On October 20 and 21st, I attended the Value Voters Summit, a massive gathering hosted by the Colorado-based Christian right mega-ministry, Focus on the Family, and its Washington lobbying arm, the Family Research Council. With the pro-choice Rudy Giuliani leading in the race for the Republican nomination and the threat of another Clinton presidency looming, the stakes for the Christian right were high.
At the Summit, I witnessed all of the major Republican presidential candidates compete for the affection of so-called value voters. Rudy Giuliani, the current frontrunner, sought to assuage movement leaders' concerns about his multiple marriages, pro-choice politics, and penchant for cross-dressing. Mitt Romney pledged to fight for a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, hoping his newfound conservatism would somehow lessen evangelical resentment of his Mormon faith.
Though no candidate emerged from the Summit as a clear Christian right favorite, the badly underfunded former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee won over the audience with his insistence that banning abortion would put an end to America's illegal immigration problem. Huckabee's comparison of "liberalized abortion" to the Holocaust further endeared him to the "value voters." Later, during a press conference, I challenged Huckabee to explain the logic behind his rhetoric.
Recently, there has been a lot of mainstream media noise about a new, more socially conscious evangelical movement rising from the angry ashes of the Christian right. Pastors like Rick Warren and "evangelical feminist" Bill Hybels are supposedly bringing issues like the environment and poverty to the forefront of the movement's social agenda, while pushing anti-abortion and anti-gay activism to the wayside. Yet no one told those evangelicals gathered at the Value Voters Summit about this friendly new initiative.
If anything, the movement seemed more extreme and paranoid than it did four years ago. Rev. Lou Sheldon, dubbed "Lucky Louie" by his former paymaster Jack Abramoff, told me that homosexuality is a "pathological disorder" and "a groove" that is difficult to escape from. He proceeded to passionately defend his friend, Senator Larry Craig, from allegations of homosexuality.
Star Parker, a former welfare cheat who had multiple abortions, claimed to me that abortion is the leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 25 and 34. Then she described her wish for the forced quarantine of all "sodomites." Parker was not a lone wacko milling around in the hallway; she was a speaker invited by the Family Research Council.
Neoconservative activist Frank Gaffney appeared at the Summit as well. Before a standing room audience, Gaffney exclaimed that "by not being bigoted and not being racist, [George W.] Bush has embraced Islamofascists on several occasions." Phyllis Schlaffly echoed Gaffney's comments, declaring that there are too many mosques in America.
These incidents and many more are captured in my latest video report, "Theocracy Now: In Search of Values at the 2007 Value Voters Summit." See it for yourself.