Mel White’s “Holy Terror”

Mel White’s Scary, Must-Read “Holy Terror”

This year marks the re-release of Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right tells us to Deny Gay Equality (Magnus Books, 2012). It was originally published in 2006 under the title Religion Gone Bad.

Reading Holy Terror has been one of those sobering, upsetting experience. I am periodically and forcibly reminded of the seriousness of our task, and of the power of the forces arrayed against us and the ones we love. What I’m going to do here is provide a brief introduction to the book, followed by some personal reflections.

There are several words you will come across when people respond to Holy Terror. One phrase is “must-read.” The other is “scary,” and the book is definitely scary.

Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, and Kennedy

The first section discusses the men who prepared the soil for the anti-gay campaign yet to come, and sections two and three contain the stories of the four men whose name are familiar to us all: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and D. James Kennedy. Four factors linger in the memory from these vignettes. The first is their influence over their massive audiences; second is their amazing organizing ability; third is their exercise of political muscle; and finally is their well-honed ability to raise cash, and lots of it. Of the four men, James Dobson seems to have been the best at all this.

Dobson sounds like the most ruthless hardball player of all, a lot like presidents Johnson and Nixon. White says of Dobson,  “During my time in the entourages of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, I never saw either of them attack and punish those who disagree, as Dobson does on a regular basis.” Dobson himself has bragged about his ability to shut down Washington, D.C., by orchestrating hundreds of thousands of phone calls in a single day. He reminds me of the one about the most important organ in the body.

Much of the fourth section discusses America’s anti-gay history, going back to the earliest days of European settlement. You can never tell what vivid piece of explanatory history you will find, such as the actual evidence for the sexual orientation of King James I.  The King James story is just one example of the value of Holy Terror as a resource for general readers, pastors, and bloggers (!).

The Glen Eyrie Protocol

The discussion Glen Eyrie Protocol in section five to be one the tantalizing in the book.  The secret meeting at Glen Eyrie might have passed unnoticed to outsiders had the event not been leaked to a reporter working for Rev. Sun Moon’s conservative newspaper, the Washington Times. Tapes of the sessions were later discovered in the archival library of Tufts University in Massachusetts. Glen Eyrie marked a turning point made necessary by the advancing age of the big names in fundamentalism’s anti-homosexual crusade. The baton had to be passed to a generation of grass roots organizers. Their unrelenting campaign shows no signs of abating. The evolution to a virtually “faceless” crusade is proving effective.

Three major goals were announced at that 1994 conference, so they are quite familiar to us now.  Devoting several pages to each, White discusses their major goals one by one:

  • Goal 1: Prove to the American People that “Heterosexuality is Best for Individuals and Society.”
  • Goal 2: Prove to the American People that “Homosexuality is not Immutable”
  • Goal 3: Prove to the American People that “Society Needs to Make Certain Demands on People Sexually”

I’m going to conclude these opening remarks by listing the section titles. These five sections of the book are more tightly focused than the others, being more thematic and less historical.

  • Idolatry: The Religion of Fundamentalism
  • Fascism: The Politics of Fundamentalism
  • Reclaiming our Progressive Political Values
  • Reclaiming our Progressive Moral Values
  • Discovering Soul Force

Holy Terror is scary, even alarming. It would make an excellent gift for:

  • Any LGBT person who needs to wake up and smell the bacon
  • Any straight person, ally or not, who cares about truth, justice, or love
  • Any pastor, committed or non-committal regarding LGBT issues
  • Any professor or teacher
  • Any person you consider your friend

Holy Terror: Personal Experience and Ambivalence

While Holy Terror is an excellent resource for pastors and bloggers, and an excellent introduction to the anti-homosexual campaign since the 1970’s, it is also a deeply personal, complex book. From beginning to end it reflects the ambivalence many of us experience about our home churches.  Some of us call it a love-hate relationship. Others can’t sit in a pew without tears welling up in their eyes.  Still others are so wounded by their church experience that they have walked away in disgust, anger, and bitter disappointment.

Mel White repeatedly expresses his love and concern for the “villains” of the piece, his former friends, colleagues whose lives he shared and families he knew.  He refuses to return evil for evil, but is committed to overcoming evil with good.  He returns blessings for curses. In this, and in his non-violent resistance à la Gandhi’s satayagraha, White follows one of the neglected paths of Jesus.

Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela

I came to Holy Terror hoping to find some direction. A question I sometimes ask myself is, “Am I, are we, making realistic progress toward our goals? How do our activities, my activities, help achieve those goals?”  White’s prescription seems to be a return to successful non-violent resistance of the past. In his concluding chapter, “Discovering Soul Force,” he urges us to mass movements like the ones that changed India, the American South, and South Africa.

There are many important spiritual, moral, and political values we can learn from these historical episodes. But the situations are quite different. There are perhaps four main differences between our situation and theirs.  First, satayagraha pressure was applied to governments that exercised nearly total control over the effected populations. Second, there emerged in each situation a clearly identifiable leader with the moral and political stature for the task. Third, the subjugated populations were easily identifiable either by ethnicity or colonial status. And fourth, there was an outside audience which thoroughly disapproved of the oppression, an audience capable of exerting their own coercive pressure on the offending government. 

Many of us experience, at least periodically, the desire for a single, dramatic event that will solve our problems. Sometimes that’s being born again. For others, it’s the dream captured in the phrase, “Come the revolution.” And for others it is the repeal of a law or the fall of a government. Democracy’s genius for stability and endurance is rooted in part in the need for widespread consensus, in the famed “checks and balances.” At one time this was a revolutionary concept, now it is the bane of every revolutionary’s dreams.

Out Celebrities: One of the Movement’s Strengths

I found in Mel White’s book sobering confirmation of the pure love of power and money that characterizes some of Christian leaders. White lets these people speak for themselves. No one has to demonize them. In the chapters on the Glen Eyrie Protocol I found new information regarding their strategy for moving away from big names to grass roots, a strategy forced upon them by the effect of time on their aging leadership.

We are facing a similar passing of the baton, but not identical.  We still have Mel White and Bishop Gene Robinson as respectable leaders, but their influence may possibly be waning.  Or that may be my perception because of the throng of new players on the field. Recently, the most public faces of the LGBT movement are those people who are already established in their fields, and coming out of the closet to their audiences. There’s a long list, with people like Ellen Degeneres, Queen Latifa, Barney Frank, and Anderson Cooper topping the list.

There’s also a host of transgender celebrities, including Chaz Bono, Lady Gaga, Isis King, Amanda Lapore, and Harisu. And then there are the twenty-five top athletes worldwide who came out in 2011.

And for the older generation there’s the discovery that some of their favorite actors were gay. It’s good for us to learn of a pre-existing special bond we have with older stars like Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, and younger ones like Linda Hunt, Wanda Sykes, Rosie O’Donnell, Lily Tomlin, and Meredith Baxter. The same holds true with Paul Lynde, Montgomery Clift, Sal Mineo, Dick Sargent, Robert Reed, George Takei, Marlon Brando, Randolph Scott, Rock Hudson, Dirk Bogarde, and Raymond Burr.

Major Christian entertainers who have come out and paid the price include Marsha Stevens, Ray Boltz, Chely Wright, and Jennifer Knapp.

This list of LGBT names and faces helps me put things in perspective. It’s easy to feel alarmed and frightened to hear the “plans” being hatched by our political and religious opponents. There is an air of secrecy surrounding the Glen Eyrie meeting and the Council for National Policy that can send shivers down your spine.

The lines of battle facing off in this struggle differ from one another in nature and strength. It’s like a war where one nation has a strong navy, another has dominating air power, and another has a powerful infantry. Then there is for some that pesky problem of changing demographics, praise God.

Nothing I say here should cause us to lower our guard against the theocratic enemies of democracy. White wisely counsels us to reclaim our progressive political values, which includes familiarizing ourselves with our U.S. constitution and its safeguards. Rushdoony (deceased) and these Dominionists truly are, without exaggeration, anti-Democracy. I knew that democratically organized churches and political democracy went hand in hand. And I remember how odd it sounded, hearing for the first time, “The church is not a democracy.”  I knew what was meant, but I had no idea what seeds of anti-Democracy were being sown.

“Fret Not Thyself Because of Evildoers”

As I read Holy Terror, however, I kept hearing the voice of scripture, one I memorized in high school from my Scofield Bible. Despite the emphasis on patient waiting, I hope you understand that this passage lives side-by-side with the Bible’s many exhortations to do justice. There is a prophetic place for militant resistance. It’s not a question of passive inactivity, but unworried, confident action. Here are the first fifteen verses of Psalm 37. Every verse has something good in it. Try reading it out loud.

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the wtorkers of iniquity.
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.

Just as the Psalmist promises, one by one these wicked men and women are passing from the scene. R.J. Rushdoony died in 2001 at age 85. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell both died in 2007, at 77 and 74 respectively. Pat Robertson is 82. Tim LaHaye and James Dobson are both 86, and Beverly LaHaye is 83.

The words of the Psalmist are comforting. They speak of the ultimate rightness and vindication of our cause.

I am also reminded of these words: God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

Holy Terror is a sobering, frightening book, and deeply thought-provoking on many levels.  It really is a must-read.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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11 Responses to Mel White’s “Holy Terror”

  1. Ron Goetz says:

    I would like to say that I am in no way an expert on the events in the South, or in India, or in South Africa. My knowledge is fairly general, the sort any attentive citizen might pick up over the years. So if I have misrepresented those situations in any details, you’ll forgive me.

    And so you know, I participated in a Soulforce action at Saddleback Church, and have a clergy acquaintance who was arrested at a Soulforce action at a UMC conference some years back. As Saul Alinsky said, “A good tactic is one people enjoy.”

    Is civil disobedience in short supply?


  2. Lane White says:

    Hi Ron! Once again, you have crafted a well written, thoughtful piece that spurs me to action. This will definitely be a book in my library. One note, just for clarity sake. Chaz Bono should be with those classified as transgendered . . .


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Yes, it’s a good buy. If money is a factor, you can pick it up used as Religion Gone Bad. The only difference is that the preface has some updated material.

      Where to place Chaz Bono is a judgment call, I think. He does fit with the LGBT folks where he is, or in the next paragraph. Thanks for mentioning it, though! 🙂


  3. Pingback: Mel White’s “Holy Terror” « Queer Church News

  4. Duncan Beach says:

    I’m thinking that it was a GOOD day for this world when Jerry Who Fell Well died. Sorry, I don’t like saying that about ANYONE, but he was an evil, evil man.


  5. Bill Smith says:

    OK, two points: first, check out snopes: I’m pretty sure that Lady Gaga in NOT transgendered.
    Second, please note that the following discussion has been carefully crafted to apply to both your position, and to that of your enemy, tea-party evangelicals such as myself; that is, I would hope you feel as strongly about your positon as I do about mine:
    As one of those tea party evangelicals, I feel it is important for our democratically elected government to practice those ideals that I hold dear, because I believe and feel them to be fundamentally true and beneficial for all Americans and all people everywhere. Further, I respect those strong leaders for my position and frankly resent the misreading of their motivations and efforts as has been so blatently done in this case. You can certainly call that a conspiracy if you like and be just as paranoid as you like about people like me. May I also, respectfully point out that


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Bill, unfortunately we are homo sapiens, and we thrive on challenge and conflict. It is part of our instinct package, which includes hard-wired drives for territory, status, and aggression. As biting as our rhetoric gets, we have a system which channels our instinct packages into socially constructive and usually non-violent pursuits.

      The paranoia you refer to is instilled into us in many ways, some artificial and some real. We respond to what we hear, and when the leaders of our “enemies” are motivating the troops with threats and plans for our “enemies,” we respond. You hear rhetoric that makes you fear for your liberty. I hear rhetoric that makes me fear for my liberty. Propaganda and threats are all part of the game, as distasteful as the word “game” is. Real people experience real pain.

      Bill, I must say something on behalf of “my side.” When it comes to actual brutality, beatings, and death, more physical violence is inflicted on gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people than against, say, Catholics, Mormoms, or fundamentalists. No Catholics, Mormons, or fundamentalists have been beaten up or murdered–recently–for their religion that I am aware of. This happens on a regular basis among LGBT people.


      • Bill Smith says:

        My primary point is that for all your accusations of “my side” being vicious, yours seems to be equally culpable – with the book you’re lauding; even more vicious at some times it would appear…
        Further, it never ceases to amaze me precisely how ethnocentric/myopic you liberals can get – all the while intimating that conservatives are Neanderthals! (Some flavors of old Geico commercials come to mind here… 🙂 To explain: you are unaware of Christians beaten or murdered recently for their beliefs/practices and yet you have only to go to the Middle East where it happens, currently and daily. Consider recent beatings and deaths of Bible-believing Coptic Christians whose only crime was being caught in the Cross fire between secularists and the Muslim Brotherhood – and a bad U-Tube video. A friend of ours, recently converted from Islam, even while in this country, is under daily mortal threat precisely because of that conversion – simply because they were born in the Middle East. Online examples abound; a visit to the Voice of the Martyrs website would provide abundant examples of still more.
        My accusations of paranoia stand when one misperceives the motives and organizational facts of their opponents. I have no doubt you are a good and kind hearted, well meaning person despite my strong opposition to your position. Unlike some on ‘my side’, I honestly believe the President is following his own sincere beliefs for what is best for this country – despite the proven fallacy of his position. I am honestly fearful that the next 4 years will be no better than the last; in many ways I see potential for much worse, I’m afraid. (the President’s proud claim of 4 million jobs – even if credited fully to the $800 billion stimulus – means each job cost $200,000 apiece – will wonders of ‘government efficiency’ never cease!)
        A key verse from scripture where I know where we both would agree is Jesus claim in John 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We could debate the meaning of latter half of that statement, but consider the first half: I’m not so interested in standing for any position, as I am interested in standing for the truth; Jesus’ truth. The position you are defending in this book has precious little truth about the motivations of our conservative leaders or conservatives in general, I fear. Respectfully, Bill Smith…

        P.S. You never did respond to the point about Lady Gaga!


      • Duncan Beach says:

        Tea-party evangelicals are NOT our enemies. It is rather that sort of evangelical who will corner you in your workplace and insist on evangelizing to you when you’re supposed to be working, who will not listen nor relent until you have ‘seen the light’, by which they mean, ‘agreed with their views’. If you have read my posts and the Pastors blogs at all, you know that we’re frequently at loggerheads about things. The Pastor perhaps misspoke about Lady Gaga, in that she frequently presents theatrically as ‘transgendered’, though she herself is, and always has been, a bisexual woman. It is that we are fed up, Bill with the persecution we see every day of perfectly normal humans, upon which the Pastor and I agree. And the claims that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” fall on deaf ears here because it’s apparent to all of us that God did, in fact, create us all. If Adam and Steve are sinning, well, so do I, every day. So do you.


  6. Bill Smith says:

    OK, my apologies, I have been busy for some time and not able to get back to the thread. First and foremost, I resent misrepresentation of the motives and sincere beliefs of the leaders on any side, liberal or conservative. In most cases – certainly not all cases – a person should be accepted for the motivations they state. What makes anyone so sure they know better than that person themselves what their ‘real’ reason is for doing something?!? It is precisely this misrepresentation of folks like Dr. Dobson and the like that I find frankly irresponsible. OK, so you beat the straw-man argument that you created for your opponent in the first place – how quaint!
    Of greater concern, however, is the patently unproven and typically unchecked assumption that seems to pervade the argument for your side at its deepest core: that there is something genetic to being homosexual… It is critical to be clear about this, there is NO genetic proof that someone is, fundamentally, homosexual (heterosexuality has been genetically proven, however, for some time!). Sure, you could debate possibilities till the cows come home, but the proof just aint there… Even if it were, genetic predisposition for an activity does not demand acceptance of that activity.
    Long before debating genetic components for homosexuality, another ‘sin’ – that of alcoholism – was examined for genetic components as well. Even while the roots of alcoholism were – and to some degree still are – debated, living in the bottom of a bottle is not a good way to deal with your problems, and certainly does not excuse drunk driving. We work to help folks deal with that issue, in spite of what may – or may not – be a genetic predisposition.
    To sum up; discrimination is when someone is judged for an endemic characteristic – not an activity they perform. ‘Sexual Orientation’ is asking for recognition not of a fundamental characteristic, but of an activity. (and yes, I can already hear the claims they just ‘feel’ that way – they don’t have to DO it! – right, then why get ‘married’? To just sit there and look at each other and not participate?!?) What’s next, forgive drunk driving because someone’s alcoholic – or theft because someone was born a kleptomaniac!?!? Are these also to be added to the anti-discrimination clause?


    • Duncan Beach says:

      I never said that there was a ‘genetic arguement’. I HAVE said in the past, though I’m not sure whether it was here or not, that it doesn’t MATTER. Enough has been studied and tested to make educated people think there’s a genetic component to homosexuality, whether there is one or not. Furthermore, comparing who one wants to sleep with to drunken driving, or even alcoholism, is a further example of the behavior I was writing about above – doesn’t matter a damn whether you’re agreed with, argued with, or told to bug off, you’re going to push people into a corner and have your say.


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