Founded as a day for Americans of all faiths, the National Day of Prayer is now closely tied to Focus on the Family. It is headquartered in Focus offices, James Dobson’s wife is the chairman, Focus is compensated for “services rendered,” and the NDP’s prayer list (political agenda) is a watered-down version of Focus’ joyous secularism. Both Focus and the NDP promote a so-called “Judeo-Christian” order that more closely conforms to a mystical American patriotism than to mainstream, nonpartisan, global Jewish or Christian belief.

What’s the ex-gay connection, you may ask?

Both the Exodus home page and the weblog of Exodus executive director Alan Chambers feature photos from festivities surrounding the National Day of Prayer in May.

Exodus-Oliver-NorthAmong the snapshots on the Exodus director’s web site is this one of Chambers standing with his wife and NDP honorary chairman Oliver North. (Click the picture for a much larger version.)

I was reminded of this photograph by today’s excellent 16-page article on the New York Times web site, explaining in fantastic detail why Americans over the age of 30 look back upon presidency of Ronald Reagan with mixed feelings.

Page 12 of the article recalls the Iran-contra affair. The affair began when Reagan, already suffering dangerous memory lapses in 1986, allowed loose cannons in his administration — two national security advisers, Robert C. McFarlane and Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, and a National Security Council staff assistant, Lt. Col. Oliver L. North — to sell advanced U.S. weaponry to the terrorist government of Iran in exchange for hostages being held in Lebanon. Millions of dollars in proceeds from the sold weaponry were transferred to the “contra” guerrilla network in Nicaragua.

The contras, one may recall, spent the 1980s battling the Central American nation’s Soviet-backed government — in part, through terror attacks against civilians and infrastructure. Most people viewed the contras’ cause, anticommunism, as just. But the tactic of attacking civilians was obscenely violent, morally repugnant and globally condemned. Because of this, Congress established strict controls on aid to the Nicaraguan resistance — controls that Reagan’s loose cannons violated.

We may never know how many people, including Americans, were eventually killed with the weapons sold to the Islamic terrorists of Iran. We do know from Catholic and Quaker groups, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that the contras deliberately killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of Nicaraguan Catholic and indigenous civilians. The tactics of the contras fueled a backlash within Nicaragua, and ripples from the atrocities continue to hinder Nicaragua’s economic and social recovery.

The New York Times’ Reagan retrospective recalls on page 13:

On May 4, 1989, Mr. North, who had left the Marines, was found guilty of three felonies, including destroying and falsifying official documents, and acquitted of nine other charges. On July 15 he was fined $150,000, placed on probation for two years and ordered to perform 1,200 hours of community service. On Sept. 16, 1991, a federal judge dismissed all charges against Mr. North. Prosecutors said they would not be able to show that the trial had not been affected by televised Congressional testimony that Mr. North had given under immunity.

For the same reason a divided federal appeals court on Nov. 15, 1990, threw out five felony convictions of Mr. Poindexter. In June, 1990, Mr. Poindexter had become the first person in the Iran-contra affair to receive a jail term, and the highest White House official since Watergate sentenced to a prison term for illegal acts committed in office.

In other words, North and Poindexter had admitted committing immoral and criminal actions, but could not be convicted for the illegalities because they had been granted immunity on many of their admissions.

Ever since, many veterans have considered North treasonous for aiding terrorists on two continents, and the global human rights community has viewed North as a law-dodging, unrepentant, amoral scoundrel.

Now fast forward to May 2004. His actions either forgotten or transformed into perverse virtues, North poses with Exodus director Chambers and other “new and old friends” at the National Day of Prayer in 2004.

Why do Chambers and others associate eagerly with North? The New York Times hints at some possible reasons in an editorial published yesterday: Denial and forgetfulness. Having denied or forgotten their role in Latin American human rights atrocities of the 1970s and 1980s, senior Pentagon officials now seem to be preparing to make similar mistakes today.

Presumably some among the religious right leadership learned valuable lessons from the suffering of Latin people of faith in the 1980s, and one hopes those particular leaders no longer support terror as a means to achieve U.S. foreign-policy goals. But by posing confidently with Oliver North, and blogging the photo with no trace of measured criticism, Alan Chambers demonstrates admiration for North — and insensitivity, if not contempt, for the victims and survivors of North’s actions.

Unrelated note: The Washington Post looks back on the minuses and pluses of Reaganomics: A policy of deficit spending and what Reagan’s own economic chief, David Stockman, admits was based upon phony White House accounting.

Addendum:Blogger and journalist Natalie Davis discusses Reagan’s ethical and political wrongs.

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