Influential Christian conservatives Howard and Roberta Ahmanson respond to Salon's story "Avenging Angels of the Religious Right." Plus: More readers, including a Navy veteran, outraged by Bush's 9/11 ads.

By Salon Staff
Published March 12, 2004 8:44PM (EST)

On Jan. 6, 2004, Salon ran a piece called "Avenging Angel of the Religious Right" by Max Blumenthal. That piece, the work of a young man, is full of careless mistakes and exhibits the prejudices people on the left seem to have against people who are religious and somewhat politically conservative. Part of this bias comes from not knowing any real people who think and hold views different from their own. And, part of it does come from the fact that people on the left disagree with the honest views of people they perceive to be religious and on the right.

For the record and for the cause of honest debate in a democratic society, we'd like to correct some of the inaccuracies in the piece.

Roberta's hometown is Perry, Iowa, not Perryville. Howard grew up on an island in Newport Harbor, not San Diego Bay. R.J. Rushdoony died on Feb. 7, 2001, not in 1995. R.J. Rushdoony graduated from UC Berkeley and the Pacific School of Religion, not conservative seminaries. Diane Knippers is not and never has been a syndicated columnist. Howard did become politicized over the plight of the Orange County Rescue Mission. He didn't even meet Rushdoony until 1980, not the mid-'70s as Joe Sloan is quoted as implying in your text. [In 1985, the Orange County Register published the account of Rob Martin, then director of the Orange County Rescue Mission, confirming Roberta's account of Howard's politicization.] The American Anglican Council did not have a "full war chest" before the General Convention last summer. We had given grants, but the bulk of the money came in response to the convention.

Salon states that Howard pulled strings to launch the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis. The fact is Howard gave no money to the recall and did no behind-the-scenes string-pulling to make it happen. He thought the whole thing was a bad idea that could open a Pandora's box and undermine the democratic process. Only when the recall was a fait accompli did he give money to the candidate he thought would do the best job, Tom McClintock. This can be checked with the California Secretary of State.

Salon says that we gave five anonymous grants totaling $460,000 to the Institute for Religion and Democracy in 2001. As a policy, we do not make anonymous grants. Though we have given significant grants to IRD over the past 15 years, IRS records will show that we gave only $15,788 to the Institute in 2001 as a 1-2 matching grant for Episcopal Renewal efforts.

Salon claims that we are large behind-the-scenes financial supporters of President Bush. While we voted for him and intend to do so again, we have held no fundraisers for the president, and gave a total of $20,000 to the national GOP in 2000, a modest sum by presidential standards.

Throughout the article Salon implies that Howard supports the death penalty for gays and lesbians by linking Howard to R.J. Rushdoony. Rushdoony himself had no such view. In The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony reports that ancient biblical law had such a penalty. But that is all he said. Never in his life did he advocate imposing such a penalty today. However, even if Rushdoony had supported such a law, Howard would not have agreed with him. Howard has never advocated the death penalty for homosexuals and does not do so now.

Two other points related to Rushdoony. First, Salon recounts Roberta said his book "The Politics of Guilt and Pity" was important to us and then goes on to lift a quote from the book that sounds like a racist slur. As Mr. Blumenthal well knows, he did not read that quote to Roberta nor did they discuss racism. Rather Roberta explained that the book was important to us because it makes the point that giving money to the poor to make yourself feel better about your own prosperity makes objects of the poor and doesn't give them the kind of personal help that they truly need. Further, the quote itself is, in rather crude terms, telling racists to get over it and help people who are not like them, to get beyond their prejudice and help. Second, Salon states that Rushdoony responded to his parents' escape from the Armenian genocide with bitterness and cynicism. On the contrary, he responded with neither. Instead his life effort was to understand what led to such horror and what philosophical and legal structures could prevent it in the future. For Rushdoony the root of the horror was in what he called statism, the political reality in which a state, any state, will do anything, including commit genocide, to preserve itself with no consideration for the individual human beings it claims to represent.

Further, Salon implies throughout the article that we are part of some kind of extremely well-financed right-wing conspiracy out to bend America to our views. But, we are not given to the conspiracy theory method of mapping the world on either the right or the left. Undoubtedly, throughout history various groups of individuals have conspired to do this or that, sometimes terrible things. But, most often, people act out of conviction, however misguided or confused. We, like most people, do the same. We hold certain views based on our reading, experience, and reflection, and we support those views as part of the democratic process.

Finally, Salon asserts that our views on religion, marriage, and the nature of the universe are extreme or "renegade." In fact it is Salon's views that are out of step with most Americans. A 2002 Gallup Poll found that 95 percent of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit and 43 percent had attended church in the last week. In 1998 the people of Hawaii, not known as a conservative state, voted by a margin of 69 to 28 percent to define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. In 2000 the people of California did the same, by a margin of 61 to 29 percent. And, a January 2004 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 53 percent of Americans oppose a law legalizing same sex marriage. Finally, a 1999 Gallup Poll found that "Americans favor teaching creationism in the public schools, along with evolution, by a margin of 68 to 29 percent." If our views are extreme, so are those of a majority of Americans.

We hope that Salon and Mr. Blumenthal will show greater care in the future in covering people with whom they disagree.

-- Roberta Green Ahmanson and Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson Jr.

Salon replies:

Roberta and Howard Ahmanson point out several factual errors in our story; Salon has corrected those errors in the text and published a correction.

Among their other objections, some fall into the realm of interpretation and debate. But on two points of criticism that are especially sensitive, we feel that the story took great care to achieve fairness and accuracy.

First, the story in no way implied that Mr. Ahmanson shared Mr. Rushdoony's beliefs on racial matters. On the contrary, the story says flatly: "There is no indication that Ahmanson shares Rushdoony's bellicose racism ..."

Second, the story explicitly states that Mr. Ahmanson did not share Mr. Rushdoony's extreme beliefs about gays and lesbians. As proof, consider this passage from the story: "In brief, written responses to questions ... he [Ahmanson] placed special emphasis on his disagreement with Rushdoony's opinion that homosexuals should be executed. 'Due to my association with Rushdoony, reporters have often assumed that I agree with him in all applications of the penalties of the Old Testament Law, particularly the stoning of homosexuals,' Ahmanson wrote. 'My vision for homosexuals is life, not death, not death by stoning or any other form of execution, not a long, lingering, painful death from AIDS, not a violent death by assault, and not a tragic death by suicide. My understanding of Christianity is that we are all broken, in need of healing and restoration. So far as I can tell, the only hope for our healing is through faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection from the dead.'"

[Read how conservatives are defending Bush's 9/11 campaign ads.]

After viewing the spate of self-serving ads by the president and seeing him use the tragedies of 9/11 to make political hay, I was spitting mad. But, I just thought I'd let it go and make my vote count in November. Then followed the self-righteous blather of his apologists like Karen Hughes, and I find it impossible to contain my disgust. How in the hell do these flacks sleep at night?

As a retired Navy veteran who was proud to serve my country, I am appalled, but not surprised, at this cynical, insensitive ploy for votes. I was in the Pentagon (and close to the impact site) when those psychopathic fascists murdered my brothers and sisters. I remember the fear and horror, standing in the center courtyard, watching the plume of ugly smoke rising over the building. I cannot express the depth of my disappointment and revulsion to find an American president using the deaths of my comrades to keep him and his cronies in the catbird seat yet another four years.

I will be at the polls in November, and I will remember.

-- Michael Krzmarzick

I was there that morning. Trapped with Mayor Giuliani, in fact, when the first tower came down. Employees of mine and friends were injured while my wife, a few blocks away, watched people jump to their death. It was perhaps the worst day of my life and while I am not inclined to embrace words like "sacred" in describing ground zero, one would like to think that Bush could talk about his leadership (however embarrassing it has been since that day) without trafficking in maudlin visuals of tragedy to get his point across. Frankly, the cynical approach of him and his campaign would be remarkably offensive if their indifference to those outside their rarified circle were not already such a hallmark of their years thus far in office. I will be first in line to vote him out of office in November and I will hardly be alone.

-- Vince Grogan

Talking about the events of 9/11 is legitimate in a political debate and I have no problem with Bush referring to it in his campaign ads. What I do have a problem with is showing a flag-draped body being removed from the site by firefighters. That is highly insensitive and shows how little empathy Bush has for the families that may be negatively affected by this grotesque image.

-- Richard Hoinski

[Salon reader] Eric Johnson's partisan shot about "a mess that a Democrat got us into and a Republican is working to get us out of" is woefully ignorant of history. The roots of al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden lie in the mujahedin war in Afghanistan, which was fought during the 1980s. As I recall, it was a Republican president who got us involved in that conflict, the blow-back from which led directly to 9/11.

-- Chloe Pajerek

If George W. Bush wants to utilize images of 9/11 in his campaign commercials, so be it. I would also like to see the Democrats using images of 9/11 in their campaign ads: such as the image of the president reading a book, about a goat, to school children as the second plane crashed into World Trade Center. Or the image of the president going into hiding after the attacks. The Republicans are correct; Americans should focus on the leadership exhibited by the president on that horrific day.

-- Larry Wiatrowski

Salon Staff

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