Box Turtle Bulletin

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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for February, 2011

Mohler concedes inevitability of social acceptance of same-sex couples

Timothy Kincaid

February 26th, 2011

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is now admitting that their arguments are not going to win over society, or even all of those who sit in pews listening to their anti-gay sermonizing (Christian Post):

“I think it’s clear that something like same-sex marriage is going to become normalized, legalized and recognized in the culture. It’s time for Christians to start thinking about how we’re going to deal with that,” he said Friday on the Focus on the Family radio program.

The Southern Baptist made it clear that he was not saying that they are giving up. Marriage is still an institution Christians need to save, particularly in their own community. But Christians also need to start learning how to deal with the shifting culture and even face the fact that they may lose a few from their flock.

“I think we’re going to be surprised and heartbroken over how many people are going to capitulate to the spirit of the age,” he noted. “We’re going to find now that there may not be as many of us as we thought.”

He’s right.

A review of the Manhattan Declaration

This commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

November 20th, 2009

A group of conservative Christians released today their manifesto of their agreement across lines of faith and tradition. Entitled Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, this document lays out areas in which the signatories declare commonality of purpose.

Who they are

First, let us say what this document is not. It is not, as the NY Times described it, a situation in which “Christian Leaders Unite on Political Issues“. Indeed, this is but a segment of Christian thought, claiming the mantle of Christian history and tradition but excluding broad segments of the faith.

One need only glance at the signatories to know the nature of the alliance. Present are some who are well known names in the political culture wars who have long striven to impose their religious views by force of law on the unbelievers: Dr. James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Gary Bauer, and Tony Perkins. Some are religious leaders who have been recently shifting their realm of influence away from faith towards secular domination: Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Albert Mohler, and Jonathan Falwell.

But this is not just broadly social conservatives. There is, instead, a concentration of those who focus on “opposing the homosexual agenda”. There are a few religious activists who seem dedicated and committed (obsessed, one might think) to fighting equality for gay people: Ken Hutcherson, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Jim Garlow. And then, inexplicably, some who are not religious leaders at all but social activists whose primary occupation is in seeking the political institutionalizing of inequality to gay people: Maggie Gallagher, Frank Schubert, and William Donohue.

Perhaps the most difficult to explain, and by far the most troubling name present, is The Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, Primate, Anglican Church of Nigeria.

There is no explanation provided as to what relevance Akinola has on what is a uniquely American collection. But his participation is not accidental. And, as I will discuss momentarily, his is perhaps the key that explains the true nature of this manifesto.

This could be seen as nothing more that “the usual suspects”, a rehashing of the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition or any other of the loose groupings of religious authoritarians, were it not for one import inclusion. There are nine Catholic Archbishops who signed on to this document.

Ideologically as dissimilar as possible, these two Christian extremes – one whose doctrine is based in tradition, liturgy, and hierarchy, the other whose doctrine is based in reform, spirit-led worship, and direct divine revelation – have set aside ancient hostilities and theological beliefs that doubt the other’s right to be considered “Christian” and have now joined in a common purpose: denying your rights.

But as important as who is present, is who is absent.

Among the signatories I was unable to find any members of the United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Friends (Quaker), Disciples of Christ, Unitarian Universalists or American Baptists. There was one United Methodist minister.

In short, a whole branch of Christianity, Mainline Christianity, was missing, including many who no doubt would agree with the goals of banning abortion and forbidding same-sex marriage. This exclusion is, I believe, integral to understanding the true purpose of this manifesto.

The agreed upon issues

While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. Indeed, although the document speaks in lofty terms of Christian tradition and religious freedom, the only commitments it makes are to oppose legal abortion (some day down the road) and the immediate attack on the ability of gay people to avail themselves of civil equality.

This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.

What it means

While on the face of it, this manifesto purports to be a rededication to fight two specific political issues, I think that this is but surface dressing for a deeper meaning.

This is not a war over civil marriage definition – nor, indeed, has that ever been the real motivation behind anti-gay marriage drives. Rather, this is a war over religious domination, a fight over who is “really a Christian” and an effort on the part of a long-suffering religious subset to spite those who have long had what they coveted.

Political power in the United States had long been in the hands of what is now called Mainline Christianity. Our presidents have included over a dozen Episcopalians (as is the National Cathedral), about ten Presbyterians, with most of the rest being Methodists, Unitarians, Disciples of Christ, and Quakers.

There has been exactly one Catholic. There have been four Baptists, of whom the two Southern Baptists were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. There have been no Pentecostals and no members of mega-Churches. In fact, though some Republican presidents have been religious and conservative, there has never been a President of the United States that was both denominationally and ideologically within the fold represented by the signatories of this Manhattan Declaration.

And now they want theirs. And, not content at the rise of their own political power, they will not be happy unless they can diminish those denominations whom they seek to replace.

Note the presence of the second signatory, Peter Akinola? He is the Nigerian Anglican who has been missionizing the United States in an effort to hurt the Episcopal Church. His inclusion is a very clear message sent to the EC that they are a target for the Catholic Church and the evangelical churches who will use whatever political power they may wield in the future to thwart her position in the nation.

This manifesto is, I believe, less a declaration of war on gay people and those with unplanned pregnancies than it is a declaration of war on other Christian faiths.

One absence that seems to confirm this alliance is a denomination that one might have expected to be quick to affirm its commitment to the right to life and protection of the family. But there are no representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). The exclusion of this church, considered by most conservatives to be “NOT Christian”, suggest that this manifesto has less to do with social goals and more to do with Christian definition.

This manifesto says, in effect, “We are the Christians. We are the ‘heirs of a 2,000-year tradition of proclaiming God’s word’, and we alone will speak for the faith.”

What the manifesto reveals

In addition to highlighting the division in the Christian body, there are also some clues as to future items on the agenda of this newly affirmed political alliance. Here is how I translate some of their declarations.

we note with sadness that pro-abortion ideology prevails today in our governmenttruly Christian answer to problem pregnancies is for all of us to love and care for mother and child alike

Only lip service will be paid to the shared objection to abortion. Little time, money, or political capital will be spent on this already lost goal. However, should opportunity ever swing in their direction, they will stop at nothing short of a full ban on all abortions without any consideration of rape, quality of life, or the life of the mother.

But absent the abortion issue, these allies have but one other shared issue: attacking you and your life.

Around the globe … take steps necessary to halt the spread of preventable diseases like AIDS

The situations in Nigeria and Uganda are not accidental nor unrelated to the efforts of conservative Americans. Although virtually all of the spread of AIDS in Africa is related to heterosexuality, this will be an excuse to pass draconian laws seeking to repress, incarcerate, or execute gay men and women.

In addition to being a slam against the Episcopal Church, the inclusion of Akinola announces that pogroms against gay Africans will have the endorsement of both the Catholic Church and conservative evangelical churches.

We should not expect the calls for criminal prosecution of gay people to be limited to foreign soil. Should such a fervor be fostered internationally, it is unquestionable that this will lend support to efforts to reinstate or bolster oppression here.

It is no longer a matter of curiosity that the Catholic Church has not spoken out against the Kill Gays bill in Uganda. Nor had Dr. Mohler or Dr. Dobson. Nor, indeed, has any signatory of this document.

The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships … there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships … Some who enter into same-sex and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their unions as truly marital … the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships

The Manhattan document does not in any place refer to same-sex relationships without simultaneously mentioning multiple-party relationships. This will no doubt translate to a new commitment on the part of the signatories to try and tie the two together in their political campaigns.

Frankly, I wish them godspeed in that decision. Americans have, I believe, moved beyond the point in which gay couples are viewed as identical to polygamists.

as Christ was willing, out of love, to give Himself up for the church in a complete sacrifice, we are willing, lovingly, to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable treasure that is marriage.

This probably tells us nothing but the extent to which these people are self-righteous and truly deeply smarmy. They are willing, lovingly, to sacrifice your life and freedom and equality, not their own. Oh how loving. Oh how Christ-like.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.

There are, as we all know, no requirements for any churches or ministers to act contrary to their faith. We have long since debunked their claims of oppression and shown them to be nothing more than a retraction of special privilege when the religious groups in question wanted to use taxpayer dollars to discriminate against gay taxpayers. There are no instances in their recitation in which religious groups were forced to compromise in any areas of faith in the administration of their own funds or time.

That is of no consequence. Liars lie. We expect the morally bankrupt to behave without integrity.

But what I think we can anticipate, based on their conclusion, is a concerted effort at political stuntery. A dedication to dishonesty. And an ongoing campaign of lies.

As a Christian, it distresses me to see the name of my faith and the mantle of its history usurped by those who have no respect for its greater principles but instead gleefully glom onto its darker bloody history. Rather than exalt in the liberties that have evolved from Christian thought, they seek to equate the faith with its most prejudicial, superstitious, exclusionary and dictatorial moments.

But perhaps something good may come of this.

It is possible that out of this declaration of war, the moderate and liberal branches of the faith may find common cause, if nothing else in defense of their own good name. Perhaps they will decide that they have a purpose and meaning in modern America and will let go of residual guilt and angst and take up the mantle of protector of the oppressed and champion of justice and mercy.

Let us hope and pray that they do.

Newsweek Essay Draws Howls of Protest

Jim Burroway

December 9th, 2008

Anti-gay activists are pulling their hair out over Lisa Miller’s essay in Newsweek, in which she lays out a religious case for same-sex marriage. She opens her essay by saying, “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.”

As you can imagine, that didn’t go over well with one particular segment of Christianity. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the Focus on the Family Board of Directors, wrote:

Many observers believe that the main obstacle to this agenda [of allowing same-sex marriage] is a resolute opposition grounded in Christian conviction. Newsweek clearly intends to reduce that opposition.”

That was one of the calmer reactions. Tony Perkins of the Family “Research” Council denounced it as “yet another attack on orthodox Christianity.” The Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association called it “one of the most biased and distorted pieces concerning homosexual marriage ever published by any major news organization.” Not surprisingly, he also is calling on his followers to inundate Newsweek with emails.

And Peter LaBarbera, not one to be outdone, called the essay a “scandalous hit piece” and an “embarrassing attempt to make a Biblical case for sodomy-based ‘marriage.’” (See why we have an award named in his honor?) And Peter’s pal, Matt Barber responded, “You know, scripture says woe to those who call evil good and good evil, and I say woe to Newsweek for even printing this drivel.”

Part of the outrage stems from the fact that anti-gay activists have tried for years to couch their opposition to same-sex marriage on sociological research to make their point — research that, as we have pointed out many times, they have distorted with amazing consistency. But by calling on science instead of the Bible, they seek to inoculate themselves from charges of trying to impose their religious views on others. “See? We’re not religious zealots. Science supports us,” they like to say. Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, repeated this line in saying, “The arguments that are used are often not biblical arguments. They are secular arguments, arguing about marriage as being a civic and a social institution, and that societies have a right to define marriage.” And Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, claimed, “We’re not trying to take the Bible and put a bill number on it and legislate it.”

But when they are talking among themselves, religious arguments are firmly at the fore, whether it’s LDS Elder M. Russell Ballard speaking of the “central doctrine of eternal marriage” or Richard Land himself explaining with an apparently straight face that what he calls the global warning “hoax” is simply due to “cycles of nature that God has allowed in the cosmos.” Neither of these positions sound very scientific to me.

But the religious face is not the public face that these religiously-motivated leaders want to present. And by having to respond to Lisa Miller’s essay, they are forced to publicly defend the religious basis for their beliefs, which annoys a few of them to no end.  Watch how Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse pivots when asked about the Newsweek essay:

“Beyond the Scriptural distortion, the article distorts the pro-marriage and pro-family movement that is solidly grounded on sociological research about family structures that contribute to the well-being of women and children.”

She then goes on to mischaracterize what “experts agree.”

But the other part of the outrage also seems clearly aimed at someone who really did intrude onto their home turf. After all, in the same-sex marriage debates, only one small group of Christians are presumed to be allowed to use the Bible — when they think nobody else is looking. Anti-gay activists behave as though the Bible is solely their possession and no one else’s — including other Christians who read the same Bible and come to different conclusions. It’s okay for anti-gay opponents to turn outside their own sphere of authority — science — to make their point. But now that Lisa Miller has taken them on in their own home turf, they’ve let loose with their persecution complex and complained that they– and by extension all of Christianity, since they presume to speak for all Christians – have been “attacked.” 

Which reminds me of a great and appropriate graphic making its way around the Internet:

Dr. Albert Mohler and the Battle Over Language

Timothy Kincaid

October 24th, 2008

Dr. Albert Mohler and I seldom agree about issues surrounding the intersection of sexuality and religion. But he is undoubtedly one of the more thoughtful opponents of gay equality.

In his first installment on the importance of the issue of gay marriage, Dr. Mohler stepped outside the culture war tactic of falsifying anecdotes and demonizing gay people and instead identified the central theme of the conflict between gay people and those whose religion condemns gay people: human dignity and the future of our civilization.

I found his second commentary to be less insightful. In this effort he sought to use argumentum ad populum to support his theological position. He divided the world between those persons – and then those nations – that are supportive of gay people and those that are not, claiming that his majority status supported his theological thinking. Sadly, he did not notice that this put him in the company of Muslim theocracies, dictators and despots, and third world nations. Nor did he not notice that – in contrast – he had to a greater or lesser extent placed gay people in the company of all of Christendom.

But in his third discussion on gay marriage, Mohler returns to an intellectual and perceptive analysis of what legal gay marriage may mean to the community in which we live.

Now, Mohler simply cannot resist repeating the myths, misstatements, and fabrications that are churned out by the anti-gay industry. Some he debunks (in a polite way), some he “clarifies” so as to make them less false, and some he accepts at face value.

For example, Mohler does note that California schools do not necessarily teach sex education; but he still repeats the talking points about marriage licenses containing “Partner A” and “Partner B”. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he simply has not been informed that “Bride” and “Groom” are returning to the forms in less than a month, regardless of the results of the election.

But setting aside the anti-gay mantra of imagined grievances that flood his third installment, Mohler makes a point which is, to me, about the only argument against marriage equality that merits attention.

Language is, as we now know, integral to a culture. In fact, anthropologists such as the influential Clifford Geertz refer to human culture as a “cultural-lingustic system.” The language and the culture are inseparable. Each influences the other, and together they produce an entire system of meaning.

Mohler, in essence, concedes that the difference made by legal marriage is one of vocabulary and explains why this issue of nomenclature is worth anti-gays contributing tens of millions of dollars.

Given the state’s huge population and cultural influence, all eyes are now on California. But so should be our ears. Do we hear a shift in the language coming? If so, the language will change far more than vocabulary and word usage.

Civilizations are built on careful and necessary distinctions. As an institution, marriage has been defined throughout history as a heterosexual union. Marriage is so central to our civilization that its related words have become equally essential. Words like “husband” and “wife” have been necessary to understanding our stories, our laws, our families, our social arrangements, and our aspirations. Transform marriage into a homosexual institution, and the vocabulary no longer works.

Mohler is saying the same thing that those who favor equality are saying: words have meanings. And the word marriage carries a cultural association far more important than just hospital visitation and inheritance rights.

And in this Mohler has identified the one real change that truly impacts opposite-sex couples: ownership of language. No longer does “husband” denote heterosexuality. To say that someone is a family man or a newlywed or happily married no longer can serve as code for “he’s employable” or “he’s one of us”.

I agree with Dr. Mohler that words define our stories, our laws, our families, our social arrangements, and especially our aspirations. But his underlying premise is one that I find abhorrent.

Distilled to its elements, Mohler’s argument is this:

Marriage is a differentiating term. And limiting the use of that term to heterosexuals will justly place limits on the stories, laws, families, and especially the aspirations of gay people. And that is a good thing. If gay couples are restricted from calling their relationships “marriage” they can be set apart and condemned. They should not aspire to be treated like me.

Now, of course, he does not put it in those terms. He’s neither a fool nor intentionally insulting. But behind his insistence on owning the words “marriage” and “husband” and “wife” is a proprietary instinct not based on his own reflections but rather on gay exclusions.

He wants not only to retain the word “husband”, which he undoubtedly would, but to retain it to the exclusion of those who are not married to a woman. He sees this label as something that sets him apart and if same-sex couples can use it then he’s lost a tool to identify and exclude them.

However, within Mohler’s warnings, I take encouragement.

For I look around me and see that culture has already accepted the notion of same-sex couples. Television, movies, music, and literature all make the assumption that gay people form couples under the same terms and conditions as heterosexuals. And, as Mohler noted, the relationship between culture and language is inseparable.

As more Americans come to see gay couples as identical to their relationships, language will adjust. Marriage will be accepted terminology which will, undoubtedly, result in continued adaptation of stories, laws, families, and aspirations.

As, indeed, in many ways it already has. Young kids coming out today dream of marriage and a fairytale life not unlike that of their classmates. They aspire to honesty, self worth, and advancement based on their merits, unhindered by discrimination or bigotry. And heterosexual kids today have expectations of their gay friends and siblings that mirror those placed on themselves.

Our stories, our families, and our aspirations have already been changed. In time, law and language will have no choice but to follow.

Mohler Misstates Christian Support for Same-Sex Couples

Timothy Kincaid

October 20th, 2008

In second part of his series about same-sex marriage, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to make two points.

The first is a rather bold assertion that only a small minority of Christians see room within Scripture to allow for a cultural recognition of same-sex unions. The second is that only a small portion of the world’s nations offer such recognition. He presents each as evidence of the other.

Dr. Mohler relies on a premise that is troublesome to those who recall the history of Christian faith. He implies that majority interpretation equals correct interpretation. This approach to faith is not one that I would like to apply to the history of Christianity or theological positions ranging from indulgences, papal infallability, slavery, the divine right to rule, or the civil routing of heresy, all of which held strong support within Christendom at various points.

But, perhaps more difficult for Dr. Mohler’s argument, is that it is based on false assumptions.

Same-sex marriage is, for now, legal in three of fifty states in the United States. Beyond our borders, it is legal in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, Canada and Norway. This represents a very small percentage of the world’s population. Same-sex marriage is, by any measure, the exception rather than the rule. Even when legalized civil unions and domestic partnerships are thrown into the mix, the countries that consider same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages to be equal before the law represent a small percentage of the world’s nations.

Mohler’s discussion is centered around Christianity and cultural effect.

And, considering such, we should only apply his reasoning to Christian nations and those strongly impacted by Christian thought. Surely, the cultural decisions of Quatar or Thailand have no reflection on whether Christianity as a whole accepts or rejects same-sex unions.

So then, the question is whether Christian nations have accepted or rejected same sex couple recognition. And in that question, Mohler is overly optimistic, both currently and with all reasonable projections.

Eliminating nations in which Christianity is not the dominant cultural force – Asia, North Africa, the middle east – we have the following geographic areas to consider (generally, though with some exceptions): Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

In Europe, nearly all of the nations in Western Europe offer either marriage or other recognition of same-sex partners. Ireland and Austria are in the process, and only Italy is a hold-out. Eastern Europe and the Baltic States are less gay-friendly, but they are also significantly less influential in world affairs or in the establishment of theological trends. There may well be a seminary in Moldova that will direct Christian thought for the next millenium, but I rather doubt it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is indeed hostile to its gay citizens. With one notable exception. South Africa is by far the dominating influence in Southern Africa. Its economic productivity towers overs its far poorer neighbors and its neighbors are impacted by its weath and culture. And in South Africa, marriage is recognized between same-sex couples.

Australia is in the process of instating a national registry to recognize same-sex couples. New Zealand has such a registry in place.

South America is a predominantly Catholic continent. Yet it is surprisingly becoming a welcoming place for same-sex couples. The nations of Ecuador and Uruguay both offer civil unions recognition, as do states in Argentina and Brazil. If trends continue, it is likely that much of South America will provide civil protections to same-sex couples within the next decade.

North America is comprised of three large nations, several small Carribean island nations, and a sting of nations connecting the large North American landmass with South America. And it is this continent that draws much of Mohler’s attention – and ours as well. Canada recognizes marriage. One of the states in Mexico offers civil unions, as does Mexico City. In the United States, three States offer marriage and seven others provide civil unions, domestic partnerships, or reciprocal benefits. And additional three recognize out-of-state marriages. Currently 92 million Americans, or 30%, live in a state in which they can obtain recognition for their same-sex relationships.

So if we look collectively at Christendom, we do not see a picture of rejection of same-sex couples. We see, instead, that the more affluent and industrialized a Christian nation becomes, the more likely it is to value its gay citizens. We see trends indicating that soon most of Europe, Australia, and the Americas will offer some form of recognition to same-sex couples. One might even argue that the more “Christian” a nation is (as opposed to Muslim or other religions), the more accomodating it is to gay couples.

Dr. Mohler may wish to warn the nation that recognition of gay citizens places it among a minority in the World. But he fails to mention that others in that minority are Canada, Great Britain, Australia, France and Spain while his “vast majority” of nations includes those that are not Christian – such as Iran, China, and Libya – or are, shall we say, less influential nations such as Latvia, Jamaica, and Nigeria.

If the States continue to refuse recognition of same-sex couples, they will soon be nearly alone among their close friends to do so.

Mohler Sees the Bigger Picture

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Timothy Kincaid

October 17th, 2008

In the world of anti-gay activism, there are those who will say or do anything to advance their anti-gay agenda. Integrity has long since been discarded and honesty always take a back seat to insinuation, innuendo, and sometimes blatant lies.

Take, for example, a recent outing by first graders to celebrate the marriage of their teacher to her wife. The bare facts, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, are these:

  • The lesbian teacher had not requested that her students attend the ceremony.
  • A parent decided that it would be good for the students to go congratulate their teacher and came up with the idea for the outing.
  • The interim director approved the trip as a “teaching moment”.
  • Parental permission was required and two families opted not to have their children attend. They remained at school with another class.
  • The children went at noon, rode a public bus, and walked one block to the courthouse. The trip did not significantly diminish their scholastic endeavors.
  • The children did not attend the wedding, but waited outside the courthouse and threw rose petals when the teacher came out. She was surprised and pleased.
  • At least one child wore a “No on 8″ button which reflected the political views of her parents.

This story has delighted the anti-gay industry. Writers have distorted the story and passed it on for others to take it even further from the truth.

OneNewNow falsely states:

For the school-sponsored trip, 18 first-graders — ages 5 and 6 — were taken to San Francisco City Hall to witness the wedding of their teacher and her lesbian partner.

Yes on 8′s Chip White told CNSNews:

“The other side claims that we’re lying (when we say) that same-sex marriage will be taught in schools. This field trip shows not only will same-sex marriage be taught in schools, but it already is being taught in schools,” he said.

Concerned Women for America’s Leslie Smith claimed

Conservative and liberal critics alike are decrying the use of taxpayer money to bus the students to the ceremony under the auspices of “education.”

CWA’s Wendy Wright went beyond getting the facts wrong and blatantly lied when she said

And it didn’t take long for activists to go straight to children to advance their agenda, as if other people’s children are merely pawns.

Consistent through out the repeating and retelling of this story is a need on the part of anti-gays to create a situation that did not occur. Their desire to win an election has vastly overpowered any instinct towards telling the truth.

But there are some individuals with whom I sharply disagree but who also try to keep their claims this side of fraudulent. They may take positions that I find contrary to both Christian principle and American philosophy, but their words are not generally dishonest – or at least not blatantly so.

One such person is Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

Mohler has also reviewed the story about the San Francisco children and found it disturbing. But Mohler’s distress is not based in bogus taxpayer bus expenses or in the pretense that the will of parents was disregarded. He does not rant about “exposed to the ceremony” or other misstatements of fact. Dr. Mohler has a broader concern.

Human society is a complex reality, but certain constants have framed that reality for human beings. One of those constants has been the institution of marriage. The respected status of the heterosexual pairing, set apart for exclusive rights and respected for its functions for the society, is among the most important of those constants. Even where deviations from this pattern occur, they are of interest merely for the fact that they are deviations from this norm.

The legalization and normalization of same-sex marriage undermine that constant. What had been a clear picture now becomes confusing. Marriage had been universally understood to be heterosexual. Now, it is something else. The picture is further confused by alienating the heterosexual breeding and parenting function from marriage. Not only does marriage appear now to be what it never was before, the essential functions of marriage are up for grabs.

The pictures in the mind change.

What Dr. Mohler rightly notes is that this battle is not truly over first grade field trips. It isn’t really over parental rights or churches being sued.

What the battle over the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is about is the cultural recognition of same-sex unions as part of the definition of marriage. It’s a reflection of a society that no longer views gay persons as objectionable or inferior and which no longer gives preference and privilege to the institution of heterosexuality.

Those of us who favor equality emphatically state that the State cannot treat citizens dissimilarity. And that marriage is a civil right which cannot be eliminated to meet the demands of some churches’ doctrines.

But although Mohler is talking about Proposition 8 and encouraging its passage, that isn’t really at the heart of his complaint. It isn’t so much that a state has allowed marriage as it is that a society has rejected his moral argument.

The battle over Proposition 8 is a struggle over some of the most fundamental principles of life, society, and meaning. In the eyes of same-sex marriage advocates the battle is for equality, dignity, and respect for homosexual relationships. In the eyes of same-sex marriage opponents, the battle is for the preservation of an institution essential for human happiness and thriving.

Both sides in this debate understand that issues right at the core of human dignity are at stake. Each side understands that the decision on this question will shape the future of our civilization.

And though Mohler writes his piece to rally the troops, I think he knows that even if he wins the battle that is this proposition, he has lost the war. Mohler knows that his church, and many others, have for years appealed to the people. They have preached sermons. They have staged rallies. They have knocked on doors and done good works and even reverted to cries of hellfire and damnation.

And society has listened to their “good news” and found it neither good nor news. Their appeal to tradition and a literal interpretation of Genesis, their insistence on sexual rules that seem to be based on nebulous morality rather than on pragmatic approaches to pregnancy, disease, and emotional health, their conflation of religion and partisan politics, and their efforts to control those around them have caused conservative evangelical Christians to become viewed with hostility and distrust.

If their brand of Christianity is to be relevant to the world around it, they need to find a message that most will find to be helpful and useful to their lives. Because today’s youth have access to more information and shared experiences than ever before, appeals to ignorance or baseless dogma will doom a church for future generations.

Insistence on anti-gay dogmatism in a culture that is coming to value and respect their gay neighbors may alienate an entire generation. And I find within Mohler’s writing a suggestion that he may on some level recognize that Southern Baptists run the risk that it may be too late.

As he noted:

It turns out that parents had the right to use an “opt out” provision to keep their children at the school, and not at the ceremony at City Hall. According to the paper, two families did just that. Two. Eighteen students participated in the field trip. This, you must understand, is the new normal.

Give Us Your Opinions: What Should The APA Symposium Have Looked Like?

Jim Burroway

May 14th, 2008

Yesterday, I wrote about the deficiencies I saw in the make-up of the canceled APA Symposium, “Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension.” Dr. David Scasta, the organizer of the symposium, saw my piece and left a thoughtful comment. I want to raise that comment in this post and ask you to share your thoughts on what a useful symposium might look like.

One important thing to remember is this: The symposium was not structured as a “debate.” I didn’t call it that in my post, but I didn’t clarify what it was exactly. It wasn’t a debate. Each participant had a topic on which they would talk on for a few minutes, and then questions would be entertained from the audience — at least that’s how I understand it.

Here is Dr. Scasta’s comment:

Dear Mr. Burroway,

I have read your observations regarding the symposium which I organized. Let me first complement your organization for its stated goal because it could easily be used as a mantra for the symposium. I have taken the liberty of repeating such verbatim because I think it is so well put:

“In the heat of the debate, several things have been lost. We’ve lost the ability to look at the situation calmly, rationally and with civility. We’ve lost the ability to oppose other viewpoints without demonizing those who hold them. We’ve lost the ability to know who is telling the truth and who is practicing deception or spreading falsehoods. We’ve lost the ability to treat each other with respect and dignity. We’ve lost a lot. Box Turtle Bulletin exists to help address this problem. I hope to shed some light, with honesty and integrity, and without rancor. I hope to earn your trust in what we report, and your respect in how we report it.”

I have been distressed that the media hype has so grossly mischaracterized the symposium. The symposium was portrayed unfortunately as a “debate.” All of the panel members on the symposium agreed that it was not to be a debate and that our goal was to be able to present our views in a collegial way that opened discussion instead of angry debate — exactly what the Box Turtle stands for.

All on the panel have also shown a willingness to make some concessions in their belief system when they are presented with new information and perspectives. Dr. Throckmorton, for instance, has distanced himself from his film, “I Do Exist.” A few copies are still available for historical purposes but he has clearly changed some of his views about the appropriateness or likelihood of change. By the same token, I have called into question some of the “scientific facts”” in the film that I helped to fund and create: “Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement.” It is not that I do not support the message of the film (that gay people of faith who go through reparative therapies become free when they shake off the chains of dogma and discover an accepting God). It is just that one of the studies seems to imply more “science” than is justified — a point that was effectively pointed out by Dr. Throckmorton. Dr. Mohler has taken extensive heat among his Southern Baptist constituency for suggesting that homosexuality might not be a choice. His concept that a cure for homosexuality should be sought, in the same way that a cure is being sought for Huntington’s chorea, is a concept which deserves fuller discussion. Perhaps as a physician I can give him a different perspective. Whether or not my arguments are persuasive, I can tell you that I have no doubt that Albert Mohler will give me a full and fair hearing and will respond with both insight and incisive thinking. And, he will put me to my proofs. I also believe that, if he is persuaded otherwise, he is the type of person who has the strength and moral fortitude to stand up for what he believes, even when it contradicts what he is “suppose” to believe.

The goal of the symposium was not to settle questions about reparative or change therapies. I do not know where you got the information that the panel was a “response to the APA’s decision to form a working group to review its stance on ex-gay therapy.” This statement is false — completely false. The Assembly of the APA (the legislative body of which I am a member) has asked that ALL position statements be reviewed and updated every five years. We are going through that process now. I sit on the Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues of the APA which is reviewing all of the statements related gay and lesbian issues. I can assure you with absolute certainty that the APA does not have a working group to reassess its view on ex-gay therapy and there is absolutely no desire in my committee to change the current stance. My symposium would have addressed how religion colors therapy with gays and lesbians as a separate dimension from therapy; it would not have posited any substantive change in APA position papers on the subject. I have the advantage of knowing the positions that the panel speakers would have taken. It is unfortunate that I was compelled to withdraw the symposium because I believe that rational people would realize that the ultimate outcome of the symposium would have been less change therapy, not more, if it had been allowed to proceed.

The issue is not over. There are still legions of lesbian and gay people of faith who say to mental health professionals, “I understand that mental health professionals believe I should accept myself as I am; but, if I do that, I am damned.” It is my goal to find a path out of that conundrum. To do so, we have to begin talking respectfully and rationally with people of faith — including some former enemies. It is time to stop preaching to the choir; but rather to enter into the lions’ den — and tame lions. If your are truly committed to Box Turtle’s goals of talking reasonably to our opponents without demonizing them, we are uncannily on the same page and I ask you for your help and guidance with this project.

David Scasta, M.D., DFAPA

Scasta, D. (2007). “John E. Freyer, M.D., and the Dr. H Anonymous Episode.” Ch. 1, in Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: An Oral History. (J. Marino and J. Drescher, Eds.). Haworth Press; New York

Scasta, D. (1998). “Historical perspectives on homosexuality.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):3-17.

Scasta, D. (1998) “Issues in helping people come out.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):87-98.

Scasta, D. (1998) “Moving from coming out to intimacy.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):99-111.

So readers, here’s the question: If you think a symposium with participation from both sides is a good thing (and I think it is), what do you think should be the makeup of such a symposium? I’ll offer my thoughts later today in the comments to this post.

Discuss! I am especially interested in input from those who support the goals of sexual reorientation therapy as well as those who are opposed. But as a corollary, and to ensure people feel safe in providing their thoughts on the subject, I will ask that everyone be respectful per our Comments Policy.

APA Symposium’s Critical Flaw: What About The Ex-Gay Survivors?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the opinion of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

May 13th, 2008

Don’t you hate it when you know that people are talking about you and you’re not there? And don’t you hate it even more when they’re talking about something that’s directly relevant to your experience, and that the whole point of their conversation is to arrive at conclusions about how to deal with you in the future? And you’re not invited to be a part of the conversation?

I know I do. But the now-canceled American Psychiatric Association Symposium “Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension” was about to do just that.

The symposium, as the title suggests, was intended to discuss the intersection of faith and therapy, with special consideration to issues surrounding homosexuality. One particular topic was likely to dominate the discussion: efforts to change sexual orientation through therapeutic means. After all, this panel’s formation came as a response to the APA’s decision to form a working group to review its stance on ex-gay therapy.

The panel was organized by Dr. David Scasta, past president of the APA’s Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Also participating would have been Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who defends sexual reorientation therapy for those who want it, while recognizing that some forms can be harmful. Together they were to have covered the “therapy” aspects of what might have been a interesting exchange (although it would have been grossly incomplete for reasons I’ll get into in a moment).

But the panel was doomed from the start with the participating of two starkly polarizing figures representing the “religious dimension” of the panel. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Rev. Albert Mohler was to be one participant. He has been a stridently vocal advocate for sexual reorientation therapy, so much so that he even approved of prenatal therapy if such a thing were to exist — which, of course, it doesn’t. What contribution he might have had to a symposium which was supposed to bring “scientists and clinicians” together is very unclear.

Providing “balance” for the other side would have been Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican community. He too is a very odd choice. Bishop Robinson may be famous for his groundbreaking position in the church, but there’s no indication that he has any background for speaking about sexual reorientation therapy. Against Dr. Throckmorton and Rev. Mohler (who often speaks in support of reorientation therapy), Rev. Robinson would have been very much out of his element. No wonder Focus On the Family was so excited to mischaracterize the event as a “debate” between Robinson and Mohler to validate their position on sexual reorientation therapy.

That would have left Dr. Scasta as the only one who would have had even a remote possibility of speaking knowledgeably about reorientation therapy as an LGBT-affirming advocate. But unlike Throckmorton, Scasta has not published anything himself concerning sexual reorientation therapy that I’m aware of. With his background as editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, he may have been able to hold his own just fine, but I’ve not been able to find anything which speaks to his knowledge on this particular subject.

We were about to hear a lot of people talking about people who tried to change their sexual orientation, but it wasn’t clear that we were going to hear a lot of informed people talking about them. And worse, in setting up the symposium they left out the most important perspective: ex-gay survivors. This seems to happen all too often. Christine Bakke, ex-gay survivor and a Beyond Ex-Gay organizer, put the problem this way:

What got lost was the actual people who were doing [the ex-gay ministries]. It’s like a kid in a custody battle.

Well they’re definitely not kids anymore. Over the past year, we’ve seen hundreds of former ex-gays come forward in something that is beginning to resemble a movement. Before now, we all knew they existed — we certainly talked about them a lot — but we are just now starting to hear from them directly in pretty significant numbers — as well as from former ex-gay leaders and spokespersons. The days when they were seen but not heard are clearly over. Their experiences in ex-gay therapy are far too compelling to ignore, and their rapidly growing numbers in just a few short years suggests that many more will follow.

But so far, their existence was been largely overlooked or, worse, dismissed as a stunt. When survivors organized their very first conference in Irvine, California, more than two hundred people showed up. But Exodus International president Alan Chambers responded with snide comments while Focus On the Family spread bold-faced lies about the gathering. Even Dr. Throckmorton cast doubts on the ex-gay survivors motives during their historic, first-ever meeting.

Clearly this new movement has touched a nerve. Before now, the ex-gay movement and their defenders have had a free hand in defining the parameters of debate with very little effective opposition. Beginning in the 1990′s they embarked on a massive television and billboard campaign to convince the world that “ex-gays do exist” and “change is possible.” Exodus International took out full-page ads in national newspapers, and ex-gay ministry leader Michael Johnston appeared in television commercials. This, of course, was before his downfall in 2003 when it was learned that he had been hosting orgies, taking drugs and practicing unsafe sex without disclosing his HIV status.

Dr. Throckmorton himself has contributed to this publicity effort. In 2004, he produced the video “I Do Exist,” which he encouraged churches and schools to show as a counter to National Coming Out Day. In it, he described studies which he claimed documented cases “of people who had changed from completely homosexual to completely heterosexual.” The video featured several ex-gays including Noé Gutierrez, Sarah Lipp, Joanne Highley, and Cheryl and Greg Quinlan. All of these were presented as though they were ordinary, run-of-the-mill ex-gays who had an interesting story to tell.

But Sarah Lipp certainly isn’t an ordinary humble ex-gay picked at random. Her segments were filmed in Chattanooga, where she happens to be the women’s ministry coordinator for the Harvest USA ex-gay ministry, having founded several ex-gay support groups throughout the mid-South. Joanne Highley also leads an ex-gay ministry in New York. She’s an especially interesting character. She describes her lesbian past as having been “under demonic oppression.” She has also said that she heard a voice telling her that she would be “ministering to homosexuals and Jews.” That, of course, is not on the video, where she instead appears as a nice, kindly, and perhaps even a timid older lady.

Also not on the video is Greg Quinlan’s exuberance for manufacturing public confrontations while representing PFOX. He does that when he’s not acting on behalf of his own Dayton-based Pro Family Network. He and his wife Cheryl were very active in promoting Ohio’s anti-marriage constitutional amendment, which is just one example of how ex-gay leaders routinely leverage their own marriages for political causes against LGBT citizens.

In fact, of the five ex-gays appearing in that video, four of them had a personal vocational stake in promoting ex-gay ministries. Not surprisingly, this fits a well-known pattern. In Spitzer’s famous 2003 ex-gay study of people who claimed to have changed, he reported that “the majority of participants (78 percent) had publicly spoken in favor of efforts to change homosexual orientation, often at their church,” and that “nineteen percent of the participants were mental health professionals or directors of ex-gay ministries.” Exodus president Alan Chambers and vice-president Randy Thomas were just two of those participants.

The only person featured in ”I Do Exist” who was not an anti-gay activist was Noé Gutierrez. He proclaimed himself to be “entirely heterosexual” in the video, but after the video’s release he announced that he regretted that his story became a part of “the divisive message of the ex-gay movement.” In a later update to his web site, he described how quickly Exodus International banned him from their annual conferences after he expressed doubts about ex-gay ministries, and some of the harms that he experienced as a fallout from his participation in ex-gay ministries — harms that are remarkably familiar to many ex-gay survivors I’ve talked to over the past year.

Nevertheless, “I Do Exist” is still available for sale on Dr. Throckmorton’s web site.

So yeah, we’ve all heard a lot from ex-gays. They’ve had free reign for nearly two decades to use their lives as examples to argue against advancing the civil rights of their fellow LGBT citizens. And until now, they’ve enjoyed something of a monopoly on the public square. Sure, there have always been activists who argued against sexual reorientation therapy, but many of them — as well-intentioned as they may have been — were often demonstrably uninformed about the movement, and that has diminished both their credibility and their effectiveness.

But now we have real live former ex-gays who, in concordance with their faith, tried to change their lives to fit the only mold their faiths allowed them — only to find themselves outside the false promise of “change” and, worse for some of them, feeling as though they were beyond reconciliation with God. These are people who really tried to bring their lives into congruence with their faiths, and yet this is where their ex-gay experiences left them. Ex-gays and their supporters have been speaking for decades now; it is way past time now for survivors to have a place at the table.

Talking is good, but this forum would not have included the very people who most needed to be heard. Ex-gay survivors really do exist, to borrow a phrase. And until these survivors are invited to speak to those who would presume to speak about them, a critical part of the conversation will remain unheard. And that won’t do anyone any good.

Controversial Ex-Gay Symposium Cancelled

Jim Burroway

May 2nd, 2008

Gay City News confirmed from Dr. Jack Drescher that the controversial symposium, “Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension,” planned for May 5 has been canceled. That confirmation follows earlier reports that one of the panelists, Bishop Gene Robinson, had pulled out of the event.

The symposium was organized by Dr. David Scasta, former president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, and was planned to coincide with next week’s American Psychiatric Association conference in Washington, D.C. Controversy over the panel centered around the participation of Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who has been an active proponent of sexual reorientation therapies.

Also scheduled to be part of the panel was Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He has previously supported the use of a prenatal test to undo an embryo’s homosexual orientation.