by Jeremy Leaming
Leave it to the American Family Association to freak out – and try to raise money – over an effort to promote equality and dissuade bullying in schools by tarring it as a nefarious plot to promote a gay agenda. Unless you’re a regular -- or even occasional follower -- of the machinations of the nation’s Christianist Right, you may wonder what AFA is all about. There are not too many things to know, it was founded in the late 1970s by an evangelical pastor, in part, to demonize the LGBT community and promote the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.
For decades the group has been pounding away at those themes with varying degrees of success. Its “philosophical statement,” declares that “God has communicated absolute truth to mankind, and that all people are subject to the authority of God’s Word at all times. Therefore AFA believes that a culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our nation and our families, in accordance with the vision of our founding documents; and that personal transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest biblical change in any culture.”
AFA, as noted by The New York Times, is now going ballistic over a program “started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” dubbed “Mix It Up at Lunch Day.” The SPLC, a civil rights groups launched in 1971, devoted to “fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society,” operates an array of programs aimed at fostering inclusive and nurturing school environments.
One way to do that is helping educators teach acceptance of their peers, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. One of the SPLC’s “teaching tolerance,” programs is a nationwide campaign to encourage students to share their lunchtime with different students, those they normally don’t have lunch with. “In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – Oct. 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch,” SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project states. “It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice.”
But efforts to eradicate prejudices mean something radically different to many Christianists. And in a recent statement by AFA, it attacks SPLC as a “fanatical pro-homosexual group,” and its “Mix it Up,” program as “gay indoctrination.”