Southern Poverty Law Center calls conservative Christian groups ‘hate groups’

Everybody knows the Southern Poverty Law Center as a venerable promoter and defender of civil rights, taking on the bad guys like white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

But the SPLC has expanded its definition of hate groups to include mainstream Christian groups that the center has deemed “anti-gay.”

In a press release, the center explains: “Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”

Groups deemed “hate groups” include the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council, conservative evangelical groups that take an aggressive stance against not only calls for gay marriage but the increasingly mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians.

I found out about the SPLC’s stance when I got a press release from Coral Ridge Ministries, another evangelical group that didn’t make the hate list but has been labeled anti-gay by the center. Coral Ridge says, in part: “The SPLC released a report  that misrepresents Christian groups’ positions, ignores inconvenient science and repeats claims based on junk science and adopted by professional guilds that long ago, bullied by homosexual activists, abandoned any pretense of objectivity.”

The Family Research Council responded with this: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is a massively funded liberal organization that operates under a veneer of public justice when, in fact, they seem more interested in fundraising ploys than fighting wrongdoing.”

The Council also published ads in two Washington newspapers attacking the SPLC and the ad was signed by about two dozen members of Congress.

Now the SPLC is on the defensive. It came out with an even stronger statement against the Christian groups and the newspapers ads, which ended with this: “At the end of the day, it’s hard to know if the politicians and other leaders who signed today’s anti-SPLC statement really know some of things the groups they are throwing in with support. What’s a fact is that, despite their claims, the groups have so far, without exception, failed to confront the facts of SPLC’s report.”

And the Culture Wars grow…

Change coming for Episcopal Diocese of NY

Time to catch up with a few items from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, which recently held its annual convention.

First off, Bishop Mark Sisk set in motion a process to find his successor. It is, however, a long process.

The diocese will hold an election next fall to choose a “bishop coadjutor,” who will eventually become the boss. Sisk himself served as bishop coadjutor for about three years before his predecessor, Bishop Richard Grein, retired.

Sisk, by any measure, has had a trying decade as bishop.

He was installed on Sept. 29, 2001, when we were all still in 9/11 shock.  Only a few weeks later, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine had a terrible fire.

During his tenure, the Episcopal Church has, of course, been at something like war with the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. The Episcopal Diocese of New York is unabashedly pro-gay, and Sisk has repeatedly sought to assure New York’s Episcopalians that this won’t change no matter what happens outside the diocese.

He told me once that it is only a matter of time before everyone else catches up with the modern understanding of (and acceptance of) homosexuality. Just wait it out.

As Episcopal Church membership has continued to decline, Sisk has tried to become something of a voice for liberal Christianity in New York. The diocese even hired PR giants Rubenstein Associates at one point to help get some press. I’m not sure how successful he’s been. In fact, Sisk’s announcement of his eventual retirement has gotten little notice.

Sisk is a thoughtful fellow, an appropriate leader for the modern, liberal Episcopal Church of NY. His successor will have his (or her) work cut out for him (or her).

Second, the diocese’s Number 2, Bishop Catherine Roskam, officially the “bishop suffragan,” also announced that she will retire. Her stepping down will come sooner, at the end of 2011.

Roskam is based in Dobbs Ferry and oversees what is known as Region 2 of the diocese: Westchester, Rockland and Putnam. What we like to call the LoHud.

When Roskam was consecrated a bishop in 1996, she became only the 4th female Episcopal bishop in the U.S.

Roskam, like Sisk, is very liberal, very pro-gay involvement in the church, and has never been shy about expressing her exasperation with conservative Christians. She has periodically drawn the ire of conservatives. Two years ago, she received international headlines when she suggested at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury that some Anglican bishops, based soley on the odds, probably beat their wives.

Over the years, Roskam has been very willing to answer my questions about just about anything. For that I thank her.

Finally, the diocese passed a resolution calling on the national church’s General Convention to authorize an investigation of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a group that fights against the liberal current in mainline Protestant denominations.

The IRD seems tickled to get such direct attention from an old foe. A spokesman says: “With the diocese steadily hemorrhaging members and funds, it’s apparently easier for it to blame the IRD than to own up to the church-damaging consequences of choosing revisionist theology and liberal politics above the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”