12 October 2005

Sharlet: I’ve a short item on Harriet Miers’ church, Valley View Christian, coming out in an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone. Poking around the site, I came across a startling link, to theGospel Broadcasting Association, which declares: “This ministry is directed to the peoples of the world which historically have embraced Christianity–namely, the Caucasians, the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts, the Scandinavians, the Germanic tribes, and kindred groups which inhabit Western Europe and North America. Because of their embrace of Christianity, these groups collectively have been known as ‘Christendom’, that is, ‘the kingdom of Christ’. Not surprisingly, these traditionally-Christian peoples are none other than the literal, physical descendants of the tribes of ancient, Biblical Israel.” The site goes on to claim that the Roman Catholic church is a Jewish conspiracy.

Zoinks! Is Harriet Miers a Christian Identity white supremacist?

No. Whatever else she is, she’s not that, and neither are her fellow Christians at Valley View. When I spoke to the church’s pastor, Dr. Barry McCarty, last week, I asked him about his site’s link to this racist fantasy. He was genuinely horrified. The link was supposed to be to theGospel Broadcasting Mission, not the Gospel Broadcasting Association. He said he had no knowledge of the association; I verified this with the association’s sole member, one Russell L. Harris, of Houston, Texas. McCarty saw to it that the link was promptly fixed.

Case closed, as far as Miers is concerned. But the real puzzle here is why no one else caught this. When I pointed it out to McCarty, he was not only shocked, he was perplexed. He said he’d done perhaps 100 interviews since the announcement of Miers’ nomination, with reporters who were clearly looking for an angle on the church’s fundamentalism. Why hadn’t they noticed the raging lunacy of the Gospel Broadcasting Association? Why was I the only one to catch it?

Certainly not because I’m a better reporter. I was writing a short item; I spent about an hour clicking on Miers’ church’s site links. And bam, there it was. That’s all.

Was it overlooked because the political reporters assigned to the Miers story simply had no taste or time for theology? When I spoke to McCarty and Miers’ former pastor, Ron Key, both men volunteered responses on abortion and same-sex marriage before I even asked questions about the subject. They’d clearly been grilled dozens of times over, by reporters who understand Christian conservatism as no broader than these two issues.

It can be much broader, and in the case of the Gospel Broadcasting Association, it can be much narrower. But picking up on the nuances requires reading religion, and that, apparently, was too much to ask of a press determined to declare a Miers a fundamentalist in the only terms they understood.