Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Danforth and submission theology

Julie Ingersoll also takes issues with John Danforth's egregious recent op-ed essay on religion in American politics, though she was more generous to him than I'm inclined to be. In Possibility that Bachmann Believes in Wifely Submission Irrelevant? Religion Dispatches 10/24/2011. She focuses on Danforth's argument that it's naughty for libruls to ask about Michelle Bachmann's campaign appeal to conservative Christians that wives should submit to their husbands on career matters:

This isn't to assume that Bachmann's views on submission do necessarily line up with the Complementarians, the Reconstructionists, Gothard, or the Quiverfull Movement. Senator Danforth rightly argues against guilt by association, although "innocence without question" is hardly better for the health of our democracy. When a candidate foregrounds her religion as Bachmann does, and when she may well support a theology that challenges women's equality, and produces family situations that many have come to see as destructive and abusive, asking her how she understands that theology and how it would impact her leadership should she win election, certainly is fair game.
She's being generous in saying that "Danforth rightly argues against guilt by association", though she seems to be using that generous interpretation to point out how ridiculous it is for Danforth to apply it to Bachmann's public campaign appeals to voters.

Here is Danforth's ludicrous guilt-by-association argument:

One would hope that the tactic of guilt by association so aggressively practiced by Sen. Joseph McCarthy had died a welcome death in the 1950's. But it lives on in the efforts of both right and left to connect politicians to the most outrageous statements of religious personages. This was so in the 2008 presidential campaign as Republicans tied Barack Obama to the excessive rhetoric of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It is true today, as critics try to identify Republican candidates with religious extremists.
The term guilt-by-association refers in American English - as Danforth surely knows - to guilt by irrelevant association. In the McCarthy context, people could lose their jobs and have their careers derailed and suffer social ostracism for being falsely accused of being Communists. Saying someone was a Communist because he signed a petition that Communists also signed would been imputing guilt by (irrelevant) association. If someone published articles under their own name in Communist Party publications and appeared on stage with Communists who were endorsing a rally starring the person, then it would have certainly be entirely legitimate to ask how the person stands on the Party's major positions. That latter issue arose in practice with Henry Wallace's Progressive Party Presidential campaign in 1948, when he accepted the Communist Party's endorsement and activists from the Party played a significant role in his campaign. In fact, Wallace himself was not a Communist but it was an issue he had to address. [Clarification: Technically, being a member of the Communist Party was not illegal in the US in the 1950s, though the Communist Control Act of 1954 could be argued to have had something close to that intention. So guilt in this context doesn't mean guilt in a legal sense.]

It is not "guilt by association" to associate Michelle Bachmann with her own words. It is not guilt-by-association to point out the political and theological position of the major sponsors of the public prayer event that Rick Perry used as the informal launch of his Presidential campaign. I found the Clinton campaign's use of the Wright issue in the 2008 Democratic primaries to be annoying and silly because I didn't find Wright's rhetoric alarming. But Obama campaigned explicitly as a Christian, as Jodie Kantor reported in January 25, 2008, 3:25 pm Obama’s Christian Campaign The Caucus/New York Times 01/25/2008:

As Mr. Obama traveled around South Carolina this week before Saturday's Democratic primary, his campaign took on a Christian glow, with shout-outs to Jesus by the candidate, warm-ups by gospel choirs, and glossy leaflets that showed Mr. Obama speaking from a pulpit and clasping hands with a minister, his head bowed in prayer. "Answering the Call," one piece of literature said in large type. "Committed Christian," said another — language a bit reminiscent of the kind Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor, used to win the Republican Iowa caucus.

Here and everywhere else, Mr. Obama is countering false claims that he is a Muslim. But even if those rumors never circulated, say campaign officials, Mr. Obama's appearances would look and sound the same way in this state, where 64 percent of Democrats attend church a week (nationally, 47 percent of Americans do). [my emphasis]
Yes, he had to counter rumors that he was Muslim. But, regardless of the reason, if a candidate campaigns with his religious faith as a major element of his appeal, he can't realistically expect that opponents are not going to look at what kind of religion is practiced as his longtime church. Obama addressed the issue effectively, though it was a sign of his concept of loyalty that he wound up straight-out disavowing the pastor who had been his long-time associate. In retrospect, that was a sign of how quickly he was willing to sacrifice some supporters who came under fire from opponents.

But it should be obvious to even a phony "moderate" like John Danforth that there's a big difference between holding a candidate responsible for what candidates actually say in public about their own beliefs and pointing out that they heard sermons from a pastor who used melodramatic language. And in fact Danforth's essay criticizes writers for addressing candidate's own publicly stated positions, before he doubles back at the end and mealy-mouths that it's really okay to do that.

Julie Ingersoll pegged his concern-troll schtick correctly. Despite the alibi weasel words he worked into the article, Danforth's piece was aimed at delegitimizing critical analysis of Republican Presidential candidates own campaign positions on government and religion.

I see that Bruce Wilson of Talk to Action has posted a couple of comments after the end of Danforth's article on 10/23/2011. The first one asks:

Dear Mr. Danforth,

Do you believe that Rick Perry bears no responsibility for those who speak at his events?

No one forced Rick Perry to appear onstage, before 20,000 people, at an event broadcast nationally, along with pastors who have identified Hitler as sent by God to persecute Jews. Perry himself chose to speak at The Response, and he invited pastors John Hagee and Mike Bickle, who each have made such a claim, to speak at The Response as well.

In May 2008, after I posted audio from a sermon in which John Hagee identified Hitler as a "hunter", McCain did the right thing and rejected Hagee's endorsement. Do you believe that was a mistake?
The second asks:

In addition, there is no question as to the extremity [sic] of the American Family Association, which funded Perry's "The Response" prayer rally, that served as the de facto launch for Perry's 2012 presidential bid.

Chief spokesperson for the AFA Bryan Fischer has openly called gay rights activists "Nazis" and claimed that Native Americans deserved to have their lands seized, because they were not Christian.

People For The American Way's Right Wing Watch has extensively documented the torrent of hate speech flowing from Fischer and the AFA. The Southern Poverty Law Center's identification of the AFA as a "hate group" is well supported.

Do you think Perry bears no responsibility for partnering with the AFA, in producing The Response?
Very relevant questions.

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