The surprise came when Perkins drew a correlation between the repeal of the Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and the recent Secret Service scandal involving agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia. Following is an excerpt of what he said during the interview:
Just for a moment step back and look at the implications of this, over the weekend we saw the news of the President’s Secret Service detail in Colombia and the issue of them hiring prostitutes and now the White House is outraged about that. It was actually legal; it was legal there to do that, so why should we be upset? Well, the fact is we intuitively know it’s wrong, there’s a moral law against that.
The same is true for what the President has done to the military enforcing open homosexuality in our military. You can change the law but you can’t change the moral law that’s behind it.
So what you have is you have a total breakdown and you can’t pick and choose. Morality is not a smörgåsbord; you can’t pick what you want. I think you’re absolutely right, this is a fundamental issue going forward because if we say ‘let them do what we want,’ what’s next? You cannot maintain moral order if you are willing to allow a few things to slide.
Yes, it’s polarizing, rigid, judgmental rhetoric. But we really shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, given the opportunity (and a complete absence of personal standards) I could have scripted Perkins’ diatribe. After all, it employs two tried-and-true talking points in the conservative fundamentalist platform:
- Morality is an all-or-nothing absolute that must be defended, not discussed, and;
- If all else fails, blame the gays.
The convenience of this position is that one can hurl verbal stones from behind the veil of moral righteousness toward any perceived transgression that steps out of line with a preordained set of moral rules. The risk, as we’ve seen in many cases before, is that when (not if) those figureheads for moral superiority falter, they fall victim to their own offensive on the rest of the culture.
What is baffling to me isn’t that Perkins blames gay people for the Secret Service hiring Colombian prostitutes (I mean, come on, A plus B equals C, right?). Rather, it’s the widespread self-deception required to make such a system work.
First, there’s the self-deception about one’s own superior moral capacity. Not only have we seen too many of the figureheads from this movement fall hard; it
seems that when they do, it’s often in shockingly deviant ways. Is this because only inherent moral deviants are attracted to such fundamentalism in an effort to forestall the inevitable? Maybe, but I doubt it. Instead, I think it’s the unrealistic persona one is expected to maintain to be accepted in such a group that causes one’s psyche to seek out ways to subvert those rules, knowing deep down inside that it’s a radical set of strictures to begin with.
Second, there’s the age-old conundrum of which Biblical moral laws are absolute and which ones can or should be considered within the context in which they were written? We’ve all heard the jokes about whether opponents of homosexuality ensure that their clothes don’t contain mixed fibers, or that they don’t touch pigskin on the sabbath (sorry Tebow; you’re screwed). There are hundreds of archaic laws that were important at one time, but that folks have deemed inapplicable to our present day culture.
But when it comes to matters of sex, well, it’s just better for everyone if we erect (pardon the pun) a big stone wall and assume that what was considered right and wrong five thousand years ago is forever and always relevant today.
Never mind that the authors of those texts looked at women more as property than as human beings.
Never mind there are strict rules about men marrying their brothers’ wives if their brother dies, thus condoning polygamy.
Never mind that the authors also believed that the male semen contained the entirety of the human embryo/seed within it, and that women were only a receptacle in which the man’s seed would incubate.
Never mind that homosexual acts regularly were used in religious rituals and as a form of military conquest, and that they never even speak of same-sex attraction anywhere in scripture.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
Will such fundamentalism ever disappear? Not likely. But there is the possibility that as we become increasingly diversified and interconnected in our cultures and life experiences that we may increasingly avail ourselves to alternative viewpoints. The risk, however, is that we will use our custom-built social and informational universes to simply reinforce what we already believe, which leads to more staunch fundamentalism on all sides.
It is easy enough to sit back and cluck our tongues contemptuously at the likes of Perkins and Mefferd, and to enjoy a bit of schadenfreude when one of them falls from grace. But they are merely mouthpieces for a much more abstract, yet insidious epidemic. Seeing such figures as complicit victims in a larger broken system affords us at least a bit of the compassion we’re called to afford all of our fellow human beings, despite our differences. It’s hard, and it feels unnatural to do, especially when we don’t feel we’re given the same respect from the “other side.”
But the only alternative seems to be digging our heels in, pounding our chests self-righteously, which ends up sounding an awful lot like the very thing we’re prone to judge.
Splinters and planks. We’re all blinded by something.