In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center
When I was in junior high, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.” So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.
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To my friends in the evangelical community, what happened at the headquarters of the Family Research Council was a despicable act of violence that deserves to be condemned without reservation, but please don’t use what happened as a pretext to shore up prejudice against those in the LGBT community—who, by the way, have also condemned this act of violence—or as a pretext to exact vengeance against groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that works to provide a service to society by raising the alarm against hate and extremism.
In a statement to the press, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said,
“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”
He went on to say:
“They have repeatedly and without cause demonized FRC, and have spent years stirring up anger in the homosexual community and directing that anger toward an organization whose only crime is to promote and defend the classic American values of faith, family and freedom.”
Putting aside the logical fallacy that criticism = giving someone a license to shoot, the fact is the Southern Poverty Law Center didn't label the Family Research Council as a hate group because “they disagree with them on policy” or because they “defend the classic American values of faith, family, and freedom.” If that were the case, they would have put Focus on the Family on the hate group list, or the National Organization for Marriage. Both of these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin and lobby against gay marriage.
The stated reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has put the Family Research Council on the hate group list since 2010 is, according to their website:
“because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage……We criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’”
"An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”
It’s one thing to say the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and I oppose gay marriage. It’s another thing to say these people are out to get your children! It’s like when Kirk Cameron pegged homosexuals as “destructive to so many of the foundations of Western Civilization,” and then cried foul when the “liberal” media called him out on it. You can’t single out a group of people as a threat to civilization, and then cast yourself in the role of a victim when people suggest that your words are hate speech.
I believe that we in the American evangelical community are guilty of a persecution complex. Which is sad, because I’ve been to countries where New Testament believers are actually persecuted, like the videos my teachers used to show me in junior high. The believers I've met in these countries often live quiet and peaceful lives, sharing their faith and loving the people that torture them and rat them out to the police. They’re the ones the apostle Peter talked about, who “do good and suffer” and “take it patiently.” This, according to Peter “is commendable before God.”
New Testament believers living in places that actually persecute religious minorities often suffer for simply being who they are, and their suffering, when taken patiently for following in the footsteps of Christ, who “when reviled, did not revile in return” is commendable before God.
I’m not sure that “persecuted” Christians in America can say the same thing.