The "T" Word

The "T" word

by digby

Here's a headline for you:

Alan Grayson Vindicated in 'Taliban Dan' Claim -- By Religious Right Leaders and Former Activists

That's from Adele Stan's article in Alternet about Sarah Posner's blockbuster piece this week in Religion Dispatches about Bill Gothard -- Daniel Webster's mentor and spiritual leader. Stan explains:

No less a source than condemned Grayson for the ad, saying that Webster's words, made during remarks to one of Gothard's organizations, were taken out of context. Grayson's ad featured a clip of Webster saying, "Wives submit to your husbands." While the admakers unwisely edited the video of Webster's speech to suggest that was his own instruction (in reality, he was telling husbands that, when reading the Bible with their wives, to skip over those parts), a new report at Religion Dispatches by Sarah Posner makes clear that wifely submission -- even in the face of abuse -- is precisely the teaching given to Gothard's followers, who include Webster.

At the time Grayson ran the ad, people all over the political spectrum were in a tizzy about using the word "Taliban" because it was outrageous to even suggest that Americans could be as primitive as those Islamic fundamentalists who still stone women for adultery. There was plenty of scholarship showing Webster's mentor Bill Gothard's affiliation with groups that had once called for capital punishment for gays and adulterers, and there was a ton of evidence that he personally belonged to a patriarchal cult that sits at the very fringe of American religious life.

But that was that. Grayson didn't lose because of the ad, of course. He was in a Republican district in a Republican wave year and the shadowy conservative groups unleashed millions of dollars worth of ads against him. In his neighboring district, Suzanne Kosmas, a very polite, conservative Democrat who voted against virtually every Democratic initiative lost by a similar margin, so Grayson's allegedly improper behavior was not the determining factor in his loss. But it is now a matter of political urban legend that this ad cost him his seat and it's really too bad because it means that fundamentalists like Webster can never be called out on their religious views even when those religious views are totally out of the mainstream.

I wrote a lot about Bill Gothard and the religious right's influence on the Republican Party during that election because I think these people are dangerous. And I think the assault on women's rights we are seeing from this Republican congress bears out those fears.It is simply not true that the Tea Party is "libertarian." They are anti-tax and anti-redistribution (for everyone but themselves) but they are very definitely in favor of using the full power of the state to inflict their religious moral views on others. And when it comes to Daniel Webster and some of the others, I would suggest that that moral view falls closer on the spectrum to Mullah Omar than it does to me.

Posner's piece is amazing. She interviews ex-members of Gothard's sect and other religious right leaders who reveal that he is beyond the pale even by the usual religious right standards -- and that's saying something. In interviews with evangelical scholars it becomes clear that Gothard holds extreme pre-modern patriarchal views: “It’s a culture of fear, is what it is.” Fear for women and children.

Those of you who may have seen The Duggars on their TLC reality show probably know that they are followers of The Quiverful movement which demands that women breed indiscriminately (thus resulting in Michelle personally bearing 19 children.) They are also followers of Bill Gothard, but the happy picture they create on their reality show doesn't jibe with the stories of women who were in abusive marriages under Gothards strictures. Maybe Jim-Bob isn't abusive toward Michelle, but if he were, Michelle would be required to bear it anyway. Not that she would have the energy to get out what with 19 children and all. Posner writes about one woman who excaped:

“Eliza,” now in her late 30s, was exposed to Gothard’s teachings her whole life, through her parents’ homeschool materials and attendance at Gothard conferences. She attended ATI conferences with her family from the time she was 12 until just two years ago. In the ATI courses, she said, Gothard’s teachings became more “wacky.”

ATI provides both homeschool materials and training courses all over the world on wide-ranging topics, including law, landscaping, music, food service, interior design, and “eternity arts.” But it’s in the gender-separated seminars that Gothard’s vision for women becomes clear: they are taught how to “radiate the brightness of the Lord Jesus Christ through their thoughts, words, and actions,” become “virtuous women,” and recognize the importance of “falling in love with the Lord, accepting your design and realizing your unique gifts.” Gothard, who teaches that dating is wrong, and that couples should engage instead in “courtship,” maintains “the purpose of courtship is to determine a couple’s readiness for marriage and to discern the will of God for a covenant marriage that will benefit the world.”

Many ATI conferences last for days or weeks at a time. Eliza said, “I didn’t realize you could control people’s minds by sleep deprivation, lack of good food, and pumping way too much information as they could pump into them without giving them time to think... You’ve got kids there for goodness sake!”

ATI families “basically ate, breathed, lived, and slept ATI and Mr. Gothard,” said Jack.

Among other things, Eliza said, Gothard would not permit boys and girls to talk to each other, demanded a strict dress code, taught that girls should never run, and demanded that girls style their hair wavy—not straight or curly—because “wavy hair is attractive and becoming—it causes you to focus on the woman’s face instead of her body.” Gothard’s approved wavy hairstyle is meant, she said, “to attract men to your bright eyes, which will attract them to God, instead of your body.”

Eliza elaborated on how she was required to live under her father’s authority, even in adulthood. “Girls should be serving their fathers and at times they should do ministry things under their father’s direction—while they were single,” she said. “Make the most of your single years to serve God.” She remains single, something she attributes in part to her parents’ adherence to Gothard’s teachings.

As a result, she said, she never attended college (she had been educated in Christian schools until fifth grade and homeschooled for the duration of her education) and never learned skills with which she could earn a living for herself. Gothard discouraged college, she said, because he said parents shouldn’t expose their children to “alternative philosophies.” Women were expected to be under their fathers’ “authority” until marriage; because she wasn’t interested in marriage, she remained at home until very recently, but said that not being able to earn a living for herself “at this stage of my life is very scary.”

Gothard, who has never been married, teaches that dating is prohibited (a rule echoed by the Duggars on their television show) “because you’ll give away too much of your heart.” As the blogger Hopewell wrote on Garrison’s blog, the Duggars “view dating as unhealthy, leading to a diminished capacity to love your eventual spouse... They view adulthood as something that begins with a parent-approved marriage and at no other time.”

Gothard's ATI is the largest distributor of homeschooling material in the US:

2003--1,096,000 estimated homeschool children K-12, a 29% increase from 1999 which showed 850,000 students (general population increased only 1%) (NCES)

2007-2008--2.0 to 2.5 million homeschooled students K-12 (NHERI)
Home education grows about 5-12% per year (NHERI)

I am told by many liberals that it's wrong to be concerned about the fact that Daniel Webster is one of the most powerful people in the nation. Or that others like him, including Jim Bob Duggar, are in politics. And I just can't go along with that. As far as I'm concerned it's the same thing as ignoring the rise of the Taliban back in the 1990s, when people like Grover Norquist and Dana Rohrabacher were extolling their virtues as men of God who were bringing order to chaos in Afghanistan while women's rights groups like RAWA were desperately trying to get the word out about the repression of women. We were told that women's rights have different cultural meanings and that it was inappropriate to be concerned. I don't think that worked out very well.

The fact is that women's rights are human rights and when patriarchal religious fundamentalists of any stripe become political everyone should be concerned, because it isn't "just about women" (although that's an offensive way to think about it in itself) it's about men too. These people are authoritarians and should be exposed for what they are.

Grayson tried to do that and used the "T" word, which is out of bounds because apparently Americans can never be compared to anything evil, whether historical or contemporary, even if the analogy is extremely apt. He got hammered not only for being imprecise in his ad but for taking on his opponents fringe religious views at all. I'm sure it was noted by other politicians and it will be a cold day in hell before anyone does it again. And that's too bad because Grayson was right. Webster is a member of a fringe, patriarchal cult that is as far out of the Christian mainstream as the Taliban is outside the mainstream of Islam which
gained power through their political efforts
. Let's hope the Christian Reconstructionists in the Tea Party (and there are many) don't have similar success. It may be unlikely but the fact that it's becoming increasingly impossible to even talk about this in real terms means I doubt anyone would even know it's happened until after the fact.

I urge you to read Posner's whole article. It's fascinating and important:“Taliban Dan’s” Teacher: Inside Bill Gothard’s Authoritarian Subculture