Last weekend's Values Voter Summit was welcomed to D.C. by the Southern Poverty Law Center with a full-page ad in The Washington Post titled, "Just whose values are represented at the Values Voter Summit?" and featuring a catalog of anti-gay slanders from the Family Research Council, the summit's host, and the American Family Association, a co-sponsor.
Even more illuminating was the summit's spectacle of religious fanaticism turned in upon itself, a long-simmering problem in the GOP that boiled over when Pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, after introducing Rick Perry as "a genuine follower of Jesus Christ," told reporters that the Mormon Church is a cult.
The Republican presidential frontrunner, who just happens to be Mormon, took the high ground: "We should remember that decency and civility are values too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It's never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind."
Mitt Romney was referring not to Jeffress but to AFA's Bryan Fischer, who was to follow Romney at the podium and who recently said, "The purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the free exercise of the Christian religion." Fischer stated that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints "is not an orthodox Christian faith." Of course, the religious right considers most professed Christians insufficiently orthodox. Romney had little to lose by rebuking Fischer, as demonstrated by his dismal-as-expected 4 percent showing in the summit's straw poll.
The other candidates were so eager to evade questions on Romney's Christianity that you would think his father was from Kenya. It fell to former Education Secretary William Bennett to scold Jeffress: "You did Rick Perry no good, sir, in what you had to say."
The endlessly inventive Fischer also claimed that Major League Baseball helped prevent another 9/11 by changing the sing-along in the seventh inning stretch from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" to "God Bless America," thus unleashing the power of Christian prayer. Really? Not only have I attended several baseball games at Nationals Park in which we still sang "Take Me Out" (if you'll pardon the expression), but even Fischer might concede that the efficacy of "God Bless America" is offset by the ubiquitous playing of Queen's "We Will Rock You." And I hate to mention it, but Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the island of Zanzibar.
In other summit news, Rick Santorum lied that President Obama has instructed military chaplains to perform same-sex weddings. I credit Santorum for his Orwellian logic by which granting permission constitutes a command.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel called the LGBT movement "a zero-sum game … a direct assault on our religious freedom and freedom of speech," which suggests that straight people cannot marry, pray, or even speak if gay people are allowed those things.
A man at the PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays) booth talked as if the anti-bullying movement is itself a form of bullying: "What we are doing to kids, pressuring them sexually, this sexual anarchy, homofascism, it's gotta stop." In other words, it's okay for PFOX to distribute "ex-gay" propaganda in public schools, but trying to protect kids from anti-gay bullying is pushing sex on them.
Party discipline may eventually prevail over sectarian squabbling, allowing the GOP to present a unified front against Barack Obama and the Democrats. But last weekend's ugly display of right-wing values, and the parade of Republican politicians pandering to them, gives Democrats an opportunity to promote contrasting values like understanding and respect instead of fear and hatred.
And if the GOP's voter-suppression efforts are complemented by evangelical Christians refusing to vote for Romney out of religious bigotry, it couldn't happen to a nicer party.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.