By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Religious fanatics are threatening to take away our peace and our freedom. They hate our open society and want to send us back to the Stone Age, where we'd be forced to live strictly by the rules of an outdated religious text. Even as I write this, they are planning to take us over, and if they get their way, they'll execute many of us for violating their archaic moral code. They'll rule those left behind with a bloody iron fist.
I am, of course, talking about the Christian extremists.
The underbelly of the Christian Right is as scary as anything that ever dwelled in a Tora Bora cave. If September 11 taught us anything, it should have been to distrust religious fundamentalists of any kind, to leave them stranded on the banks of the political mainstream where they belong. But that basic lesson obviously didn't sink in with the Florida governor or his brother, King George. Jeb has been catering to evangelical loonies ever since he took office; he routinely appoints way-out-there Christian wackos to key posts and backs the Religious Right on issues like abortion, the death penalty, and education. As for President Bush, I need utter only one word: "Ashcroft." And that's just the beginning.
Between them, the Bush brothers have given us "faith-based initiatives" that siphon tax dollars to churches, public school vouchers for religious schools, antiabortion license plates, and state-funded abstinence training. I've been fairly quiet about these things, but now Jeb has gone too far. It's getting very weird in Tallahassee -- like, Piper Laurie from Carrie weird.
I'm alluding to the governor's recent nomination of Jerry Regier to head the state Department of Children and Families. Regier came from Oklahoma, where he headed the departments of juvenile justice and health for Gov. Frank Keating, a key Bush family political ally. Regier's oft-stated goal in life is to take over our secular, Godless government and help create a Christian nation. He's a key agent in a radical movement that to me sounds a lot like the Taliban, only with a Bible instead of a Qu'ran.
Regier the nominee was quickly swamped in controversy for a 1989 essay titled "The Christian World View of Family" that he cowrote for a way-out-there evangelical group called Coalition on Revival (COR). I don't mind spanking, but Regier writes that it's OK to beat kids until they have bruises and welts. He calls it "Biblical discipline," but we have another name for it in Florida -- criminal child abuse.
In the same essay, he advocates old Christian Right standards like the subjugation of wives and the criminalization of homosexuality, fornication, pornography, and masturbation.
Sure Regier has tried to back off the controversial paper, saying he didn't really write it and left COR in 1990 because he didn't agree with its extremist views. Call it a youthful indiscretion -- Regier was only 44 years old at the time, after all.
Of course, Regier's real mistake was putting his name on something he truly believes in. Jay Grimstead, COR's leader, says Regier actually cut ties with his group in about 1995, and then only because he'd become a bureaucrat in Oklahoma and couldn't afford to be tied to such radical ideas. It was a divorce of convenience, which is kind of ironic since Regier is a great champion of marriage who oversaw the spending of $10 million in public money, some of it going to churches, to support an ineffective "marriage initiative" in Oklahoma.
Regier really can't deny that he was born to be wild, at least in the Christian wacko sense. His Mennonite ancestors came to America from Prussia in the 1800s to escape religious persecution, says Rob Regier, a distant cousin of Jerry's who is now in charge of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, an ultraconservative Christian group that rails against gays. "There was a split at one time between conservative and liberal Mennonites," Rob Regier says. "But I know that on the Regier side, it was a very conservative Mennonite upbringing."
The son of an evangelical preacher, Jerry Regier graduated from Grace University, a fundamentalist Christian school in Omaha, Nebraska, that, according to its Website, is dedicated to "building servant leaders for the home, the church, and the world." In a Grace University newsletter from April 2000, Regier is quoted as saying, "Grace gave me the preparation to impact the world through a thorough infusion of Biblical knowledge, which has grounded my work in the political world in Biblical principles.... It prepared me to approach everything I do from a Biblical viewpoint."
Jerry Regier came to prominence during the Reagan Revolution, working in the White House and forming the fervently antigay Family Research Council in 1981. Five years after that, he became a key figure in Grimstead's Coalition on Revival, serving on its committees and helping to draft mission statements that detail how evangelicals should take over every major institution in America, an undertaking known as the "Great Commission" in evangelical circles.
On July 4, 1986, Regier was in Washington, D.C., with Grimstead and other Christian radicals to unveil the "Christian Manifesto," which was read during a "Solemn Assembly" at the Lincoln Memorial. Some quotes from the Regier-endorsed manifesto and other COR documents from the time:
We have rested, idle and uncaring, while Satanically inspired Marxist Communism and a revival of pagan religions has enslaved two-thirds of our planet, causing massive, needless suffering to the peoples under their sway.
Education must focus on the Person of Jesus Christ. We deny that "education" that omits reference to Jesus' role in this world is education at all.
Those people or nations that live in opposition to Biblical laws and commandments will, sooner or later, be cursed and destroyed.
We affirm that the Great Commission is a mandate by our Lord to go forth into all the world and make Bible-obeying disciples of all nations.
We urge that Christians... fervently and continually bow before the Lord and beseech Him that... [we] might be cleansed, renewed, and matured to be mighty spiritual warriors in the battle over American law.
We affirm that Jesus Christ is King of kings and... that all governments everywhere function by His permission and are obligated to follow His Laws.
We must move the Christian Church from a "victim" mentality to a "conqueror" mentality.
And you thought Osama was the only one who wanted to take over the world? These are some whacked-out infidels, people. And they've given this particular brand of madness a name. It's called Reconstructionism, and the goal is to establish on earth a very scary version of the will of God.
The movement's father is Rousas John "R.J." Rushdoony, who signed the COR manifesto with Regier and also served with him on the coalition's board. Regier and Rushdoony might have also buddied up while serving on the Council for National Policy, a Christian group once headed by Pat Robertson that conducts secretive meetings on the state of God in the world.
Rushdoony, who died last year and at one time worked closely with conservative Christian icon Francis Schaeffer, founded something called the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965 and preached a strict interpretation of an unerring Bible. He openly supported the death penalty for all homosexuals and for heterosexuals who have sex outside marriage. He also espoused capital punishment for blasphemers, practitioners of witchcraft, and incorrigible children. His son-in-law, Gary North, who now runs Chalcedon, considers stoning the best form of execution.
Rushdoony's world would be an interesting place. Abstinence before marriage -- or death. So you stole your dad's car keys? Die, sinner. You have the audacity not to believe Jesus is your Lord and Savior? Say hello to my little stone.
COR has been a leading Reconstructionist voice since the 1980s, when Regier was one of its leaders. Although COR has long wanted to outlaw homosexuality, fornication, and other sexual sins, it never went so far as to call for the death penalty because members couldn't reach a consensus on that issue, Grimstead explained to me.
"I wear the name Reconstructionist happily," Grimstead said from his home in California. "If I and my friends were successful, then individuals in all 50 states would come to understand that there is a God who gave us information to run the world."
Unlike Grimstead, most Christian Righters shy away from the Reconstructionist label. Some simply don't believe in such extremism, while others can't afford to be associated with it politically. Regier never publicly espoused the movement's most radical ideas, but Grimstead said he never denounced COR either. "[Regier] said he had to disassociate himself from COR at least officially since he was working for the government in Oklahoma," Grimstead said. "I forget the exact reasons, except that things are more sensitive when you become a public official."
Although Christian right leaders shy away from the label, Reconstructionist rhetoric has been reflected in the speeches of all the right-wing Republican Christian leaders, from Falwell to Bauer to Robertson to Fort Lauderdale's own D. James Kennedy (who signed the manifesto with Regier and is a current COR member). They are all tied together in the end, different threads of the Great Commission. And they all fought hard to topple Bill Clinton -- Rushdoony, in fact, helped found the influential and conservative Rutherford Institute, which funded Paula Jones' lawsuit against the former president.
Robertson's Regent University, in Virginia, teaches some of Rushdoony's texts, though Robertson himself rejects the Reconstructionist label. The motto of Regent, which happens to be Rob Regier's alma mater, is "Christian Leadership to Change the World!" On the Website, Robertson is quoted as saying: "Our graduates are servant leaders [there's that phrase again] who are providing godly solutions to many of the challenges we face as a society."
And the Bushes have been giving many of these well-trained spiritual warriors entrée into the highest levels of federal and Florida government. The president, for his part, has appointed several Christian Righters, including making former Regent Dean Kay Cole James director of his White House Office of Personnel Management. Last year, he nominated John Bolton as undersecretary at the State Department in charge of arms control. All you need to know about Bolton: Jesse Helms called him "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon."
Which brings me to my central point. With the specter of an American invasion of Iraq looming, I'm starting to envision this nightmarish battle -- with the requisite rivers of blood, raging fires, and occasional floods -- between the Mullah Omars of the Arabic world and the Rushdoonys of the West. I don't think the Bushes want to take over the world for Christianity (it's the oil, stupid!), but the fundamentalists do. And thanks to both George W. and Jeb, they now have access to the highest levels of power in Florida and the nation.