Randall Terry's Untimely Crusade

Just when you thought that the wacky world of anti-gay politics couldn't get much weirder, along comes a news item out of Vermont regarding Randall Terry. You may remember Terry from his Operation Rescue days, when that organization moved around the country raising holy havoc at women's health clinics. Terry currently hosts a radio talk-show promoting the Christian Right's political and social agenda, and his own rather quirky vision.A few weeks ago Terry planted himself firmly in Vermont in order to act as a "national megaphone" in opposition to any attempt by the Vermont State Legislature to approve same-sex marriage or any equivalent alternative. At the same time he is running around trying to build support for impeaching the Vermont Supreme Court.To recap: In December, in a historical and controversial decision, Vermont's Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must receive the same benefits and protections as married couples under state law. Since that time the state legislature has been holding a series of hearings in order to figure out a way to deal with that ruling.As you might expect with such a profound decision, the battle lines were immediately drawn. The scene on the streets outside of each hearing has become a mini-battleground, as anti-gay protestors have clashed with pro-gay supporters. In early February some 1,000 Christians who oppose same-sex marriage rallied in support of "God's law," many handing out stickers that read, "God's Plan, 1 Woman, 1 Man."And this is where Terry, who also runs a group called The Loyal Opposition, has landed with both feet. From his outpost just a few hundred feet from the state Capitol building, Terry told reporters that "this [decision] is an assault on the institution of marriage. It's their Normandy Beach. It's the immoral victory that they -- the homosexual community -- have been looking for."And to make sure his position was absolutely crystal clear to reporters he said that "marriage must be protected because it is an institution created by God. It is a holy covenant."As has often been the case, many of the loudest mouths in the morality business have their own closet packed with sexually-charged skeletons. This was clear at the beginning of the Clinton Impeachment process when the so-called "youthful indiscretions" of chairman Henry Hyde and the sexual shenanigans of House Speaker-to-be-who-wasn't Bob Livingston were revealed, and it has been just as clear during the past few months when the marital infidelity and downright boorish behavior of former Speaker Newt Gingrich finally came to light.Now the spotlight is once again where Randall Terry likes it -- shining directly on him. However, this time around the press is less interested in Terry's animated pronouncements and more curious about his personal life.For most of his career, Terry has been a little too goofy to be considered amongst the top level of powerful conservative Christian leaders. (Understand that you have to be pretty loopy to outdo folks like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the wackometer). In fact, Terry's roots were always a bit suspect for the high echelon leadership of the Christian Right; after all, he grew up in a family of civil rights fighters and feminists in Rochester, New York, and became a used-car salesman who dreamt of becoming a "famous rock-and-roll star," the Washington Post reported in 1989.During its heyday, Terry's Operation Rescue was the hottest thing going among activist anti-abortion groups. They consistently mobilized the greatest numbers of people to blockade abortion clinics, had many people arrested, defied court injunctions, and were a powerful force for the pro-choice movement to reckon with. In the late eighties headlines in newspapers all over the country captured OR's frenzied activities: "60 arrested at Oakland family planning clinic"; "28 arrested blocking pregnancy clinic"; "Hundreds Arrested in D.C. Abortion Protest"' "Prolife Rescue Arrests Topped 23,000 in '89."Terry was becoming a rising star whose arrogant personal style was matched only by his soaring rhetoric. In 1990 he told a small group of followers in California that "If we don't stop the abortion holocaust, we are headed down the road to forced abortion." Fred Clarkson, long-time researcher into the right's activities, wrote in Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy that in 1995 Terry told a gathering of supporters in Kenner, Louisiana that Christians may have to "take up the sword" in order to "overthrow the regime that oppresses them." Clarkson says that Terry then called for a theocratic state founded "on the Ten Commandments," and a "culture based on Biblical Law."A 1992 highly-publicized and failed campaign in Buffalo, New York, combined with the changing tactics of the antiabortion movement and the public's growing aversion to OR's staged violence caused the organization to quickly lose its standing within the antiabortion community. Finally a series of restraining orders, injunctions and other court rulings, some of which assessed thousands of dollars in fines forced the group into bankruptcy.Sometimes when "the people" stop following their designated leaders, the leaders decide to pause and take some time for reflection, thinking about what they could have done differently. However, these setbacks seemed to give Terry a more bitter public persona.He moved on to talk radio where he recently asked listeners to pony up several thousand dollars so that he could stay on the air. He's also suffered a series of personal financial setbacks and then, after a blustery original announcement, ran a lackluster and losing campaign for Congress in New York's 26th congressional district in 1997.Now, Terry turns up in Vermont to save the nation from same-sex marriage. Here's a few aspects of his story that I am sure that he won't be trumpeting through his "national megaphone."Diane Derby, a reporter for the Rutland Herald, writes that Terry has been separated from his wife for close to a year, and three months ago was censured by the Landmark Church, "which cited a number of reasons for the disciplinary action, the first item being, 'For leaving his wife in preparation for divorce, annul or otherwise dissolve their Christian marriage, and for his unwillingness to repent for this sin'."Terry's response: "I'm going to make one comment. After that I'm not going to say anything. This is the darkest side of evangelicalism. I'm not going to defend myself against garbage." He then referred reporters to his new church, a charismatic Episcopalian church on Long Island.Flip Benham, former OR colleague, says that when he spoke with Terry in November 1999, Terry assured him "that he would be pulling back in all ministry areas at the beginning of the New Year." Terry didn't pull back. Instead, he is surrounded by a controversy of his own making.Benham writes: "Randall has separated from his wife and family , from his church, and from all of us who have been running the race of faith with him. It is a self-chosen path. He has been confronted time and again by those who truly love him...to repent and return to his first love, his wife, and his church -- all to no avail! Randall has dragons to slay and funds to raise! All the while his family, his church, his testimony, and the children he has been ordained to protect, are being slain by the real dragon of his soul."In the "Letter of Church Censure" Benham lays out the reasons why Terry is being censured:* for "leaving his wife in preparation to divorce ... or otherwise dissolve their Christian marriage"* for a "pattern of repeated sinful relationships and conversations with both single and married women"* for "threatening legal action against the Landmark Church"* for a negative "transformation" and "soliciting funds from his donors" under false pretenses.Further details of Terry's transgressions can be found on Operation Save America's website (the new name for Operation Rescue National) -- http://www.operationsaveamerica.org.In many ways Randall Terry is following the same time-honored path blazed by Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker before him. And while he doesn't seem to be cavorting with prostitutes like Swaggart, or directly ripping off funds from his followers like Bakker, Terry's behavior is both remarkable and predictable. That Randall Terry in the midst of deep personal crisis would trudge off to Vermont on another self-righteous anti-gay crusade would be downright laughable if it wasn't so damned offensive.

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