Ted Cruz, Focus on the Family, and fear-mongering

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Focus on the Family headquarters | Image via Flickr by Bilerico Project (http://bit.ly/1Kg1fjs)

Focus on the Family headquarters | Image via Flickr by Bilerico Project (http://bit.ly/1Kg1fjs)

Ted Cruz leads a South Carolina group in prayer | Image by Jamelle Bouie via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1Kg1efp)

Ted Cruz leads a South Carolina group in prayer | Image by Jamelle Bouie via Flickr (http://bit.ly/1Kg1efp)

A couple of days ago, David Brooks wrote a column at the New York Times on “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz.” Brooks wrote about Cruz’s penchant in his campaign for battle language and his exploitation of the fact that “many evangelicals feel they are being turned into pariahs in their own nation.” Ultimately, Brooks concluded that Cruz’s hyperbole has been unwarranted; that “Obama has championed a liberal agenda, but he hasn’t made the country unrecognizable.”

That last phrase brought to mind a letter that I read years ago. Back in 2008, the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family used some of these Cruzian tactics to write a “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America.” The letter was written in October 2008 as a reflection from a Christian four years in the future, lamenting the state of America since Obama was elected President. It started on a defensive note:

This letter is not “predicting” that all of the imaginative future “events” named in this letter will happen. But it is saying that each one of these changes could happen and also that each change would be the natural outcome [of an Obama presidency.]

Nevermind the irresponsibility of this kind of speculation; love of truth alone should be enough to keep Christians from engaging in this kind of fear-mongering. It continues, as the preface ends and the letter begins, in a dramatic fashion:

Dear friends, I can hardly sing “The Star Spangled Banner” any more. When I hear the words, O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Now in October of 2012, after seeing what has happened in the last four years, I don’t think I can still answer, “Yes,” to that question.

So, what happened? What events did Focus on the Family feel so sure would come to pass that they felt compelled to write this letter? Let’s take a look:

What they predicted: John Paul Stevens and Ruth Ginsburg would retire from the Supreme Court only to be replaced by “two far-Left, American Civil Liberties Union-oriented judges.” Justice Kennedy would resign, followed by Justice Scalia, who was inexplicably struck with health problems. All would be replaced by liberals and the Supreme Court would be controlled by the Left.

What happened: Ginsburg, Scalia, and Kennedy are all still serving on the Supreme Court. David Souter, who had a record of voting with liberal members of the court, did retire. Obama nominated Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is a reliable member of the liberal voting bloc but has sided with the more conservative justices on significant decisions; Kagan is a moderate Democrat.

What they predicted: Same-sex marriage would be legalized in all 50 states.

What happened: Yep. But it was in June of 2015 and, contrary to Focus on the Family’s predictions, the Boy Scouts have not disbanded, elementary schools do not include compulsory training in gender identity starting in first grade, there are plenty of Christian adoption agencies still operating in the U.S, and gay people aren’t given “special bonuses for enlisting in military service” to make up for past discrimination.

What they predicted: High school students could no longer hold “See You At The Pole” prayer meetings because the Supreme Court ruled it “proselytizing.”

What happened: See You At The Pole still exists and is still federally protected as free speech.

What they predicted: Campus ministries like InterVarsity and Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU) would cease to exist, or at least have shrunk to “skeletons” of their former selves.

What happened: InterVarsity just hosted its annual every-three-years gathering in St. Louis with thousands of attendees worshiping together and a national conversation about racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement. They are thriving on college campuses across the nation. Cal State colleges did implement a practice that would not have recognized InterVarsity’s official status on their campuses, but that dispute ended in 2015 and InterVarsity is again a recognized student group.

What they predicted: Obama would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which restricts Medicaid from paying for certain abortions. He would also reverse the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

What happened: The Hyde Amendment is still in place. So is the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

What they predicted: The Supreme Court would allow the display of pornography in gas stations, grocery stores, and on newsstands provided the work had some manner of artistic value, leading to easy access to porn magazines for children.

What happened: Nope.

What they predicted: It would be illegal for private citizens to own guns for self-defense in eight states and counting, and “Inner-city violent crime has increased dramatically.”

What happened: U.S. gun ownership has declined slightly in recent years, a fact which can only have to do with personal preference because owning a gun for self-defense is legal in every state, although the scores of mass shootings that have happened since 2008 bear the shame of our loose gun control laws. A 20 year-old man shot and killed 20 children and 6 adults. And inner-city violent crime is at the lowest it’s been in 40 years.

What they predicted: Homeschooling would become heavily regulated, resulting in thousands of homeschooling parents leaving the U.S. for friendlier countries like Australia and New Zealand.

What happened: Homeschooling continues to grow in America, and you don’t have to promise not to teach your kids about God.

Are you beginning to see a pattern? There is more in the letter itself, and some other energized soul can fact-check the rest of it if they see fit. Iran did not drop a nuclear bomb in Tel Aviv; the U.S. does not have single-payer healthcare, and the Justice Department did not file charges against all members of Bush’s administration who had something to do with the Iraq War.

Focus on the Family headquarters | Image via Flickr by Bilerico Project (http://bit.ly/1Kg1fjs)

Focus on the Family headquarters | Image via Flickr by Bilerico Project (http://bit.ly/1Kg1fjs)

Focus on the Family began the letter paying lip service to the idea that Christians can disagree on politics, but ended it with the kind of bald partisanship that sat just under the surface all along: “Christians did not realize that by electing Barack Obama — rated the most liberal U.S. senator in 2007 —  they would allow the law, in the hands of a liberal Congress and Supreme Court, to become a great instrument of oppression.”

This is where the religious right has begun to falter and splinter. It sees itself losing the power that came along with the Moral Majority, and that fall could be one of the best things yet to happen to American Christianity. Power was never what the Kingdom of God was about. But once you’ve been in power, you try to hold onto it–that’s the nature of its corrupting influence. And some people will do anything, even resort to specious fear-mongering, to tighten their grip on the top rung of the ladder, forgetting that pride goes before a fall. That’s what Focus on the Family did in 2008, and that’s what Ted Cruz is doing right now, and that’s why, short of a significant strategy shift, conservative evangelicals will slowly lose all the political power they once held.

  • Jack

    This piece has at least two problems.

    First, it assumes the Religious Right has a monopoly on failed doom-and-gloom forecasts. The environmental movement, which presumably is close to Laura Turner’s heart, has a similar record of blown predictions based on fear-mongering. Think Paul Ehrlich, who predicted that it we didn’t drastically control population growth, the US and western Europe would face starvation by the 1980s. Then there was the global cooling mania of the 1970s, forecasting an imminent Ice Age if we didn’t repent of the sin of economic growth & worship Mother Earth.

    Second, to be fair both to environmental and religious doomers, sometimes warnings lead to action which forestalls the predicted calamity. That’s the environmentalists’ excuse for their poor forecasting record. Might that not be true as well for the religious right? Maybe it was the vigilance of Obama’s foes which prevented the most dire predictions from coming true.

  • Larry

    At this point Focus on Family has become like Segregationists were after the Civil Rights Act (and anti-abortion groups after Roe v. Wade). A group which is forced to fight on the margins to defend its discriminatory stance, because its ultimate goal is now rendered impossible by legal developments. The chances of Obergfell being reversed by federal law or constitutional amendment is zero.

    The whole point for Focus on Family to exist was to prevent nationwide marriage equality. Ironically, their actions hastened such things. But realistically its not like they will return money to their donors or tell people not to continue giving them money. So they will continue their grift of anti-gay bigots with bold promises which are impossible to deliver. They will continue to stump for new forms of discrimination against gays which will never survive even the slightest legal challenge. Social conservative politics is all about giving money to people who will do nothing of value.

  • Larry

    The major difference being, usually the environmentalist doom and gloom could have at least been supported by known facts and research of the time. They may not have been correct today, but they were able to rely on what was known and the evidence of the time.

    Social conservative politicians merely pull hysterical nonsense out of their collective posteriors in order to appeal to the panicky. More importantly, the plausibility of what is being said is of far less value than the effect on the voting public.

    So no, the two are not alike. 🙂

  • Mark Nelson

    Nice job, Laura. I would love to hear if you ever get a response from the people at Focus on the Family that authored that document. It would raise them in my estimation, if they said, “We were right about a few things, but we wrong about X, Y and Z.”

  • Paul Black

    I would commend the book written a few years ago “Blinded By Might” by conservative columnist Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, who just recently passed away. The book’s premise was that when religion gets too cozy with either political party, they lose their prophetic voice of speaking truth to power. First, the Moral Majority with Jerry Farwell did this (as Cal Thomas should know) and then, Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family followed suit.

  • Billysees

    ” Social conservative politicians merely pull hysterical nonsense out of their collective posteriors in order to appeal to the panicky. ”

    Good observation.

    See this for proof — http://www.rightwingwatch.org/

  • G Key

    “Focus on the Family”? Try “Focus on the Bedrooms of Strangers”. But if that’s your hobby, you might as well learn how to do it right:

    Tips for Evaluating the Sexual Lives of Others

    1.) If thinking about strangers’ lives is important to you, but you’re disturbed by what you imagine, go easy on yourself. Open your eyes for a while, and enjoy a well-deserved break. Once you’re refreshed, you’ll be ready to evaluate ’em with a vengeance!

    2.) Every so often, pretend your subject’s sexuality is merely different, not right, wrong, better, or worse, just a sexuality to which your subject has the right of private enjoyment. (Though thrilling, this exercise can become unnerving, so periodically remind yourself that you’re safe.)

    3.) Be sure to take up a “decent” pastime, so you’ll have a ready answer for the inevitable acquaintance who wants to know what you do in your spare time.

    4.) Don’t self-evaluate. It isn’t gratifying. (Or so I’ve heard.)

  • Eric

    The key to knowing that these predictions would not come to pass was the prediction of easy access to porn magazines for children. Do porn magazines even exist any more? I thought those died along with other print media. I’m not sure most children have ever even seen a magazine of any kind! 🙂

    Do those same gas stations sell evil rock and roll 8 tracks?

  • larry

    I believe the medium still exists but is in its death throes. Children have always had easy access to them. Usually all it required was an older brother or a friend with one.

  • Jack

    Larry, the problem with both sorts of doom-and-gloomers, environmental and religious, is two-fold — First, they exaggerate dangers and problems and second, they underestimate the ability of society to engage in course corrections and mend its ways. Both groups have been world-class exaggerators with little empirical evidence to support their side. Paul Ehrlich, for example, fell into the classic Malthusian trap of seeing people solely as consumers, rather than producers, of resources.

  • Larry

    There is nothing resembling empirical evidence for the religious or the global warming deniers. The great thing about scientific ideas are they are revised when new evidence and methods of analysis come out. No need to stay consistent with some arbitrary past orthodoxy. Being discovered to be wrong does not invalidate the endeavor.

    The real problem is when laypeople and politician make hay over scientific ideas. Most times, they get it wrong. For example Social Darwinists and every Creationist argument. All in all it is far better when such people take the advice of scientists, rather than look for excuses to dismiss them out of hand.

    Your attempt at equivalence here just fails on a basic level. There is a great difference between making projections off of what is known at the time and engaging in fact-free panic mongering for effect.

  • Jack

    Larry, it’s not science or the scientific method that’s on trial here. It’s the tendency of doom-and-gloomers in the environmental movement, beginning in earnest in the 1960s, to use science to peddle their apocalyptic fantasies. And yes, they are equivalent to the biblical doom-and-gloomers who use the Bible for the same purpose.

    Of course they’re morally equivalent. They’re taking scientific or scriptural information and they’re attempting to scare the daylights out of people by telling them, in essence, what they can’t possibly know with any level of certainty based on that information: the end is nigh.

    In the case of kooks sensationalizing science, from Paul Ehrlich on the population bomb (starvation coming for America and Europe) to Al Gore on global warming (imminent hell on earth if we don’t give up our love affair with the evil internal combustion engine), they are no different from date-setting preachers. It’s the same mentality.

  • Jack

    There is something to that thesis, absolutely. Christians should engage on issues, but the danger is always that, when as a result of that engagement, they end up on the right or the left, they get too cozy, as you put it, with the political party that best represents their views.

  • Observer

    InterVarsity still isn’t allowed at Vanderbilt, sadly: https://intervarsity.org/page/vanderbilt-university

  • alison

    I guess I’m the one who doesn’t recognize this country any more. When I think of 2015, it is with a combination of shock and grief. Laura, I think you’re too young to remember when this was a good place. No, I don’t blame it all on Obama, but many of his actions are simply without explanation.

  • George Nixon Shuler

    What is it about 2015 that leads you to “shock and grief”? Please tell us more. As a person who without reservation believes 2015 was better than 1981 or 1954 or 1931 or 1876 and just about any other year in that range, I’m genuinely curious. Now it’s been noted in recent news reports that whites, especially males without college degrees between 45 and 54, are experiencing unheard-of levels of despair, depression, alcoholism, suicide, and so forth. Are you so described or married to someone who is?

  • George Nixon Shuler

    I’ve followed Focus on the Family since its inception. It’s always been a more professional operation than, for instance, the Wildmon Family’s Money Grab, “American Family Association,” which used to castigate TV shows for various sins including one memorable time when they expressed shock the people in “The Drew Carey Show” were mostly seen drinking at the bar (oh, the horror!). But the real red meat that got thrown out by FOTF was in Dobson’s monthly fundraising letters like this where hyperbole was excessive like that described in the article. But Dobson was right to go to hyperbole to squeeze as many greenbacks out of his increasingly aging and dying customer base, and hyperbole tends to work better than just about anything else.