To be a good theologian is to be a Christian who thinks. Thinking is hard. . . .
Some suppose that there is a contradiction in this. Books for laypeople should be easy. That is wrong.
Laypeople are just as capable of hard intellectual work as are professional theologians.
~John B. Cobb, Jr.

Holy Terror – A Book Review

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I really wanted to like this book.  Half of it was pretty good.


Several years ago, I was having a conversation with a family member.  I’ve never asked him his “affiliation,” but my guess is that he is agnostic.  Whatever, his affiliation, he was in the process of finishing his philosophy degree at the time, and he was telling me about a class he had just finished that gave a different interpretation of the book of Revelation than he was accustomed to.  Essentially, he had learned what mainline scholars have been saying for sometime: the book is speaking to the plight of first century Christians.  It is not about the distant future.

In the midst of our discussion, he made a passing statement that hearing this different understanding made him wonder about other ways of looking at Christianity than the very conservative brand he grew up on.  That gave me an idea for a Christmas present.

I had recently finished reading John Shelby Spong’s A New Christianity For a New World.  It was not my favorite book, nor did I agree with it completely.  Yet, I’d found it thought provoking, so I decided to gift this book.

A few months after getting the gift for Christmas, my family member said he’d tried to start reading the book, but he felt it was written from too emotional of a perspective.  He didn’t trust or give credence to books that were emotional, so he had not finished reading it (though he promised to keep it).

I really didn’t understand what he meant until I read Mel White’s Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality.


I first became aware of Mel White while watching some of the great DVD-guided studies produced by Living the Questions (LTQ).  He is a former conservative pastor, teacher / professor, and ghost-writer for several big named conservative figureheads like Billy Graham, W.A. Criswell, and Pat Robertson – just to name a few.  After years of struggle, he came out in the early 1990s noting that he was gay, which, of course, broke many ties with conservative friends.  He still considers himself evangelical while he is a Metropolitan Community Church clergy person.  I appreciated his insights shared in the LTQ studies, and I marveled at how he had overcome obstacles to allow himself to be who God created him to be.  So, when I had the opportunity to receive a copy of this book to review, I jumped at the chance.

He begins the book by laying a foundation for “modern” fundamentalist thought that has been built on the backs of Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, W.A. Criswell, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and D. James Kennedy.  Having worked for many of these, one gets sort of a fly-on-the-wall view of the perspective of some of these folks, which is interesting.  Yet, I found this part of the book the most difficult to get through.  Like my family member’s take on Spong’s book, this section (Part One) was just too emotional for me.

I don’t discount or deny the hurt that some of these folks have laid on Mel over the years, but in the midst of telling us about some of these characters, White would go into what I can only describe as emotional rants about hurt feelings, which I know are real.  But, these rants took away from the book for me.  This section felt less like “lies the Christian right tells” and more like I’m really hurt by the lies they tell.  Truthfully, at times it sounded as much like whining as anything.

Of course, we all approach a book with hopes and desires, and one of the hopes that I had for this book was not just hearing the lies being told by the Christian right but also more about the truths that are denied by the Christian right.  In other words, I was hoping this was a book that I could share with folks who were on the fence of whether to support gay rights or not, with hopes that this would put them in the support category.  Yet, I feel this book is directed towards folks who already support gay rights.  The lies of the right are shared, but only passing statements are given to the alternative view.

On top of that, I was surprised that White did not discuss the historical context surrounding some of the “clobber passages” from the Bible used by the right.  By understanding the historical context of these passages, many people (including myself several years ago) have become convinced that the Bible is not dealing with loving, committed relationships but pagan rituals, prostitution, and gang rape among people of the same sex.  That’s a HUGE difference.  Thus, it’s clear that Holy Terror is written for those who have already made their minds up.

Emotions and pre-conceived notions aside, a portion of this book was excellent.  I wish Part Three, dealing with the religion and politics of fundamentalism (idolatry and fascism), had preceded Part Two.  However, it was fascinating to see through the discussion in Part Two of the transcripts of the secret meeting at Glen Eyrie (outside of Colorado Springs) in the 1990s how idolatry and fascism were being played out in this far right movement against gay rights.

I was amazed and sickened earlier this year when I toured the State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.  It became abundantly clear as I saw how Nazis used the methods of propaganda to scapegoat Jews (and others) for Germany’s problems that the far right was using similar tactics in our own country today by sharing half-truths, hyperbole, and fear against any number of groups.  Part Three of Holy Terror makes this abundantly more clear, and it is, in a word, frightening.  This portion of the book alone is worth a re-print and maybe even an expansion.

Part Four is worthwhile, too – especially Chapters 8 (Reclaiming Our Progressive Political Values) and 9 (Reclaiming Our Progressive Moral Values).  Chapter 10, which seemed to be an attempt to encourage people to join the fight for gay rights using some of the tactics used by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., was interesting but lacked a tangible plan for action, in my opinion.

It seems odd to say this, since the book was originally released in 2006, but in many ways it is dated.  President George W. Bush has left office, and President Barack Obama has just been elected to a second term.  Jerry Falwell has died, and after this past election cycle even more states allow gay marriage (though we could use some more).  The House and Senate that were both majority Republican in 2006 have transitioned through a Democratic majority for both to a Democratic Senate and Republican House.  Obviously, there is still work to be done, but some of the issues White puts forth are not issues right now (though it is good to have the history so we can learn from past mistakes).

In short, if you already support gay rights, you might find this a worthwhile read (especially Parts Two and Three).  If you are on the fence, I don’t think you’ll be swayed by the arguments found here.  If you are against gay rights, you’ll just say the author is whining.


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.

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