The Sally Kern Incident

As I had this awful stomach flu that’s been going around, I wasn’t able to check out the YouTube clips that many bloggers have shared over the past few days. It is just as well. I was already nauseous.

The above clip of Oklahoma representative Sally Kern speaking about homosexuality is disturbing for a number of reasons, and I will try to point them out in a calm, level-headed fashion.

Perhaps the most important point is that she is wrong. She says that no civilization that has embraced homosexuals has lasted more than a few decades. Apparently she has never heard of the Greek civilization, which not only lasted “more than a few decades”, but profoundly influenced most of the major, powerful and successful civilizations that existed from then on, including our own. One doesn’t have to know much about Greek history or literature to know that this civilization was in essence bisexual.

Second, I have yet to meet a homosexual who has tried to convert me to it. Perhaps her claim is an instance of fundamentalists projecting their own proselytizing tendencies onto others.

Third, the Bible has far more to say about injustice and its corrosive effects on society than about homosexuality, and speaks far more clearly about the former issue, but you’ll never hear that from these fundamentalists. They talk about what ‘God’s word says’ when it will get them votes or support their own views. Anyone who believes them when they claim they ‘take the Bible literally‘ needs to get a new baloney-detection kit.

Finally, she seems not to realize that speech of this sort fosters a context in which violent actions can then be overlooked. Very few Muslims are involved in terrorism, but as long as not insignificant numbers of imams talk about the destruction of America, and chatrooms continue to be filled with hate-speech, the few that would actually act have a strong culture of support, which will turn a blind eye when they engage in terrorist acts. So, in short, if anyone should be accused of supporting terrorism, it is Kern. Views like hers have “deadly consequences“.

I wish to put append to this entry a mention of the fact that I’m a Baptist, and share a link to a post by a representative of the Mainstream Baptists in Oklahoma on this subject. Not all of us think as Kern does.

  • http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=33 HalfMooner

    I just now followed your link from ERV’s site. Good for you, James! More people of religion need to speak out against palpable bigotry like Kern’s. I’ve heard very good arguments from moderate secular Humanists who’ve told me that good religious people don’t support that kind of thing, yet I’ve heard far too little from religious people themselves.As a “new atheist,” I extend my greatest respect to you, a Baptist, for speaking out.

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    She and Fred Phelps ought to get together for a glass of milk over a steak some day. Oh wait, that’s also not allowed in Leviticus in the Holiness Code.How speech like this is not deemed hate speech is beyond me.It is another rant without any substantiating evidence. Shameful. The LGBT community I know and with whom I interact daily would ever use this kind of language against even those who hate them. That is evidence to the contrary of what is good for a civilization. Makes you want to talk to her pastor who fed her this stuff.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I assume the “pastor who fed her this stuff” was her husband… :)

  • http://notes-from-offcenter.com Drew

    Half-mooner, look a group called More Light Presbyterians. There are groups like this in all the denominations, but the press has not latched onto them.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09120022296004446232 Dr. Bruce Prescott

    James,Thanks for the link.I appreciate your coming out as a “Baptist” when you speak on this issue. Too many moderate and progressive Baptists keep their faith closeted.Here’s a follow-up to my earlier post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04605470284153454825 phil_style

    “infiltrating councils”. . . classic! I’m sorry I simply can’t take this kind of politics seriously. If a politician spoke like this in NZ (where I’m from) or the UK (where I live now) that would surely be the end of their career. . .James, the blog post you linked to at the end of your note provides a really nice comparison betwen this and other questionable politics.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10326403777027937887 Doug Chaplin

    Nooo! I put you on my blogroll, and then you come out as a Baptist! Talk of unnatural practices! Watching adults take a bath in public might have been an acceptable Graeco-Roman practice ….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04808990274355464303 William Wallace

    James F. McGrath wrote: “Finally, she seems not to realize that speech of this sort fosters a context in which violent actions can then be overlooked.”What violent actions? You seem rather selective on speaking out against speech. ERV’s speech exceeded anything that Kern said. How about directing a reprimand her way?”I wish to put append to this entry a mention of the fact that I’m a Baptist…“This sounds like a racist claiming some his best friends are black. As a Baptist, do you agree with anything Kern said in the youtube video?William Wallace

  • Anonymous

    Please post this on your website, you have my permission.Please sign the petition to get Sally Kern out of Office. Forward to all your friends, post on your blogs!http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/request-to-terminate-sally-kerns-position-house-of-representatives

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07225890125470949454 Bad

    As I blogged, what really gets me is the attempt to hide behind religion and freedom of speech to avoid criticism. The fact that you believe that your ideas about homosexuals are endorsed by the creator of the universe doesn’t make you more or less responsible for those ideas being hideous and wrong. And “well she has a freedom to say what she believes” is not an answer to the question of whether she’s right, right to say it, right to sneakily say it in private while being less direct in public, should be condemned. No one threatened her right to speak: they criticized what she said. Even if she gets thrown out of office (unlikely, sadly) this is not silencing her: it’s how our political system works.Kudos to the message of the video “we’re listening… you don’t speak for me.” It’s a good message, because it avoids scapegoating any party or religion for her views, and just gets right to the heart of the matter that lots and lots of people simply aren’t going to put up with claims like this and not say something.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02239837727739373280 J Myers

    ERV’s speech exceeded anything that Kern said.How on earth could anyone come to such bizarre conclusion? Obsessed with tone and oblivious to content, perhaps?

  • http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=33 HalfMooner

    I’m all for Kern’s right to free speech, even to her hate speech. But I’m also convinced there should be strong political consequences for any “representative” who abuses her office by appealing to fear, divisiveness, and bigotry. The people of Kern’s Oklahoma district should throw out this bum. If they don’t, they deserve to be treated with contempt as redneck knuckle-draggers, and have their district’s businesses boycotted by people who do have a clue about inclusive democracy.

  • http://www.skepticfriends.org/forum/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=33 HalfMooner

    William Wallace wrote:“I wish to put append to this entry a mention of the fact that I’m a Baptist…”This sounds like a racist claiming some his best friends are black.And that, folks, is an absolute classic of brain-dead illogic, Coulter-style smear-tactics — and trivialization of racism. All in one convenient, reeking package. It belongs on “Fundies say the strangest Things.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04808990274355464303 William Wallace

    Let’s try again:What violent actions? You seem rather selective on speaking out against speech. ERV’s speech exceeded anything that Kern said. How about directing a reprimand her way?As a Baptist, do you, Dr. McGrath, agree with anything Mrs. Kern said in the youtube video, surrepticiously recored by The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund?As a Baptist, Dr. McGrath, do you believe the holy bible as originally written is the inerrant word of God?Or, perhaps, are you not really a baptist.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    William, why would I believe something about the Bible that (1) is patently untrue (unless one presupposes the originals were different from the manuscripts we have, in which case the affirmation of their inerrancy simply becomes a convenient way of sidestepping the problems in the texts we have), (2) is not based on the Bible itself and thus is not in any sense a doctrine any Protestant ought to affirm, even though a significant number do, and (3) is not a requirement of Baptists (except in the Southern Baptist Convention since the coup)? You seem to have very little grasp of what the defining characteristics of Baptists are, historically or in the present day. Take a look at the web page of the American Baptists and the Canadian Baptists and tell me where you find an affirmation of inerrancy. Or in your mind does “really a Baptist” mean “a conservative Southern Baptist”?I prefer to throw my lot in with those who understood the Bible in a way that inspired them to free slaves rather than defend the institution…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04808990274355464303 William Wallace

    Ah, okay, you mean you’re a diet Baptist.Which inspires me to start a non-profit: liberal atheist evolutionists for creationism. Then others can write, “you know, not all evolutionists believe in the macro theory of evolution and common descent…, and many atheist believe in God…and some liberals are really conservative..”And if somebody protests: “Hey, you can’t be a creationist and an evolutionist”, I’ll smugly reply “sounds like the ‘no true scotsman’ fallacy” and declare victory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    So most Baptists are ‘diet Baptists’ because they are not ‘your sort of Baptist’? Are you kidding? Is this a joke?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03132972790091524968 ScottE

    William Wallace:That’s very curious. Is there any particular reason your version of what constitutes a Baptist should be regarded as necessarily pure (as your “diet” remark strongly implies), instead of, say, fringe?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04808990274355464303 William Wallace

    I just published a “hate the sin, love the sinner” type entry: Sally Kern attacked for opposing homosexual agendaMy apologies, as I wasn’t aware that diet Baptists existed. Perhaps my problem with this can best be (re)explained with:Which inspires me to start a non-profit: liberal atheist evolutionists for creationism.Clue: I am not a liberal, not an atheist, and not an evolutionist.Then others can write, “you know, not all evolutionists believe in the macro theory of evolution and common descent…, and many atheist believe in God…and some liberals are really conservative..”And if somebody protests: “Hey, you can’t be a creationist and an evolutionist”, I’ll smugly reply “sounds like the ‘no true scotsman’ fallacy” and declare victory.If this is not a sufficient explanation, it will have to remain a mystery to you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hyphoid Logic has a thought-provoking follow-up post on this topic, which includes a letter written by an Oklahoman who knows something about terrorism and its effects.

  • victorseay

    The Bible plainly tells us that homosexuality is sin. It doesnt quibble about it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Victor Seay,Thanks for the ridiculous oversimplification. The fact is, there are only a small handful of references, none unambiguous, although the ambiguities are smoothed over in English translations. I don’t blame the translators, necessarily – one tries to offer a coherent, readable translation for the average reader even in those instances where the original is less clear, rather than have readers feel frustrated. But when people read the Bible in English, make no use of commentaries or other academic resources, and assume that God’s will is as clear as the English translation they are reading, it is a major problem.Be that as it may, the Bible, if it is referring to homosexuality as opposed to something more specific like temple prostituion or pederasty, it gives the penalty as death, which hardly anyone considers appropriate today. The same penalty is in place for a much clearer case in ancient Israel, idolatry, yet in the United States (where I live) we protect the right of Hindus (for instance) to break that commandment. We are not trying to replicate ancient Israel’s view of crime and punishment. And once one admits that honestly, one’s own religious and moral views must be distinguished from what we regard it as society’s role to enforce. And there, clearly, Kern was taking her religious views and treating them as though they are things the state should impose, in violation of the first amendment.The case seems pretty clear cut – much more so than the teaching of the Bible on ‘homosexuality’, your own short, superficial comment notwithstanding.


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