Leaders of major Protestant and Roman Catholic religious organizations joined a Jewish human relations agency in denouncing the “Christian Identity” movement as “a threat to a pluralistic and democratic America, a perversion of authentic religious values, and a source of bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism.”
At the same time the author of the first full-scale study of “Christian Identity” warned that the movement posed “a special danger to Christians of good will because it claims to base its racist beliefs on the Bible, and makes sham connections between its bigoted, often violent ideas and the sincere religious concerns of many Christians.”
Making these charges, at a news conference Thursday at the offices of the American Jewish Committee, were Leonard Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal and author of the just-published study, “The Christian Identity Movement”; The Rev. Patricia McClurg, first vice president, National Council of Churches; The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, secretary, Department of Social Development and World Peace, U.S. Catholic Conference; Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs, American Jewish Committee; the Rev. Lynn Clayton, chairman, Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, and Dr. C. T. Vivian, chairman, Center for Democratic Renewal.
Theodore Ellenoff, AJC national president, chaired the conference.
The Center for Democratic Renewal is an Atlanta-based national organization that monitors racist and extremist groups and actions. Zeskind’s study was published by the Division of Church and Society of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U. S. A.
DESCRIPTION OF THE ‘CHRISTIAN IDENTITY’ MOVEMENT
Describing “Christian Identity,” Zeskind said it was “not a single organization, but the name given to a theological and political movement undergirding the entire white supremacist movement, from the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan to the Posse Comitatus.”
Known also as “Identity,” “Kingdom Identity,” and “Kingdom Message,” continued Zeskind, the movement contends “that the people of Northern Europe — white Anglo-Saxons — are the Lost Tribes of Israel; the Jews are the children of Satan, and that black people and people of color are ‘pre-Adamic’ — a lower form of species than white people.”
One of the movement’s “theological constructions,” said Zeskind, is that Armageddon — the final battle between good and evil foretold in Revelation — “will be a military battle in America’s heartland between themselves and the forces of Satan.” The movement uses this belief and related notions, said Zeskind, to promote and justify paramilitary training and the stockpiling of weapons.
“Christian Identity” also maintains, he said, “that the problems besetting the American people are the result of ‘race mixing’ and interreligious cooperation between Christians and Jews, which they call sins … They also attack Christian Right Fundamentalists for their support of the State of Israel, and mainstream Christian clergy for being ‘agents of Satan’.”
“Identity” is composed, said Zeskind, “of hundreds of small groupings dotted across the map, not confined to any single region of the country. It includes self-defined ministries that consist of little more than tape and booklet sales, as well as ministers who have regular programs on AM radio stations all over the U.S., and Still other leaders who have small, stable congregations in metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and Spokane.
“It has emerged as the primary religious and spiritual phenomenon of the far right and must not be dismissed as a marginal phenomenon. The U.S. has been undergoing a resurgence of bigotry under the guise of Christianity; this resurgence is a deep, ugly stain in our society which people of good will must obliterate.”
‘PERNICIOUS HATE MOVEMENT’
A joint statement issued by Clayton, Hehir, McClurg, Rudin, and Vivian calls on all Americans “to join with us in publicly opposing this pernicious hate movement, ” adding “Because (Christian Identity) fears the scrutiny of an informed and alert public, we also urge that churches, synagogues, and schools undertake intensive courses of education about this movement, and that law enforcement officers, elected officials, and the media become more knowledgeable about ‘Christian Identity’.”
“As concerned Christian and Jewish religious leaders,” the statement said, “we are outraged by ‘Christian Identity’s false and dangerous message, and out of our concern for moral and ethical values, we join together in condemning ‘Christian Identity’s in the strongest possible terms.”
Clayton told the conference that “Placing prejudice in a thin cellophane wrapper of pseudo-Christianity cannot make a Christian. Rather, it intensifies prejudice’s repulsiveness.”
McClurg said, “The racism and hatred at the heart of the ‘Christian Identity’ movement is a disgrace to the Christian Church. Diversity in the world and church does cause some tension, yet God’s spirit would have us be enriched by those differences.”
Rudin stated, “‘Christian Identity’ is a cancer attacking the body of American society…. Armed with the facts about ‘Christian Identity’, I am confident that the American people will work together to eradicate this form of social, political, and religious pathology from our midst.”
Vivian said, “We are dealing with an 18th century problem in the 20th century — the ideological heresies of these hate groups, which keep recurring because we have not spoken out strongly enough about them. Hate often needs and uses religion as a base for its development, and we cannot make these heresies go away by ignoring them; they stem from the hate mentality of our society. We, the churches and synagogues, have not been aggressive enough in our teaching about these false ideologies, and we must be.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.