Tom Krattenmaker has a piece up on USA Today where he asks what conservative Christians should do: “On gay rights, keep fighting or adapt?”
You get the sense, observing the shifting cultural landscape, that we’ve reached a point on gay rights that is similar to that moment in a football game, or an election, or a relationship, when you know it’s over even though it’s not over.
It appears increasingly obvious that social acceptance of gay men and lesbians and insistence on their equal rights are inexorable.
But would the conservative Christian industry ever willingly euthanize the goose laying the golden eggs?
I don’t know much about the author. His USA Today biography says:
Tom Krattenmaker, a writer specializing in religion in public life, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. He is the author of the award-winning book Onward Christian Athletes.
I notice it was cross posted to the Huffington Post. That he’s even bothering to ask the question and attempts to engage the HuffPost audience is excellent evidence he’s significantly to the political left of the groups he’s discussing. Also, a little more “reality based.”
As evidence of the changing tides, Krattenmaker cites the passage of a bill that would allow “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and Exodus International‘s decision to pull out of an anti-gay “Day of Truth” events. Also the Conservative Christians went down in a dust-up over a homophobic Apple iPhone app. The times they are a-changing.
Add it up, and you see a decision point at hand for socially conservative Christian groups such as the Family Research Council that have led resistance to gay rights. Do they fight to the last ditch, continue shouting the anti-gay rhetoric that rings false and mean to the many Americans who live and work with gay people, or who themselves are gay? Or do they soften their tone and turn their attention to other fronts?
That Krattenmaker singles out Family Research Council as a leader of such anti-gay initiatives, I find interesting. First, because I had no idea they had creditability in any quarters (half-snark). Secondly, I have no faith they are a group that might be at all inclined to give up the ghost on this fight.
But FRC is the belly of the beast. And they certainly are afforded too much creditability to comment on secular legislative matters. FRC’s Tony Perkins was an ubiquitous face on the TV machine concern trolling the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the last year. Family Research Council’s inclusion in Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-gay hate groups seems to have little effect on the enthusiasm of the media to book this organization (“for balance”), or move them to provide relevant context, like their financial support for the Ugandan “Kill the Gays” bill.
Krattenmaker goes on to call their battle “quixotic” and suggests that sallying forth will do more to discredit them than it will to win the day. Indeed, we’re seeing functioning reality of this when it was marriage equality opponents that did more to convince an opposed Maryland State Senator to support gay marriage than the arguments of the proponents.
It is also fair to say opponents of marriage equality in New Hampshire this week looked rather foolish discussing that marriage equality is an inevitable slippery slope to Sharia Law, and their sneering disregard for the Democratic principles of governing to the obvious will of the people.
But how can conservative Christians lay down their arms? How to exit a fight you’ve entered because you said you were following God’s unerring word? Krattenmaker suggests:
In explaining its withdrawal from the “Day of Truth,” Exodus International outlines a smart way forward for conservative Christian groups – one that does not require that they sacrifice their core beliefs. Note that Alan Chambers did not announce a change in his organization’s philosophy that people can be saved from homosexuality through faith in Christ. What he did signal, though, was a change in tone and emphasis, and in doing so he invoked a foundational Christian principle: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
That is a tenet we can all agree on. That’s why they call it the Golden Rule. As disgusted as I am with these regressive forces that dehumanize me as a gay man, I can’t honestly say I have it in me to treat them as they have treated me. I would never deny these people the right to marry whoever they wish, or fired them for being straight or a fundamentalist Christian. I hope they’ll come to see that’s all we ask in return.
He also has a warning to his audience:
Conservative Christian leaders ought to be very careful about their rhetoric going forward – careful not to continue giving the impression that being Christian is in large measure about opposing gay rights, and careful not to let the public expression of their faith become primarily associated with something that looks, sounds and feels like hate to growing segments of the population.
It’s a thoughtful piece, I suggest people with a theological investment check it out, it’s here.
When Krattenmaker poses the question: “On gay rights, keep fighting or adapt?” he addresses it as though theology and changing sociological attitudes were the only factor.
He completely fails to address the financial motives that drive fundamentalist Christians to demonize and hate gays. Is he not aware of them? Is he naive enough to be blind to it? Or would it be “impolite” to bring up the subject of money to Tony Perkins? Regardless, as an insider, he’d do well to recognize that until that community acknowledges reality they can never get at the heart of the problem. It’s rather like examining a person’s toes to find the source of a toothache.
Because theology isn’t the only reason these groups fight the gays. And in fact, it’s probably the least of the reasons. There’s big business in it. A large part of their business model is built on ginning up fear, hatred and outrage about the gay agenda, and then of course, asking the hateful and ignorant for funds to help stop it. They are in the fortunate position to be able to manufacture a market for the very product they are selling.
Southern Poverty Law Center extensively documents anti-gay rhetoric coming from 18 anti-gay hate groups. The 18 groups, without exception, rely on Christian scripture as the basis of their authority. Much of SPLC’s research evidence of their hatred is clipped from echo-chamber of fundraising letters. Like this one from the American Family Association:
AFA’s direct-mail appeals are particularly shrill. “For the sake of our children and society, we must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery!” says one such recent fundraising letter. “Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to ‘breed’ is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!”
Who will they demonize if not the gays? In this way, Krattenmaker failed to acknowledge that the problem is not only that their rhetoric sounds hateful, it often actually is hateful. And designed precisely with the goal of creating hate.
And how will they get attention if not by going on the TV machine fight LGBT legislative and judicial movement? Perkins and his ilk get more media airtime fighting gay rights than any other topic, by far. It may be painful for these groups to relinquish the outsized attention they get by fighting gays. I suspect Perkins’ phone rarely rings from CNN, MSNBC or Fox News except when they need to find someone to “balance” out opinions on gay rights stories.
They are now in greater demand than ever, as producer’s rolodexes get thinner. Fewer people are willing to speak out publicly against the LGBT community’s demands for equal treatment under the law. More than a dozen State Senators proudly took to the New York Senate floor to stump for marriage equality last June and encourage their colleagues to vote for it. Senator and Reverend Ruben Diaz was the lonely voice of public opposition (Granted, he had too much company that sought to avoid spotlighting their opposition by voting for inequality under the cover of public silence.)
But no one provides the “good TV” soundbites these Christian Conservatives provide. The average LGBT blockader saying, “I’m committed to equality, and am thinking of the bill, but I’m not sure the time is right, we’ll see,” doesn’t exactly make for most riveting TV segment.
And in this way, Maggie Gallagher wins, even when she loses. Sure, Maryland may pass marriage equality anyway, despite her appearance before the Senate to argue against it. And we may scuttle the effort to repeal equality in New Hampshire. But she now has something to report back to her fans and followers. She went and fought the good fight. She got an audience with the decision makers, even in a state she doesn’t reside! She’s a real player! She could really stop gay marriage next time, if you just open up your wallet and give more. Please give more.
From this perspective, it seems unlikely they’ll be willing to give up the money-making potential that the continued oppression of gay people gives them. Until societal attitudes sufficiently change to make them no longer fiscally viable. But, I’d say Maggie and Tony are safe in this lifetime.
After all, nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade settled the abortion question, abortion rights remains a significant cash-cow for many people.