Fundamentalist Christians are increasingly involved in the political process, organizing ambitious voter registration drives to institutionalize their gains, and threatening to take down Democratic Senators that attempt to block President Bush's conservative nominations to the Supreme Court. It's enough to make one nostalgic for those late twentieth-century days when the Rev. Jerry Falwell outed Tinky Winky.
Back in 1999, the Tinky Winky Affair became a major media story complete with late night talk show hosts having a blast at the Reverend's expense. The fact that the brouhaha became a Christian public relations disaster didn't stop fundamentalist organizations from their appointed rounds. Despite their grasp for political power, there's always room for another "culture war" battle.
And, where there's "culture war" smoke, you can count on the Reverend Donald Wildmon's Mississippi-based American Family Association to be there fanning the fire.
These days, the Rev. Donald Wildmon's organization's fangs are nipping at the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) an organization that recently put together a video remake of "We Are Family" -- a popular song recorded by the group Sister Sledge.
The video uses the voices and images of more than 100 characters from popular children's television programs including Arthur, Barney, Blue's Clues, Bob the Builder, The Book of Pooh, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron, Kim Possible, Lilo & Stitch, Little Mermaid, Madeline, The Magic School Bus, The Muppet Show, Rugrats, Sesame Street and SpongeBob SquarePants.
The video, a collaboration of WAFF and the Anti-Defamation League, Crown Theatres, Disney Channel, FedEx, Nickelodeon, HIT Entertainment, Nile Rodgers/Sony Publishing/The Bernard Edwards Estate/Warner Chapel, Nelvana, PBS, Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, Toni Mendez Shapiro Estate, and WGBH, will be simultaneously telecast March 11, on Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and PBS. And, according to a WAFF press release, a PSA will also air in Crown Theatres across the nation.
"Cooperation and unity are the most important values we can teach children. We believe that this is the essential first step to loving thy neighbor," says Nile Rodgers, co-writer of the song "We Are Family" and founder of WAFF. "And the fun and exciting format makes it a lesson that's easy for children to learn."
So what's not to like about a video promoting diversity and tolerance, true family values? A lot says Ed Vitagliano, the news editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association, who sees the devil -- also known as the homosexual agenda -- at work: The effort by WAFF, he writes in the January issue of AFA Journal, "is as unprecedented as it is cunning, using all the right words and happiest faces in an attempt to speak directly to the nation's children about 'tolerance and diversity'." For Vitagliano, the whole project smacks of "homosexual advocacy."
In addition, writes Vitagliano, "the DVD of the song will be distributed to 61,000 public and private elementary schools across the country" in March, "accompanied by a teacher's guide, designed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group that, among other things, promotes the normalization of homosexuality."
Lurking beneath an attempt to celebrate diversity amongst young children, Vitagliano has spotted something nefarious: "A short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality," he writes.
"The [WAFF] website is filled with pro-homosexual materials," Vitagliano charges. "A 'Tolerance Pledge,' for example, created by Tolerance.org, part of the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center, encourages signees to pledge respect for homosexuals and work against 'ignorance, insensitivity and bigotry.'"
"Most Christians are now aware of what those code words mean," said AFA's chairman Don Wildmon. "If you are a person who accepts the homosexual lifestyle, then you are tolerant," he said. "If you don't, then you are a bigot who is motivated by ignorance and hate."
The Rev. Wildmon's organization has been in the forefront of "culture war" campaigns for twenty years. Recently on its Web site, it celebrated a successful effort making sure that Kid Rock -- the Republican-leaning rock-rapper -- will not be performing at one of President Bush's inaugural balls. Another high-profile AFA target is Procter & Gamble because it made a $5,163 donation of P&G stock "to help the homosexual community repeal a law in Cincinnati that prohibited giving special rights to homosexuals."
Within two weeks of 9/11, the We Are Family Project was launched by songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers and Tommy Boy Music president, Tom Silverman who brought some 200 celebrities together to re-record Nile's hit song "We Are Family" as a step towards the healing process. WAFF, as a not for profit 501(c)3 corporation, "was formed in July 2002 to continue the work of promoting our common humanity and the vision of a global family through the use of a simple song and message -- We Are Family."
The We Are Family Foundation is issuing a special package with lots of "We Are Family" bells and whistles. Each package includes a DVD of the music video and a booklet containing educational lesson plans developed in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League's Miller Early Childhood Initiative of A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE Institute. According to WAFF, "The lessons aim to put the video's themes of respect, understanding and appreciation of diversity into practice and are designed for pre-K through first grade audiences with additional teaching guidelines for grades two to six."
On the face of it, "We Are Family" might be an ideal theme song for a group with the name American Family Association. Now, however, given the song's association with diversity and tolerance, it's doubtful that the Rev. Wildmon, Ed Vitagliano or other AFA staffers will be humming the tune anytime soon at the organization's Mississippi headquarters.
All teaching guides will be available to be downloaded from the Web sites of both the Anti-Defamation League and WAFF. You can catch a preview of the children's video at the WAFF Web site.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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