(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama has named to the federal government’s faith-based initiative a gay-rights activist who, last month, described Pope Benedict XVI and certain Catholic bishops as “discredited leaders” because of their opposition to same-sex marriage.
Harry Knox, who is a newly appointed member of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is the director of the religion and faith program at the Human Rights Campaign, a homosexual activist group.
In addition to his remarks about the Pope, Knox also criticized the Catholic Knights of Columbus as being “foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression” because of the Knights’ support of Proposition 8. The latter was a ballot initiative that amended California’s state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and passed in November 2008.
Knox told CNSNews.com that he “absolutely” stands by his criticism of the pope.
"The Pope needs to start telling the truth about condom use," Knox said on Monday, Apr. 6. "We are eager to help him do that. Until he is willing to do that and able, he's doing a great deal more harm than good -- not just in Africa but around the world. It is endangering people's lives.”
On Mar. 19, Knox told the San Francisco-based gay newspaper The Bay Area Reporter, “The Knights of Columbus do a great deal of good in the name of Jesus Christ, but in this particular case [Proposition 8], they were foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.”
The newspaper further reported: “Knox noted that the Knights of Columbus ‘followed discredited leaders,’ including bishops and Pope Benedict XVI. ‘A pope who literally today said condoms don't help in control of AIDS.’”
According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Web site, the religion and faith program run by Knox has created “a weekly preaching resource that provides scriptural commentary to ministers and lay people interested in an ecumenical gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender perspective on the Bible."
The site further states that the program has set a goal of doing “faith-based transgender education in 40 diverse congressional districts across the country. Clergy participating in the program will take their congregants to Capitol Hill on May 4 and 5 as part of the ‘2009 Clergy Call for Justice and Equality,’” an event sponsored by the HRC.
In a statement posted Monday on the HRC Web site, Knox said he was humbled by his appointment to Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“I hope this council will draw upon the richness of our unique perspectives to advise the president on policies that will improve the lives of all the people we have been called to serve,” Knox said. “The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is eager to help the Administration achieve its goals around economic recovery and fighting poverty; fatherhood and healthy families; inter-religious dialogue; care for the environment; and global poverty, health and development. And, of course, we will support the President in living up to his promise that government has no place in funding bigotry against any group of people.”
The appointment of Knox advisory board makes a mockery of the faith-based program, said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League.
“This is exactly the kind of bastardization of common sense that the Obama people are putting forth,” Donohue told CNSNews.com. “Quite frankly, I would prefer to see the entire faith-based initiative closed down. They’re going to use this as political capital in the Obama administration to say, ‘We reach out to people of faith.’ The whole thing is a sham.”
“I’d rather people simply be honest and say we don’t believe in faith-based initiatives as they were initially intended by the previous administration, and what we’re going to do is thoroughly politicize them with these gay activists,” said Donohue.
Reports surfaced last week that both Knox and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy – the latter an opponent of same-sex marriage -- were asked to join the president’s council. However, in the release Monday afternoon, Dungy’s name was not included.
As of Apr. 6, it was reported that all 25 members of the council had been appointed.
“Because of the screamers in the gay community that said we can’t have a man like Tony Dungy, they’ve decided to reach out and get someone like Harry Knox,” Donohue told CNSNews.com. “Whether Dungy dropped out himself or they dropped him, there was a dust up. That much we know. And this is the way the Obama people work.”
Conservatives have already expressed concern that Obama’s faith-based advisory council is heavy with liberal activists, such as the Rev. Jim Wallis, the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. and Rabbi David N. Saperstein, among other left-leaning clergy on the council who have advocated for more social spending, less restrictive immigration policies and more environmental regulations. Some council members have been avid supporters of abortion rights, gay marriage, and keeping a strict separation of church and state.
“It is expanded to go beyond faith-based organizations, which is a complete 180 of its original intent,” Tom McClusky, vice president of Family Research Council’s FRC-Alert, told CNSNews.com. “The numbers on the council are – as expected – much more heavily leaning liberals who are not as concerned about the right to practice one’s own faith when accepting federal dollars.”
Obama first announced the establishment of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in early February, as a continuation of a similar office started under his predecessor President George W. Bush.
The difference is that under Bush, the office targeted religious non-profits, while Obama has changed the focus to target community groups, religious and secular.
This is reflected in the membership that also includes leaders of secular non-profit charitable organizations, such as Judith Vredenburgh of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America; Fred Davie, the president of Public/Private Ventures, a secular non-profit intermediary; and Arturo Chavez, president and CEO of the Mexican American Cultural Center. The White House council has 25 members. Each will have a one-year term.
The Rev. Otis Moss Jr., recently retired senior pastor at the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, once said Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “is like seeing your brother set your house on fire with laughter while your parents and brothers and sisters are in the house,” as the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported in 1995. Moss added that Thomas and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) were “enemies in the struggle for liberation.”
Moss is the father of Rev. Otis Moss III of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the controversial church of which Obama was formerly a member. Obama left Trinity during the 2008 Democratic primary to distance himself from anti-American comments made by the church’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Of America’s earliest settlement, Moss Jr. said, “When we think of Jamestown, we must think of the triple holocaust that came out of Jamestown,” referring to the “African holocaust, the Native American holocaust, that African-American holocaust.” And, in reference to the war on terror, he said in October 2004, “You have heard that it was said ‘God bless America.’ But I say unto you, pray for all of the Osama bin Ladens and the Saddam Huesseins,” the Weekly Standard reported.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Jim Wallis, called the “leader of the Religious Left” by The New York Times, has been advising Democrats on how to better connect with Christian voters.
In 1979, he was quoted in the publication Mission Tracks saying, “more Christians will come to view the world through Marxist eyes.” The quote has been referenced in several other published reports since then.
Many years later, in a February 2007 Time magazine commentary, Wallis said, “The monologue of the religious right is over and a new dialogue has begun.”
In 2005, Wallis told Mother Jones magazine, “The right is comfortable with the language of religion, values, God talk -- so much so that they sometimes claim to own the territory, or own God. But then, they narrow everything down to one or two issues: abortion or gay marriage. I am an evangelical Christian, and I can’t ignore thousands of verses in the Bible on another subject, which is poverty. I say at every stop, ‘Fighting poverty’s a moral value too.’”
Wallis, founder of the liberal Christian group Sojourners, was among 115 religious activists reportedly arrested in December 2005 by U.S. Capitol Police while protesting the House Republican budget plan.
Another council member who has been an active voice in politics is Rabbi David N. Saperstein.
Saperstein denounced the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007for upholding the federal ban on partial-birth abortions. “When medical decisions are taken out of the hands of women and their doctors, an injustice has been done. Women are capable of making sound medical and moral decisions without government interference.”
He also criticized the United States in December for not joining the United Nations declaration affirming human rights for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Despite national shortcomings in the achievement of full equality for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender] community, it is shameful that the United States chose not to be a part of the first U.N. General Assembly declaration condemning state- sanctioned human rights abuses against LGBT people,” Saperstein said. “Declarations of this type have been approved by the European Union and the Organization of American States, but the United States remains painfully absent from the international movement for equality and respect for all people.”
Commenting on a House vote in 2006 defeating a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, Saperstein said, “The Federal Marriage Amendment would tarnish this rich tradition of progress, enshrine discrimination in our nation’s most sacred document and undermine the principle of equal protection for all citizens under the law.”
This February, he repeated previous calls for “comprehensive” immigration reform, which would include a path to citizenship for illegal aliens. He quoted Leviticus in a February press release, saying, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“The time has come to put aside the policies and practices that do not work,” Saperstein said in February. “Among these failed policies are workplace raids that do not address the problems with our immigration system, create due process concerns, leave families separated and traumatized.”
Other statements by Saperstein endorsed increased spending on health care; backed a law extending the statute of limitations to sue employers for pay discrimination; stressed the need for global warming legislation; and made demands for an investigation of the treatment of U.S. detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Balance on the Council
To be sure, Dungy is not the only conservative on the council. It also includes Frank S. Page, president emeritus of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Rev. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of a mega-church in Longwood, Fla.
Hunter backed George W. Bush for president in 2000 and 2004 and Mike Huckabee for president in the 2008 Republican primary. Hunter was tapped in 2006 to be the president of the Christian Coalition of America, but declined in a public falling out when the organization did not want to include his environmental, anti-poverty, anti-war policies in the group’s platform.
Two members of the council are experts on the separation of church and state: Melissa Rogers, director of the Wake Forest School of Divinity, and Rabbi David N. Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Rogers was among 22 other ministers, academics, and activists that formed a coalition with evangelical Christians and liberal activists called, “Come Let Us Reason Together,” of which Hunter is also a member.
The group agrees on principles of trying to reduce the number of abortions, while supporting laws that would make it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals except for faith-based employers. The group also agreed that treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay was “immoral, unwise and un-American.”
“People are tired of the brain-dead debates and of nastiness,” Rogers told the Christian Science Monitor after the formation of the group. “It’s time for us to find our voice.”
In a commentary for Religion News Service, Rogers was dismissive of concerns that the courts were hostile toward religious expression.
“It has become fashionable to say that the court is demonstrating hostility toward faith when it prevents the government from promoting faith for us. But those who make this argument are either ignorant of or willfully blind to the rationales expressed in Supreme Court precedent in this area,” Rogers said.
“The court traditionally has refused to promote or to interfere with religion not because it is anti-religious, but because it wants to leave people free to make choices in matters of faith and to ensure that religious people and organizations may worship as they see fit, rather than the government sees fit,” Rogers continued.
Many conservative Christians are taking a “wait and see” approach to the faith-based organization, said Wendy Wright, president of the conservative Concerned Women of America. But she is concerned that many of the members seem to have a political bent toward sending federal dollars to groups such as Planned Parenthood.
“Several members of the council reflect views like this,” Wright told CNSNews.com. “They are affiliated with leftist groups that are hardcore pro-abortion.”
She also said that the larger concern is that the new White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships is geared toward both religious and secular groups.
“The reason the faith-based office began was to ensure a special place for faith-based groups to participate in the public square,” Wright said. “Secular groups already get millions and billions in federal money. The faith-based office was to give voice and recognition to the good works faith-based groups are doing.”