Opponents of marriage equality in Minnesota recently came under fire for comparing the campaign tactics of gay-rights supporters to the tactics of Germany’s Nazi Party in the lead-up to the extermination of approximately 6 million Jews and thousands of gay people and others during World War II. This is the second time in six months that such a comparison has been drawn during this campaign.
The Nazi link was embedded in a sample sermon distributed by the Family Research Council, an influential religious-right advocacy group based in Washington, D.C, which has been sending the sermon to pastors since 2006. The text has been used in battles over same-sex marriage in a half-dozen states. However, following outrage from Minnesota’s Jewish community, the group quietly stripped the Nazi reference from the sermon.
In an invitation on its website to attend an anti-gay-marriage event called “Stand for Marriage Sunday” earlier this month, a group called Minnesota Pastors for Marriage included the aforementioned sample sermon, which accused same-sex marriage proponents of using Nazi-like tactics. Minnesota Pastors for Marriage, which is fighting a proposed state bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, is funded by the Minnesota Family Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group affiliated with the Family Research Council.
The document titled, “Minnesota Stand For Marriage Sermon Starter,” reads, in part (emphasis added):
Homosexuals claim: “We were born this way; it is in our genes; God made us gay.” They cite old “gay gene” studies predominantly conducted by researchers who are homosexuals; studies that have been repudiated by credible research. Yet these same biased and discredited studies have been widely publicized by the liberal media as true and factual. They essentially practice Joseph Goebel’s [sic] Nazi philosophy of propaganda, which is basically this: Tell a lie long enough and loud enough and eventually most mindless Americans will believe it.
But shortly after news broke in Minnesota late last month that gay-rights and Jewish groups had condemned the group’s sermon, the Family Research Council edited the sermon to take out the offending section. The above passage was captured by ThinkProgress, which broke the story.
However, the Family Research Council missed a few versions of the unedited sermon including on the group’s affiliated “Watchmen on the Wall” website.
This sermon was included in a message from John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council and chairman of Minnesota for Marriage, and Kenyn Cureton, vice president of church ministries at the Family Research Council. Cureton authored the sermon starter.
The Family Research Council is a socially conservative organization co-founded by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson in 1983. The group has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, because Family Research Council leaders have repeatedly attempted to link homosexuality with pedophilia.
“Same-sex ‘marriages’ could be performed in Minnesota as early as August 1, 2013,” Helmberger and Cureton wrote. “That’s why we are asking you to consider ‘Stand For Marriage Sunday,’ to convey a sense of urgency to your members to call both their state legislators ASAP and ask them to vote ‘No’ on Senate File 925 and House File1054. To help you with this, we have created “Stand For Marriage” materials. To view these materials, click on Sermon Starter, Stand For Marriage and Bulletin Insert.”
Stand for Marriage
The Stand for Marriage sample sermon appears to have been first published in SBC LIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2006, when Cureton, the sermon’s author, was vice president for convention relations for the Southern Baptist Convention, the world's largest Baptist denomination.
By late 2006, Cureton had joined the Family Research Council as vice president for church ministries. According to his biography, the Stand for Marriage kit containing the sermon has been sent to more than 20,000 churches, “notably in California, Arizona, Florida, Maine, and North Carolina in support of their successful efforts to uphold traditional marriage.”
A version sent to pastors often contained a warning about its content.
“Pastoral Warning: I have preached messages like this many times and it never fails to offend somebody,” Cureton wrote. “In fact, I’ve had people walk out on me during the sermon, and others leave my church membership.”
He added: “There is no substitute for the pastor’s leadership from the pulpit, preaching the word of God without fear or favor, and applying it to burning issues such as abortion, the radical homosexual agenda, judicial tyranny, pornography, racism, gambling, etc. Remember, God’s word offends people. Don’t preach it if you can’t handle the consequences.”
Versions of Cureton’s sermon have been used in many of the state-based battles over same-sex marriage. His sermon was distributed to pastors in California during the battle over Proposition 8, which ended marriage rights for same-sex couples in that state.
According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court for Northern California in the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8, Cureton’s sermon was heavily edited for use in California, but the Nazi references remained.
West Virginia for Marriage, a project of West Virginia Family Policy Council, offered the sermon to pastors for the Stand for Marriage Sunday in 2009, when social conservatives were pressing for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in that state.
In New York state, a version of the sermon – without the Nazi reference – was used in opposition to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in 2011.
The sermon was distributed to pastors last year in North Carolina, where voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The Cornerstone Conference Ministry Center still has the sermon available on its website, complete with Nazi references.
Cureton told The American Independent via email that the offending reference will remain deleted from future sermons. He declined to comment further.
Minnesota's Jewish community responds
After ThinkProgress reported on the document on March 28, Minnesotans United for All Families, the primary lobbying force in support of the marriage-equality bill, quickly responded, calling the tactics “disgusting.”
"This just clearly shows that the folks at Minnesota for Marriage have no interest in a civil dialogue. They have no interest in an honest conversation about marriage,” Minnesotans United for All Families spokesman Jake Loesch told Minnesota Public Radio. “Making claims that anyone in any way is comparable to Nazi tactics is disgusting. It's appalling and has no place in public square or in public discussion about what marriage is.”
But this was not the first time that gay-marriage opponents in Minnesota have likened the other side to Nazis.
Pastor Brad Brandon last year served as the director of church outreach for Minnesota for Marriage, when it was campaigning for a failed amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and toured the state with a PowerPoint presentation that included Nazi references.
“What I’m simply saying is that Adolf Hitler took away two fundamental rights from a group of people in order to suppress them," Brandon, said according to audience recordings provided to local media outlets. "Those two fundamental rights are the same rights that are being taken away from the Christian community," he added, alluding to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Brandon and Minnesota for Marriage later issued a statement saying that his words were taken out of context and being used by opponents to make the campaign “seem to be extreme.”
And following the more recent Nazi reference, Minnesota for Marriage again accused opponents of using it as a distraction.
"The reality is that there are many, many people of faith who believe based on teachings from the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, and other religious texts that marriage is between one man and one woman," Minnesota for Marriage spokeswoman Autumn Leva told the StarTribune, "This attempt to discredit Minnesota for Marriage is really a looking glass that allows Minnesotans to see that those attempting to force gay marriage on this state do not, in fact, care about people's deeply held beliefs."
That statement appeared to inflame tensions further, and leaders in Minnesota’s Jewish community pulled together a press conference on March 29.
Jewish Community Action released a statement saying that it “believes that to continually make analogous the tactics used to spread a message of hate and drive the near destruction of a people to a campaign which at its core is about love, commitment, and family, is ridiculous. To do it during Passover, a holiday that commemorates freedom from oppression, is shameful.”
Karen Yashar of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation told reporters: “This vile and repugnant comparison has no room in even the most heated and contentious political debates. The introduction of Nazi labels and comparisons into the American political debate sends a collective chill up the spine of the Jewish community… We call on Minnesota for Marriage to withdraw their statements, and once and for all refrain from using the Nazis or the Holocaust to make their case.”
“We are troubled by the fact that this is the second time in less than six months that Minnesota for Marriage has made reckless and historically inaccurate comparisons between Nazi Germany, and the tactics which it employed, and the proponents of marriage equality,” said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), in a statement. “As we have in the past, the JCRC strongly urges advocates on all sides of deeply controversial issues to refrain from making Nazi comparisons. Such analogies are almost always inappropriate and are offensive to not only the Jewish community, but also the many gay people who were targeted and murdered by the Nazi regime.”
Shortly after the press conference, Minnesota for Marriage eventually apologized but without taking responsibility for the Nazi reference.
“Minnesota for Marriage regrets that statements considered by many to be offensive appeared on the website of a separate organization, Minnesota Pastors for Marriage,” the group said in a statement. “Although Minnesota for Marriage is not responsible for the content of that website, nor the content on the websites of other supportive coalition members, we nevertheless regret any hurt those statements have caused.”
The Minnesota Family Council followed suit, releasing a statement claiming ownership for the documents.
“Minnesota Family Council is responsible for the content of the Minnesota Pastors for Marriage website. We regret that a sermon and other materials received from another organization and posted to the Minnesota Pastors for Marriage website were not properly reviewed.”
The document in question may have been on the website for at least nine months. Bloggers had posted about it as early as June 2012.
The group said the documents had been removed from the website. Attached to the apology was a statement written by Pastor Jeff Evans of Minnesota Pastors for Marriage, which appeared to contradict the apology.
"This attack by Minnesotans United on marriage has very little to do with an ill-advised quotation but rather the continued assault on the religious liberties of pastors to proclaim the full counsel of God about marriage in their pulpits," Evans said of Minnesota Pastors for Marriage. "Pastors need not apologize about passages in the Bible that some find offensive. On the contrary, pastors answer to their heavenly Father as to whether they speak and teach His Word to a world that needs to hear His good news.”
According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin’s editorial board, that apology may not be enough.
“The good news is Minnesota for Marriage and The Minnesota Family Council have been trying to distance themselves from the Nazi reference, saying that these materials ‘weren't properly reviewed’ and stating the use of the Minnesota for Marriage logo on some of these documents was ‘unauthorized,’” the staff wrote. “But after-the-fact apologies won't undo all of the damage that's been done to these organizations' credibility.”