I never rejoice in the death of anyone, but there are some people who because of their body of life’s work that I will not miss. Phyllis Schafly is one of them. She was one of the leading religious agitators who fought to deny equal rights to women by stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment which by an act of Congress would have guaranteed women the same rights as men, and to the end of her life was a strident opponent of equality for LGBTQ people, and immigrants.
Schafly used her religious beliefs as a weapon to deny rights to fellow citizens, and in doing so became one of the most forceful advocates of a supposedly Christian theocracy which mobilized millions of voters and made her the darling of the political preachers of the religious right for over forty years. Most recently she had cast her political power as a leader of the Christian Right behind Donald Trump. Honestly, I can think of few people who so vehemently and successfully used the power of religiously infused politics to such a degree as Schafly, and the words of James Spader’s character in the television series The Blacklist seem to apply to this now dead woman, “hell hath no fury like a fundamentalist scorned.”
But there is always a price for such foolishness. Schafly and her allies in the political Christian Right who so desired to bring about the Kingdom of God by attempting to both subvert the Constitution through biased religious lawmaking, by demonizing her opponents, and by denying the very source of life of our nation, the proposition that all men are created equal actually helped destroy the real spiritual influence of the Christian faith in the United States more than anyone. They sold their birthright, discredited the church, and for what? The illusion of political power and influence.
A few years back the Barna Report, a very reputable Evangelical Christian polling organization noted that the fastest growing segment of the American religious mosaic was “the nones,” people who have no preference in religious belief, and the fastest growing subsets of the “nones” are Atheists, Agnostics, and Free Thinkers. In fact number one of the reasons cited by Barna is that a vast majority of young people, including those who grew up in the church, described the church as too political. A February 2016 study by Barna noted that almost half of non-religious Americans view Christianity as extremist, and dangerous. That should trouble any Christian leader, but it never bothered Schafly or for that matter any of her political preacher allies. Likewise according to a Barna study released in October 2014, nearly half of the ever rising number of “the unchurched” find it hard to name a single positive contribution of the church to society.
But the situation is worse if you look at why young Christians leave the church. According to a Barna survey in September 2011 young Christians believe that the church is overprotective, shallow, antagonistic toward science, that they feel judged by older church members who are simplistic and judgemental, that church is like a “country club” that is antagonistic and unwelcoming of outsiders, and that it is a place unfriendly to those that doubt. Specific comments by large numbers of Christian young people who are feeling the church include that it is “too political,” “fear based and risk adverse,” and that it “demonizes those outside the church.” But I think the most damning finding of that survey was that twenty percent of Christian young people said that “God seems missing from my experience in church.”
Throughout her life Phyllis Schafly made her money and fame by demonizing all opposition, she rallied supporters by promoting fear, and she, maybe even more that the Elmer Gantry types of charlatan political and prosperity preachers is in large part responsible for the current sad state of the Christian church in the United States. I remember back in the late 1970s and 1980s the hold that she had on churches that I attended. She was practically deified for her opposition to women’s rights, and LGBTQ people. She could be found at the side of any political hack willing to give her a place in the podium almost to the day she died, even this summer she appeared at the side of Donald Trump, as always casting the pearls of the Gospel at the feet of a man whose life and work exemplifies the complete opposite of what was once considered Christian virtue.
When I learned of Mrs Schafly’s death I was watching an episode of The Blacklist. Reddington made the comment “you know what my problem with religion is? Man. Like anything that has potential to be beautiful, man will turn it into somethings ugly.” I could not help by think of the irony.
Schafly spent her last year nearly destroying the Eagle Forum organization that she helped to found by endorsing Trump, a man who she called “the last hope for America” even as she filed a lawsuit against nephew Tom from trademarking his Schafly Beer because she was the person who made her name famous.
Truthfully, like I said, I never rejoice in the death of anyone, even someone like Mrs Schafly whose actions I believe we’re so detrimental to so many people and to the church itself. I pray that she finds God to be more merciful to her than she was to others, and I do hope after a life spent demonizing and denying the rights of people that she despised, I hope that her tortured and embittered soul finds some measure of peace that she seemed unable to find in life.
What a shame…
So until tomorrow,