When Good Men Do Nothing
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.
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 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.
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.