Evangelical Christian children’s pastor Becky Fischer takes several hundred children aged from around six to early teenage, and some of their parents, to a fundamentalist boot camp at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota for a weekend of indoctrination into the principles of evangelical Christianity (ABC 2, Sunday October 9, “Jesus Camp”)
One of these principles is founded on the belief that there’s a dire need for the merging of church and state in the USA, to be achieved through what she describes as a war to reclaim America for Jesus. This war is a just war, founded in the truth because they know The Truth,the pastor claims, and everyone else is lost to God.
Pastor Becky is taking a leaf out of the Muslims’ book, she reveals. If they can train kids to be suicide bombers for the sake of their God, why can’t she train kids to give their lives for the one true God, albeit metaphorically. She just needs them before they turn seven, she adds.
One extremely articulate and intelligent little girl tells us that some people do die for God and they are MARTYRS. Like, wow!
There’s a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, role model for the successful integration of the two powers. There’s emotion-driven prayer meetings where little kids fall sobbing, wailing and shaking on the floor. The poor little buggers, by now in a state of frightening emotional extremity, cry out their sinfulness, thrash their arms and legs about, and beg Jesus to forgive them. The adults howl praise the Lord as the little ones noisily repent.
Once cleansed by a few drops of water out of a plastic bottle administered by Pastor Becky, the kids are declared born again, welcomed into the Lord’s army, and instruction on their mission as soldiers in the fight to get America back on the path of righteousness begins.
One of the most important battles they’ll face, they’re told, is the battle to stop abortion. They must pray to God to end all abortive procedures, a very creepy man in blue jeans and scarlet tee-shirt with “Life” printed on it in large black letters, tells them. The future of millions of unborn babies is in their young hands. They have the opportunity to make the difference between unborn babies living, or dying before they even get a chance to breathe. Jesus wants them to save the babies.
There’s not a dry eye in the house. The children are whipped up into a state of febrile fanaticism. The adults have no apparent compunction about involving young children in abortion issues, a form of child sexualization that is truly disgraceful, and never mentioned by activists as harmful.
The man in the red shirt shows the kids little plastic models of a foetus through the stages of gestation. Kids start screaming, swaying, and speaking in tongues. Heavy metal Christian rock music gets them and keeps them in the zone. “We’re kickin’ it for Christ!” the children scream.
The man in the red shirt tapes tiny plastic babies to the palms of the kids’ hands with red duct tape. He next places the red duct tape across the children’s mouths, silencing them. Written on the tape is the word “Life.”
Then he takes the children to Washington to demonstrate against abortion on Capitol Hill.
Meantime, Pastor Becky tells them they must not read Harry Potter, for Potter is a warlock and God hates warlocks and witchcraft. Harry Potter would have been put to death in the Old Testament, she tells them. One child is bewildered and a little unnerved when later at lunch, other kids at his table tell him he looks a lot like Harry. Will he be metaphorically put to death? Maybe he needs to change his glasses?
In their ordinary lives the kids make no moves without first asking if God would like what they’re considering doing. They have no life outside of their religion. Many of them are home-schooled in creationism, and taught that global warming is irrelevant, given that we are on earth for such a short time before ascending to heaven so why worry? In fact some 75 per cent of home-schooled children in the US come from evangelical families, of which there are some 80 million.
In Australia, right-wing Christian conservative and pro lifer Melinda Tankard Reist, editor of the recently released Big Porn Inc, a collection of anti pornography writings, is also an anti free choice advocate. This is a link to an article Tankard Reist wrote for the Canberra Times in 1997, that has recently been posted on anti abortion website “Abortion Concern.”
In the article Tankard Reist argues that the pro-choice rhetoric ignores the situations of women who’ve had bad abortion experiences. She calls for the re-examination of the “pro-choice orthodoxy”, citing testimonials she’s collected for her book on the reactions some women suffer after an abortion.
Tankard Reist’s conclusion is that because there are women who suffer as a consequence of abortion, the procedure ought not to be allowed. Which is a little like arguing that because some women suffer adverse reactions as a consequence of marriage, all marriage should be banned. It’s the all or nothing, you’re with us or against us, George Bush fundamentalist mentality that is the hallmark of politically right-wing evangelical Christianity, and Tankard Reist is right in that zone.
Tankard Reist’s lesser known co-editor, academic Abigail Bray, is reputedly a left-wing feminist whom one would expect to be soundly pro-choice, ideologically, emotionally and intellectually opposed to Tankard Reist’s entrenched anti choice and right-wing religious position. Nevertheless the two women have managed to overcome their differences in the production of Big Porn Inc. This union of left wing and sometimes radical feminism, and right-wing Christian evangelical conservatism is an uneasy marriage, one would think, in which both parties are called upon to seriously compromise core beliefs in order to achieve a supposedly greater good, that of preventing pornography and what both parties perceive as the pornification and sexualisation of the young.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big Porn Inc has received a good deal of promotion from the ABC, and indeed, will be launched in Brisbane later this week by the ABC’s online Religion and Ethics editor, Scott Stephens.
Tankard Reist has been described by UNSW academic Zora Simic in her 2011 paper Anti-raunch Feminism: An Australian Case Study, which can be found on her website and is a very good read for anyone interested in feminism in Australia today, as Australia’s most public feminist voice, dethroning such long time luminaries as Eva Cox of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.
Anti-raunch feminism is a feminist protest against what is perceived as a dominant cultural hypersexualization of women and girls, in which so-called “raunchy” behaviour (pole dancing, for example) clothing, make up, music etc is thought to dehumanize, “pornify” and “sexualize” women and girls, creating a false sense of empowerment from behaviour that in reality, the protesters believe, is degrading and objectifying.
Zimic informatively unpacks Tankard Reist’s evolution from Senator Brian Harradine’s bioethics advisor during the period when Harradine managed to prevent Australian aid to developing countries from including reproductive education, and also managed to ban Australian women’s access to the “morning after” pill, RU-486.
Tankard Reist went on to found the conservative pro-life Women’s Forum Australia, an organisation supported by then Prime Minister John Howard, Pentecostal Family First Senator Stephen Fielding, and Catholic Opposition Leader and former Coalition Health Minister Tony Abbott. In 2004, Abbott called for a debate on what he termed the “epidemic of abortion” in Australia. Kevin Rudd also endorsed WFA when he was ever so briefly PM and favoured doorstop interviews on Sundays as he came out of church.
As Simic writes, it appears that Tankard Reist, with the assistance of feminists such as Bray and Nina Funnell, has managed to blend an anti-abortion platform with the anti raunch culture some feminists despise and see as a backward step for women. Both parties have apparently decoupled from their traditional women’s reproductive concerns, and neither side is at present anyway, making any reference to the other’s opposing views on abortion, or pursuing their own.
Tankard Reist is currently keeping very quiet about her pro-life beliefs and her connections to the conservative Christian Right. For example on her website where she publishes testimonials from organisations who’ve hired her as a speaker, the Australian Christian Lobby is conspicuously absent, though she has been engaged by them several times.
The marriage of convenience between anti raunch feminism and right-wing religious conservatism is to say the least bizarre. When you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas is a maxim that could be employed by either party about the other. Have the anti raunch feminists turned their backs on pro-choice, sacrificing it to some perceived greater good? Have the Christian conservatives temporarily agreed to silence their rabid anti choice rhetoric in pursuit of more mainstream and easily attained goals, such as whipping up outrage about the sexualization of children? How long can their differences be papered over, given the great big elephants in both their rooms? Is it possible to trust any of them? Do they all have hidden agendas? Are any of them what they seem?
At least with Pastor Becky Fischer, what you see is what you get.