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH). Over the past few weeks, NARTH has been fiercely (and rightly) criticized for posting an extremely racist essay on their website.[1]

This essay, written by Dr. Gerard Schönewolf, a member of NARTH’s advisory board, said that slavery was a good thing because it rescued slaves from their “savage,” “uncivilized,” and “unindustrialized” lives in Africa. He also attacked the Civil Rights Movement—people who confronted water hoses so powerful that it could strip the bark off trees, who sat at lunch counters in the face of white mobs who beat the living tar out of them, who had to deal with brutal local police chiefs like “Bull” Connor and who for decades suffered through inaction and obstinacy from the federal government—for using too much “hysteria” and “emotion.” As if this weren’t outrageous enough, this man also had the gall to accuse Civil Rights leaders of being equivalent to those who lynched and terrorized black communities in the South!

Schönewolf’s racist tantrum was harshly condemned by the blog, the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Truth Wins Out,” ex-HRC staffer Wayne Besen’s organization dedicated to fighting “ex-gay” ministries, the National Black Justice Coalition, a black LGBT organization and

The controversy over the essay prompted NARTH’s site-administrators to quietly take it down and post a disclaimer saying that what is said on NARTH’s site does not reflect the official position of NARTH—basically saying that they are not responsible for the racism expressed by a member of its advisory board. To this day, NARTH has offered no explanation, let alone an apology for Schönewolf’s essay.

Tony Perkins and White Supremacy

When it comes to Tremont Temple’s tango with far-right groups this October, a number of speakers have ties to racism, starting with the star of the circus himself, Tony Perkins, President of the FRC. In 1999, Perkins was implicated in a scandal involving his 1996 purchase of an $82,000 phone list from former KKK Imperial Wizard and notorious white supremacist David Duke, when he was the campaign manager for then-Louisiana Sen. Woody Jenkins. Perkins then participated in an attempt to hide the transaction with Duke by funneling the money through a third party—something the Jenkins campaign was fined for by the Federal Elections Commission.

According to the Federal Elections Commission’s Conciliation Agreement, which was signed by ex-Sen. Jenkins himself, “After the 1996 primary election in Louisiana, David Duke contacted Woody Jenkins and recommended that he use the services of a computerized phone bank system run by Impact Mail.[2]

Though Duke intiated the transaction between the Jenkins campaign and Impact Mail, both Perkins and Jenkins claim they had no idea the phone bank was connected with Duke when they bought it.[3] According to them, they thought they were innocently doing business with Impact Mail and were oblivious to the fact that Duke, the one who contacted Jenkins about the phone bank in the first place, had anything to do with it.

This is highly unlikely for a couple of reasons. First, we know that at least one Republican knew Duke was connected with Impact Mail. As Max Blumenthal, author of the widely cited “Liberty Sunday Preachers” article in The Nation pointed out on his blog, Louisiana ex-Gov. Mike Foster bought the same mailing list from Duke for $102,000 in 1995—one year before Perkins bought it.[4]

Foster was later accused of buying the list in order to keep Duke out of the gubernatorial election. As a result, Foster was investigated by the Louisiana Board of Ethics, who found that Foster illegally failed to publicly disclose the money spent on Duke’s list:

In 1995, Foster met with all other potential gubernatorial candidates, including David Duke, to discuss views relative to the campaign. When meeting with Duke, he was informed by Duke that Duke did not intend to seek the governorship. At that meeting, Duke offered to sell Foster the use of his computerized list of conservative voters. It was agreed by Duke and Foster that Foster would pay Duke $100,000 for the one-time use of the list during the 1995 campaign and that if Foster was elected, he would pay Duke an additional $50,000 for the right to use the list in 1999 should Foster seek reelection. Duke advised Foster that he had arranged for the transfer of the computerized list to be made through Impact Mail & Printing, Inc. (Impact Mail), a firm in Metairie, Louisiana. Impact Mail provides bulk mailing services and brokers mailing lists. Duke was neither an owner of nor an employee of Impact Mail....[5]

We really do invite people to read all of the findings of the Louisiana State Board of Ethics because there are some striking parallels between Foster’s and Jenkins’ dealings with Duke—namely that both campaigns were reproached for failing to disclose financial transactions with Duke and both campaigns funneled money through other sources.

The important thing to keep in mind is that Duke was up front about his connections with Impact Mail when he dealt with Foster, and when Foster bought the list from Duke, he knew exactly who he was buying the list from. Jenkins and Perkins would have us believe that they were duped into buying a phone list connected with Duke—even though Duke felt no need to trick Foster a year earlier.

Believing in Perkins’ innocence would also force us to accept that he would blindly sign an $82,000 contract for a phone list that he knew very little about. $82,000 is an exorbitant amount of money for a phone list. It’s so exorbitant that according to the Times-Picayune (New Orleans), political consultants say that “the price Duke received for use of his voters lists far exceeds the standard rate for political campaigns.”[6] Most political consultants seem to agree that normal phone lists—even exclusive ones—go between 7 and 10 cents, with 10 cents being on the higher end.[7]

If someone is going to spend astronomically high sums of money for a phone list, they are going to want to know why it’s so expensive and justify the investment.[8] The only way someone would know that the phone list was a good investment is if they had pretty good knowledge about its effectiveness. And who would be the only person that would have knowledge about the effectiveness of the list? The former KKK Imperial Wizard himself, David Duke.

Duke’s lists were effective and special precisely because they were associated with Duke. According to an AP article, Duke “said his lists boast strong fund-raising potential. Duke suggested other lists that go for 7 to 10 cents a name “are general mail lists that are used by 100 people.” Conversely, according to Duke, the list the Jenkins campaign received was “very intensive” and when the Jenkins campaign bought the list, they bought “an exclusive use of the list; no other candidate, no other person could use it during a specified time period” (emphasis added).[9] In other words, Duke’s list was so expensive because it was exclusive. The exclusive, special nature of Duke’s list is even more evidence that Jenkins and Perkins knew Duke was involved. Why else would they invest a large amount of money in it?

Perkins’ version of the story would have him comfortably signing an $82,000 contract without having a very good reason to invest that amount of money in a phone list. That would make him an incompetent campaign manager for dumping so much money on a list without knowing anything about it. More likely, he did have a good reason to invest so much money—the special and exclusive nature of David Duke’s phone list.

Perkins protested that “Woody [Jenkins] didn’t even tell me that this was the same company Duke had used…I would have been totally opposed.” These pleas to ignorance and claims of revulsion at white supremacists are especially spurious when considered in the context of Perkins’ other interactions with racists.

Were the Duke incident the only instance in which Perkins found himself tied up with a racist, we could, perhaps, give him the benefit of the doubt. But Perkins also spoke in front of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) not once, but twice—once in 1997 and again on May 19, 2001, according to the CCC’s Citizens Informer newsletter.[10] If Perkins had just spoken in front of this racist group in 1997, he could have, perhaps, gotten away with the claim that he was not aware of the CCC’s racist views when he spoke for them.

However, since Perkins spoke to the CCC for a second time in 2001, he would be hard pressed to resort to this lame excuse. In 1998, nearly three years before Perkins spoke to the CCC a second time, both Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Bob Barr received widespread national media attention (and outrage) for speaking in front of the CCC—and both politicians used the “I-didn’t-know-their-politics” copout. The national tumult over Lott and Barr that year even prompted US Rep. Thomas Wexler to sponsor a House Resolution condemning the racism of the CCC.[11]

Leaving aside the obvious question of why someone would not investigate a group before speaking in front of them twice, for Perkins to be unaware of the CCC’s views three years after a scandal erupted because of politicians’ ties to the group, is beyond belief.

Even more disturbingly, a picture of Perkins featured in the Summer 1997 issue of Citizens Informer shows that he addressed the CCC in front of a humungous flag with an all-white field and a Southern Cross (the Confederate battle flag) in the corner. This particular flag was the second official flag of the Confederacy, adopted in 1863, and was explicitly designed to represent white supremacy. William Thompson, editor of the Savannah Morning News, and the one who proposed the design of the flag, said:

Our idea is simply to combine the present battle-flag with a pure white standard sheet; our Southern Cross, blue on a red field, to take the place on the white flag that is occupied by the blue union in the old -United States flag, or the St. George's cross in the British flag. As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.[12]

The Confederate Congress was disturbed that a flag with so much white could be easily mistaken for a flag of surrender, so they suggested adding a blue stripe in the middle. But Thompson was dissatisfied and said:

If for no other reason they should discard the bars, and every thing that resembles or is suggestive of the old stripes. While we consider the flag which has by the Senate as a very decided improvement of the old United States flag we still think the Battle-flag on a pure white field was appropriate and handsome. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and, sustained by the brave strong arms of the South, it would soon take rank among ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world [as a] WHITE MAN'S FLAG."[13]

After hearing Thompson’s suggestion, the Confederate Congress adopted Thompson’s racist flag on May 1, 1863. The flag, then, was clearly supposed to represent white supremacy. Thompson’s flag is not to be confused with the ubiquitous Southern Cross, the Confederate battle flag, which often appears on the back of cars.

First of all, it is absolutely inexcusable that Perkins would ever be comfortable speaking with any symbol of the Southern slaveocracy as his background. We don’t care what the revisionist historians and Confederate apologists say, the literature of Civil War period, the statements by political leaders of the Confederacy, as well as good sociological analysis shows that the war was actually about slavery. Also, the ties between the Confederate battle flag (not Thompson’s flag) and white supremacy are well documented, and the Confederate battle flag was undeniably a symbol of resistance to Civil Rights during the 1950s and 60s.

Secondly, we cannot believe that Perkins would speak in front of a group that displayed a Confederate flag (incidentally one specifically representing white supremacy) so prominently and not wonder about the group’s political views. Even if one were delusional enough to believe that the Confederate battle flag does not represent slavery or resistance to Civil Rights, it is frequently used by Neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other racist groups. For Perkins to speak in front of a group that used this particular flag, without asking any questions or without being prompted to further investigate the group is recklessly irresponsible. Or, more probably, he was well aware of what the CCC’s politics were, but did not care.

Perkins’ three connections with white supremacists raise the question of why he would associate with these despicable people. Is Perkins a racist? We think it is unlikely that Perkins agrees with the particular articulation of racism espoused by the Council of Conservative Citizens or David Duke. We do, however, believe that he spoke in front of the CCC knowing full well their racist views, and probably bought Duke’s list on purpose. No one just accidentally stumbles into not one, not two, but three associations with white supremacists.

If you are an ultra-reactionary politician in the Deep South like Tony Perkins and Woody Jenkins, open racists are a part of your right-wing constituency. While a right-wing politician may disagree with racists when it comes to their beliefs about race, they by and large share widespread ideological agreement—including the notion that the Civil Rights Movement went “too far” and that persistent structural racism against blacks and other people of color does not exist. It makes political sense for a right-wing politician to make sure that racists come to the polls for them. Therefore, it is disgusting, yet unsurprising, that a right-wing politician would show up at a meeting of white supremacists.

A statement at the end of a Times-Picayune article cited above provides good insight into the thinking of right-wing politicians in the Deep South:

Earlier this year Duke ran for Congress when Bob Livingston resigned. In the May 1 primary, Duke came in third with 19 percent of the vote. [Ex-Gov.] Foster refused to get involved in the campaign, drawing criticism from anti-Duke activists who demanded that he repudiate Duke as a racist. Foster refused, just as he refused to repudiate Duke's support in the 1995 governor's race. [14]

An open racist got 20 percent of the vote in his district (and earlier got as high as 32 percent of the Republican vote in the 1991 gubernatorial race). The white supremacist message obviously has a large following among Louisiana Republicans. Later, a gubernatorial candidate, Mike Foster, knew this and refused to distance himself from a white supremacist’s support. This shows that the right-wing machine in the South is clearly dependent on racism for power—despite their public denunciations of racism. Perkins and Jenkins are no different. Apparently, Foster, the only one willing to openly embrace Duke, was also the only one willing to be honest about it.

Charles Pickering, Sr.

The other “Liberty Sunday” speaker with explicit ties to white supremacy is Charles Pickering, Sr. When Pickering was up for nomination to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, numerous critics pointed out that in the 1960s, Pickering was extremely hostile to Civil Rights[15]—even writing a defense of laws opposing interracial marriage as a law student and leaving the Democratic Party because of its (lackluster) support for Civil Rights.[16] When the KKK was terrorizing blacks and Civil Rights workers in Mississippi, Pickering with the D.A. and Sheriff of Laurel, Mississippi issued a public statement, which criticized the KKK’s violence but attacked Civil Rights activists:

While we believe in continuing our Southern way of life and realize that outside agitators have cause [sic] much turmoil and racial hatred, let there be no misunderstanding, we oppose such activities, but law and order must prevail (emphasis added).[17]

More recently, Pickering has been largely antagonistic to anti-discrimination claims[18] and even intervened in a case of a man convicted of cross-burning and terrorizing an interracial couple in order to arrange a lighter sentence for him.

Of course, Pickering’s supporters have rushed to defend him against the charges. Village Voice columnist, Nat Hentoff, who defended Pickering’s intervention in the cross-burning case, said:

Two of the three defendants in the cross-burning case agreed to a plea bargain, in which the Justice Department took part, that put the two men in home detention on a misdemeanor, but avoided jail time.

On the basis of the evidence, Pickering saw that the third defendant, Swan, who refused a plea bargain, went to trial. Swan was guilty, but Pickering knew he had not been the ringleader in the crime; had no previous record; and had not shown in the past the racial bias that, under the federal hate-crimes statute, would have put him away for the 7-1/2-year sentence that the Justice Department demanded Pickering impose.

It did not make sense, Pickering reasoned, that the actual ringleader — who had previously shot a rifle into the window of the interracial couple's home and had a history of fighting with blacks in school — should get no jail time while Swan would be imprisoned for 7-1/2 years.[19]

Pickering’s opponents were not necessarily arguing that his legal reasoning in this case was totally outrageous, but they did question why this was “the only time in his entire judicial career he had ever undertaken such an act of intervention.[20] Considering Pickering’s segregationist past, it is, indeed, suspicious that the only time Pickering would go out of his way to “intervene” in a defendant’s case was when the defendant was a racist. Additionally, Pickering’s “intervention” included unethical, private ex-parte meetings with prosecutors where he threatened to overturn Swan’s conviction if he was not given a lighter sentence.[21]

“And There Was No One Left to Speak for Me…”

The Rev. Ray Pendleton, pastor of Tremont Temple Baptist Church, boasts of his church’s history as “the first church in New England to proclaim the Emancipation Proclamation and the first church in Boston to preach the abolitionist message” which “stood against the state of Massachusetts in helping to house fugitive slaves.[22] For a pastor of a church with historic links to abolitionism to embrace groups with people who defend slavery on their staff, segregationists and people who are comfortable speaking in front of white supremacist groups, is utterly reckless. It is a betrayal of the history of Tremont Temple and its largely black parishioners for Rev. Pendleton to appear on the same stage as these people.

Many leaders of predominantly black churches are so blinded by irrational homophobia that they are willing to deal with far-right politicians to support their own prejudices. But these deals with the devil will bring a torrent of Faustian consequences on the black community. Over the past few decades, LGBT people have not been the only targets of the Right’s offensive. They have also been gunning for affirmative action and, more terrifyingly, they have been working overtime to promote the idea that institutional racism is nonexistent and that blacks should simply “get over” the historic legacy of discrimination in America. Rather than stand up to the Right’s discourse on racism, black churches and predominantly black churches are embracing the far-Right.

As the racist essay posted by NARTH and Tony Perkins’ interactions with white supremacists show, the anti-gay Right is a political coalition that includes open racists and people who want to turn back the clock on Civil Rights. That’s a reality that black churches and church leaders have to account for when they flirt with the Right.

[1] Gerard Schönewolf, “Gay Rights and Political Correctness: A Brief History.” Internet. 5 April, 2005. Southern Poverty Law Center Website. URL:

[2] Federal Elections Commission. MUR 4872. Cited in Max Blumenthal, “Tony Perkins: Dealing with the Duke.” Internet. 18 June, 2005. URL:

[3] Jenkins denies knowing the list was connected with Duke in “Duke Unsure About His Taxes; He Can’t Recall Telling IRS about List Income.” Times-Picayune. 28 May, 1999 and in a letter to the editor in the Baton Rouge Advocate on July 31, 2002. Perkins denies knowledge in “Jenkins Faces Fine for 1996 Campaign; FEC Says He Tried to Hide Deal” 24 July, 2002. Times-Picayune and “Perkins: From Pulpit to Politics, US Senate Hopeful is Comfortable with Both.” Times-Picayune. 9 October, 2002. In a press release, the Family Research Council asserted that the connection between Duke and Impact Mail “was not known to Perkins until 1999.” See “A Response to False Claims Made by the Nation.” Online. Family Research Council. URL: [12 October, 2006]. This is simply ridiculous. Perkins had to have known about the connection in 1996 because he covered up the transaction!

[4] Blumenthal.

[5] Louisiana State Board of Ethics. Opinion 99-360. URL: Cited by Blumenthal.

[6] “Foster Paid Duke $150,000 for Voter List; Ex-Klansman Takes Fifth in Testimony before Grand Jury.” Times-Picayune. 21 May, 1999.

[7] According to an AP article about the Foster scandal, “Shreveport direct-mail marketer Carl Liberto said he had never heard of one worth $150,000 - even the most exclusive ones. Some lists go as high as 10 cents per name… See Alan Sayer, “Governor, Duke Say Nothing Was Wrong with Supporter List SaleAssociated Press. 20 May, 1999. Note: In the same article, Jenkins says that $82,000 is “not excessive and that he had a more expensive contract for similar work.” Nonetheless, $.10 per name is on the high-end for phone lists, and Duke’s list, which Perkins bought, was more expensive than that. See also Steve Rita, “Price Was Sky High for List, Experts Say; Duke Defends Value of Lists.” Times-Picayune. 21 May, 1999.

[8] One political consultant said, “The main reason for buying a political mailing list is to get a return on your money, as well as a possible profit.” See Rita, “Price.”

[9] Rita, “Price.”

[10] Citizens Informer 28. Summer 1997, p. 7; Citizens Informer 32. March-April 2001, p. 13. Very special thanks to Edward Sebesta of the Southern Poverty Law Center for taking time out of his busy schedule and digging through his files of Citizens Informer.

[11] U.S. House. 106th Congress, 1st Session. H.RES 35 1999. “Resolution Condemning the Racism Espoused by the Council of Conservative Citizens.” Internet. Thomas. URL: For extensive discussion about racism and the CCC in the House, see also “Affirming the Congress’ Opposition to All Forms of Racism and Bigotry” Congressional Record. Internet. March 23, 1999. Thomas. URL:

[12] George Henry Preble, The Origin and History of the American Flag, 2nd Edition. (Philadelphia: Nicholas Brown, 1917 [1876]): p. 526.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Sayre, “Governor, Duke.”

[15] Ralph Neas, “Ralph Neas Responds to the Wall Street Journal Editorial” Internet. 12 February, 2002. People for the American Way. URL:

[16] Dan T. Carter (et. al.), “Historians’ Petition Against the Nomination of Charles Pickering.” Internet. 27 October, 2003. History News Network. URL:

[17] Ibid.

[18] People for the American Way, “Editorial Memorandum: Hearing Strengthens Case Against Judge Charles Pickering's Confirmation; Testimony Highlights Problems with Nominee's Record as Judge and State Senator,” pp. 3-4. Internet. URL:

[19] Nat Hentoff, “Justice Denied a Good Judge” Jewish World Review. 22 October, 2003. URL:

[20] Carter, “Historians’ Petition”

[21] PFAW, “Editorial Memorandum,” p.5.

[22] Ray Pendleton, “A Note from Our Pastor” Online. Tremont Temple Baptist Church. URL:

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