The Daily Agenda for Thursday, May 30

Jim Burroway

May 30th, 2013

No comparison.

NOM/Ruth Institute’s “It Takes A Family” Conference: San Diego, CA. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was responsible for implementing Nazi Germany’s “big lie,” which was, more precisely, a whole series of big lies. What made his “big lies” so successful was that there was sometimes of smidgen of, well, not truth exactly, but truthiness — that kind of a “truthy” quality that results when someone speaks from the gut and not the facts about something that just “feels right.”

Now I don’t know why I think about Goebbels whenever anti-gay extremist Robert Gagnon comes to mind. Well, I sort of do. Somewhere along the way, someone made a comparison. I don’t remember who made it, or whether they said one was worse than the other, but I do remember the comparison. And ever since then, the link was made in my mind: Gagnon, Goebbels; Goebbels, Gagnon.

What I do remember about that linkage was thinking that there’s nothing even remotely fair in the comparison — not even close. But I also remember the argument that, like Goebbels, Gagnon, too, depends on a huge pile of truthiness to support some of his more outrageous positions. I think that we can safely acknowledge that particular intersection of similarity between the two. Not that I’m comparing Goebbels to Gagnon. After all, Goebbels was part of Hitler’s inner circle, a trusted confidant who served an evil regime that sent some twelve million people, including six million Jews, to their deaths. Gagnon is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and is on the board of directors of the hard-core ex-gay breakaway group, Restored Hope Network. There’s just no comparing the two. But if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to compare them, then obviously one is way worse than the other, no question about it. But I really don’t see the point in pressing it.

Gagnon, too, has acquired a habit of linking wholly unrelated things in peoples’ minds. But when people accuse him of comparing wholly unrelated things and saying one is worse than the other, he denounces them for saying that he made that comparison. He calls them incompetent, duplicitous, things like that. Like, for example, that time when he wrote this email to other anti-gay activists last month where he defended the use of the word “perverse” to describe gay people:

…Bestiality is an even more unnatural form of sexual practice since it is cross-species. Adult-consensual incest is also a particularly perverse form of sexual practice since it involves sex with someone who is too much of a familial same. But Scripture treats homosexual practice as even more severely unnatural because the male-female requirement for sexual relations is foundational for all that follows (so Genisis and Jesus) and because sex or gender is a more constituent feature of sexual behavior than kinship.

Now I read that to mean that Gagnon thinks homosexuality is worse than bestiality and incest. Just about everyone else did too, although one BTB reader was able to closely parse the wording and say, no, that’s not what he meant. Gagnon himself sent me a rather nastily worded email in which he said (while addressing me in the third person, like someone who can’t look you in the eye):

Jim Burroway of the duplicitous “Box Turtle” site accuses me of saying that homosexual practice is worse than bestiality even though I specifically state (and he even twice quotes me as saying) that bestiality is worse (homosexual practice …is regarded by Scripture as worse than incest, comparing adult-consensual for both; I do stand by that; it is a point easy to demonstrate from Scripture). His inability to read for context is hardly surprising. Misinterpretation is a staple of the “Box Turtle” site.

It goes on from there, but you get the drift. He also complained to Jeremy Hooper, who first posted the excerpt from Gagnon’s earlier email. Hooper re-read that excerpt again and wrote:

An earlier version of this post’s headline said Mr. Gagnon repeated his belief that homosexual practice is worse than bestiality. I believe that is, in fact, what Mr. Gagnon was implying when, after mentioning both bestiality and incest in the fourth paragraph above, he claimed in a third, clarifying line that “Scripture treats homosexual practice as even more severely unnatural.” I’m not sure why anyone would interpret it differently. I mean, when a writer mentions two notions and then uses a “But… even more severely unnatural” setup to round out his thoughts, the logical reader believes he or she is referring back to the points that immediately precede that closing.

Mr Gagnon, however, claims my read was “incompetent.” This being the case, I will gladly limit his belief to just incest, since he has on many different occasions claimed that “homosexual practice” is worse than than inter-familial practice. I don’t mind making this change (while leaving Gagnon’s full text to your own interpretation) because I hardly see how it’s better for Gagnon’s cause.

I’ll leave it to Gagnon to give the final word on whether he thinks homosexuality is worse than bestiality or incest — or both or neither. But I can’t shake the observation that he sometimes likes to mention bestiality when discussing homosexuality — for what reason, I can’t say. I mean, the two have nothing to do with each other, and even Gagnon has argued elsewhere that, Biblically speaking, homosexuality isn’t as bad as bestiality. But if that’s what he believes, then why does he even bring it up? Why does he invite comparisons of homosexuality to bestiality and not, say, dodge ball? Why isn’t he writing anti-bestiality tracts instead? “Good Lord!,” he could write, “It’s even worse than homosexuality!” I’ll leave it for him explain and for you to decide. All I can say is that for whatever reason he enjoys linking the two.

I bring all of this up because Gagnon is among those who will be speaking this weekend at a conference with the unwieldy title, “It Takes A Family To Raise A Village.” The student conference kicks off tonight at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, and continues through the weekend. It will be conducted by the Ruth Institute, which itself is the “think tank” arm of the National Organization for Marriage. Another scheduled speaker is Mark Regnerus, the disgraced author of the discredited so-called “gay parenting” study. Regnerus will give two talks: one on “The social science evidence on why hooking up doesn’t make people happy,” and another on “Understanding same sex parenting studies.” I presume the second one will be delivered without a trace of irony.

As for Gagnon, he will also give two talks: “Jesus and marriage” and “Paul and homosexual practice,” in which he may or may not link bestiality and homosexuality. If he does, then I may find myself writing about Gagnon and mentioning, in passing, Goebbels, even though — and I’ll say this again in case anyone misses it — I don’t really see any legitimate reason to link the two.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Aarhus, Denmark; Alkmaar, Netherlands; Angers, France; Bradford, UK; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Cambridge/Kitchener/Waterloo, ON; Davenport, IA; Dayton, OH; Dresden, Germany; Göteborg, Sweden; Honolulu, HI; Kiel, Germany; Lille, France; Lorraine, France; Los Ranchos, NM; Oxford, UK; Queens, NY; Regensburg, Germany; Salt Lake City, UT; Santa Cruz, CA; Shanghai, China; Sonoma Co, CA Springfield, MA; Staten Island, NY; Tulsa, OK; Washington, DC; Waterford, Ireland; Winnipeg, MB; York, UK.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Beaver Lake, NY; Boston, MA; Long Beach, CA.

Other Events This Weekend: Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Hartford, CT; Rainbow 5K Run/Walk, Indianapolis, IN; Cinépride LGBT Film Festival, Nantes, France; Gay Days Disney, Orlando, FL; Film Out, San Diego, CA; AIDS Lifecycle, San Francisco to Los Angeles, CA (Sponsor Rob Tisinai here!); Inside Out Toronto Film Festival, Toronto, ON.

Paul Guilbert and Aaron Fricke

Male Couple attends Senior Prom: 1980. Aaron Fricke was a high school senior when he publicly came out as gay, stated dating Paul Guilbert, and asked him to the Cumberland (Rhode Island) High School senior prom. The year before, Guilbert gad tried to attend the junior prom with a male date, but he ran into opposition from both the principal and his father. This time, Fricke took the lead, but, as before, the principal refused to allow the couple to attend, saying the move “upset other students, sent the community abuzz, and rallied out-of-state newspapers to consider the matter newsworthy.” It also earned Fricke five stitches under his eye when he was attacked in the hallway.

Fricke filed a lawsuit in Federal court, charging that the school district was infringing on his First Amendment right to free speech. “I feel I have the right to attend,” he told the judge. “I feel I want to go to the prom for the same reason any other student would want to go.” The judge agreed (PDF: 60KB/7 pages), and not only ordered the school district to allow the couple to attend, but to beef up security in case there were any problems. And on this day in 1980, Frike and Guilbert attended the prom, slow-danced to Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got The Night,” and the case of Frike v. Lynch became an important legal precedent for other gay couples across the nation since then.

Fricke later wrote about his experiences in Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story about Growing Up Gay. He also collaborated with his father on another book about coming out, Sudden Strangers: The Story of a Gay Son and His Father.

Christine Jorgensen: 1926. She was born in the Bronx, and described herself as “frail, tow-headed, introverted little boy who ran from fistfights and rough-and-tumble games.” She also went by “George.” After a stint in the army following World War II, her identity as a woman was overwhelming — and her physical development as a man was underwhelming. As she attended dental school, she began taking the female hormone ethinyl estradiol on her own and looked into sexual reassignment surgery. At the time, the only surgeries being performed were in Sweden. But at a stopover in Copenhagen to visit relatives, she discovered Dr. Christian Hamburger, a Danish endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy. Denmark’s Minister of Justice allowed her surgery to take place.

Christine’s surgery wasn’t the first of its kind, but that’s how it was portrayed on December 1, 1952 when the New York Daily News carried the front-page headline, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty.” Within months, she was a national celebrity, and became the most written-about person in 1953. She tried to use her celebrity as an opportunity for education, which turned out to be a huge task. She acted in summer stock, toured the lecture circuit, wrote an autobiography, and made countless radio and television appearances. She was engaged to marry John Traub, but that engagement was called off. In 1959, she announced her engagement to Howard J. Knox, but the couple was unable to obtain a marriage license because Jorgensen’s birth certificate still listed her as a male. By the time they ended that engagement, Knox had been fired from his job over the publicity. Shortly before Jorgensen died in 1989, she said she had given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants.” She died of bladder and lung cancer just a month shy of her 63rd birthday.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


May 30th, 2013

Re: Gagnon — Hooper hit it on the head with his comment about Gagnon “implying” that homosexuality is worse than (pick your favorite perversion). That’s how the “Christian” right works: implication and insinuation. The comparison with Goebbels is more apt than you realize — at least in kind, if not in degree.


May 30th, 2013

A clever, wittily constructed indictment of Gagnon’s techniques!


May 30th, 2013

Of course Jim Burroway would not understand the reference to bestiality, because Jim Burroway does not spend all his time as good Christians must: obsessing about Leviticus 18. (/sarcasm)

It bothers me on some level that I’ve learned to translate this, but here goes: I think one major reason some persons keep blurring bestiality, incest, etc. together is because of the “obvious” “Biblical” co-location in Leviticus 18.

Now, personally, when this is done, I’d like to throw Leviticus 18:18 right back: “Do not take your wife’s sister as a rival wife and have sexual relations with her while your wife is living.” (NIV) Uh, if polygamy is supposed to be “against the Bible”, why does the Lord start hedging his bets in this part of it? Wouldn’t “no second wife at all while your first wife is still alive” be a clearer “law” here?

Anyway, polygamy is a potential issue facing The United Methodist Church. The Church’s book of law, the Discipline, does not prohibit polygamy. (It contains only one vague reference in the Social Principles, which are not supposed to be treated as church law.) In the webpage I linked to above (under “NotOnScript”), “A brief history of Methodism in Côte d’Ivoire,” at, William Wadé Harris is discussed as a major influence. He just so happened to be a polygamist.

Maybe someday this potential conflict in “Biblical principles” will receive a larger audience.


May 30th, 2013

I do not know, seriously do not know, how anyone can build a lecture / presentation on what Paul says about homosexuality — there’s just not that much material. So will he draw from Paul’s comments about marriage, including his suggestions that Christians not marry unless they simply cannot control their lustful desires?

What Jesus says about marriage is somewhat limited, too. Will Dr. Gagnon make the point that Jesus prohibited divorce, which was very easy in the Jewish culture of his day? Will Dr. Gagnon make the point that when Jesus prohibited divorce he was also telling husbands their wives are not property, not disposable?

But here’s the trend I see: bringing in academics to offer a “secular” authority to support their “religious” authority, the Bible. Because the religious authority is not universally accepted in 21st century American culture, secular authority must be appropriated, discredited or not.

Dr. Gagnon and Dr. Regnerus may be biased, obsessed, and beholden to anti-gay interests, but they have their doctorates and retain their faculty appointments. Wouldn’t their respective academies have dismissed them by now if they were incompetent scholars? Since they haven’t been dismissed, doesn’t that prove something?

I do wonder what Dr. Gagnon’s colleagues in New Testament scholarship, and at Pittsburgh Seminary, think of his work.

Ben in Oakland

May 30th, 2013

This reminds me of the recent Ben Carson flap, and the attempts to vindicate him and blame gay people.

Say something completely outrageous that just about anyone would take as an extremely invidious comparison. Don’t use the words “X is exactly like disgusting Y”, but put them in adjoining rooms.

Then you can say “I totally didn’t say what I just totally said, because i didnt say that disgusting x is just like disgusting y. you misconstrued my words. Help, I’m a victim.”

It’s childish and irresponsible. But I’m not comparing Goebbels, Carson, or Gagnon to children, becuase they totally don’t do that.


May 30th, 2013

Well Mr. Gagnon is certainly an expert on bestiality and incest. One wonders how someone actually becomes an expert on these topics. Years of study? Experiments? Participant interviews? Perhaps Mr. Gagnon needs to write a popular book or two on these topics, “Incest for Dummies” would probably be a bestseller in certain parts of the country.


May 30th, 2013

I love Today’s Agenda. It goes a ways towards filling the lgbt communal memory/generation gap that Frank Rich and Andrew Sullivan mentioned in their latest columns.

That said, when you have to qualify/minimize a comparison (Goebbels) several times in an article, you really should not have gone there in the first place. Starting with the picture.

Ben In Oakland

May 30th, 2013

tristram– i think you missed the satire.

Jim Hlavac

May 30th, 2013

1) I find it ironic that any anti-gay groups would meet in San Diego – what with a gay mayor and a Republican to boot (or did that change recently — )

2) I find Jorgensen and the whole T thing just flummoxing. She was a guy, who became a she, and married a he legally — and lived happily ever after with fawning press coverage in the 1950s/1960s — and this has to do with gay men how? How on earth did gay men get mixed up with heterosexuals in the wrong body is beyond me. All it did was bring down the stock of transgendered for comporting with us queer guys — and all it did was cement in heterosexual minds we want to change our gender. Bah, just bah. Egad, I’m an old fashioned gay guy — and just can’t abide this LGBTQA — what else will we add? WHy not CH for Christian Heteros and be done with it.

Priya Lynn

May 30th, 2013

Us T’s wholeheartedly support you G’s Jim Hlavac – don’t be a hater. What unites us is being oppressed for not fitting into traditional roles.


May 30th, 2013

Hallowe’en 1984 fell mid-week, but I’m a traditionalist; I dressed and went to my favorite watering hole at the time: Main Street bar in Laguna Beach.
Seated on one of the stools at the piano was an older woman wearing much black chiffon. Her pointed hat had been placed on the back corner of a banquette, but she later airily referred to it in explaining her costume: “I’m a rich witch.”
She was also great fun – complimented me on “dressing for the high holidays,” and sang along very well to some of the familiar tunes.
We had been bantering and giggling for about an hour (in between songs) when someone introduced her: Christine Jorgensen.
My jaw hit the floor in a full-on gape, and I managed to stammer out a compliment that contained a clumsy “thank you for everything you’ve done” – at which she smiled broadly and then laughed and raised an eyebrow, pointing up the ensuing comments about double entendre and steering the conversation back to the excellence of the piano player.
She was (to use the parlance we employed then in toasting her): “one classy broad.”

Jim Burroway

May 30th, 2013

Amazing story, Reed! Thanks for sharing.


May 30th, 2013

Gagnon doesn’t seem to use words how most people do. When I think of something as “sexually perverse”, I certainly don’t mean “any of various means of obtaining sexual gratification that are generally regarded as being unnatural or abnormal”. Rape is perfectly natural and normal in the sense that it happens in nature all the time and is a constant companion to human society. It’s awful and I still want to call it sexually perverse, though.

But of course, Gagnon doesn’t mean what I mean when I say “natural” and “abnormal”. He means something else that I’ll undoubtedly find idiotic. Ultimately I imagine his statements on perversion are just vacuously true consequences of his particular definitions, even though what he says has wildly inflammatory interpretations using more common definitions. He also seems to demand more precision of his readers than is reasonable when writing to a wide audience (his email starts “To all (including Mr. Chambers)”). It’s your fault as a writer if your words are misinterpreted by many people.

What a waste of time. He takes forever to say so little. Fundamentally he seems to be an idiot with a high IQ. He’s smart enough to carve out a reasonably consistent logical system for interpreting scripture. But, he’s not bright enough to see how insulated he’s become from the real world and how unimportant his definitions and assumptions are to most people. I won’t spend any more time on him; some cohomology computations await!


May 31st, 2013

It’s a silly thing, but the appearance of the name “Gagnon” sticks in my mind as Gannon, the Legend of Zelda villain. Yours makes more sense.

Timothy (TRiG)

June 2nd, 2013

That essay on Gagnon was excellently constructed, Jim. Bravo!


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