Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg








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Michelle Goldberg’s new book, Kingdom Coming, will disturb those pluralists who have been unwilling to examine the ways in which evangelical Christians are taking over society to mold it into their version of God’s kingdom. American polarization is taking new forms, and Goldberg highlights in a cogent way the lack of common ground between two different approaches to science, politics, social services and justice. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, “Protocols of the Elders of San Francisco: The Political Uses of Homophobia,” pp. 50-57:


On a Sunday morning just over three weeks before the 2004 elec­tion, a purple curtain rose on the stage of the 12,000-member World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, to reveal a purple- and white-robed choir standing on a bridge several stories above the ground. Beneath them, a row of gospel singers in black suits sang soft-rock worship anthems. A black backdrop behind them sparkled with pinpricks of light like a starry sky. Colored lights swept over the singers, and two huge monitors showed close-ups of the ecstatic faces of thou­sands of churchgoers who were about to hear how Jesus wanted them to save marriage from the hell-spawned forces of homosexuality on November 2.

On the monitors flanking the stage, words to a simple, chantlike hymn appeared for people to sing along:


You are a mighty God

You are a mighty God

Mighty God mighty God

Yes you are a mighty God


Two pianists played and electric guitar riffs sizzled through the air. In the pews—row after row of them—there was an ecstasy of singing and dancing, people swaying with their hands in the air or turning in small circles. The verse was repeated over and over, slightly modified— “You are an awesome God; You are a holy God.” The song ended with cheers and applause from an audience that continued to grow as late-corners trickled into the amphitheaterlike chapel.

A man with a neat silver pompadour took the stage to warm up for Pastor Rod Parsley, a faith-healing televangelist who, like Rick Scarbor­ough, is positioning himself as one of the evangelical right’s next gener­ation of leaders. Calling Parsley a “prophet” and an “oracle of God,” the warm-up preacher said, “Tomorrow he’s got eighteen years of marital bliss. He’s not only preaching it, he’s living it. Marriage—one man, one woman.” The crowd shouted its approval.

Parsley, a broad-shouldered, dark-haired white man with narrow eyes and ripe, fleshy lips, appeared onstage. “The nation has never been more divided and the choices have never been more clear,” he declared. “Everyone asks, ‘Why is it so close?’ The light is getting lighter and the dark is getting darker. These two opponents are not just opponents. This is a values situation. This is lightness and darkness!”

He would say much more about marriage, but not until his flock was looser and giddy with music and movement. “Reach over and slap someone a high five and tell them it’s gonna get better!” he said, and people happily complied. As the music rose, Parsley enjoined the wor­shippers to dance harder. “You need to abandon yourself! Don’t let those aisles separate you!”

At his words, people started dancing in the aisles.

Parsley called headache sufferers to the front of the auditorium. But as people watched them line up, he cried out, “Don’t stop worshipping Him! Don’t stop worshipping Him! Don’t become a spectator!” As thousands in the crowd kept dancing, he moved among those who came forward, putting his hand on their foreheads. “In the presence of God I rebuke it,” he said. “In the presence of God I rebuke it. In Jesus, I rebuke it. Lose it. Lose it. In the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus. Lose that.”

The choir kept singing and Parsley kept preaching, spewing glosso­lalia as he laid his hands on his flock. Some people fell back and were caught by ushers standing behind them. One woman paced the aisle, her hands above her head, looking up and sobbing.

Nearly an hour and a half passed before Parsley started preaching in earnest to a crowd that was by then happily worn out and receptive. He told his audience that Christianity was under siege. Interlopers from out of state had come to Ohio, “going door to door, knocking on doors so we can continue to murder babies and further strip the church of its First Amendment rights through hate crimes legislation.” Gay mar­riage, he said, heralds “the annihilation of a civilization.”

He started to sweat. An organ trilled behind him as he said, “On November 2, I see people marching like a holy army to the voting booth. I see the holy spirit anointing you as you vote for life, as you vote for marriage, as you vote for the pulpit!”



Three and a half weeks later, on November 3, a dozen or so volunteers for Americans Coming Together (ACT)—the “interlopers” of Parsley’s sermon, who had come to Ohio to turn out the progressive vote— slumped stunned in front of a TV in their suddenly deserted Columbus headquarters. Off to the side, a blonde girl sobbed quietly. Bush had won. Anti-gay-marriage initiatives, many of which also banned domes­tic partnerships and other legal recognition for gay couples, had passed resoundingly in all eleven states where they were on the ballot, includ­ing Ohio. The far right had made gains in the House and the Senate. It was a debacle for the Democrats, and many hadn’t seen it coming.

All through October, the mood among Democratic volunteers was ebullient. ACT had mounted one of the largest, most well-financed get-out-the-vote drives in the history of American politics, dispatching thousands of paid workers and impassioned volunteers to canvass vot­ers in swing states. On Ohio’s residential streets, ACT people seemed to be everywhere, along with volunteers from the Kerry campaign and the unions. There was no visible Republican equivalent.

In The New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai wrote of Steve Bou­chard, ACT’s Ohio director, and his colleague Tom Lindenfeld: “What gnawed at Bouchard was that nowhere we went in Franklin County, a vigorously contested swing county, did we see any hint of a strong Republican presence—no signs, no door-knockers, no Bush support­ers handing out leaflets at the polls. This seemed only to increase Lin­denfeld’s confidence. . . . For Bouchard, however, the silence was unsettling. How could there be such a thing as a stealth get-out-the-vote drive?”

The drive wasn’t happening in stealth. It was happening in churches, especially megachurches, temples of religious nationalism where millions of Americans gather every week for exultant sermons that mingle evangelical Christianity, self-help, and right-wing politics. Bush’s brigades were hidden in plain sight in a parallel culture, an America that’s both mainstream and invisible to many on the coasts, an America that had been set alight by the intolerable threat posed by gay marriage.

November 2 was just the beginning. In the months that followed, state and local lawmakers across the country attempted to strip gay people of a host of legal protections, including the right to share health insurance, adopt children, and become foster parents. An Alabama law­maker introduced a bill to prevent school libraries from buying books by gay authors or with gay characters. He said the move was necessary to protect Alabama’s children from “the homosexual agenda.” Com­missioners in Rhea County, Tennessee—famous as the site of the Scopes trial—voted to urge state lawmakers to criminalize gay sex. “We need to keep them out of here,” said Commissioner J. C. Fugate, who also asked the Rhea County attorney how they might ban homosexuals from living in the county at all.2 (The commissioners later retreated from their position after a national outcry.)

Homosexuality has become the mobilizing passion for much of the religious right. A populist movement needs an enemy, but one reason the Christian nationalists are so strong is that they’ve made peace with many old foes, especially Catholics and African-Americans. Gay people have taken the place of obsolete demons.

For the right, gays are living signifiers of decadence and corruption. They’re seen as both repulsive and tempting, their mere existence sparking some deep primordial panic among much of straight Amer­ica. A great many of the anxieties stalking the country—fears about social dysfunction, family breakdown, cultural decay, and decreasing status—have been projected onto homosexuals and their ostensible “agenda.” Books and videos chronicle the homosexual plots to take over America’s schools, children, churches, and government.

In their widely promoted 2003 book The Homosexual Agenda, Craig Osten and Alan Sears (president of the Alliance Defense Fund, the major Christian nationalist legal outfit) write breathlessly of a national conspiracy that, under the cover of fighting for civil rights, aims to steal the souls of children and silence the church. “Overt efforts are made by many to lead young men and women into homosexual behavior, many for simple, base reasons that have nothing to do with political agendas,” they wrote. “Instead, the new recruits are ‘fresh meat’ and sources of new cash, new sex partners, and new profit.”3

In the past, this kind of demonization has been a precursor to hor­ror. There are some inescapable parallels between the rhetoric of cul­tural purity in 1930s Germany and in our America. One of the first things the Nazis did upon coming to power was crack down on gays as part of a broader family values campaign. As Richard J. Evans wrote in The Coming of the Third Reich, “The Nazis moved with the approval of conservatives and Catholics alike to destroy every branch of Weimar Germany’s lively and intricately interconnected congeries of pressure-groups for sexual freedom, the reform of the abortion law, the decrimi­nalization of homosexuality, the public dispensing of contraceptive advice and anything else that they thought was contributing to the con­tinued decline of the German birth rate.”4

Social conservatism is not in itself fascistic, of course. But the com­bination of repression, populism, and paranoia, the fear of decadence as a monstrous plot against the nation, carries frightening echoes. The Nazis saw sexual liberation movements as part of a Jewish conspiracy to subvert the German family and thus Germany as a whole. Today’s right attributes a similar scheme to gays. In their introduction, Sears and Osten wrote, “We will outline how the homosexual agenda touches every area of our lives, from the media to education to families to cor­porate America and to government [sic]. We will document how the religious freedoms of all Americans are under attack from radical homosexual activists.”5 The homosexual agenda canard is to Christian nationalists what the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was to earlier gener­ations of authoritarians.

Just as anti-Semites deny the Holocaust, some Christian nationalists argue that stories about the Nazi victimization of gay people are lies devised to further the homosexual agenda and disarm its opposition. In their revisionist history The Pink Swastika, Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams make the astonishing charge that Nazism was a primarily homosexual movement, that today’s gay rights movement is its direct descendant, and that claims to the contrary are simply part of the homosexual conspiracy. Being ruthless, those behind the “homosexual agenda” must be treated ruthlessly. “Like their Nazi predecessors, today’s homosexualists lack any scruples,” wrote Lively and Abrams. “Homosex­uality is primarily a predatory addiction striving to take the weak and unsuspecting down with it. The ‘gay’ agenda is a colossal fraud; a gigan­tic robbery of the mind. Homosexuals of the type described in this book have no true idea of how to act in the best interests of their country and fellow man. Their intention is to serve none but themselves.”6

Lively and Abrams are not solitary cranks: their contention that gays were perpetrators rather than victims of the Holocaust is common among Christian nationalists. Among those who’ve endorsed The Pink Swastika is Steve Baldwin, executive director of the Council for National Policy, one of the most powerful right-wing groups in Amer­ica. Lively, the president of the Pro-Family Law Center in Sacramento, California, serves as California state director of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association and has been a guest on Fox News, James Dobson’s radio show, The 700 Club, and a host of other programs, and his work is referenced in many books on the “homosexual agenda.”

The demonology these men peddle—repeated endlessly at churches, on right-wing TV and radio, at rallies, and by politicians—helps explain how in 2004 millions of Americans decided that, in a time of war and economic uncertainty, there was no issue more urgent than keeping gay people from getting married.



The role that gay marriage played in the 2004 election—and continues to play in American politics—has been confused by competing hyper­bole. In the days after November 2, conventional wisdom held that the election represented the triumph of right-wing culture warriors, who wasted no time claiming a mandate. On November 3, William Bennett, the former Reagan drug czar famous for political sanctimony and compulsive gambling, wrote in the National Review Online, “Having restored decency to the White House, President Bush now has a man­date to affect policy that will promote a more decent society, through both politics and law. . . . Now is the time to begin our long, national cultural renewal . . . no less in legislation than in federal court appointments.”

Culture warriors pointed to the much quoted exit poll in which 22 percent of voters cited “moral values” as their chief concern, exceeding those who pointed to Iraq (15 percent) or the economy and jobs (20 percent) as priorities. Eighty percent of voters who said they cared most about moral values choose Bush. (“Moral values,” of course, is widely understood as a euphemism for opposition to gay marriage and abor­tion rights.)

In one way, the significance of this poll was overstated. Yes, more voters pointed to “moral values” than any of the other issues listed, but that’s partly because of the way the question was worded. Nineteen per­cent of respondents said the most important issue in the election was terrorism. Add that to Iraq, and you have 34 percent of voters making their decision based on foreign policy.

As a percentage of the electorate, the evangelical vote was no higher in 2004 than it was in 2000. Yet evangelicals were the most active and cohesive part of the campaign, outmatching the unprecedented progressive mobilization on behalf of John Kerry. As Marvin Olasky wrote in the evangelical magazine World, “President Bush won because moral issues were more important than any others for one fifth of the voters, and the president won that fifth by at least a 4—1 majority. To put it another way, Senator Kerry probably received about 56 percent of the vote from people most concerned with foreign policy or economic issues, the traditional subjects for presidential campaigns.”7

While the 2004 election wasn’t won on the culture war alone, it revealed the growing size and strength of the Christian nationalist movement that’s been building in this country for decades. The cadres of the religious right are the foot soldiers of the Republican party, the people who man phone banks and organize their neighbors. Not all Republican voters believe that gay marriage portends the death of the nation, but ones who do were key to Bush’s victory, and they’re now driving America’s social policy.


Kingdom Coming sends a warning to those who value a secular society that efforts are underway and progressing to define America in new ways.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2006



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