Fort Lauderdale, FL – A right-wing political machine in South Florida, operating under the cover of a church, has recently launched a full-throated anti-gay propaganda campaign to over 20 million supporters worldwide. Coral Ridge Ministries, working within the shadow of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a 2,200 member church, is reaching out through video and internet media to tub-thump its latest tirades against what CRM leaders call “the militant homosexual agenda.” As Jarrett Terrill of South Florida Gay News writes in a recent exposé of this organization, “The political think-tank operates under the guise of a church, allowing them to use an excess of $45 Million dollars in tax-deductable donations annually for maximum outreach. Bypassing all campaign finance laws, a political media center which calls itself a church can effectively control our nation’s political dialogue in ways that most political action committees could only dream of.” Broadcasting from a fortress mentality claiming superior patriotism and Christian orthodoxy, the Coral Ridge sect seeks to replenish its depleted coffers by pumping up the fear factor among Tea Party members and more traditional gay-hating citizens. In one of its recent shows, CRM claims, “The militant homosexual agenda is a symptom of sexual politics… Sexual politics always trumps religious liberty. Hate crime laws are turning Christians into second class citizens.” Dr. D. James Kennedy built the Coral Ridge congregation by a peculiar blend of right-wing politics and Protestant evangelical theology from the 1960’s until his death in 2007. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Kennedy founded Coral Ridge Ministries which has become one of the largest Christian fundamentalist political organizations in the country, “with some 160 employees, several divisions including a Washington-based Center for Christian Statesmanship, and radio and television studios producing shows that reach a combined weekly audience of 3 million.” After Kennedy’s death from a heart attack, the church, under the leadership of their new pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has moved away from some of the more radical political efforts of CRM. A church schism, led by Kennedy’s daughter and five other right-wing dissidents, challenged Tchividjian, and when they failed to get him fired, split from Coral Ridge to found a new congregation of their own with around 400 supporters. Since early 2009, after being shaken by the church fight, Coral Ridge Ministries has gone back to the well of homophobic scare tactics to shore up its base financially. A typical program of CRM prior to the passage of the James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, claimed erroneously in March 2009 that the law “is directed at thought. It is directed at a coerced, forced belief that homosexuality is right and normal and should be acceptable for all.” Warning that the “militant homosexual agenda” placed American civil liberties in jeopardy, the program script continued, “Can you imagine a hate crime bill that criminalizes a person for sharing hope, for reaching out in love to tell someone how Jesus Christ changed their life?” asks program host Dr. Jerry Newcombe. “It’s unimaginable, and yet, it’s not far-fetched. In many countries, it’s already a reality. Now the same could happen here.” Alongside its fear-mongering around LGBT human rights, Coral Ridge Ministries currently ties the Obama administration with “socialism” and “totalitarianism,” linking the old “red scare” tactics of the 1950’s and -60’s to the newer anti-gay “pink scare.” Though carefully distancing themselves from the Christian Reconstructionist roots of the Coral Ridge movement that included advocating the extermination of LGBT people, adulterers, “witches,” “sorcerers,” and dissenters, the inflamed hate speech generated by CRM underpins the extreme logic of people who justify violence against gay people. The relationship between religious hate speech like that generated at CRM and anti-LGBT hate crimes is a hotly debated topic in ethical, human rights, and theological circles, but a growing consensus is that hate speech coupled with fear does lead to hate violence. Jarrett Terrill of SFGN.com concludes his post with a summation of the fear-culture of Coral Ridge Ministries, and a pointed question about their prospects of re-igniting the anti-gay agenda of the religious right: “The people at CRM have chosen to re-write world history from their own isolationist and self-victimizing viewpoint. For them, to be Christ-like means only that they practice martyrdom – that they somehow view themselves not as millionaires who have more influence on the world than anyone else, but rather as the poor, persecuted minority who are being oppressed by an all-powerful, evil, homosexual majority.
“The only question left to answer is – who’s really buying into this or believing any of it?”