Thursday, January 17, 2008

The AFA Today

(News-Herald, January 17)Oddly enough, I’m often asked what Diane Gramley and the AFA are up to these days. I am not an expert on the American Family Association. I did interview Mrs. Gramley years ago, and I can report that she does not have horns, does not breathe fire, and does not brandish stakes and torches. I found her intelligent, articulate, and pleasant.

People in these parts have mixed feelings about being targeted by Mrs. Gramley and the AFA. A few years back they mounted a campaign against a production of “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Barrow; it was the most effective publicity campaign ever, filling virtually all the seats.

Still, more than a few school districts have turtled up when they’ve seen Mrs. Gramley approaching. It’s not just that the AFA stirs up supporters, who by and large seem to be happy to stay quietly a home while Mrs. Gramley sallies forth to raise a ruckus in their name. (Like the ACLU and the Moral Majority, the AFA is more a network of sympathetic individuals than a club that gathers members for meetings.) Like most strident and extreme groups, the AFA stirs strident and extreme opposition.

But Mrs. Gramley has moved up in the world, which may be why things have been a bit quieter on the Northwestern PA front (it could also be that we’ve all become better people, I suppose). Previously responsible for Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter, Gramley now heads the AFA for the entire state. She is responsible for keeping an eye on the whole commonwealth, including all the naughty folks in Philadelphia. Along with tax money and legislative attention, it seems that the big city also gets an extra share of moral correction.

The national AFA espouses a variety of causes, from anti-pornography, to generally making gays and lesbians go away, to making advertisers use the word “Christmas” in seasonal promotions. AFA never met a boycott it didn’t like. Some work, some don’t. AFA takes credit for chasing smutty magazines out of 7-11’s, but when it tried throwing its weight at a major bookstore chain, it was sued instead.

AFA has backed off some of its edgier stances. They now endorse values from the “Judeo-Christian tradition;” a few decades ago founder Don Wildmon was suggesting that immorality in the media was a Jewish plot to drive Christianity out of American life.

Mrs. Gramley has mastered one basic trick of press release writing. If I send out a news release reading, “The squash festival will be the best event in world history…” no newspaper will run it. It’s an ad, an editorial, and not news. But quoting somebody—that’s legitimate reporting. So I just quote myself: “Squash Appreciation Society president Peter Greene announced the upcoming festival. ‘It will be the best event in world history,’ said Greene.” A quick google of Mrs. Gramley turns up a variety of press releases in which the AFA announces what she has to say about something.

She’s also producing a weekly radio program, usually featuring a telephone interview with a medium-prominent speaker or author.

Like, I’m sure, many people, I actually agree with some AFA positions. Smut and pornography aren’t good. Many elements of popular culture are toxic. Illegal drugs are bad. In the education biz, government occasionally tries to poke its nose where it doesn’t belong.

But I am naturally suspicious of people who have complete certainty that they know the mind of God, and I am doubly leery of people who believe that Being Correct gives them the right to bully people who are Very Wrong. The national AFA seems to attract those sorts of folks both as allies and as foes; in addition to its own attacks on others, you can find ugly attacks against the AFA from people who are certain that the AFA is dead wrong and so should be denied any decent treatment. I don’t buy this argument no matter how it’s applied. No footnote to the Golden Rule says “Do unto others, unless they’re wrong, in which case go ahead and treat them like garbage.”

I suspect that much of AFA’s agenda has more to do with politics and culture than with God (as Rev. Gene Carlson recently said, “When you mix politics and religion, you get politics”). But I’ve been on the receiving end of their disapproval, and I seem to have survived. Dissenting voices are an important part of a free society. I appreciate Mrs. Gramley’s willingness to sign her name to her opinions and assume the non-traditional-family role of lady political activist. It’s too bad she doesn’t have as much time for Venangoland any more, but I’m sure there’s a way to get AFA supporters to speak up.

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Umhangträger said...
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