Thursday, February 12, 2009

Moving Beyond Lies: Responding to "Ex-Gay" Lies by Claiming the Gay Place at Table

Another update to my recent postings about the American Family Association’s beefed-up outreach to youth through the internet. Pam’s House Blend reported last evening that WOOD-TV, a Grand Rapids news station, has decided not to air the video “Speechless.” This is the AFA video that claims Christians are being silenced in the United States today about which I blogged yesterday ( and

Pam notes that the Human Rights Campaign issued an action alert yesterday about this video. The action alert notes that AFA intends to air this video nationwide, as an opening salvo in a battle against new Congressional pro-equality legislation, and, in particular, against hate crimes legislation to protect gay citizens from violence and discrimination (

The HRC statement names the lies around which AFA is building this campaign to assault a vulnerable group of citizens. These include claims that “Christians” are being denied free speech and arrested for proclaiming the gospel. Linked to the HRC action alert is a video by HRC’s Religion and Faith Program Harry Knox. I find that the Central Valley Yes on Equality website links to my posting about AFA yesterday, with the same video (

Harry Knox’s statement about AFA’s campaign is powerful and unambiguous—he identifies the AFA initiative as one based on lies and distortions:

The truth is that the AFA and their allies have never been speechless when it comes to promoting their own agenda, and that’s driving a wedge in the very places where LGBT Americans work, live, and even pray. They claim to speak from a religious viewpoint, but they pervert the love and kindness that leads millions of Americans of faith to support common-sense hate crimes laws. As we gear up to pass a law that protects millions of Americans from hate violence, we must not allow these sixty minutes of lies and distortions to fuel more hate.

As my first posting today notes, German journalist Mario Kaiser has just published an op-ed piece discussing his reason for resigning from the Catholic church in the wake of Pope Benedict’s rehabilitation of anti-Semite Richard Williamson. For Kaiser, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the implication, in the Vatican response to the revelation of Williamson’s vile anti-Semitism, that Holocaust denial is one possible “position” among others.

Kaiser states, “But there are certain issues I do not want to discuss. I don't wish to discuss if Hitler had a lovely side to him. And I don't ever wish to discuss if the Holocaust really happened.”

Kaiser makes a very important point here, and it’s one that, in my view, applies both to Holocaust denial and to the “ex-gay” myth. Readers may have noted that, several times in recent days, Holocaust deniers have logged onto this blog to stir discussion of whether the Holocaust really happened, of details about what happened that have long since been settled by credible historians, and so forth. You may also have noticed how I chose to handle those attempts to gain a hearing for lies.

Rather than engage points of view that must not be engaged, if we wish to avoid giving them any semblance of legitimacy, I simply took these comments and their links to hate-filled anti-Semitic internet sites and used them as the occasion to tell the truth about the Holocaust. I countered lies with the truth. I blogged about what I have seen with my own eyes.

Arguing with Holocaust deniers about whether the Holocaust actually happened allows these purveyors of lies and hate to gain legitimacy for their lies. It allows them to represent their lies (and the agenda of hate underlying them) as one position among other possible, other thinkable, positions.

My strategy in dealing with those who pretend an interest in various “positions” when their real agenda is to promote noxious lies is simply to turn the tables of the conversation, and speak the truth back. I have learned not to engage arguments that claim to be all about fostering pluralistic discourse but are actually an attempt to shut the conversation down so that a false ideological position can be imposed in the name of truth.

This is a tactic I learned long ago in academic life. It’s a tactic about which I wrote back in the 1990s in an article entitled “Telling It Slant: American Catholic Public Theology and Prophetic Discourse,” Horizons 22 (1995), 88-103. That article takes its cue from Emily Dickinson’s insistence that we’re to tell the truth but tell it slant, since success in circuit lies.

And it’s more than a tactic, really: it’s a means of assuring that what really needs to be said and heard is said and heard, despite the attempts of those who want to control the conversation to keep the truth from being told. Right-wing interest groups have been adroit in recent years about pretending to use the structures of respectful pluralistic conversation regarding important issues to subvert any meaningful pluralistic conversation.

Those on the right with no commitment whatsoever to permit open conversation and a diversity of viewpoints about all kinds of issues—including the place of women in church and society, gender roles, homosexuality, evolution, and on and on—routinely charge anyone who challenges their lies (and names the lies as lies) with betraying the commitment to respectful dialogue. When their lies are identified, they shout about incivility and language that bashes others—even as they themselves engage in the most uncivil agenda of all, one seeking to deny human rights to others, and in ugly broad slurs about the character of those who do not fit the right-wing Christian norm.

As the masthead for this blog indicates, with Bilgrimage, I consider myself on a journey towards truth that needs to be spoken but doesn't get told. When I meet lies dressed as truth on this journey, I consider it important to undress them and deal with them for what they are. I do an injustice to myself and to others journeying with me if I allow lie to posture as truth and do not confront the lie hidden inside its nice clothes—even when I’m accused by those propagating the lie of being unkind or unfair in exposing a lie that is intended to have destructive social consequences.

My profile statement on this blog also says that I’m committed to challenging the religious right’s claim to own God. One of the premier ways in which those of us working to discover and speak the truth in those areas where the religious right insists on systemically distorting public discourse is simply to act as if the barriers imposed by the religious right are not there.

We who are gay are told, for instance, that we have no right to speak in the name of God, or about God, or about the scriptures. A number of websites are reporting today that a gay pastor was asked to give the opening prayer at the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday ( At the end of the day’s legislative session, when a routine motion was made to enter the prayer into the minutes of the session, a legislator who objected to recording any mention of the prayer in the minutes called for a roll call vote.

Twenty legislators voted against recording the prayer. These included controversial Oklahoma legislator Sally Kern, a staunch ally of the religious right and wife of a Baptist minister, who has stated that gay citizens are a greater threat to the nation than terrorism. As Jim Burroway reports in the Box Turtle Bulletin article to which I’ve just linked, nothing about the prayer was controversial. One has to conclude, Burroway thinks, that the rhetoric of Christians on the right who claim to love the sinner while hating the sin is just that: rhetoric and and not an expression of what many in the religious right actually believe.

What this story says to me, loudly and clearly, is that many Christians on the right do not think that an openly gay person is qualified to pray. To use the name of God. To study and write about the scriptures. There is a claim of ownership of God running through the religious right that requires members of that movement to vilify, lie about, undermine, attack, smear, and annihilate gay human beings—in the name of the Lord, of course—and in particular, to do so when a gay human being claims the right to pray, to speak in God’s name, to read and interpret scripture.

As my postings on interpreting the holy stories of the world religions have noted (see, e.g.,, I think that it is crucially important for those of us who are both LGBT and believers to claim our place at the table, as the scriptures are interpreted. The holy stories are our stories, too. They speak to us in ways they cannot speak to the comfortable and sated. We understand the joy of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the thought of the mighty being cast down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up, and of the poor being filled with good things and the rich sent empty away.

It is important for us who are gay and Christian to claim our place at the center and act as if we have as much right to that place as any other Christian has. It is important for us to act as if the barriers are not there, as if the hedge of lies is not barring our entrance, and to speak as if our voice counts, to read and disclose the meaning of the scriptures as though we have as much right to this act of interpretation as any other believer.

As we do that, we begin to build up alternative discourse worlds that simply circumvent the roadblocks of the religious right, and alternative traditions of interpretation that challenge the dominant ones insofar as those bar voices from the margins such as ours. As we claim our right to speak in the name of a God whom we experience as grace in our life journey every bit as much as any other believer experiences that God, we also demonstrate in the most compelling way possible that the lies of the "ex-gay" movement are not one among several “possibilities” for believers, but are what they are: lies. Lies that should be ruled out of bounds every bit as much as Holocaust denial has been ruled out of bounds, and for the same reason: these are lies told to harm people, to diminish their humanity, to make people susceptible to scorn and violence. Such lies absolutely have to be exposed and weeded out in any civil society which seeks to allow everyone a place at the table.

We who are gay have an additional obligation to be concerned about stopping lies like these—noxious attacks on the humanity of others—because one of the groups in our society most susceptible to damage by the lies of the "ex-gay" movement are young folks. Young gay and lesbian folks, struggling to understand their identities in a society still frequently hostile to them. Young folks seeking what every young person seeks: affirmation, love, self-understanding, a place in the community.

The lies of the "ex-gay movement" are especially harmful to young people. They impose on youth a burden in addition to the many burdens the maturation process itself imposes. In fact, they can and do lead to suicide.

I will not “answer” the lies of the "ex-gay" movement here in any detailed way. What I want to note in passing here is simply the obvious: the movement is built around a fundamental lie from which all its other lies flow. That fundamental lie is that we can change our sexual orientations, and that sexual orientation is not an innate, God-given part of a human being’s make-up. On that basis, the "ex-gay" movement has built an entire house of cards, each depicting yet another lie about scripture and theology, the real lives of real gay persons, gay relationships: you name it.

Look through the screen of lies the ex-gay movement tells about gay human beings and you will not see a single recognizable face of a single recognizable gay human being you know. You will see human faces on which a screen of lies have been imposed to distort those faces for the pleasure of the "ex-gay" movement.

The way out? Journeying together towards the truth. Despite those who want to disrupt that journey, because it threatens them and their agendas. Seeking the truth together. Forming alternative communities of discourse and interpretation that claim the center even as we are told that we have no right to a place there. Changing the conversation so that lies appear for what they are and no longer determine the conversation or masquerade as one “position” among many.

Liliana Segura addresses these concerns today in a fascinating article at Alternet about the need to question authority ( She notes that Jerry Burger of Santa Clara University recently replicated the findings of the classic Milgram experiment, in which it was found that an astonishing percentage of people of all walks of life will follow orders of an authority figure and inflict pain on someone else simply because they are told to do so.

Segura points out that though the media is interpreting Burger’s findings to mean that we have a thirst to torture inside us, the real message is about authority—about our unwillingness to challenge authority figures, and our willingness to place ourselves in the hands of an authority figure even when he or she tells us to do what is wrong. She concludes,

But while Milgram so effectively demonstrated the challenge of defying authority, he also showed that subjects were far more likely to do it when they saw other people doing it. He wrote in The Perils of Obedience, "The rebellious action of others severely undermines authority."

"In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, 36 of 40 subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well."

Put in a political context, this is perhaps the most important lesson Milgram has to teach us. The best hope people have of resisting an oppressive system is to validate their experiences alongside other people. There is no more basic antidote to authoritarianism than support, solidarity and community.

Our hope to resist, to overturn lies designed to hurt and build a better, more humane society? Finding others who want what we want—a more humane society—who will no longer tolerate the lies, and who form community and solidarity with us in pursuit of something better.