Moral Morass: Religious right groups love to judge your ethics – how are their Own?

If you’re a political junkie you might be following a story out of Florida centering on a man named Nathan Sproul. Sproul stands accused of engaging in voter registration fraud.

The other day a reporter from Florida called to ask me some questions about Sproul. I was surprised to hear from her because I didn’t think I knew anything about him, other than what I had read in the papers.

But it turns out I do. I had to rack my brain a bit, but it did come back to me. Back in 1995, Americans United had a run-in with Sproul while several of us were attending a meeting of the Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C.

Although it’s pretty much a shell of an organization today, the Christian Coalition in the mid-1990s was a Religious Right powerhouse. Backed by the fortune of TV preacher Pat Robertson, the Coalition’s budget reached $22 million in some years. It had a network of chapters nationwide, and its activists had taken over the Republican Party in many states.

Sproul at the time was serving as field director of the Arizona branch of the Christian Coalition. He gave a talk about how to infiltrate local units of the GOP – in itself an interesting thing for a supposedly “non-partisan” group to do.

Sproul’s major recommendation was that people be less than honest about their ties. In an October 1995 Church & State article (sorry – it’s not online), I reported that Sproul “urged attendees to become precinct committee chairs in the Republican Party but not to let anyone know the Christian Coalition is behind the move.” The idea was to build a presence in the GOP, get sent to the national convention and help pick the party’s presidential nominee.

Another speaker at that same session went on and on about how important it is to pose as a moderate – going so far as to recommend that you not sit near people perceived to be far right – so as to more effectively infiltrate the local party unit. (Once you’re in a position of power, of course, you can be as kooky right as you want to be.)

This is a pattern I’ve noticed from years of attending Religious Right meetings: There’s a lot of deceit. People are told to hide what they’re really about or to use stealthy techniques to infiltrate political groups.

In 2006, a speaker at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit outlined a plan to influence elections based almost entirely on deceit. Connie Marshner recommended calling people listed in church directories and finding out how they intend to vote by posing as a pollster. On election day, only those who indicated that they will vote for the favored candidate get a call back reminding them to vote. Marshner recommended people say they are calling from “ABC Polls.”

When someone in the audience asked what they should say if the person they called asked if they were working for a candidate, she recommended not being honest.

“Just say I’m collecting information about the candidates,” Marshner said. When others in the audience indicated some unease with the ethics of the plan, Marshner said it was time to move on.

One of the things that bothers me most about the leadership of the Religious Right is their smug arrogance. They loudly proclaim that their embrace of fundamentalism provides them with a superior platform for morality – the implication being that the rest of us have fallen short of their lofty position. They brag about their faith’s moral system and cast aspersions on those of us who have chosen a different spiritual or non-spiritual path.

They are so quick to judge others – yet what are their own ethics like?

They endorse an “end-justifies-the-means” theory of politics and engage in slash-and-burn forms of character assassination.  

They embrace people like Newt Gingrich and actually charge a serial adulterer with the task of lecturing the nation on the need for “traditional marriage.”

They align with Ralph Reed, whose ethics are for sale to the highest bidder.

They attack gay people and drive parents from their gay children – and have the audacity to call it “pro-family.”

They urge pastors to ignore the law and politicize their churches by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. The more I read about Sproul’s troubles in Florida, the less surprised I am that he’s having difficulty. Maybe if he hadn’t spent so many years working for the Religious Right, the man might have a proper moral foundation.

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