"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
This frequently cited quote is often misattributed to John Maynard Keynes or Winston Churchill. But since no one knows the originator, I'll claim it as my own. Sometimes when the facts change, I change my mind. Such is the case with this article.
This is not the article I set out to write. The facts – or at least my recollection of the facts – changed and I had to change with them. My original thesis was that several years ago LGBQT activists gave assurances that their agenda did not have to conflict with religious liberty rights and that they rejected any claims that opposing homosexual rights was akin to racial discrimination. I thought they too had once claimed, as law scholar Doug Kmiec said nine years ago, that it was "inconceivable" that "a successful analogy will be drawn in the public mind between irrational, and morally repugnant, racial discrimination and the rational, and at least morally debatable, differentiation of traditional and same-sex marriage."
I had thought the claims that those who opposed homosexual behavior were "bigots" and "essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws" was a recent change in radical rhetoric. But I was wrong.
For several weeks I searched to find a single prominent LGBQT activist who supported religious conscience exemptions for individuals. I could not find a single one. The closest I could find was the view expressed by Chai Feldblum, an LGBT rights activist and current Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2006, Feldblum said:
Sexual liberty should win in most cases. There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner.
While it is nearly impossible to find a LGBTQ activist who put religious liberty ahead of their agenda, it is possible (at least in theory) to find one or two who will denounce the "inconceivable" connection between homosexual activism and civil rights for African Americans. Though I was not able to find them, I assume they must exist. Yet even if they do, that view is definitely not widely shared amongst supporters of homosexual rights.
Instead, there is a concerted effort to vilify religious believers who oppose homosexual behavior. I used to believe such claims were the overheated rhetoric of misguided Christians. And even until recently, I would have disputed that vilification of religious opponents to homosexuality was a widespread phenomena within the community of LGBTQ rights activists and their supporters. But the indisputable fact is that I was wrong: Vilification has been a primary tactic of the homosexual rights movement for at least thirty years.
One of the most influential documents to support this tactic is an article written in 1987 for Guide Magazine. Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote 'The Overhauling of Straight America,' which they later expanded it into a book, After the Ball - How America will conquer its fear and hatred of Gays in the 1990s, that was published by one of the America's largest publishing houses (Doubleday) and became a national bestseller.
If you read Kirk and Madsen's brief, eye-opening essay (and I highly recommend you do), you'll immediately assume it's a parody of the "gay rights agenda." If a modern-day Jonathan Swift set out to satirize the most outrageous ideas about gay activism believed by religious believers, he couldn't have produced anything like this. If it were satire, it would be deemed to outrageous, too demonizing, to be believable. Sadly, the essay wasn't satire but an actual PR blueprint for efforts to gain acceptance of homosexual behavior over the past 30 years.
The essay opens with a clear statement of its aims:
The first order of business is desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights. To desensitize the public is to help it view homosexuality with indifference instead of with keen emotion. Ideally, we would have straights register differences in sexual preference the way they register different tastes for ice cream or sports games: she likes strawberry and I like vanilla; he follows baseball and I follow football. No big deal.
At least in the beginning, we are seeking public desensitization and nothing more. We do not need and cannot expect a full "appreciation" or "understanding" of homosexuality from the average American. You can forget about trying to persuade the masses that homosexuality is a good thing. But if only you can get them to think that it is just another thing, with a shrug of their shoulders, then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won. And to get to shoulder-shrug stage, gays as a class must cease to appear mysterious, alien, loathsome and contrary. A large-scale media campaign will be required in order to change the image of gays in America. And any campaign to accomplish this turnaround should do six things.
The first point of the campaign is to "Talk About Gays and Gayness As Loudly and As Often As Possible":
The principle behind this advice is simple: almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your acquaintances. The acceptability of the new behavior will ultimately hinge on the number of one's fellows doing it or accepting it. One may be offended by its novelty at first–many, in times past, were momentarily scandalized by "streaking," eating goldfish, and premarital sex. But as long as Joe Six-pack feels little pressure to perform likewise, and as long as the behavior in question presents little threat to his physical and financial security, he soon gets used to it and life goes on. The skeptic may still shake his head and think "people arc crazy these days," but over time his objections are likely to become more reflective, more philosophical, less emotional.
The way to benumb raw sensitivities about homosexuality is to have a lot of people talk a great deal about the subject in a neutral or supportive way. Open and frank talk makes the subject seem less furtive, alien, and sinful, more above-board. Constant talk builds the impression that public opinion is at least divided on the subject, and that a sizable segment accepts or even practices homosexuality. Even rancorous debates between opponents and defenders serve the purpose of desensitization so long as "respectable" gays are front and center to make their own pitch. The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome.
And when we say talk about homosexuality, we mean just that. In the early stages of any campaign to reach straight America, the masses should not be shocked and repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself. Instead, the imagery of sex should be downplayed and gay rights should be reduced to an abstract social question as much as possible. First let the camel get his nose inside the tent–only later his unsightly derriere!
Of course this won't be enough, so demonization is necessary:
Would a desensitizing campaign of open and sustained talk about gay issues reach every rabid opponent of homosexuality? Of course not. While public opinion is one primary source of mainstream values, religious authority is the other. When conservative churches condemn gays, there are only two things we can do to confound the homophobia of true believers. First, we can use talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and exposing hatred and inconsistency. Second, we can undermine the moral authority of homophobic churches by portraying them as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology. Against the mighty pull of institutional Religion one must set the mightier draw of Science & Public Opinion (the shield and sword of that accursed "secular humanism"). Such an unholy alliance has worked well against churches before, on such topics as divorce and abortion. With enough open talk about the prevalence and acceptability of homosexuality, that alliance can work again here.
This ties in with point #5: Make the Victimizers Look Bad:
At a later stage of the media campaign for gay rights-long after other gay ads have become commonplace-it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To be blunt, they must be vilified. (This will be all the more necessary because, by that time, the entrenched enemy will have quadrupled its output of vitriol and disinformation.) Our goal is here is twofold. First, we seek to replace the mainstream's self-righteous pride about its homophobia with shame and guilt. Second, we intend to make the antigays look so nasty that average Americans will want to dissociate themselves from such types.
The public should be shown images of ranting homophobes whose secondary traits and beliefs disgust middle America. These images might include: the Ku Klux Klan demanding that gays be burned alive or castrated; bigoted southern ministers drooling with hysterical hatred to a degree that looks both comical and deranged; menacing punks, thugs, and convicts speaking coolly about the "fags" they have killed or would like to kill; a tour of Nazi concentration camps where homosexuals were tortured and gassed.
A campaign to vilify the victimizers is going to enrage our most fervid enemies, of course. But what else can we say? The shoe fits, and we should make them try it on for size, with all of America watching.
Most people who have been influenced by Kirk and Madsen's agenda have never even heard of these men. But that's not unusual. As John Maynard Keyes once wrote (a quote that can be attributed to him), "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." (Anyone who doubts the influence of Kirk and Madsen is welcome to try to find an area of their blueprint that was not adopted and implemented by LGBTQ activists over the past 30 years.)
The people who are demonizing Christians for not supporting homosexual behavior-many of whom are Christians themselves-are doing so largely because of the plan that Kirk and Madsen put in place. Presuming themselves to be independent thinkers "quite exempt from any intellectual influence" they are nevertheless carrying out a rather loathsome plan that was put in place before many of them were even born.
This is the reality that religious believers must recognize. We are not facing a new, unexpected challenge to religious liberty. This campaign of vilification was put in place more than three decades ago in order to normalize and institutionalize a life-destroying, soul-crushing form of sinful behavior. We may be shocked that on this issue some Christians are more influenced by an obscure essay they've never read than the book that contains the Word of God. But those are the facts that we must accept.
Fortunately, our blueprint for a counter-response was put in place a couple of thousand years ago.
First, we must not respond to the vilifying of religious believers by vilifying others. Instead, we are to love and pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
Second, we must show love to our neighbor by pleading and encouraging them to oppose engaging in actions that invoke God's wrath (Psalm 5:4-5; Romans 1:18).
Third, we must make it clear that while we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, we cannot endorse it, for then we too have become suppressers of the truth. We must make it clear that we cannot love our neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).
Fourth, we must preach the gospel to our own brothers and sisters who are helping to champion and lead the cause of unrighteousness in whatever forms it takes. We must renew the Christian conscience and develop it into a bulwark against sin. We must be careful that we don't merely focus on those who attempt to excuse and normalize one particular form of sin while we are excusing and normalizing our own preferred forms of sin
We may lose this particular fight against the normalization of homosexual behavior. We may be forced to sacrifice our consciences on an altar of idolatrous sexuality. But if we are forced to do so we should joyfully count it all as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:8). We know that in the age soon to come Christ will triumph over all sin and death, and that those who belong to him will be the only people on the "right side of history."
This column was originally published in Canon and Culture.