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When Good Men Do Nothing

Jim Burroway

March 16th, 2009

Anti-gay activists are not all cut from the same cloth. There’s a broad spectrum of behavior among them, from the well-reasoned and considerate to the dangerously crazy. One can imagine a hierarchy of sorts: Those at the top of the hierarchy are the more reasonable ones who can generally see gays and lesbians as human beings and can usually address the debates with honesty and integrity, even as they continue to oppose policy proposals which are important for LGBT people. Only a few examples come to mind which fit that description (David Blankenhorn would be one). The most visible LGBT opponents, like Focus On the Family or the Family Research Council, sit recognizably below that top notch, but they are nevertheless well above the bottom rung of this hierarchy.

Now don’t get me wrong. Focus and FRC certainly fight against us at every turn, and they aren’t above lying and distorting to try to get their way. But one can imagine that there are steps they will not take, steps that those at the very bottom of our hierarchy have no qualms about taking.

Scott Lively speaking at a 2007 Watchmen On the Walls conference in Riga, Latvia

Scott Lively speaking at a 2007 Watchmen On the Walls conference in Riga, Latvia

Those who anchor themselves firmly at the bottom include those who have called for our execution (Paul Cameron), who rejoiced in our deaths (Fred Phelps), who excuse those who have killed some among us (Scott Lively), who tell everyone who will listen that the Nazi movement was a fully homosexual one (Lively, again), that it was the gay Nazis and not straight Nazis who harbored a special animosity towards Germany’s Jews (ditto), or that gay activists are all secret fascists determined to remake the world in the image of Nazi Germany (ditto again).

In other words, there are those whose purpose it is to stoke the fears and visceral hatred of ordinary people to prod them into doing the most extraordinary, horrific things — whether its killing a gay immigrant in Sacramento, flinging feces at gay worshipers at a church in Latvia, or hunting down LGBT people on the streets in Uganda.

However much we disagree with Exodus, FOTF, FRC and others, we must at least grudgingly recognize that there are many things which are beneath them.

Hatred Is An Extraordinary Thing
It is that recognition of this hierarchy of opposition which leads us here at BTB to refrain from using the word “hate” wherever possible. We use that word to describe people’s motivations only under the most rare and extraordinary circumstances because we recognize that the evil of hatred in its purest form is a most rare and extraordinary thing.

The Southern Poverty Law Center agrees. They list only twelve anti-gay hate groups across the country. Notice that Exodus, FOTF and FRC are not listed. That’s because the SPLC doesn’t label just anybody as a hate group based on policy positions. To be listed, the group must “go beyond mere disagreement with homosexuality by subjecting gays and lesbians to campaigns of personal vilification.

There are only twelve groups on the SPLC’s list, which suggests to me that it’s pretty easy to avoid landing on it. But one man bears the unusual distinction of appearing on the list twice. Scott Lively is Abiding Truth Ministries, and he is also a co-founder of Watchmen On the Walls. As far as I know, he’s the only person to have inaugurated one-sixth of all the SPLC’s listed anti-gay hate groups in America. One really has to go out of one’s way to earn that rare position, but Lively has well earned his place.

Exodus International President Alan Chambers

Exodus International President Alan Chambers

Exodus International however has operated in a very different mode from Lively’s. They’ve tended to operate somewhere nearer to the Focus On the Family territory rather than than the Traditional Values Coalition territory in my anti-gay hierarchy. Exodus has worked vigorously against gay-supportive policy proposals, sometimes being less than candid about their own movement in the process. And Exodus International president Alan Chambers isn’t above deploying in a bit of rabble-rousing himself. When he spoke at the Family Impact Summit in 2006, Chambers described gay advocates as following an “evil agenda” while reminding his audience of the famous warning attributed to Edmund Burke: all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

But for the most part, Exodus tends to shy away from alarmist rhetoric, preferring instead to present a shiny, agreeable face for the ex-gay movement. While they’re not averse to the politics of personal vilification in front of selected audiences away from the spotlight, they’ve avoided completely immersing themselves in it to the degree that Lively has with such consistency.

Chambers: “I Do Care How People Are Impacted By My Words”
In early 2008, New Direction Executive Director Wendy Gritter gave a profound keynote address at the Exodus Leadership Conference, which she followed up with a heartfelt essay on Ex-Gay Watch. Wendy pointed to the distractions that politics placed on their work in the ex-gay movement, and she called upon ministries to become “pastorally-focused, not politically driven.” She also called on ex-gay leaders to express remorse for the harms they had done to clients and others in the gay community. Chambers, who just a few months earlier gave his rousing talk at the Family Impact Summit, appeared to have been touched by Wendy’s words, particularly in how the ex-gay movement impacts the gay community:

“What is said by gay activists is not lost on me. I do care how people are impacted by my words, actions and ministry. Ironically, I know the Lord uses every voice, suggestion, encouragement and criticism to shape me.”

That’s not to say the Exodus changed much since then. Despite eliminating the position of Director of Governmental Affairs, Exodus remains as engaged in the culture war today as it ever was. And yet for all of our vigorous disagreements with Exodus International, we believed that there were still places that Exodus would not go. Places too — dare I say it? — hateful for Exodus to enter.

I’ve heard Alan Chambers publicly denounce the hatred — yes, I said it — of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church. He has done it in front of ex-gay audiences, and he did it at the much more hard-line Family Impact Summit — the same venue where Chambers delivered his “evil agenda” line. I personally witnessed Chambers denounce Phelps both without reservation and with conviction in front of an audience which, frankly, was only a little more moderate than a roomful of Phelps’s (judging by how many in the audience who were uncomfortably fidgeting with their Blackberrys as Chambers spoke). This tells me that Chambers recognizes that people are impacted not just by his words, but by Phelps’ words and others’ as well.

Doing Nothing
Exodus Board Member Don Schmierer worked alongside Lively in Kampala last week at a conference which lauded Uganda’s draconian criminal penalties against LGBT people and recommended a reinforcement of that law by forcing LGBT people into therapy. Exodus International president Alan Chambers applauded Schmierer’s participation, saying:

Unfortunately, Uganda as a country has demonstrated severe hostility towards homosexuals supporting criminalization of homosexual behavior and proposing compulsory therapy – positions that Exodus International unequivocally denounces. It is our sincere desire to offer an alternative message that encompasses a compassionate, biblical view of homosexuality not just here in America, but around the world. We applaud our board member’s attempt to convey these truths to a country in need.”

The problem, of course, is that there is no evidence whatsoever that Schmierer attempted to “convey these truths.” There’s no record that Schmierer spoke up against criminalization of homosexual behavior or compulsory therapy. But he didn’t do nothing. In fact, we have it on record that Schmierer did more than nothing. He pointedly deferred to Lively when asked about whether homosexuality was natural.

There are so many things wrong with this picture, it’s hard to know where to begin. Should we be more outraged over an Exodus leader lending legitimacy to Lively’s hate-inspired revisionist history — I no longer hesitate to use the word “hate” in this context — which Lively has been energetically spreading throughout the world? Or should we focus our anger over Schmierer’s deferring to Lively instead of addressing the precarious situation LGBT people find themselves in Uganda while he was actually there and on the ground? Or should we instead remain appalled that Chambers remained silent and watched as this episode unfolded for all to see?

I’ve pretty much come to expect just about anything from Lively. His rhetoric is extremely dangerous, especially in countries like Uganda where his relentless vilification of LGBT people finds fertile ground. But I didn’t expect Schmierer to remain silent while sharing the stage with the founder of two — two!– hate groups which conduct “campaigns of personal vilification” against an entire community. And the last thing I expected from Chambers was to see him refuse to denounce Lively.

Chambers can denounce Phelps but not Lively. Why is that? Is it because Phelps is an easily dismissed clown while Lively has considerable influence in some quarters? Is it because Phelps is harmless because he lacks a measurable following, while Lively attracts large crowds when he speaks overseas? Or is it because Phelps has denounced Exodus as sharply as Exodus has denounced Phelps, but Lively is a colleague of Seattle pastor Ken Hutcherson — another Watchmen co-founder who Chambers counts among his close friends?

Chambers’s silence in the presence of a Holocaust revisionist is shocking because, irony of ironies, it is the Holocaust itself — the very tragic historical fact that Lively skewers to vilify gay people — that warns us about the consequences of good men doing nothing.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Comments

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Timothy Kincaid
March 16th, 2009 | LINK

At some point one must question: how long do we consider them “good men” when they do nothing to counter evil?

David
March 16th, 2009 | LINK

There is an answer, but, you’re not going to like it.

Anti-gay activists ARE all cut from the same cloth. Some just bedazzle that cloth with faux rhinestones and glitter paint. What defines them is not how they candy-coat or poison-coat their belief, but what they believe, and that belief includes the idea that the loving intimacy between two people of the same gender is something so horrible and evil that homosexuals deserve death and damnation, for that is what it means to label homosexuality sin.

The truth is that Exodus, FOTF and FRC do “subject gays and lesbians to campaigns of personal vilification.” They are simply slightly calmer about it, a hair less strident. Your own essay has a quote that demonstrates this: “Chambers described gay advocates as following an “evil agenda” ”

That’s personal vilification, since what Alan is calling an ‘evil agenda’, is our desire to protect our families and our selves from discrimination, persecution, religious oppression, and death.

Luther wrote in his large catechism that ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ includes not only overt action that inflicts harm, but the knowing failure to prevent harm. Likewise, hate includes not only the death threats, but the act of standing aside and allowing those death threats to continue unrebuked.

Emily K
March 16th, 2009 | LINK

Luther wrote in his large catechism that ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ includes not only overt action that inflicts harm, but the knowing failure to prevent harm.

Oh, is that why he wrote “The Jews and Their Lies” and called for the burning of synagogues and chasing out of all the Jewish people should they not convert to Christianity? And is that why his anti-Jewish attitudes that pervaded throughout Europe made the ground fertile for the Holocaust to thrive in 1930’s Europe, the very Holocaust we bring up as an example of good men doing nothing?

Try again.

**

Still, David has a point: Alan called us a people with an “evil agenda.” That’s defamation if I’ve ever heard it.

John
March 16th, 2009 | LINK

It is possible that Chambers if afraid of Lively. Lively has already demonstrated that he leads people who are capable of killing. Chambers’ friend Hutcherson being so buddy buddy with the despicable Lively is no better. The whole thing is disgusting.

And let’s not forget how hard Chambers and Randy Thomas work on a regular basis to defeat Hate Crimes protections for gays and lesbians.

They associate with members of hate groups and work to weaken laws that would hold these hate criminals to account when they commit heinous crimes. I don’t think that we are dealing with “good men” when it comes to Exodus.

Alan
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

I’m not sure I’d classify David Blankenhorn as someone reasonable.

If I remember correctly, he once said that single men would become criminals unless they married or became military officers or priests.

Doesn’t sound very reasonable to me.

grantdale
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

Lesson Of The Day.

When politicking and an extremist, it is always helpful to have someone holding an even more extreme position you can point to. Even if you have to help create them.

There is a reason FoF et al mention Phelps et al — and it isn’t because they fundamentally disagree about us. They don’t. What they disagree about are the tactics. (Has one forgotten that it was FoF, and NOT Phelps, who actually put an anti-gay brief before SCOTUS in Lawrence v Texas?)

Ok… now… what is Exodus doing in Uganda with Lively EXCEPT but helping to create and extend him? And I’m expected to think that Exodus may somehow CONDEMN him???

Woah now. Sorry Jim, you’re way off base with these thoughts. Too generous, but way off base: this isn’t the first time Exodus has shared a bed with a Watchman on the Wall as you’ve helped document over the years.

Good men DO NOT take two weeks to make up excuses for evil people. Exodus were caught red-handed while playing out their game. Scott Lively is no accident.

grantdale
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

ack. It pays not to cut and paste back the older version. That was going to say:

“Woah now. Sorry Jim, we can see where your heading and all in thinking about who support Exodus(Lively) versus those who do not(Phelps), but you’re way off base with these thoughts because ultimately it doesn’t matter if it’s Phelps we deal with or Lively. …” etc.

Dave
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

Emily K,

David wrote,

Luther wrote in his large catechism that ‘Thou Shalt not Kill’ includes not only overt action that inflicts harm, but the knowing failure to prevent harm. Likewise, hate includes not only the death threats, but the act of standing aside and allowing those death threats to continue unrebuked.

David is free to agree with Luther’s point on the commandment and then extend it to the issue of death threats without having to worry about Luther’s hypocritical religious hatred of Jews.

To agree that someone has made a good point is not to endorse everything that someone ever said or wrote. And to have been manifestly evil in some respect does not preclude one from having been right about something else.

I suggest, Emily, you lose the chip you have on your shoulder over Christianity’s history with Judaism.

David
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

Emily
Regarding “Try again.”

Luther’s antisemitism doesn’t refute his interpretation of the ten commandments, nor does it refute my position.

It does mean that Luther did not fully, perhaps even partially, live by his own theology.

Your empty dismissal accomplishes nothing. Jesus also said that to even look at someone with lust was to commit adultery. The clear point is that these negative behaviors do not have to be concrete in form – murder doesn’t have to be physically expressed, nor lust or hate, to be wrong.

Jim Burroway
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

Woah now. Sorry Jim, we can see where your heading and all in thinking about who support Exodus(Lively) versus those who do not(Phelps), but you’re way off base with these thoughts because ultimately it doesn’t matter if it’s Phelps we deal with or Lively. …” etc.

… I’m confused. I think that was the point I was trying to make in the second-to-last paragraph.

As to the “Good men doing nothing line,” I understand that many here are offended by the implication that Chambers might be a good man. I’ll not spend any ink defending him against those who disagree. Instead, I’m only recognizing that Chambers considers himself a good man, and that this is a favorite line that I’ve heard him repeat in multiple venues. My goal is simply to remind him exactly what happens when good men — and by corollary, not so good men — do nothing.

Emily K
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

I suggest, Emily, you lose the chip you have on your shoulder over Christianity’s history with Judaism.

I know, right? It’s like, only been going on for the past 2,000 years, pervading every part of Western culture, right down to casual expressions (“Pharisaic,” “Shylock”). So it heavily contributed to the cause of 6,000,000 deaths. I wasn’t one of them, so I should just GET OVER IT already. So they had Passion Plays that incited hatred against Jewish people for killing Jesus in the Middle Ages, so what? It’s not like anybody makes Passion Plays today, at least not as big budget movies, here in America. What do I have to be concerned about? We live in post-religious America; nobody here reads the Gospel of John like it’s literal truth. Just like now that Barack is President, we live in post-racial America and Blacks have nothing to complain about.

**

I don’t expect to convince anybody anything, honestly, I don’t. You’ll have your opinion and I’ll have mine.

Ben in Oakland
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

I’m gonna have to join the majority thought here, Jim.

I will agree that some of these people are not as odious and much less dangerous than others. but ultimately, they all believe the same thing– there is something so wrong with loving someone of your own gender in a way they deem so extremely inappropriate that anything they do– whether fudging statistics to calling for executions– is justified, no matter how immoral it might otherwise be judged.

In other words– and here I go again– it all boils down to how much the very existence of gay people bothers some straight people, as well as some wanna-be-straight-but-ain’ts. It doesn’t matter whether they believe it’s what their god demands, a la Alan chambers, or whether they are refreshingly honest (in a very twisted sort of way) a la the Phelpsters, or even whether they are so frightened of sexuality, a la the RC priesthood, that ANYTHING about sex scares (or entices–take your pick) the bejesus out of them. It especially doesn’t matter if they have a secret so secretly secret that they can’t even tell themselves.

It doesn’t matter, because the result is the same. They make other people LESS THAN, people who have done them no demonstrable harm (other than existing, their easy, common complaint) whom they do not know, and whom they clearly know nothing about, the more so when they claim expertise. And their reasons for doing so? A set of fears, lies, prejudices, distortions, half-truths, history, misinterpretations, wishful thinking, and dirty, shameful secrets. There may be a diamond or two of truth contained in these reasons, but these are a few very small sparklers in a veritable mountain of dung. I would never claim that gay people are perfect, but I would certainly claim that the anti-gay industry has made every effort– and a good livelihood for a number of people– to make our lives as difficult and unpleasant as possible, all the while claiming to love and/or pity and/or help us. In other words, they criticize us for being handicapped and conveniently forget that they knee-capped us at birth.

It doesn’t matter to me if you are as reasonable sounding as David Blankenhorn. That doesn’t make him moral. He’s no better than Phelps. He just wears a better suit and understands PR instead of theater. In that famous column he wrote, he claimed to be a liberal democrat. According to an article on salon.com, it turns out the Mr. Blankenhorn is president of an organization called The Institute for American Values, which according to IRS records, receives a great deal of money from ultra-conservative organizations promoting a conservative social agenda. I find it highly unlikely that these organizations would give millions to a professed “liberal Democrat”. Not only were Blankenhorn’s arguments demonstrably irrelevant, it appears that he is not who he says he is. True morality does not require deception and misrepresentation.
In that article, he claimed Prop. 8 should be supported because marriage is “primarily a license to have children.” and “children have the right to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world.” While we can all agree that children deserve to be loved and cared for, neither reason is true, or relevant to Prop. 8, or enforced upon heterosexuals. Telephone call for Bristol Palin!

But they sure sounded good, didn’t they?

Nowhere in the initiative were found the words mother, father, child, family, child support, or, most tellingly: DIVORCE and ADOPTED. And far too many children are abused, molested, or abandoned by biological parents– married or not– who neither want nor are prepared for them.

BTB calls it The Heterosexual menace. In today’s Chronicle, there are no less than TWO articles dealing with father who repeatedly raped and fathered children upon their own daughters, much like that Biblical exemplar Lot, except that he at least had the excuse that he was drunk. What about the woamn who was married 23 times? What about Octomom, who is really Quaddecan mom? If Blankenhorn refuses to see these obvious bits of reality, then his prejudice is really not functionally all that different from the Phelpsters. He just wears a better suit and has PR mojo.

And the proof? Even assuming this “birthright” exists, Prop. 8 did nothing to further it. But then, Blankenhorn admits his real bias when he says that “Legalized same-sex marriage almost certainly benefits…the children being raised in those homes”. According to the Supreme Court, there are at least 70,000 of them, some biological, some adopted. Do not those children deserve the same protections provided by marriage that are afforded their counterparts in “traditional” families? What about the 3-4% of children who are going to grow up to be gay? Or are only some children and some families important?

The misrepresentations, the illogic, the indicated contradiction– it’s all for the children, just not THOSE children– is all the evidence I need to tell me that Blankenhorn is just a more presentable type of bigot. Compared to the Phelpsters, he looks positively benign. And compared to them, I suspect he is. I’m sure he would personally be horrified at the thought of my being executed for being a Big Fag. He might even speak up against it. I have no way of knowing, so i’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

But what I do know is that he does not wish me and mine well, despite his obvious ignorance on the subject. He does not want me to be treated as an equal by my government. He does not want this senseless prejudice to end, because he shares it.

BobN
March 17th, 2009 | LINK

I suppose it’s possible that there are some “good men” out there who sincerely believe they need to “help” gay people by making them ex-gay.

Somehow, however, I doubt that group includes men who make their living do it.

Dave
March 18th, 2009 | LINK

Emily K,

Thank you for so perfectly proving my point.

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