Thanks to local ideologues like Dr. Robert Meneilly and his church militant, the hate group formerly known as The Mainstream Coalition (like the artist formerly known as Prince), that vicious and dishonest way of thinking survives “Right here in River City!”
Consider the slogans of “the Party” seen everywhere in the dystopian London of the future as imagined by Orwell:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
“two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any part that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.”
Twenty years ago this month (July of 1993), the Right Reverend Robert H. Meneilly launched a very strong and very public attack on the Religious Right. His remarks were the subject of an op-ed piece in The New York Times that gained national attention for his arguments, which can be summarized as follows:
1) The mixing of politics and religion is dangerous, i.e. clergymen violate the separation of church and state if they use their authority and following as ministers to advocate for political positions and candidates.
2) No one should try to impose his religious beliefs on others in the form of public policy or law. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming a theocracy.
3) Candidates for public office should disclose who their backers are, specifically the organizations that they are supporting, so that voters can make an informed decision on who to support based on full disclosure. In other words, no stealth candidates!
4) The best political tradition is that of sensible moderation, in other words a centrist philosophy that is not tied inflexibly to either the Republican or Democratic parties or the liberal or conservative political traditions. The hallmark of true moderation is a rejection of any form of extremism, of the left or the right;
5) Prejudice or hostilities based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation have no place in public discourse.
1) Mixing politics and religion-Dr. Bob’s ’93 op-ed piece was only the last in a long line of political pronouncements he’d made over a forty year span. Using his authority and following as pastor of one of the biggest church’s in the metropolitan area, Meneilly had spoken out repeatedly in the 60’s in favor of civil rights and against the war on Vietnam. The N.Y. Times op ed piece was, in fact, based on a sermon he’d given at his Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village. The formation of the Mainstream Coalition was announced by Meneilly at a press conference held in the parish hall of that church.
(Politics in the pulpit are apparently acceptable, as long as they are liberal politics.)
2) No religiously-based political belief—I’m sure Meneilly and his followers feel that their Christian faith compels them to speak out against war, poverty, and racism, and in favor of social justice, the environment, and world peace. Why are those faith based positions acceptable and opposition to abortion and gay marriage not?
3) No stealth candidates or organizations—The Mainstream Coalition was founded in 1993 along lines suggested by the Democratic Congressional Committee, which provided the seed money to start an umbrella organization, The Interfaith Alliance, to counter the Religious Right. (Meneilly has said the Interfaith Alliance includes the former Mainstream Coalition as a “member.”) The National Jewish Democratic Council published a handbook titled; “How to Start A Mainstream Coalition in Your Community.” (Written by the aptly named Donna Marx.)
Why are none of those partisan ties disclosed? (I can anticipate the argument that since the Mainstream includes prominent Republicans it can’t be considered a partisan group. Ms. Marx’s handbook sagely advises to be sure to include registered Republicans in your mast head so this argument can be made!)
4) Rejection of Extremism and Embracement of Moderation—As an argument, who could disagree? The problem is that the Mainstream Coalition has yet to cite any example of left wing extremism. All their attacks are made against those on the Right. (They are like the French Popular Front of the 30’s, a coalition of Socialists and Communists, whose motto was “No enemies to the Left!)
In fact Meneilly harbored extreme leftists within his organization. One such extremist was the late Dr. John Swomley, a professor at the local St. Paul’s School of (Liberation) Theology. Swomley belonged to a group that had to register as foreign agents of the North Korean government during the brutal Kim Il Sung dictatorship and which advocated improved relations between the U.S. and the world’s (then and now) most brutal police state. Previously, Swomley had advocated draft resistance during World War II and had over the years described the United States as a force for evil in the world.
Swomley was the author of the Mainstream Coalition Position Paper on the Separation of Church and State (“The one thing, above all others, that drives the MAINstream Coalition…”).
Why would they let him speak for their organization given his extreme views?
Meneilly himself let the “moderate” or “centrist” mask slip a little in a front page editorial he wrote in The Mainstream Messenger in which he said he was “honored to be considered a liberal!” Why shouldn’t he when no one has noticed the inconsistency until now?
5) Prejudice, hostility based on race, religion, and ethnicity is unacceptable—This is perhaps the most Orwellian of Meneilly’s tactics. The whole reason for the Coalition’s existence is to scare rich Wasps and Jews into voting against their self-interest.
One way this is done is to convince the Jewish community that not only are evangelical Christians anti-semitic, but any conservative candidates they support are anti-semitic by definition. Even though abortion is contrary to Jewish scripture, many Jews feel they have to support abortion because the Religious Right is against it! (All this is possible only because of a stupid 1980 comment by a Baptist theologian that, “God does not hear the prayers of a Jew.” This is the latter day equivalent of a 19th Protestant clergyman who said that the Democratic Party was “the party of rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.”
In one fell swoop, that minister alienated the GOP from all Southerners, all Roman Catholics, and everyone who ever had a drink. These are the gifts that keep on giving for Republicans and conservatives!)
(Several of the early fund raisers for the Coalition were held at the homes of Hallmark executives.)
As I’ve said in prior posts, the Old Guard Republican machine linked up with Meneilly and company early on. They figured correctly that the best way to appeal to the country club crowd was to label the Religious Right as their social and intellectual inferiors. (It’s one of the few ways affluent executives and professionals can show their contempt for working people and still be politically correct.)
This is why the Kansas evolution controversy was such a God send (as it were!) to the Mainstream Coalition and the Moderate Machine. Why these rednecks don’t even believe in evolution! Haven’t they seen “Inherit The Wind”?
Nowadays the attacks are less on the “radical Religious Right” than on “Tea Partiers.”
The message is the same though. The enemy is redneck white people, not Al Qaeda. (Recall New York Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks about the Times Square bombing. The Jewish followers of the Mainstream Coalition are more afraid of Baptists than terrorists.)
Meneilly and company pitch their remarks, in other words, to appeal to the fears and resentments of the particular audience. I even heard Professor Swomley describe the Religious Right as a Papist conspiracy that originated “in a secret conclave in the Vatican in 1979.” He was speaking, of course, to the Lutheran congregation to whom he also made a number of bigoted anti-Catholic remarks designed to appeal to their presumed prejudice. (I’ll admit that I did like the image of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson bowing down to kiss the pope’s ring!)
The truth is that Meneilly and his followers will appeal to ethnic and religious tensions if they think that will get them support, even if that means saying different things to different audiences. The idea that as a result this blow-dried Elmer Gantry and his group are the recipient of every conceivable “brotherhood,” “community,” and “public service” award is the ultimate Orwellian inversion:
“…everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”