Note to Kirk Cameron: If you don’t want a fight, then don’t start one

I grew up in the Southern Ohio town of Portsmouth, Ohio (BTW, the same place BTB’s Jim Burroway called home). In my little town in the 1960s and 70s, group identifications were clear and animosity toward minority groups was in style. Name calling toward African-Americans, Catholics, gays and Kentucky natives was common and often vicious. I lived near the river as opposed to the section of town farther from the river and on a higher elevation. I was a river rat, and the others in the more well-to-do side of town were the hill toppers. Sometimes, hill toppers said “river rat” with a sneer as a put down; hill topper could be said with a sneer but it just didn’t sound as sinister. I still don’t know how that was fair.

Anyway, in my neighborhood if you called someone a name, you better either be really fast or be able to defend yourself. I saw many fights (and took part in a few) that started with a racial or religious slur or just plain old school yard name calling. What I learned is that people don’t like to be called names. In fact, they can get downright defensive and ugly over it. So, I learned something early — if you don’t want to start a fight, don’t call people nasty names.

I don’t know where Kirk Cameron grew up but it appears he didn’t learn the same thing I did. On CNN’s Piers Morgan Show recently, Cameron said about homosexuality:

I think that it’s unnatural. I think that it’s — it’s detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.

Predictably, reaction has been negative to Cameron’s words. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)’s statement about Cameron’s comments was direct but really, pretty tame.

Cameron is out of step with a growing majority of Americans, particularly people of faith who believe that their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters should be loved and accepted based on their character and not condemned because of their sexual orientation.

I know a lot of other people weighed in and some were probably pretty offended. So Cameron came out with a rebuttal, saying

I believe that freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand-in-hand in America. I should be able to express moral views on social issues–especially those that have been the underpinning of Western civilization for 2,000 years–without being slandered, accused of hate speech, and told from those who preach “tolerance” that I need to either bend my beliefs to their moral standards or be silent when I’m in the public square.

He is right, of course, about his ability to express his moral views. However, I think other people have the right to express their moral view of his moral views. When those offended by his comments say he is a homophobe, they are expressing a moral view, right?

This seems so elementary to me. If you say a group of people is “destructive to the foundations of civilization,” you might expect members of that group to react. Like if you say, Christianity is destructive to the foundations of civilization, then one might expect a reaction from members of that group.

Back home, if you called someone a slur, then they would probably call you one back. Then another more hateful sounding name would come out, followed by an escalation until fists flew. Happens all the time. Why would anyone be surprised by this?

I admit I called a few people names in my boyhood, but I can’t remember ever saying to an opponent, “you are destructive to the foundations of civilization!” I wasn’t fast enough to say stuff like that. But on the play ground, all manner of one or two syllable words were used to communicate the message that the name caller is better than the one being branded. Essentially, whether one says, “redneck,” “homo,” “river rat,” or “destructive to civilization” about a person because of their membership in a group, the message is clear: you are less than me and I wish you would go away.

One of my mentors often told me that discretion is the better part of valor. I agree. Cameron says he is a Christian. The Bible teaches us that all things are lawful, but not all things edify. Just because you have a right of free speech doesn’t mean you should use it. Sometimes it just confuses things. Like how Cameron now says he loves everybody. I never tried that in my old neighborhood, but I doubt it would have worked — hey you’re a jerk! But I love you! I am trying to figure out how to tell people I say I love that they are destroying the foundations of civilization and make that work.

So I think Mr. Cameron needs to understand that when you use your free speech, people will reciprocate. When you call people names, they often call you some back. The best thing to do is to stop whining about it and stop calling people names. If you can’t help yourself, then don’t feel surprised when the targets of your free speech don’t feel the love.

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  • M. Worrell

    Warren, I understand that if you want the right to say “Give me liberty or give me death,” you should understand that you might get death.

    Additionally, since Morgan makes a practice of putting this issue front and center, quite insistently, every time he has a social conservative on the show, Cameron should have had an answer ready. Morgan makes it very clear by his response to guests that no answer except “I support gay marriage” is acceptable, and if you’re going to talk about the issue at all you’d better be prepared for his feigned incredulity at your beliefs.

    But the reality is that if you believe a behavior is immoral, it’s really rather dishonest and absurd to say that you don’t believe it is detrimental. I think Cameron could have been more diplomatic, but for crying out loud, do we not hear the same crazy rhetoric from the other side? That if I dare have any moral convictions about this issue that differ from the moral/scientific cosmology embraced by the gay community that I am somehow hateful or somehow contributing to death of bullied homosexual kids?

    I believe that a man and a woman living together in a sexual relationship without the benefit of a marital commitment are sinning. I believe that the practice is destructive to the foundations of society, particularly when children are involved. Otherwise, why on earth would I care in the least? But I do not hate my cohabitating friends. They know exactly what my views on the matter are, we’ve discussed our thoughts pretty exhaustively, and we agree to disagree. I love them. We have a great time together as friends. I invite them to church. Is that so crazy a concept?

  • Bernie

    Bravo Warren!

  • anteros

    wow!

  • ken

    What Cameron (I wonder if there is any relation, certainly sound similar :) ) is doing is confusing “freedom of speech” and “freedom from the consequences of speech”.

    He is certainly free to say whatever he likes, but people are also free to react to what he says in a variety of ways. Either, with speech of their own or simply deciding not to see his movies and/or encouraging others to do the same or a variety of other actions.

  • http://boxturtlebulletin.com Jim Burroway

    I don’t recall calling someone a hill-topper as a slur (which, as you said, really didn’t work the way being called a river-rat did). But if I had, I doubt that mentioning the fact that some of my best friends were hill-toppers probably wouldn’t have lessened the consequences.

    As a fish-eating (i.e. Catholic) throwing-like-a-girl river rat with an African-American friend who, to my shame today, I kept at a distance because he coudn’t safely visit my home — for both his safety and mine — I quickly learned the personal ugliniess that comes with applying labels to people and the very real harms that it causes.

    But I will say this: my experience growing up is probably why I instinctively root the underdog of the day. I don’t know when I made that conscious connection, but it did strike me early on that if someone is being ruthlessly called names or being blamed for all sorts of calamities, that it would instictively signal to me that the name-callers were manevolent and the slurred party was virtuous. Admittedly, that wasn’t very good evidence for the aggrieved party’s virtues, but it often was enough of a starting point so I could see the evidence for those virtues later.

    In other words, the quickest way to get me off of your side is the blame others for all of your problems. When I see the slurs and accusations going around again with the so-called immigration “debate” or the Kenyan-socialist-secular-athist-Muslim in the White House and all I can think is oh boy, here we go again! It looks like we’re never happy unless there’s someone we can blame the downfall of civilization on.

  • Richard Leau

    Mr. Throckmorton,

    Thanks for the nice column. It should get a wider reading. The thing I find laughable from this episode is that Kirk Cameron has elected himself an expert on western civilization. I’ve recently noticed this and it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that there is something going on I’ve been calling “unearned authority”. Been seeing it quite a bit over the past 10 years or so that I’ve been reading the news. Recent examples are Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, virtually every one on Fox news, actors who opine on medical issues or foreign policy. It’s really nothing new I know, just something I’ve noticed.

    Anyhow, regarding Kirk Cameron; what are his qualifications that he is an expert on the past 2000 years of history (and why just 2000 years?) and what makes him an authority on the future of western civilization? I think he might view himself as an expert because he read a book once. I think his authority comes from having read a book and been on a TV show once, which I guess is good, but hardly makes him an expert on western civiliation. Thanks again for the article and good day to you.

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    I am trying to figure out how to tell people I say I love that they are destroying the foundations of civilization and make that work.

    I agree completely. So many Christians say “I love you too much not to tell you the ‘T’ruth – you are sinning by living a life of homosexuality.”

    In my Talmud studies, I’ve been reading about the Jewish ethics of speech, and specifically the Lashon Hara (literally, “bad tongue”). The Rabbis tell us that we should not share negative truths. That is, even if you DO believe that it is Gospel Truth that homosexuals are the downfall of society, saying so to their faces does not encourage lovingkindness. In Genesis 18, God “modifies the truth for the sake of peace” (Yevamot 65b) when repeating Sarah’s laughing disbelief to Abraham – leaving out the part where Sarah called her husband “so old” (and therefor incapable of conceiving a child), sparing Abraham’s feelings in the process.

    Whether or not homosexuals truly are the downfall of civilization by Christian doctrine is obviously still up for debate among certain Christians. Nonetheless, maybe expressing the “hatred for the sin out of love” is not prudent, and perhaps, not as Biblically permissive (much less commanded) as once thought.

  • Lynn David

    For goodness sakes everyone north of the Ohio knows the only reason the government of Kentucky pays half the cost of a bridge across the Ohio is so their Kentuckians can swim across the Ohio in the shade! The epithet thrown at Catholics in my Hoosier town was a bit more involved – “fish-eating catlickers” – we had a strong KKK presence among the Baptists in town. But then their ancestors swam across the Ohio from Kentucky.

    Cameron seems to have lived in the bubble of his ministries for too long.

  • David M.

    Well said, Warren. No one I know wants to deny Kirk his freedom of speech. Imagine if he had called Hispanics or left-handed people “ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” He would deserve exactly the same ridicule and contempt that is now being directed his way. Some statements are just ignorant.

    I fail to understand how a group of people who have existed from time immemorial can suddenly become the great downfall of civilization. All that has changed is that we gays are no longer hiding in our closets. All this change has destroyed is the comfortable heterosexism of those who would like to pretend we don’t exist.

    The truth has been said, though. We do exist. We have always existed. We will always exist. The cat’s out of the bag and won’t go back in. We’ve been here in every civilization that has existed. I don’t believe any reputable historian could name a single civilization we’ve destroyed.

  • Kristin Rawls

    This is a good post. But also, I am from the South, and I have no idea what any of these Ohio slurs mean.

  • Kristin Rawls

    I mean, I am able to read this explanation, but I have zero understanding of the cultural weight behind any of them, or even if they tend to extend beyond grade school. Are they serious slurs?

  • StraightGrandmother

    Warren, Please post this on your website now, and on April 12th really do something.

    Thank you!

    StraightGrandmother

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/joseph-kony-2012-video_n_1326313.html?google_editors_picks=true

  • Julie

    Dr. Throckmorton,

    I stopped reading at the point that you said ‘the other side’ has a right to call him a homophobe as a form of expressing their moral beliefs. NO, sir, this is just chilish name-calling. Mr Cameron did not lower himself to that level, As a mother of a gay son, and divorced wife of a gay Episcopal priest, I have directly seen and experienced the destruction to my family, as just one example of the destruction to the institution of Family in our culture.

    I hasten to add, I did go back and finish reading your blog here.

    James Dobson got criticized for taking his organization Focus on the Family into the political arena. But you receive no such criticizm. Interesting. I first followed you as a researcher and scientist in the exploration of homosexuality. Do you still have time for research?

  • StraightGrandmother

    I like David M’s comment very much. There is no un-ringing the bell.

    The days of unanswered attacks on the very person hood, or humanity of sexual minorities are over. The great leveler is technology, Facebook, Rwitter, the Internet. No longer does a sexual minority in hicksville Oklahoma feel isolated and alone. They now have a way to reach out and find communities of friendship, support and activism. Remember the song, “One is the loneliest number” Nobody is “one” anymore.

    This bell can never be un-rung. The only direction possible is to advance the Civil and Human Rights of Sexual Minorities. This wave is rolling forwards, not backwards, it may roll over an obstacle here or there, but it is going to advance forwards. This wave is to big to stop.

  • stephen

    Who?

  • David M.

    @Julie: “As a mother of a gay son, and divorced wife of a gay Episcopal priest, I have directly seen and experienced the destruction to my family, as just one example of the destruction to the institution of Family in our culture.”

    Julie, I acknowledge your pain, and have no wish to increase it. I am coming to this issue from the other side, and perhaps you can help me understand better my ex-wife’s experience. At the same time, I want to express my own point of view.

    My former wife and I married at a time when homosexuality was little discussed, especially in religious circles. The gay rights movement had begun, and the first wave of reaction was coming in the form of books like Tim LaHaye’s The Unhappy Gays. He painted a bleak and disease-ridden picture of gay life, and I knew no better than to believe him. Meanwhile the friends with whom I dared to share my homosexuality had little counsel except to marry the young woman I was dating. I did what was expected of me by my family, church and culture. I married. (She knew I had homosexual desires, but neither of us knew what that would mean to our marriage.)

    I loved my wife as a friend (and still do). But I often had to fantasize about men to function in bed. Inside, I was dealing with constant high levels of anxiety and low-grade depression (dysthymia). Every few years I would experience clinical depression, which eventually became so deep I felt as if my sanity was almost shattered. Yes, I think I was probably genetically predisposed to anxiety and depression. But the trigger for me was the constant pretense of being heterosexual.

    Like your husband, I was in ministry, and in a denomination where admitting I was gay would probably mean immediate firing. There were tremendous pressures for me to deny and repress my sexuality. And in many ways, I succeeded.

    But my wife and I were growing apart. One of the things that was most hurtful to me was her support for Focus on the Family. FOTF politicized the issue of homosexuality in a way that demeaned my very existence. By virtue of having a characteristic I did not choose and could not change, I and others like me were treated by FOTF as enemies of the faith, enemies of the family, enemies of culture. I was more profoundly hurt by FOTF and Dr. Dobson than by any other preacher or ministry I can think of — including a lot of camp-meeting type preachers who knew how to whip up a lot of hatred for gays.

    Over a process of decades I came to accept my homosexuality. Eventually, as my marriage withered, I experienced gay sex for the first time, and oh did it touch such a deep longing in me. There was a strong intuitive sense that this was right, and I believe that feeling was much more than the fog of being in love.

    I understand that my wife was deeply hurt by the collapse of our marriage. I know she expected to move into our latter years together. Change was always anathema to her. I am deeply sorry to have hurt her. It is the biggest regret of my life.

    What I don’t understand is how content she was for me to be miserable. She was content to know she was not and could not be the fulfillment to my sexual, romantic and relational desires. I had a number of male frienships through the years that, while nonsexual, were more important to me than our marriage. She was fine with this. When I finally made the decision to separate, she commented that I was just giving my pain to her. I don’t understand how someone could really love me and yet wish me to remain in a deeply painful place, a place that regularly led me to the brink of suicide.

    From my perspective, Julie, what led to your sense of devastation and to my wife’s was not homosexuality. It was the homophobia and homo-hatred of earlier years that practically forced men like me to marry women. It was the ignorance and lies propagated by Christians about gays. I made a profound mistake in marrying my wife (even though there was much about the marriage that was good). But the mistake was not my homosexuality. That was a given. The mistake was in not trusting my true core.

    I am finally finding peace, and yet, the last I knew, my wife has shown no signs of understanding my journey. How can this be? I would think love would go some way toward trying to understand.

    Julia, from where I stand, homosexuality does not destroy the family. It’s not that simple. Look a little deeper. Hatred of homosexuality is more to blame.

  • Michael Bussee

    Bananas. The Atheist’s Nightmare.

    “In November 2009, (Kirk)Cameron and others distributed free copies of an altered version of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species on college campuses in the United States. The book consisted of Darwin’s text with chapters of the book removed, and with an added introduction by Ray Comfort reiterating common creationist assertions about Darwin and evolution.

    The book has been criticized by scientists and Darwin biographers who state that key chapters of the book have been omitted, and that its introduction contains misinformation about Darwin, logical fallacies and “a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments, teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution”.

    The National Center for Science Education arranged a campaign at colleges across the U.S. to distribute an analysis of the Comfort introduction and a banana bookmark, in reference to Comfort’s argument that the structure of the banana is evidence for Intelligent Design, or God.” ~ wikpedia

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfv-Qn1M58I&feature=related

  • Richard Willmer

    Cameron’s original statement that ‘homosexuality’ is, of itself, ‘detrimental, and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization’ doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. ‘Civilization’ has survived centuries of ‘homosexuality’ and so called ‘gender confusion’, and, on a personal level, we all know decent, caring, socially-responsible gay and transgendered people.

    The kind of ‘name-calling’ embraced by many homophobic people IS a threat to the kind of civilization many want to see. It is, of course, always very sad when families break up as a result of one or more members of that being gay. But are all such break ups actually necessary? As the comments on this very thread suggest, many gay people have married in the past in order to disguise or deny their homosexuality; perhaps the REAL problem is the disguising and/or denial – both of which are often promoted by homophobia.

    People who are caught up in ‘family break ups’ are bound to feel that their little bit of ‘civilization’ has, in some way, been ‘destroyed’. However, it is also the case, as I think David M. expresses well, that the ‘destruction’ of something that is untenable can provide new opportunities – not least a human relationship (with a former partner, etc.) that is based on a truthful understanding of the people involved.

    (I suspect that most breakdowns in human relationships are the result of the ‘disguise’ or ‘denial’ of something. And since we all ‘disguise’ and/or ‘deny’ up to a point, all our relationships are ‘at risk’ of apparent failure! Such is life.)

  • Richard Willmer

    In response to Julie’s point on ‘criticism’: my understanding is that Warren has indeed been ‘criticized’ for the line he has taken. And we should the forget the context within which our criticism of homophobic rhetoric is set: it is a context of malice and discrimination (and, in too many cases, violence), as well as one of crass generalization. We should, after all, remember that people like Warren are not criticizing people for being straight!

  • Richard Willmer

    Sorry – the second sentence above should read: “And we should NOT forget …”

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton

    Michael – I wish historians would do something like that in reaction to David Barton.

  • Patrocles

    When we speak in sentences, we can interpret those sentences (a) as insults or (b) as presumptions and bases for argument – we are completely free to choose our way of acting.

    Interpreting sentences as presumptions is mostly more profitable (for ourselves), but I admit that taking them for insults may be more fun.

    For example, my preferred reaction to the Cameron sentence would be: Even if the abolishing of gender roles is not detrimental to society, WHAT does it actually mean for society? Has there ever been a society without gender roles (i.e. social expectations how boys are to become men and girls are to become women)? (I look at heterosexual behaviour as a particular part of the gender role.) Traditional (modern) anthropogists argued that man is “poor of biological instinct” and so needs culture to form him – do modern gender-abolishionists think that biology is more effective and culture’s not needed ?

    By the way. Dr. Throckmorton’s description about boyish name-calling reminded to me an old verse “Stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. That’s a forgotten tradition?

  • Richard Willmer

    I don’t think those of us who object to Cameron’s homophobic outbursts are saying that there is no place for gender roles in society. Our contention is that there are individuals that do not fit the ‘majority’ gender roles and that these individuals deserve the same respect as human beings as does anyone else.

    There is absolutely no need for 100% of the population to be heterosexual. The population of the planet is growing quite fast enough (some might say rather too fast) as it is!

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Anyone who thinks “words will never hurt” is naive at best. If I get beaten my physical scars will fade. True emotional hatred – or apathy – that originates from someone’s heart, is the most scarring thing of all.

  • William

    @ Patrocles:

    “I look at heterosexual behaviour as a particular part of the gender role.”

    Well yes, for heterosexual people it may well be. For homosexual people it doesn’t form any part of their gender role and doesn’t need to.

  • David M.

    @Patrocles: “Traditional (modern) anthropogists argued that man is “poor of biological instinct” and so needs culture to form him – do modern gender-abolishionists think that biology is more effective and culture’s not needed ?”

    I find this statement puzzling in the context of this discussion. Are you suggesting, Patrocles, that heterosexuality is something that culture must teach to people? Do you really believe that sexual orientation is that maleable? Do you also believe that cultural teaching can cause an otherwise homosexual person to become heterosexual?

  • DAVE G

    Sorry (?) guys, but I agree with Cameron. And describing the consequences of behavior –especially as it becomes more widespread and acceptable –is not name-calling. Cameron said “homosexuality,” he did not say “homosexuals.” However, it is called a “sexual identity disorder” because they establish their very identity, their sense of who they are, based on the behavior and the classic-conditioned physiological response to attractive same-sex persons. The rhetoric of the homosexual community reinforces this identity establishment. And then sexual intercourse is addictive, especially during our fertile years. All this makes complete change practically impossible, but not hopelessly.

    This cultural conflict is not likely to subside as long as reputable people cling to the conviction the homosexuality is an innate and immutable human trait for some, rather than a disorder derived from human experience and conditioned behavior. The fact is, every one of us is capable of becoming homosexual; that’s why cultural mores are established to avoid this behavior in the first place.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Dave G =

    However, it is called a “sexual identity disorder”

    StraightGrandmother = Really? I had not heard that. Where does that term come from? Is this in that big doctors book that lists diseases and their symptoms?

    I am quite sure that homosexuality is not a disease or disorder. If you could kindly cite your source I would appreciate it.

    Dave G =

    The fact is, every one of us is capable of becoming homosexual;

    StraightGrandmother = Whoa, now hold up there. I don’t need to look this up in any book, I know you got this wrong. I am heterosexual, I have known since I first kissed a boy in 3rd grade behind a tree at recess. There is nothing that I could ever have done, or do that could ever in the slightest way make me homosexual.

    I could not pray away the straight, and no amount of reorientation therapy could ever in a bazillion years make me even the slightest bit lesbian. You need to back off on that statement.

  • David M.

    So, Dave G., how do you explain someone who for the first 48 years of his life had only straight sex, does not see homosexuality as his fundamental identity, and grew up with extremely strong social mores against homosexuality — and yet is gay? How do you explain me?

    I think you have let your prejudices get in the way of the facts.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Dave G.

    On what objective grounds do you agree (as you seem to say you do) with Cameron that ‘homosexuality is … ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization’? What evidence do you have for this apparently highly simplistic, even crass, generalization being a truthful one?

    As David M. has said: don’t let prejudice cloud your judgement.

  • http://www.exgaywatch.com Emily K

    Yeah, if everyone were gay the human race would go extinct (if we didn’t have artificial conception, etc.). In theory, this would happen.

    But if everyone were a monk or a nun, this would ALSO happen. Ditto if everyone decided to get their tubes tied, etc.

    “everyone has the potential to be homosexual”?? I’ve only heard this from people who are “straight.” It’s a nice way of convincing themselves that those “dirty urges” they have are actually something EVERYBODY (including all straight people) will deal with, and not just them. Otherwise that would mean they’re actually a dirty nasty homo.

  • William

    Sorry, Dave G, your post is nothing but a tissue of unsubstantiated assertions, some of which are contradicted by the facts of experience.

  • Mary

    KC can say what he wants to say. Honestly, I;ve heard very offensive comments from both sides of the issue. I think both are not needed. He did not say anything new. He just happens to be a high profile individual and so he gets taken to task for it.

    He didn’t start a fight. He made a comment that some do not like.


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