Two months ago, I posted that Americans for Truth About Homosexuality was holding a “Truth Academy” in order to train the next generation of anti-gay-rights activists. Attendees needed to pay a registration fee and get a “recommendation” from a pastor. I wrote that I would gladly pay the fee for anyone who wanted to go.
Ultimately, two people — Maria Pahl and “Perry D’Olia” (a pseudonym) — were accepted into the Academy. They did this using their real names and providing the requested documents. Both were present for the entirety of the academy, with any exceptions listed below.
The opinions expressed are entirely their own. Since there was a lot of overlap in their experience, I’ve used Maria’s writing as the basis for their perceptions of the day itself while Perry’s writing is the basis for the specific lectures.
Maria was late to the Academy this morning. LaBarbera spoke about the two pro-gay people who got into the event. Apparently, the guy who was recording the event posted information about the event already. The spy had said, “I would rather turn Bill Gates’ vast fortune into a giant mountain of pennies and count them, than endure one more tedious anti-gay seminar.” These are the types of comments that I do not feel are constructive. Preston Noell indicated that his recording of the event is a felony. LaBarbera said that it looked like Maria would not be returning and then explained the ‘great lengths’ she went to to get in (a letter from a pastor). He used this as evidence that the opposition will lie and cheat to get ahead.
The trains run later on the weekends, which I hadn’t really realized before Saturday morning. As a result, I found myself running from the train station to the conference at full tilt in order to not be any later than I already was. I took my seat, a little warm from my rush over in the hot weather. I started fanning myself with my binder.
One of the women I had talked to several times over the last couple of days got up from her seat. She grabbed a water bottle from the back of the room and gave it to me, whispering to me that I looked warm, and I should drink something. I smiled and thanked her.
A few minutes later when I had cooled down a bit, I got out my computer to start taking notes. Immediately, an older man tapped me on the shoulder.
“We’re not allowing blogging today,” he whispered. “Please put your computer away.”
I was a little confused, because I hadn’t even begun to type anything yet, but I put my computer away and asked if I could write my notes down instead.
“I’ll have to check on that,” he said.
A minute or so later he came back and with a self-deprecating chuckle he told me, “I don’t know why I even thought that wouldn’t be okay. Of course you can take notes.”
During the breaks in between lectures, lots of people who had never talked to me before were calling me by name and asking to talk to me. But instead of what most had talked to me about at breaks the previous two days (namely, homosexuality, how it’s immoral, and how dangerous it is), I found that everyone was suddenly asking me about my life, the weather, where I was from… just basic pleasantries. A couple asked me where I’d been that morning, and when I explained the train situation to them, a little bit of a hesitant air seemed to go out of their expressions.
Apparently, as I found out later, since I’d shown up an hour late, Peter LaBarbera (and I suppose everyone else) assumed I wasn’t coming. So he explained to everyone that I and the other young man had been recording the previous day, that we were infiltrators from the gay rights movement, and that this is just the type of underhanded tactics one should expect from the LGBT side.
I guess it was a bit of a shock to everyone when I showed up.
The older man who had asked me to put away my computer came up later and asked me what I needed the computer for. I got to explain myself more fully: no, I wasn’t live-blogging, just taking notes, and I hadn’t been live-blogging the previous day either. He seemed satisfied with the explanation and told me it would be fine if I used the computer to take notes.
“Really though,” he said amiably, “do you think if the positions had been reversed, if one of us had gone to an LGBT meeting without identifying ourselves, do you think we would have been allowed to come back?”
I think it was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but I answered anyway.
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, as long as you weren’t being disruptive or anything. I don’t think anyone at any of the LGBT activist meetings I’ve been to would’ve had a problem with it.”
He gave me a bit of a confused and surprised look. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Even though I had been ignored by the speakers on previous days (not that it was on purpose or anything; I just hadn’t really gone to strike up a conversation with any of them), Laurie Higgins and Greg Quinlan both made a point to come and talk to me. Both of them were very pleasant, and I really enjoyed speaking with them. Greg mostly asked me questions about my laptop and whether or not I really liked Macs better than PCs. Laurie broached the subject of why I was there, and when I explained to her that I thought people were too quick to dismiss their arguments offhand and that I thought part of intellectual discourse was understanding your opponent’s point of view, she seemed really happy I was there.
At the end of the day, Peter LaBarbera even apologized for “calling me out” in front of everyone. I told him it was fine. I apologized for seeming to be deceptive. I explained to him that I’d never outright lied, but I had just thought that if he knew I didn’t agree with them, I wouldn’t have been let in to the conference. He admitted that maybe they’d been a bit too harsh in trying to keep disruptive gay activists out. I told him I would e-mail him the article when I finished writing it. All in all, it was quite a nice interchange.
I’d like to think it showed them that there are pro-LGBT people who want to attend their conferences who aren’t disruptive liars and Communists trying to infiltrate and conquer while we twirl our curled mustaches and cackle maniacally.
At the very least, I hope it makes them question some assumptions just a little bit.
Overall, the speakers were quite knowledgeable, although misguided. There really seemed to only be one or two genuinely hateful people there (Kincaid and possibly LaBarbera). The vast majority were loving, but with the presupposition of their religion. I thanked everyone before I left.
[Because there was so much repetition of points made in the previous two days, the notes for these lectures are relatively thin.]
Robert Gagnon, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: “But Jesus Never Said Anything About Homosexuality: Answering ‘Queer Theology’ — New Testament“
Gagnon, once again, was all Bible, all the time. There’s nothing more to add from before.
Robert Knight, Coral Ridge Ministries: “Destructive Legacy: Alfred Kinsey and the (Homo)Sexual Revolution“
Knight’s talk dealt largely with the flaws in Alfred Kinsey’s studies. He started by saying that “sexual orientation” is a term made up by the psychiatric community which implies that gays are born that way. He then discussed how Friedrich Engels predicted the demise of the family and the rise of state-raised children, which Engels said would create equality.
He said that the free-market system requires family to function. In history, human cultures that respected marriage thrived while those that didn’t fell apart. He referenced the way that Kinsey’s experiments were immoral and how they have been used to defend homosexual behavior. The reports also influenced pro-gay laws. He then discussed fraudulent science and called to take children out of public schools.
Greg Quinlan, Pro-Family Network: “The Big, Pink Plan for a Lavender Culture“
Quinlan discussed what he believes to be the actual set-in-stone gay agenda. For some reason, I doubt that the gay community is behind this…
- Take over the military
- Redefine marriage
- Take over the educational system
- Change the church
- Take over corporate America
A few notes on some of those points. For (2), he said they want to redefine marriage to undermine the family unit. For (3), he said they want to change sex education and health classes to promote acceptance of homosexuality. They also want to create bullying rules that explicitly protect gays and create discrimination laws that promote gay teachers. How would they (4) change the church? Gays want to change the religious community’s opinion on homosexual marriage. For (5), gays want to impose homosexuality regulations that will force companies to hire gay employees.
Quinlan added that apostasy rates are up (true, and a good thing, I feel). He then discussed the amount of money that the gay community has — about $800 billion in the community altogether.
He then said that pro-gays will lie to achieve these goals and said, “When you live a lie, you’ll tell a lie.”
There were a couple Orwellian statements, displayed in all caps on his PowerPoint: EQUALITY IS CONTROL. EQUALITY IS DOMINANCE.
He finished with, “Truth is not a word. Truth is not an idea. Truth is a person. Jesus Christ is Truth.”
Cliff felt that what happens in Canada will directly affect what happens in America. He pointed out how accepted homosexuality is in Canada and that the government funds gay activities. He again called out multiple conservatives for being pro-gay.
When discussing the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill, he didn’t explicitly say he supported the bill, but clarified it as not a “kill-the-gays” bill. Rather, the death penalty would only apply in cases of “aggravated homosexuality.” These offenses include: same-sex relations with those under age 18, same-sex relations while being infected with HIV, multiple offenses, and use of force or drugs.
Even Libertarians were not with them on social issues, he complained. When asked about Bill O’Reilly, he said that he was not a conservative but rather a “windbag.” He also dismissed all Libertarians because of their support for the legalization of drugs.
Robert Gagnon, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary: “Agreeing with God: A Truly Biblical Approach Toward ‘Out and Proud’ Homosexuality“
One of the interesting things he said during this talk is that the greatest thing would not be to eliminate homosexual urges, but to keep the urges and still follow God.
Also, he stated that the pro-gays use the arguing method of just throwing too many incorrect facts to respond to in the time allotted.
This was interesting to me because this is what Creationists constantly do during debates. There’s even a name for it — the Gish Gallop. They then film the babbling skeptic who is simply baffled at the stupidity of the arguments and cannot think of where to begin.
Ryan Sorba, Young Conservatives of California: “Confronting the Zeitgeist: New Strategies to Turn Around Younger Americans on ‘Gay Rights’“
Sorba gave accounts of gays disrupting conferences and speeches at which he was present. Again, I feel this does not apply to the arguments. He indicated that if you ask a homosexual what their story is, it will always be the same because they have been told to have a “normal” story at “gay training camps.”
During this talk, he did outline a plan that might be used to spread the conservative viewpoint. He said that they need to start 100 campus groups over the next 1-2 years, each of which would have four events per year.
He also wanted to find out if kids believed in the “politically correct” view of South Park. (This entirely confused me; I think South Park is one of the least politically correct shows ever.)
Sorba also mentioned wanting to poll psychiatrists to see if they thought homosexuality was a mental disorder. If they say it is, they want to use this as publicity for their cause. Pro-gays want to rebrand the anti-gay movement as the “counter-culture” in order to attract rebellious teens. Sorba also wanted to have a good list of refutations for kids arguing the gay agenda.
Matt Barber, Liberty University: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Bleed: Stopping Obama’s Campaign to Homosexualize the U.S. Military“
I didn’t take very many notes during Barber’s talk. Not to say that he was boring, just that his points were less clear and I was counting the minutes to the end.
He made another call to love gays, but we had to be forceful in that their lifestyle was wrong. Religious arguments would work with good people, but society embraces evil and rejects good. Finally, he noted that his side would lose in the short run, but God will ultimately win.
Closing thoughts/summaries from Maria:
Though they themselves were not outwardly hateful, many of the attendees and speakers completely lacked any understanding of how the vocal espousal of their views directly contributes to the views of others who do wish active harm upon homosexual people.
This is not to say that they shouldn’t be allowed to express their beliefs as often and as loudly as they want, or that they are fully responsible for the actions of fag-bashers, but I would have liked to see a little more sensitivity or realization of how they are contributing to the discourse in some very negative ways. Most lack any conception that their belief system is not, or even that it may possibly not be, an objectively truthful one. They don’t seem to understand that it’s not realistic or acceptable to impose their belief system on all Americans in the same way it wouldn’t be realistic or acceptable for Muslims in America to pass legislation prohibiting everyone from drawing Muhammad.
Most of the speakers were not fans of citation. The citations they did use were either citing themselves as the authority (as was almost always the case with Cliff Kincaid), citing psychoanalytic theories (as was the case with Arthur Goldberg), or citing natural law and metaphysics of philosophical theory (as was the case with Ryan Sorba). Most often, they simply didn’t cite their sources at all, but merely stated “studies show,” or “you can find this all on the Internet.” There was no real citation to peer-reviewed, scientific studies.
On Thursday, when any study was brought up that seemed to favor homosexuality as being a perfectly healthy or natural behavior, it was scoffed at and immediately refuted as being a “flawed” or “biased” study, without much explanation or any scholarly rigorous documentation to prove that this was really the case.
There was some citation (by Sorba) of the writings of certain homosexual activists and writers, such as Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen (again, two men I had never heard of until this day), but this citation of a specific individual’s opinion was fallaciously applied as evidence of the opinion and goals of the gay movement as a whole. In some cases, the opinions quoted were purposefully misconstrued and taken out of context to seem more alarming than they actually were.
Homosexuals (or at least homosexuals who commit homosexual acts) were alternately cast in the role of immoral sexual deviants, aggressive liars, Communists, Fascists, and oppressors of Christians, intent on imposing their lifestyle upon all Americans — OR — as confused, sexually abused, disenfranchised victims who have been lied to by a larger pro-gay society, falsely told they couldn’t change their orientation, and taken advantage of by the militant gay movement. Practically every mention of transgender individuals was met with a smirk from the speaker and a rumbling chuckle from the audience. This was in spite of the fact that the argument being put forth was that transgendered people were suffering from a mental disorder.
I’ve never heard any group of people laugh so scathingly at any other mental disorder. No serious-minded, concerned person in a professional setting should be overcome with mirth when someone starts talking about people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Some of the speakers (Sorba, Higgins, Gagnon, and Lindevaldsen in particular) were obviously highly intelligent individuals. It was clear that they had studied their subjects extensively. Their arguments were internally consistent. This is not to say that their arguments were wholly academic or unflawed (perhaps with the exception of Gagnon), but I truly enjoyed listening to them speak, in spite of my disagreement with them (though I must say I don’t disagree with Gagnon on the Bible’s proscription of homosexuality).
Sorba‘s arguments relied almost exclusively on natural law philosophy. However, I feel compelled to point out as someone who has some philosophical training (my BA is in Philosophy from the University of Michigan) that, in my opinion, philosophy is interesting, but 90% of it is BS. Most of philosophy is ultimately untestable. You can use it to create theories about the nature of reality, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of applying a priori non-evidential philosophical systems to the real world to inform you about how it works. That’s a bit backwards; the evidence should inform the structure of the representational system, not the other way around. As such, most of Sorba‘s arguments came across as clever Sophistry.
The majority of Peter LaBarbera‘s statements were anecdotes about how he has personally been threatened and mistreated by gay activists. These stories, whether intended to have this effect or not, cast the homosexual as the aggressive, hateful antagonist and LaBarbera as the peaceful, befuddled victim completely unaware of why these vicious activists would insult and threaten him. If he was so mistreated, it’s regrettable, and those who treated him that way acted wrongly. However, LaBarbera‘s experiences are certainly not representative of all LGBT individuals, nor do they make any statement on the moral question of whether or not homosexuality is reprehensible.
His argument would have been served better if he hadn’t constantly told stories that seemed calculated to demonize all LGBT people. The stories had the effect of fear-mongering among the attendees, suggesting that all LGBT people (or at least all LGBT activists) were angry, hateful individuals of a militant organization who would probably have no compunctions about lying to, manipulating, and even raping children if it would help them to gain their political aims. LaBarbera and the other speakers seem to disapprove of how liberals equate their entire movement with whack-jobs like Fred Phelps, but then the same argument is made with the respective whack-job analogues within the LGBT activist movement.
The totality of Cliff Kincaid‘s lectures were rife with arguments from emotion and fear (“Look at this photo of AIDS lesions. Horrible things will happen if the gay movement gets the rights it asks for!”), and he spent the majority of his time slandering the character of specific members of the gay community and giving examples of sex predators (many of whom probably didn’t even identify themselves as gay) to extrapolate upon the whole of the gay community (“Look at this specific gay activist who is a Communist and look at this pedophile; the entire gay movement is made up of Communistic and pederastic ideology!”).
In addition to this, he constantly asserted the information was available “on the Internet,” only sometimes referring people back to a website he or a like-minded colleague ran or was affiliated with, maybe occasionally to a legitimate news article (like from the New York Times) but usually to highlight a point that was not integral to the greater argument. It seems like he didn’t think about, or blatantly ignored, that all the examples of what he no doubt saw as a typical gay man were in no way typical. The examples were of sex predators and criminals who any decent person would condemn, whether or not they were LGBT or otherwise. The entire presentation came off like a hysterical Glenn Beck conspiracy theory. Within five minutes or so, it was as if a low-level buzz of panic was coloring all of his statements and underlying every phrase was a tiny voice shouting, “All homosexuals are Communists! They’re pedophiles with no moral character! We have to DO something! They’ll come for us all! AAAAHHHHHH!!!!”
Arthur Goldberg also didn’t cite sources very often, if at all. He said the phrase, “Studies show that…” at multiple times throughout his speeches, without going on to explain which particular studies he was referring to. When he did refer to how a particular statistic was found, it was usually by the American College of Pediatricians, a non-profit organization that recognizes the basic mother-father unit within the context of marriage as being the optimal situation in which to raise a child. They are in no way an accredited or official medical organization and make it obvious through their mission statement that they’ve already concluded homosexual parents are bad parents and then have set out to discover evidence for how this is true. In the scientific community, that’s a big no-no, and goes quite a ways to discrediting Goldberg‘s entire argument.
By the same reasoning used to poo-poo the twin studies (namely, that unless 100% of identical twins are both gay, it shows that homosexuality isn’t caused only by biology, and is therefore not an immutable trait), we can make the argument against the supposed moral bankruptcy of gays. According to many of the lectures, homosexuality directly causes substance abuse, promiscuity, etc. By their line of reasoning used to discredit the twin studies, unless you can show 100% of homosexuals are substance abusers and/or promiscuous, there is not a causal connection between the two, but rather, it’s a combination of factors. Even if we were to say there is a correlation between homosexuality and substance abuse/promiscuity (which I think is debatable), this still does not in any way prove that homosexuality directly leads to substance abuse.
Most arguments presented about the correlation between homosexuality and moral vices such as drug use were not rigorous enough to prove causality, and at the very least they may be reasonably doubted if not outright dismissed.
One of Ryan Sorba‘s main arguments was that there is a fundamental difference between men and women. He says this difference is complementary, and that it is sinful or morally reprehensible to use your sex organs for something other than heterosexual attempts at procreation within the context of marriage. He argues that the sex organ’s function is procreation, which is why this is so.
Basically, the strictly classic purpose or function of your body parts determines what you should be doing with them. If I follow this line of reasoning, it turns out my mouth, lips, and teeth have a strictly classical function of speaking and eating. So kissing, biting my nails, or chewing on my lip are all just as morally reprehensible as having homosexual sex, if the functionality of the organ determines a particular action’s moral status.
The fatal flaw in Sorba‘s, Higgins‘, Gagnon‘s, Quinlan‘s, and Lindevaldsen‘s arguments was the necessary requirement of the belief in a Judeo-Christian conception of God and an acceptance of the Bible as wholly true.
These were the propositions upon which all their other arguments hinged. For example, Sorba needed to presuppose a “design” in his arguments about how the genders are complementary, and it is only moral to act in accordance with our “design” in terms of sexual practices. Higgins also gave the complementary genders argument. The only other real argument I heard her give for why homosexuality is immoral is that it is said to be immoral in the Bible (though I tend to agree with her in thinking both sides of an argument should be presented in schools as long as the books available are of a high, scholarly rigorous standard. We may disagree about what constitutes “scholarly rigorous,” however).
Lindevaldsen argued that it’s rational to conclude that if God says the action is sinful, it’s not good for you. Gagnon kept his argument fully within the context of the Bible; it was merely a refutation of moderate, pro-gay Christian theology in the sense that one can’t truly believe in the scripture as truth without also believing that the scripture proscribes homosexuality. I tend to agree with him on this point.
In order to be successful in their goals, the attendees and speakers would need to prove their viewpoint is demonstrably true for everyone, not just for Christians. It was obvious they were at least cognizant of this fact; it was mentioned a couple times, especially on the last day. But to most (if not all) of the people at the conference, Christianity is the only truth.
Greg Quinlan in particular was very clear on this point. Lindevaldsen stated in her lecture entitled “The Zero Sum Game” that, “When they ask me to be secular in my argumentation, they’re asking me to give up Truth. They’re asking me to give up my best weapon which is the absolute reality that I know from God. They’re asking me to go over onto their playing field and use their weapons that they chose for me.” The argument necessarily breaks down there for non-Christians or even Christians who don’t believe the same way that AFTAH does. It’s an intellectual impasse. If you can’t accept their premise of truth in scripture (which many people can’t), it’s impossible to accept the rest of the argument.
Question the validity of their specific worldview, and the entire house of cards comes tumbling down. For their view to apply to the whole of society, they would need all of society to believe in God and the Bible in the sense that they do. It’s perfectly rational for them to believe what they believe if they assume the existence of God and their interpretation of the Bible as truth. What is not rational is for them to make those two assumptions in the first place. They are faith-based propositions and can’t be expected to apply to people of different faiths or non-faith.
Purely secular arguments deny them what they think is their ultimate trump card: their religious truth as revealed by their faith.
Until we can come to a consensus on what “truth” and “evidence” should be defined as, this argument is never going to be resolved. I don’t hold out much hope that it will be.
Most of the speakers’ worldview is dichotomous; it’s Us vs. Them. It’s absolutist. Everything is black and white and there are no shades of gray. It’s radical. Sorba supported the re-criminalization of sodomy (albeit with a fine as punishment instead of imprisonment), and Lindevaldsen said there can be no compromise on issues like civil unions or any gay rights cases. To her, and from what I can gather, to the rest of the speakers, “gays” do not have any civil rights beyond those they can “freely choose” if only they would give up their “homosexual lifestyle” and live according to AFTAH’s brand of Christianity.
This is disturbing to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is the heavy-handed arrogance involved in wanting to write legislation that controls the private lives of others. If they truly believed in the truth of their statements, they should be able to eventually win everyone over to their side on the merits of their argument alone, without any need to force compliance through legal means. But I suppose if, in the minds of these folks, the stakes are as high as eternal damnation, their position is understandable. If that’s truly the case for them, though, there’s no more that can really be said in the way of intellectual discourse. There is no ability on their part to agree to disagree, or to live and let live. They need to battle for their point of view on this issue, because in their opinion, to do less would be to betray their faith and allow countless souls to slip into Hell. Though I believe their concern is incredibly misguided, I don’t doubt most of the people at this conference truly care. They want to help; they’re just, in my opinion, going about it in entirely the wrong way.
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