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Christian Right Insiders Reveal Racism, Virulent Anti-Immigrant Attitudes and Homophobia in Prominent Religious Group

"I'd much rather be working in the secular world than for a ministry," said the founder's former secretary, still a conservative and devout Christian. "The secular world is nicer."
 
 
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The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here.

Just before this year's Values Voter Summit, the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way called on Republican elected officials and candidates to condemn virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements made by the American Family Association’s director of public policy, Bryan Fischer.

Fischer, who hosts a daily radio show on AFA's radio network of 180 stations, has, among other things, claimed that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; called for the deportation of Muslims and for banning them from military service; claimed that gay sex is "domestic terrorism"; called gay adoption a "terrible, terrible, inexcusable, inhumane thing to do to children"; and claimed that Hitler and his Stormtroopers were all gay.

No one took PFAW up on its suggestion, and AFA's founder and chairman emeritus Don Wildmon was feted at the Summit's gala with the James C. Dobson Values & Leadership Award, which declared him "one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time." At the award dinner, anti-gay marriage crusader Bishop Harry Jackson called him a "legend" and "the ultimate advocate for the kingdom of God"; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called him "a wonderful man of God" who had a "great influence" on the culture; and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson added, "I don't think there's been a more fearless defender of righteousness and truth than Don Wildmon."

The AFA, founded by Wildmon in Tupelo, Mississippi back in 1977, was known as the National Federation for Decency until 1988. Today, along with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, it’s one of the powerhouses of the religious right. Contributions to the nonprofit exceeded $19 million last year, according to financial data made available by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. In 2008, the organization donated $500,000 in support of Proposition 8 in California, twice the amount donated by Focus on the Family, and Jackson said it gave him money for his anti-gay marriage effort in the District of Columbia. It was one of the first religious right organizations to claim a role in the Tea Party movement.

"The American Family Association is one of the oldest, largest, and most radical religious right groups, and it has always played a major role in the right wing movement's efforts to denigrate gay Americans and to convince conservative Christians that liberals are out to destroy religious liberty and silence people of faith," said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. "The AFA has also played an active role in driving the national right-wing agenda -- at the so called Values Voter Summit this year, GOP leaders echoed the AFA's talking points on gays and lesbians, Islam, and the supposed persecution of American Christians."

And yet, while the AFA has long been known for its invective against the "homosexual agenda" and its boycotts of companies that fail to meet its standards of "decency," Fischer -- no policy wonk, despite being director of “Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy” -- has taken the public rhetoric to a new, ugly level.

According to former employees of the AFA, the views represented by Fischer are not only tolerated within the organization, but any opposition to its anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant invective -- including reliance on white nativist sources in the AFA's media programs -- is dismissed. What's worse, former employees say, anyone questioning such attitudes as un-Christian is denigrated, and in some cases forced out.

Former AFA employees describe Wildmon -- who led the organization until just last year -- as an autocratic micromanager incapable of socializing with or showing empathy for his own employees.