Don Wildmon's American Family Association has been increasingly on the forefront of the Radical Religious Right and the efforts to impose a very conservative, evangelical Christian morality on America. His organization began in the late 1970s with attempts to remove Playboy magazine from convenience stores and is currently very active in attempts to remove Howard Stern's radio and television programs from airing in various markets. A high-priority target of Wildmon and the AFA are homosexuals and their efforts to obtain a certain degree of respect, tolerance, and rights in our society.
In an ironic twist of language which even George Orwell would be proud of, people like Wildom have begun complaining that when people react negatively to their moralizing on homosexuality, this represents anti-Christian hatred and bigotry. Apparently, their proclamations should be considered immune to any sort of critique or moral outrage.
All of us, hetero- and homosexual, should recognize that this is a primary issue in the so-called "culture wars" in America. This is where the Relgious Right is focusing a significant percentage of its attention because, if they lose on this, they may never again have the chance to impose their vision upon our society by peaceful means. They really need to win on this in order to maintain any degree of status and importance in American political life.
A losing battle?
Fortunately, they are slowly but surely losing ground, and Wildmon openly admits this. As I have argued in an earlier feature, we atheists and freethinkers should take a keen interest in this. Although it may not seem like "our fight, " every battle to expand liberty and promote freedom should be actively supported by us. In addition to being glad of the prospect of seeing the influence of the Religious Right diminish, we must keep in mind that should they win, we will almost certainly be their next targets. Public opinion is gradually swinging in favor of civil rights for homosexuals, with an ever increasing number accepting the idea that homosexuality might be innate. True or not, this is politically important because Americans will be loathe to discriminate against people for something which is demonstrably not their fault.
Recently, Wildmon sent out to members of the AFA a statement of the principles which he claims guide the AFA's "attitudes and actions in opposing the normalization of homosexuality in our society." I think it would be illustrative to examine those principles and take some time to think about what might lie behind them.
Principles which guide the AFA's opposition to the Gay Agenda:
1. The scripture declares that homosexuality is unnatural and sinful. It is a sin grievous to God and repulsive to Chrisitians because it rejects God's design for mankind as heterosexual beings.
First, we should take note of the fact that these principles are to stand against a "Gay Agenda." There is no effort to explain what this "agenda" is supposed to be - presumably, readers will read into that whatever their worst fears about nasty homosexals happen to be. The spectre of "recruitment of children into the homosexual lifestyle" will probably loom large to many. Opponents, however, will simply see their attempts to be accepted as normal, healthy human beings. How many misunderstandings will this ambiguity engender?
The very first words in the very first principle are, predictably enough, "The scripture." This should be expected, as the AFA is obvioulsy a very conservative evangelical group which focuses upon the literal reading of an ancient and allegedly infallible collection of holy texts: The Bible. This book stands at the forefront of everything they do, collectively and individually, and we cannot hope to understand their actions or motivations unless we keep that in mind at all times. It doesn't matter how silly the rest of us think that is - they couldn't take their bible more seriously than they already do.
Homosexuality as Sin
The second thing to note is that homosexuality is immediately defined as "unnatural and sinful" - thus eliminating any possibility that homosexuality might have a biological/genetic component. Of course not all of the scientific data is in for us to know for sure what might constitute the origin of homosexuality or sexual orientation in general, but it is important to keep in mind that as far as the AFA is concerned, the matter has been decided. I suspect that even hard scientific data would not sway them from their prejudiced and dogmatic position. How do you really argue with someone who has already made up their mind before you've even opened up your mouth?
We should also take careful note of the fact that "homosexuality" is not clearly defined by them. This might seem to be irrelevant - after all, doesn't everyone already know what it is? But in fact, there are two sides to homosexuality: the basic orientation of being physically, emotionally, and psychologically attracted to members of the same sex, and then the act of engaging in sexual relations with members of the same sex. Both are quite separate - a person can do one without the other.
Many mainstream Christian denominations acknowledge this fact, accepting that people might have a homosexual orientation while only condemning homosexual acts. Thus, it is OK for a person to "be" homosexual so long as they do not act upon their inclination. It is an open matter as to what the AFA is actually condemning, but presumably they condem it all, including the basic orientation. This is probably not the most biblically sound position to take, especially if you read the text as literally as they do. This because the Bible specifically condemns the act of homosexuality, "men lying with men as with women," and not merely the desire.
2. Though there may be many influences in a person's life, the root of homosexuality is a sinful heart. Therefore, homosexuals have only one hope of being reconciled to God and rejecting their sinful behavior - faith in Jesus Christ alone. AFA seeks to use every opportunity to promote and encourage the efforts of ex-gay ministries and organizations.
Once again, we find the AFA emphasizing "sin" as the basis for homosexuality. It is common to find such an emphasis in general among evangelicals - it is inherent in their dogma that we are all sinners and that we must all fight against sinful tendencies in order to look good in the eyes of their god. Human beings are wretched simply by virtue of their existing, and some are a bit more wretched than others.
The standard exclusivist line is also found here - the idea that only through Jesus Christ can a person attain any degree of goodness or ever reach God. This, of course, excludes any other religion as having any real value.
3. It is the duty of individual Christians and Christ's Church corporately to bring the gospel to homosexuls and to speak out against the acceptance of sin in our culture.
Here we see advocacy of the actions which many freethinkers and nontheists find most annoying: prosyletization and attempts at conversion. Of course Christians of any sort have and should have the right to say their mind about their religion and about homosexuality. However, experience has clearly demonstrated that many Christians cannot remain simply at the "speaking their mind" stage and progress quickly to being agressive and arrogant.
However, it goes further than that - the goal of the AFA is revealed here as not merely being opposed to some mysterious "gay agenda," but the very acceptance of homosexuals into society as normal people. To preach against accepting a human being for who they are is to preach a form of hatred and bigotry, exactly the charge they level against their critics. The AFA has claimed that their opposition is not to individuals, but to the "gay movement." However, it is clear that by opposing the acceptance of gays in society, they are mounting a campaign against individual people, not a faceless movement.
4. We oppose the gay movement's efforts to convince our society that their behavior is normal because we fear the judgment of God on our nation.
In this instance, we can see some of the fear and desperation hiding behind their opposition to homosexuality - they aren't just trying to save some sinners, but they fear that their "loving" god will punish the entire nation. This is not at all unlike the claims of Pat Robertson earlier this year that Florida, specifically the Orlando area, would suffer disasters and destruction due to their tolerance and even acceptance of homosexuals. Thus, we see now that Robertson was not stepping entirely out of line from the extremist circles in which he moves.
It is also important to notice the positively primitive idea of morality which this fourth point presumes. Evidently, this god of theirs is not simply interested in punishing the actual perpetrators of sin by casting them into Hell after they die. Instead, this "loving" god will punish the entire nation corporately as one, as if all were to be made responsible for the actions of any one. This was a common idea in primitive tribes when members were thought to belong more to the body of the tribe and wasn't quite as differentiated as a uniuqe individual. Since the Enlightenment, we have learned to only hold people responsible for the things which they do, not for the things done by others. In our society, we promote the concept of personal responsibility and no longer punish whole families or towns for the actions of one person - but clearly, the AFA does not think that their god has progressed nearly so much. Pity.
5. The gay movement is a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the past 40 years and will lead to the normalization of even more deviant behavior.
Conservative evangelicals regularly rail against the recent changes in sexual mores in America. It is uncertain exactly what sort of vision of sexuality they have for the rest of us, but I believe we can expect it to be rather restrictive and lacking imagination. They certainly wouldn't have anyone engaging in acts the least bit unusual or experimental - only their vision of sexuality would be permitted in our lives.
We should also take note of the fact that they see homosexuality as one step on a "slippery slope" of deviant behavior - it isn't at all unusual for the far right to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, and we can reasonably suspect that this is what they mean by the above.
6. The gay movement's promotion of same-sex marriage undermines the God-ordained institution of marriage and family which is the foundation of all societies.
Here we first see their attack upon efforts to legalize the unions of same-sex couples. As far as they're concerned, it doesn't matter if a couple is truly loving and caring, creating a nurturing relationship in which they can both grow. Of course, they do not take personal responsibility for this opposition - instead they make it clear that they are simply obeying the dictates of their god.
For them, marriage isn't a human institution created for humans, it is instead created by their god for its own purposes. It is unfortunate that they should make the claim that their sort of marriage has formed the foundation of all societies, since that simply isn't true. Even the Old Testament which they so revere describes a society in which polygamy, not monogomy, is the norm.
7. We oppose the efforts of the gay movement to force its agenda in education, government, business and the workplace through law, public policy and the media. Our strong opposition is a reasoned response to the gay movement's aggressive strategies.
Once again we need to remember that the AFA has not clearly explained what they mean by "gay agenda," so we cannot be absolutely sure what they think is being "forced" in society. All that has been mentioned specifically is the "acceptance" of homosexuality as "normal." Evidently, it is their belief that homosexuals should be stigmatized, marginalized, and pushed away from the rest of us for no other reason than for their personal attraction to members of the same sex.
It isn't simply that they do not want to "accept" homosexuality as "normal" - if that were all, fewer people would care. Instead, they want to make sure that no one in society accepts homosexuality as normal in any fashion. It is true that gays have been somewhat "aggressive" in their efforts, but certainly no more (and often quite a bit less) aggressive than activists in other civil rights movements. The AFA's opposition here is quite reminiscent of the oppostion mounted by groups like the KKK, another good Christian organization, to civil rights for blacks. They, too, fought the concept of accepting blacks living and working with whites as being "normal."
8. We oppose the effort to convince our culture that becuase individuals participate in homosexual behavior, they have earned the right to be protected like racial and other minority groups.
Now the AFA chooses to be specific for once, singling out homosexual behavior rather than homosexual orientation or homosexuality "in general." All previous statements simply menionted homosexuality, and presumably refered to both behavior and orientation. Here, however, they single out behavior - clearly because Americans will be less sympathetic to providing civil rights protections to chosen behavior than to internal inclinations. Americans will be more likely to permit discrimination based on behavior than on thoughts or feelings.
This tactic, however, amounts to little more than a dishonest bait-and-switch with the issues. Where necessary, they will speak specifically about homosexual behavior - but at all other times, they mean both behavior and orienation. Once discrimination against homosexual behavior is accepted in principle, discrimination against homosexuality in general can be enacted.
The fact of the matter, though, is that there exists ample precedent for prohibiting discrimination based on both behavior and thoughts/feelings - in the area of religion. Religion itself encompasses a great deal of behavior which is itself predicated upon certain thoughts/feelings - and Americans recognize the value in protecting all of it. These Christians will happily accept this protection for their beliefs/actions, but they are quick to deny them to others.
9. While we are resolute in our opposition to the gay movement, we recognize the importance of maintaining Christian integrity in all our efforts. By God's grace we will reject the temptation to become bitter or hateful in our words or actions.
Well, they certainly haven't maintained integrity in general even in this document, but I don't know what they mean by "Christian integrity," and that might change matters. I've often encountered evangelical Christians who appear to have little problem in being disingenuous or downright deceitful in their efforts to prosyletize. They may be taking seriously Paul's admission of deception when he said that he became "all things to all people" in the effort to spread the message of Christ. To be all things to all people in the case meant not being himself, but merely being whatever he thought others wanted to see in for the sake of his goal. Perhaps that is what is meant by "Christian integrity"? I can imagine that quite a few Christians would be offended at such a dishonest appropriation and smearing of their name.
It's also worth noting that they admit the temptation to hatred towards gays in both words and actions. Now, if they could only admit to regularly giving in to that temptation, they'd be well on their way to healing the wounds they have caused our nation.
10. Finally, we seek faithfulness more than victory. We work with the confidence that the one true Sovereign God of the Bible will fulfill His purposes.
I'm not quite sure how to take this final principle. Possibly, they are saying that it doesn't so much matter that they are victorious in their efforts to push gays back in the closet, so long as they themselves remain true to their religious faith. This may be an early attempt by Wildmon to prepare his people for an eventual defeat on this issue.
Here we have seen the details of what the AFA advocates to its members and I hope that I have done a fair job at revealing some of the assumptions and premises which necessarily lie behind those principles. It doesn't do to simply and passively observe the statements of an organization like the AFA, even if you disagree with them. We should instead strive to achieve a greater understanding of what we are really in store for if we buy into those principles. Only then we will know what we are up against and what we have to do in order to offer the nation a more rational and compassionate alternative.
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