Well, doesn’t that look impressive. A new “Institute” focused on the idea of Human Flourishing, a well-established principle in the humanities — and also in evangelical Christianity. Classically restrained logo and font. You might assume this is a broad-based serious enterprise… until you explore its website further.
Upon which you discover that (a) there’s not a heck of a lot of substance, just a few minimal pages with big pictures and not much text, and (b) the Institute’s two top officers are former VTGOP chair Deb Billado and Vermont’s Favorite Archconservative Moneybags, Lenore Broughton.
I’ll give you one guess who’s writing the checks for this outfit.
The Vermont Institute for Human Flourishing joins the likes of True North Reports and the late unlamented Vermonters First on the roster of no-hope organizations Broughton has funded in lieu of doing anything that might actually have an impact.
Well, to be fair, it’s too early to make that call on VIHF. It hasn’t had time to fail. Yet.
A brief explanation of “human flourishing.” In the social sciences slash humanities, it’s an interdisciplinary study of how best to help people reach their full potential. (Harvard has a Human Flourishing Program.) In evangelical Christian circles, it means channelling sexuality into traditional male/female marriage and battling deviant practices like homosexuality, extramarital sex, and pornography.
I think we know which camp the Vermont Institute is a member of.
Oh yeah, here it is.
The Institute for Human Flourishing will work to restore the traditional family to its central, pivotal, and honored place in civil society, by adhering to the principles of individual initiative, limited government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility.
As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the Self-Righteous, for they shall annoy the hell out of everyone else.”
VIHF’s first public event is an all-day affair called “Restoring Our Faith” on Saturday, October 25 at the Hilton DoubleTree just off I-89 in Burlington. The keynote speaker is B-list conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, whose appearance fee ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. (Broughton’s Bucks at work.) Prager’s show is syndicated by the Salem Media Group, which also distributes programs by such worthies as too-weird-for-Trump Sebastian Gorka and rabid anti-abortion extremist Randall Terry.
Prager has stuck his foot in it on a number of occasions. When Keith Ellison became the first Muslim to serve in Congress, he took his oath of office on a Quran, not a Bible. Prager ranted that the only acceptable book for such a ceremony is the Bible, and if Ellison couldn’t swear on Prager’s preferred Holy Book, then he shouldn’t serve in Congress at all.
Prager has also said that “the acceptance of homosexuality… signifies the decline of Western civilization,” that marriage equality would lead to legal recognition of polygamous relationships, or brothers and sisters marrying, or parents and adult children. Well, at least he didn’t go as far as “Man on Dog.”
Oh, and he called Covid lockdowns “the greatest mistake in the history of humanity” and consistently downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic.
Other participants include Pat Fagan, who believes that extramarital chastity is essential and that “the married intact heterosexual family that worships God weekly” is the solution to all our social and economic woes; Janci Lindsay, a toxicologist associated with America’s Frontline Doctors, an anti-vaccine/Covid denialist organization; Martin Kulldorf, one of the principal sauthors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which claimed that herd immunity was the best way out of the pandemic; Jay Bhattacharya, one of Kulldorf’s Barrington co-authors; and Jay Richards, Heritage Foundation fellow who espouses creationism and denies that climate change is human-caused.
Star-studded lineup, eh?
This event isn’t going to do much beyond making attendees feel morally superior to the rest of us. That said, this is a concerning strain of social activism. Even if they never get a whiff of political power, they can cause a hell of a lot of trouble. I assume they’re networking in like-minded churches, magnifying their extreme beliefs, and recruiting for activism. Such as pestering school boards over critical race theory and library books, turning out conservative poll watchers to harass election workers and voters, and protest outside clinics that provide abortion services.
Ignoring evangelicalism, or wishing it would go away, won’t accomplish anything. We need to be aware of what they’re thinking and believing and how they will turn that belief into political action. And generally, we’re clueless.
It’d be really useful if someone in the Vermont media started tracking the evangelical movement in our state and identifying the links between churches, political movements, and donors like Lenore Broughton. They could start by attending the Summit and reporting on what was said and what future plans are being laid.