More Trouble at Mars Hill

Mark Driscoll has had kind of a bummer of a year. First he was accused of plagerism in a book; later he was found to have plagerized passages in a few of his other books too. Then he crashed John MacArthur’s charismatic conference. Then it turns out he paid a company to manipulate the sales of Real Marriage to hit bestseller status. Then financial malfeasance began to emerge from his church, claiming he had used missions funds to expand the audio/visual department. This led Driscoll and his church to be kicked out of the Acts 29 network, forced Driscoll to step down for six weeks, and prompted the Acts 29 network, five satallite pastors of his church to urge for his resignation, and 21 elders at his church to bring formal charges against him.

It has definitely been a bad year for Driscoll.

But now KING5 news, an outlet in Seattle, has revealed that one of the pastors who condemned Driscoll has just been fired for “rebellion against the church.” We don’t know what that means yet, but it sure sounds like he was fired for dissing his boss, Mark Driscoll, in the formal letter.

Paul Tripp, who headed up the reconciliation team in Mars Hill, reported to KING5 that “This is without a doubt the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with.”


Michael Brown and the Police

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man


I’ve held off talking about the Michael Brown shooting on this blog until now because I wanted to wait until more solid information was known, but the hostility toward those who support Brown and those who view this as a needless tragedy is actually growing into vitriol on social media. Unsurprisingly, it is white people who are turning on him and supporting the officer who executed him in the middle of the street.

Along with this sudden swell of support is growing misinformation about what we know and what we don’t know concerning the events of the fatal shooting that took place on August 9th. I’ve been following this story very closely. Here’s what we know.

We know that five witnesses have come forward and shared their stories. We know that they each had distinct and different vantage points and that only two of them knew one another prior to the shooting – this is what is called independent corroboration and its testimony is extremely strong. It means it is less likely the witnesses are making things up. And all of their stories end the same: Michael Brown was murdered in an unjustified use of excessive and lethal force. So what do they have in common? They claim that Officer Wilson confronted Brown and his friend about jaywalking by saying, “Get on the fucking sidewalk.” There was an altercation at the window of the officer’s car (and no one is sure exactly how this started, but witnesses claim Wilson grabbed Brown by the neck), a shot went off, Brown started running. The officer shot again and Brown staggered or jumped like he’d been shot, turned around with his hands up and yelled that he was unarmed. One witness said Brown was yelling, “OK! OK! OK! OK! OK!” At which point Officer Wilson advanced on Brown, firing, and killed him.

However, we also know that the police claim to have over a dozen other eyewitnesses corroborating Officer Wilson’s side of the story, but none of these people have come forward and all we have is the assertion that they exist, so this claim is, as of right now, completely unsubstantiated. What’s Wilson’s side of the story? He says he stopped the boys because they were jaywalking and blocking traffic. According to one of his friends, he said they were belligerent and noncompliant. At that point, according to police, the call for the robbery at the convenience store came in. He tried to get out of the car, but was rushed by Brown and his friend, he was struck in the face, and Brown went for his gun. A shot went off, Brown ran. He ordered Brown to freeze, at which point Brown turned, said, “You ain’t going to kill me,” and charged the officer, at which point he had no choice but to shoot him. According to Wilson’s unidentified friend, the officer believed Brown to be on drugs.

What’s frustrating is the ambiguity in all this. According to Dr. Baden in the press conference, the medical examiner with three decades of experience, having performed 20,000 autopsies in his illustrious career, including those of JFK and MLK, the evidence can be interpreted to account for either version of the story and so settles nothing. It has been widely reported in the media that all the shots were taken from the front of Brown’s body, which is claimed to expose the eyewitness testimony of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson and several other eyewitnesses who claimed that Brown had been shot with his back turned. However, this is untrue, and it is quite obvious from the press conference that a graze on Brown’s right palm is consistent with having been shot with his back turned, though the evidence is ambiguous. CBS reported this as well:

Forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells, who assisted former New York City chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden during the private autopsy, said a bullet grazed Brown’s right arm. He said the wound indicates Brown may have had his back to the shooter, or he could have been facing the shooter with his hands above his head or in a defensive position across his chest or face.

Critical to Officer Wilson’s case is the justification of cause in using lethal force. If Wilson was physically assaulted, this strengthens his case. A day or two ago, right-wing blogger Jim Hoft, a man with no formal training in journalism and one of the most consistent right-wing conspiracy-mongers on the internet, made an unsourced claim that he was told (by an anonymous contact) Officer Wilson suffered an injury called an “orbital blowout to the eyesocket.” The right-wing internet exploded, and it even found its way into actual media outlets as definitive proof of Wilson’s claims that he was horribly beaten and assaulted. Do keep in mind, of course, that Jim Hoft was also responsible for spreading the rumor that Michael Brown was a thug. As evidence of this, Hoft linked to a website called “topconservativenews,” which is actually run by a White Supremacist and KKK-affiliated group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. Michael Brown, of course, had no criminal record at the time of his shooting.

Now, maybe this is true and someone actually told Hoft this from inside the investigation and he isn’t actively making it up, though it wouldn’t be the first time he’s made something up. But let’s assume its true for the sake of argument. The first thing to keep in mind is that it is unsourced and unconfirmed. We don’t know yet. The second question is whether this claim of being beaten and in danger of his life fits with the video footage we already have. As one eyewitness recording of the immediate aftermath of the shooting shows (and you can watch here), Wilson is calmly pacing around the body, chatting with another officer. There is no blood. He has no bandages applied to his face. He’s not holding an ice pack to the side of his face. Similarly, there was no sign of struggle found on Brown’s body. The preliminary toxicology report indicated, contrary to Wilson’s story, that Brown only had pot in his system at the time of death.

(UPDATE: It’s funny how these things work out. I was sent links today by some folks saying that both ABC and Fox News were reporting independently of Hoft that Wilson suffered an “orbital blowout fracture” and severe injuries from the encounter. But, as CNN is now reporting, these claims are false. Wilson did not suffer an “orbital blowout fracture” at all, and merely had a swollen face.)

Furthermore, orbital blowout fractures can be serious, but often aren’t. A quick search led me to the AAPOS website, the first search result, which describes the common symptoms as “bruising, tenderness and swelling around the eye; redness of the eye; double vision, ordiplopia (seeing two images at the same time); numbness of the cheek, nose or teeth; nose bleeds (epistaxis).” The image that Hoft circulated with his blog post was also tampered with. And while conservatives have seen this as definitive proof that Brown assaulted Wilson, this injury, if true, is consistent with both accounts. Wilson claims Brown slammed his cruiser door on him, which would explain it. Dorian Johnson reported that the officer “then tried to open his car door but the door ricocheted off of Brown’s body and closed again.” Either scenario would explain the injury.

The police then released security footage of Michael Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store just minutes before the shooting. The police originally maintained that the shooting was related to this issue, then said it had nothing to do with it, then changed their story again to say that it didn’t start by dealing with the robbery, but became about the robbery. This element of the story has circulated widely in the media, but unfortunately even this isn’t true. In fact, in the video footage of Brown released by the police he can be seen standing at the counter paying for the cigars he allegedly stole, with currency changing hands. No one from the store reported a theft (because there wasn’t one); instead, a concerned customer called the police themselves.

The present narrative for Officer Wilson’s version of events is that Brown was feeling guilty about having stole the cigars, and when confronted about it, became violent and assaulted the officer, prompting his shooting. Plausible perhaps, but dependent upon Brown’s having stolen the cigars. The provocation, in this narrative, is Brown. But if, as the video and lack of a theft report from the store seem to indicate, Brown did not steal anything, this changes the situation. Now we have Brown walking home and a brief exchange about jaywalking explodes into something worse. Unknown to Brown, the cop thinks he stole something and the situation turns serious without warning, or, to Brown’s mind, cause. A policeman just flipped out over jaywalking. Now, even in this scenario both versions of events are still plausible. Brown thinks the officer is attacking him without cause; he fights back, makes a run for it from the cop who just attacked him, and is shot dead. Or Brown is attacked, breaks free, runs down the road and is shot dead. Both still make sense of the data, yet the circumstances change to one fraught with misunderstanding. The officer believed he had cause to shoot a suspect he thinks just assaulted him and stole something, yet this isn’t the case. No justification in using deadly force.

However the investigation goes, according to criminal law experts, Officer Wilson’s acquittal will depend upon whether he knew Brown was unarmed. Criminal Justice expert Peter Jay told Newsweek,

Assuming the answer [is] he knew he was unarmed, I think that, by itself, would mean no justification for the shooting. … If he was trying to surrender and the police officer knew he was unarmed—or even if he was armed, if he’s trying to surrender—then at least the police should tell him to unarm himself or have him stay there with his hands up and call for backup.

Who Do You Trust?

So, what caused the uproar in Ferguson? It began and continued with police incompetence. The New Yorker writes,

Michael Brown’s body was left in the street for hours after he was shot; as far as one can tell from the disjointed details released by the Ferguson and St. Louis County authorities, Wilson did not immediately call the shooting in or try to resuscitate Brown, and no E.M.T.s rushed him to the hospital.

In fact, it was over ten minutes before anything was reported to dispatch by the officer, at which time he requested aid for crowd control and did not report the shooting. According to the leaked dispatch audio, it took over a half an hour for the gravity of the shooting to be communicated. Michael’s body was then dumped in the back of an SUV, rather than transported to the hospital by ambulance.

It’s understandable that people would be upset by this kind of treatment. Over 100 people gathered at the scene, shouting at police to help him. This, really, was the first protest. But this kind of behavior seems par for the course in Ferguson. Racial profiling in stops, searches, and arrests is through the roof. Black residents are now so used to this that they refer to it as DWB: driving while black. Like in many other cities, Ferguson’s court fees and no-payment fines disproportionately affect low-income and African-American citizens, essentially returning “debtor’s prison” to the city. In one 2009 incident, not only did police arrest the wrong man, they beat him repeatedly, charged him with “Destruction of Property” for bleeding on their uniforms, and miraculously lost the tapes of the incident even though the jail was equipped with video cameras. In 2013 a lieutenant was fired for alleged racial profiling, saying things like “Let’s have a black day,” and “Let’s make the cells more colorful.” Ferguson’s police reports have been rejected by the Missouri Department of Public Safety for “major errors in data.” In fact, the entire department has a shockingly lax policy for “use of force” reporting. Not that any police anywhere do much better. During the protests last week, one cop was captured on video shouting, “Bring it, you fucking animals! I don’t give a shit! Bring it!” Another was filmed yelling to a demonstrator, “I will fucking kill you!” A National Guardsman even told reporters, “You never know what these n*****s will do.” These tensions date back at least a decade.

There are, therefore, good and understandable reasons for the community of Ferguson to look with suspicion at the idea of an internal investigation conducted by the very police who shot and killed Michael Brown. The Blue Code of Silence, the tendency of police to support one another when questions are raised, is a widespread problem. Thus, protestors want the Missouri prosecutor responsible for the Brown shooting case to recuse himself due to deep family ties to the Ferguson police department.

Officer Wilson was glowingly described in the Washington Post by friends as “always nice, respectable and well-mannered, a gentleman. He doesn’t have anything bad to say about anybody, ever. He’s very genuine.” And naturally when this is said about a white police officer, we tend to believe it. But when Michael Brown is remembered as a “gentile giant,” it sparks mockery from standard rightwing news sites. Such is the nature of racial disparity and trust in this country. For white, average Americans like us, it is easy to expect and depend upon the belief that the police are here to help and protect us because we benefit from indirect racial privilege. But for African Americans, it is hard to see the police as anything but an occupying power of oppression and prejudice. So much so, in fact, that Palestinians began tweeting advice to Ferguson protesters on how to deal with occupation. It is easy to see how such frustrations can build when you realize that at least two black men are killed by police every week, as illustrated by the fact that within a week of the Michael Brown shooting another unarmed black man was killed in L.A., and a mentally ill black man shot dead only miles from where Brown himself was killed.

In short, this is a complicated incident with a complicated history behind it, and it is best to be cautious about deciding who was at fault. In particular we should remember that Michael Brown is not around to defend himself. The burden of proof is on Officer Wilson to prove justifiable cause regarding his decision to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager with no record of criminal history on his way home from the store in the mid-morning of August 9th, and the evidence for that case should be held to the very highest of standards.

Courtship and Those Crazy Patriarchalists

Thomas Umstattd has been making waves in fundamentalist homeschooling hyper-conservative homesteading courtship patriarchalist circles these days. His blog post “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed” is a solid bit of work which I recommend glancing at.

My biggest problem with the piece, if it has a flaw, is that all of the arguments are pragmatic, rather than Scriptural. That is, it opens itself up to the charge that courtship isn’t really the problem, just certain people practicing courtship wrongly. This was, as one might expect, exactly the protest leveled by patriarchalist Doug Wilson in a response titled “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Awed.” In the post, by the way, Wilson describes himself as “someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map,” and this is more or less true in a lot of ways.

But Umstattd never asks the fundamental question: “Why are we even still talking about this?” It is 2014. Fourteen years into the 21st century. And we’re still talking about the boy having to get permission from the father, and the father given extreme veto power in this dynamic? Fuck that noise. There isn’t a shred of evidence this is necessary, required, or even recommended in Scripture. If the father likes the boy that much, he should marry him. There are a lot of states letting you do that these days, apparently.

Courtship is just a small portion of the problematic teaching in these circles, but at their core they all have one thing in common. Dependency. Don’t get me wrong. We’re supposed to help and support each other. But dependency is entirely different. Dependency manufactures immaturity and destroys self-empowerment. In a novel, when a character is free to make their own decisions and behave proactively, they are said to have “agency.” All patriarchalist theology is designed to take away your agency as a person by making you dependent upon the opinions, the decisions, and the commands of others.

This is soul-sucking abuse and it is mentally and emotionally crippling. Be your own person. Love God, love your neighbor and your enemy. Figure out what you like and dislike, and the kind of person you want to have a relationship with. No one can make that kind of decision for you. They aren’t you. They can’t know. Live, love, and know that God loves you for who you are, mistakes, lessons, brokenness, and all.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (9)

The next few chapters of Reilly’s book are fairly straightforward, and more or less irrelevancies. His groundwork has been laid already, and as we have seen, that groundwork is based upon shoddy scholarship, discredited theories, and a vast collection of right-wing position papers and online essays. The ground floor of his skyscraper is Natural Law, which confuses “what is” with “what ought to be” and is evaluatively bankrupt so far as moral questions go, more or less reflecting the expectations of the person back to them so that they hear not the clear meaning of nature but the echo of their own voices.

Chapter Seven, “Sodomy and Science,” demands little comment. It mostly tries to establish that there is no “gay gene,” which is irrelevant to the issue because even if a gene were discovered it would not provide us with an answer to the moral question of whether something ought to be done. Again, a gene or no gene is simply “what is.” It has no bearing on “what ought to be.” The chapter also tries to force another dichotemy between science as descriptive of what is there and science as a manipulator and transformer of what is there (Reilly seems to think this would be bad). Yet followed to its necessary conclusions, one must ultimately reject all technological development on this view, as technology manipulates Nature into things it was never meant to be. Chairs and tables, insofar as they are transformative developments in the “purpose” of tress, are quite unnatural and, on Reilly’s view, ought to be rejected as illustrative of man’s God-like demands to conform reality to his will. Certainly man was never intended for space travel, so we can go ahead and shut down NASA. Goodbye, genetics research and cancer treatments and antidepressants.

The first half of the chapter, however, is devoted to the story of how the APA finally removed homosexuality from its listing of mental illnesses in the 1970s. Certainly this was something that many in the APA wanted to see happen and planned accordingly, but Reilly sees this as a disqualification. Let us put aside for a moment the fact that Reilly builds his history of this situation primarily from antagonistic sources like the founders of NARTH and frequently seems to confuse rhetoric and ideology with facts-based reporting. Setting this aside, the fact that a group of psychiatrists wanted to see it decriminalized does not make their actions right or wrong. Again, Reilly confuses “what is” with “what ought.” His argument seems to be that they had an agenda, therefore we should still view homosexuality as a diagnosable mental disorder. But the right things have often been done for the wrong reasons (presuming, in this case, their actions were wrong), and every major change in the social fabric is undergone by people who want to see that change occurring. No one complains that because Martin Luther King Jr. had an agenda to give African Americans equality under the law it therefore invalidates what he did. Likewise, no one complains that because the women’s suffrage movement was comprised by women, therefore they should never have been granted the right to vote. This sort of reasoning is completely wacky. However, this kind of thinking, conspiratorial though it may be, does serve a very helpful purpose – given the enormous respect given to organizations like the APA, due to their careful scholarship, it is necessary to undermine their reliability by painting them as being hijacked by non-scientific, ideologically-driven left-wing agents of the LGBTQ community. This might be nothing more than a giant exercise in the ad hominem fallacy, but it has proven effective in raising the suspicions of conservative people when the name appears. They are effectively smeared as “biased” and “ideological,” which allows for hard rightwing groups to swoop in as “trusted” organizations and spread their faulty claims and nonsenical scholarship (one might also note the parallels here to virtually every other debate in our culture right now, from climate change to evolution).

The second half of this chapter addresses the question of whether LGBTQ people can change their orientation or not. This, of course, assumes that orientation is permanently fixed, which most researchers would now say is not the case with the majority of people, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Reilly eagerly embraces this emerging development as an argument for reparative therapy, but once again he confuses “what is” with “what ought to be.” Just because there is some fluidity in orientation, this is not in itself a case for forcing it to change. Repeated studies have shown that reparative therapy can cause severe psychological damage to patients. Just last Sunday 9 major ex-gay leaders renounced reparative therapy as harmful. The APA’s extensive, 138 page report on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) includes an examination of the methodology of reparative studies and found that “given the limited amount of methodically sound research, claims that recent SOCE is effective are not supported.” Reparative therapy has helped certain people lessen their same-sex attractions and overcome compulsive and addictive sexual behavior, but there is currently no evidence that anyone has ever changed their fundamental orientation (despite the fluidity mentioned above). The reparative lobby conflates behavior with orientation when they trumpet their success stories.

Chapter eight is titled “Same-Sex Parenting” and rehashes more of the methodologically flawed research on the deleterious and negative effects of gay parenting on children. Reilly trots forward a few examples of kids and grown children of gay couples talking negatively about the experience in the chapter, but one could do just the same for heterosexual parents and this would not prove that all heterosexual parents caused harm to their children and ought not be allowed to have them. No one ever claimed that gay parents would be perfect, and so obviously some kids will come out of the experience wishing it had been otherwise, just like pretty much every kid at some point or another. The most extensive study to date shows that the kids of gay parents are just as healthy and adjusted as kids of straight parents.

Chapter nine is titled “Sodomy and Education,” a chapter in which Reilly sees the proliferation of same-sex educational courses in school programs as a massive, covert conspiracy to normalize the behavior – rather than an honest attempt to discuss a highly-relevant topic based on the best, current scholarly information that can help kids struggling with their sexual identity and help their peers in how to talk about the subject.

Reilly’s final three chapters, on the boy scouts, the military, and the US and UN’s attempts to globalize gay rights as a category of human rights, should not long detain us. His brand of fear and conspiratorial thinking and highly selective citations leave us little doubt as to where he falls in the discussion. His chapter on gay rights internationally laments the fact that the U.S. is laboring to pressure other nations to treat their gay populations humanely and as full human beings. No mention is made of laws like Uganda’s anti-gay bill increasing criminalization of the behavior and orientation, nor that it was just struck down as unconstitutional, though one is left with little wonder as to where Reilly came down on bills like it.

In my final analysis, Reilly’s book completely fails to establish its thesis. Natural law itself fails to live up to its promised ability to grant us the power to move from “what is” to “what ought,” to derive morality from nature. There is a reason philosophy has moved beyond natural law – it cannot show us what is good or proper. Its results are entirely arbitrary, as morality is not established by nature. The book also fails the scholarship test, being little more than a partisan regurgitation of the same biased studies, discredited individuals and research, and the flimsy excuses they engender to keep the whole narrative complex afloat. There is nothing in this embarrassing book that would give me cause to change my mind concerning LGBTQ equality.

Justifying Domestic Violence?

It is astonishing to me how many people don’t understand how easily it is to justify violence, especially in the Church. But perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. Most evangelicals are still strict complimentarian-patriarchalists. But even those I thought were more sane in their approach can fall prey to bad assumptions. Here’s a comment from a respected ministry guy who accepts women’s ordination and who has proved to be very wise on a lot of subjects (I won’t name him for his own benefit):

I agree: Men should never hit women. On that I completely, wholeheartedly, and unequivocally agree. Any man who physically, sexually, or verbally abuses a woman is nothing but a coward in my eyes. Man up. Live up to the name “gentlemen.” Treat others as you would like to be treated. That should not be the end of the discussion, though. Yes, let’s talk about the man’s behavior and do so in incredibly critical ways. At the same time (not “But”), let’s also talk about the woman’s behavior. In my opinion, significant societal progress will not be made until we’re able to have a thoughtful public discourse about both sides of the equation. The fact that discussing one-half of the behavior involved seems culturally taboo is a significant problem. Of course, I know why that is. Experience tells me that few people are able to engage in that conversation without immediately inserting foot in mouth, making some profoundly stupid and insensitive and hurtful comments. At their very worst, such comments can victimize the victim all over again. Not good. So it’s easier to simplify it to an absolute rule of “Just say no” without further dialogue. Yet that approach doesn’t work. It never does on a large-scale. As one born in 1985, I can tell you that it didn’t work with D.A.R.E. and it didn’t work with abstinence-only sex education. Likewise, it doesn’t work with domestic violence. There’s a crucial distinction to be made between understanding ad justifying. I’ll say it again. We need to be able to thoughtfully discuss the behavior of all parties involved. To my eyes that is nothing if not reasonable.

The guise by which we can sneak our poor assumptions in is through our appeal to “reasonableness.” Everybody likes a good, balanced discussion. Except that in this case, this is not a balanced discussion. This is the implicit justification of domestic violence. In the abstract it sounds perfectly acceptable to say that we should consider both sides; in philosophy and theology this is indeed a strength. But this does not necessarily apply when dealing with specific real-world situations.

The response with violence is never an acceptable response. It does not matter what the victim was doing, violence is never a proportionate response. So we should have no need to “talk about the woman’s behavior.” (Let’s include abused men here too and say that the victim’s behavior, regardless of gender, is not what is under review in trying to figure out what happened). There is no behavior on display that justifies violence as a response. It doesn’t matter what the victim was doing – the moment a punch was thrown you have crossed into unacceptable behavior. It doesn’t matter if they pissed you off. It doesn’t matter if they were annoying you, or even screaming at you. It doesn’t even matter if you have PTSD or “trigger words.” Violence is always a choice, which means we always have the opportunity to say no.

So how does this kind of superficial “reasonableness” imply victimization? Because it blames the victim for the event, even if handled in the nicest, kindest way. It does not do so directly, so you don’t have to intend to blame the victim or consciously realize this is what you are doing. The point is that implicit in the very assumptions of the statement above is assigning blame, or partial blame, up0n the victim. You cannot say what is said above to the face of an abused woman and not have it come across as blaming them. “You know it takes two to have an argument.” “What were you doing, Mrs. Brown?” Implicit in the claim that we “need to be able to thoughtfully discuss the behavior of all parties involved” is that both parties worked to provoke an act of violence. This also implies that women ought to learn how to walk on eggshells around their husbands so to not contribute to a situation that would result in violence. But this is not their responsibility. Our approach to the situation must not be, “Learn how not to get punched, Mrs. Brown” but “Stop punching your wife, you bastard.”

And what of those women for whom the only trigger in their husbands is alcohol? Or walking in the room at the wrong moment? Or asking how their day was? Or saying that dinner is ready? Anyone who can sit across from a woman with a black eye and bruises all along her body and ask her, “How did you contribute to the situation?” should not hold any counseling or pastoral position anywhere at any time. This is a mark of disqualification from oversight and care. It is no different from asking the rape victim, “What were you wearing?” That is irrelevant to the case of being raped. No outfit (or indeed no outfit at all) is “asking for” being raped.

We must stop victimizing the victims, blaming the victims, and focus on healing and caring for them. They need no more burdens placed upon them. Stop. Please.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (8)

Chapter Six, titled “Inventing Morality,” traces a series of legal cases which Reilly seems to think shows the straight line from contraception to homosexuality in American law. As a Roman Catholic, of course, Reilly must believe that any form of contraception is wrong, despite the fact that this comes from church dogma and logical syllogisms rather than any clear teaching in Scripture on the subject. This, by the way, is another reason the NNL theorists are really just the same as the old NL theorists. For all their talk of unitive nature and “one flesh,” their argument at base is that all sex must be procreative.

Reilly’s true position is revealed in this chapter. For all his assurances that the book is not a personal attack upon homosexuals, he abandons this shallow pretext and gets down to business. “Yet the proponents of homosexuality are supporting a cause that can succeed only by obliterating that very understanding of Nature upon which our existence as a free people depends” and “ultimately makes impossible the very conception of rights” (66). “Sodomy reflects a disorder in the soul that can strike at the heart of public order” (71). It “threatens the whole community” and because the “teaching itself is pernicious” (67). In fact, the government should implement laws which promote the heteronormative family and “discourage violations of it, including sodomy” (69). He leaves it to our imaginations on how the government might discourage “sodomy,” though his meaning isn’t difficult to discover. The government is the agent of coercion, and his statements comes at the end of a section of the chapter celebrating William Blackstone’s antiquated commentaries on common law published in the latter half of the 1700s, whose opinion it was that sodomy was “an offense so dark in nature, the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature, a crime not fit to be named,” and who would go on to declare was worse than rape (71). Following this section, Reilly leads us through a list of nations and states in the USA in prior centuries which made same-sex behavior a criminal offense. This leaves us with no doubt that Reilly would like us to return to the good ol’ days when loving, consensual same-sex relationships were the subject of criminal prosecution. He quotes positively Thomas Jefferson’s 1778 bill that punished the homosexual, “if a man, with castration” (71). Such is the “millennia of moral teaching” and “vision or a virtuous citizenry” (70) we ought to have, apparently.

It is also here that Reilly’s doublemindedness and confusion comes to the forefront. He assures us that, despite all this, it is not meant to suggest that “homosexuals should have anything but the full exercise of their civil rights” (67). Except the right to be seen, spoken of, treated like, and dealt with under the law as human beings who just want to love the person they love. No, Reilly is deluding himself, as his magical distinction between civil rights and gay rights makes clear: you see, it is only the “espousal of fictitious and self-contradictory gay rights that must be opposed” (67). These things cannot be cleanly separated, as gay rights are simply the push to be recognized as equal under the law, just like real civil rights fight for equality under the law for racial minorities, and women’s rights fight for equality under the law for women. One’s sexual orientation is just as intrinsically a part of a person’s life as their ethnicity and biology. He can make this distinction, he thinks, because reason is employed neutrally – “One undertakes this effort as a human being endowed with reason, not specifically as a man or as a woman, or as a heterosexual or as a homosexual” (89). Of course, anyone who has studied epistemology (or taken a freshmen college course in philosophy) know this is absurd. One’s race, gender, biology, and experiences cannot help but inform our limited perspectives, and what is concealed beneath Reilly’s claim of neutrality is simply cis-heteronormative white male privilege. That is, as a straight, white male, he simply assumes his position is neutral ground and sees everything and everyone else who comes to different views as ideologically driven while missing his own bias.

The middling portions of the chapter are mostly about contraception and abortion as necessary preconditions to the approval of homosexuality, and while the argument is strained at times, it is certainly true that separating sexuality from procreation does collapse the whole Natural Law house of cards. But this is no big loss. Just the loss of premodern Greek Philosophy given a brief coating of pseudo-Christian pietism. The rest follows from his premises, which once collapsed, can be seen to be built on very little. He blithely assumes that it ought to be criminalized when he compares it  (in the space of three paragraphs) through analogy to murder, rape, kidnapping, prostitution, alcoholism, and kleptomania (88).

Reilly works hard to establish his case but in the end can only prove that the courts have abandoned Natural Law, not that they have abandoned morality or anything else. His fearmongering not withstanding, there is no legitimate reason offered in the chapter to disagree with the courts as they strike down same-sex marriage bans around the country.

Making Gay Okay: A Review (7)

Chapter Five of Robert Reilly’s Making Gay Okay is titled “The Lessons From Biology,” and is a discussion of the health issues involved in same-sex behavior. But before we get to the health issues he will raise, Reilly must first set the stage with a number of assumptions. He complains that we know the use and purposes of every other part of the body but refuse to admit what is so obvious about our sex organs, namely that they are used for procreative and unitive purposes (52). He uses the example of the lungs, which were made for air, not for water.

But it seems to me he is ignoring a number of truths regarding the genitals. First of all, they have two primary purposes – to pass waste and to have sex. NNL theorists, and all conservative arguments against SSM, ignore this reality entirely. To them, the genitals are always spoken of as life-bringing while the anus is an organ of death and waste. But the reality is that the genitals expel waste as well (a function for which they are arguably employed far more than for sex). Furthermore, the anus is also designed to give pleasure during its typical function, and has many more nerve endings than the genitals. The male prostate is located nearer to it than to the genitals too, and thus anal intercourse is reportedly able to give more intense orgasms than otherwise. What an odd design, if we are indeed to believe the NNL theorists and conservatives.

What follows are pages and pages of nonsense and misinformation and shoddy logic. He lists the many sexually transmitted diseases that can be contracted by gay people, ignoring that all of these can also be contracted by heterosexuals. The anal-specific problems he points to are problems with aggressive penetration, not with the practice exclusively. Moreover, he says gay men are 37 times more likely to get anal cancer than the general population, but as even he manages to note, this is for men who have already contracted HIV, not the general population of gay men.

Reilly also claims that gay men have a lifespan 30 years shorter than straight men, even without anal sex. To make this claim, Reilly depends upon the discredited work of Dr, Jeffrey Satinover, an anti-homosexual advocate. The trouble is that Satinover is depending upon bad research, in this case a 1993 paper which came to this shocking conclusion by comparing obituary listings in 16 gay mags and papers with two mainstream newspapers. In John Corvino’s words, “the methodology in this study is laughable even to those with no formal training in statistics” (What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?, 52). The author of this paper, Paul Cameron, was expelled from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations, and condemned by the Nebraska Psychological Association and American Sociological Association for “misrepresentations of scientific research on sexuality” (Corvino, 53). Reilly also uses the work of Dr. Hogg on young gay men in Vancouver between 1987 and 1992, which found that young gay men there were more likely to die 8-20 years before the general male population. But Reilly, and all conservatives who cite Hogg’s work ignore three things: 1) this was in the heyday of risky gay behavior, thus driving up mortality rates 2) these deaths were from HIV, for which there is now effective treatment, thus bringing the average back down and 3) the study is so narrow that general conclusions cannot be drawn from it. This is demonstrated from Hogg himself, who in 2001 denounced the use of his paper to “suggest that gay and bisexual men  live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and others,” and points out that his research would no longer be an accurate study of the gay urban population in Vancouver today (Corvino, 55-56).

Such is the sort of “scholarship” one finds in these sorts of books. Based upon this shoddy research, Reilly asks why we don’t put warning labels on homosexuality like we do for smoking (57-59). This again ignores the fact that HIV and AIDS can be transmitted heterosexually, and that heterosexuals also practice anal sex. It also ignores the fact that physicians and medical experts have been warning people about how HIV and AIDS is transmitted for nearly three decades. We don’t outlaw smoking just because it can cause cancer, though we do warn people about the dangers and stop indoors smoking in public to protect others from second-hand smoke. Reilly also downplays the difference between the HIV virus and anal sex – that is, anal sex does not cause HIV, though it can transmit a virus that is already present. He tries to hand-wave over this distinction by calling it a distraction (58), but the point is a real and legitimate one. The behavior and the virus are two entirely different things, and anal sex practiced without the virus present cannot cause the virus. To turn this around a bit, imagine claiming that because vaginal intercourse comes with the risk of contracting various diseases that a person wrote an entire book denouncing the “heterosexual lifestyle” as filthy, degrading, disgusting, and unclean? Would we not call such a book a category confusion and an overreaction?

The rest of Reilly’s chapter is devoted to the purported claim that gay men are vastly more promiscuous than other segments of the population (59-65). The object of rehashing all this information is to claim that fidelity is not common in the gay community, therefore they will destroy marriage or redefine it out of existence. That gay people (really, gay men since Reilly continually conflates gay men who practice anal sex with the general LGBTQ community) are not marriage material. Now, we must grant at the outset that men are generally more promiscuous than women for a variety of biological and cultural reasons, and that men who have sex with men, therefore, will have a higher rate of promiscuity than any other demographic group. But this hardly proves that this must be the case; plenty of promiscuous heterosexual men have been tamed by love and there is nothing to prevent this from being the case with homosexual men either.

But even granting that this is the case, there are a number of studies which have shown that, while men who have sex with men do report higher numbers of partners than those who do not, this is not statistically much higher from the general population of men. For example, Edward Laumann et al notes that While some evidence in our data supports this general tendency, the differences do not appear very large in view of the higher variability in our measures that results from the small sample size of homosexually active men.”  (Social Organization of Sexuality, 316). Vierod et al noted in their large study of gay men in Scandinavia over a five year period that the average sexual partner was about one partner per year in the first year, and 0.3 partners by year five, which is much lower than expected (Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, 1997). Bryant and Demian conducted a study on homosexual relationships which showed that 63% of gay male relationships were entirely monogamous and 78% had a frequency of extra-relationship sexuality of zero partners (Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 1994). These numbers are comparable to the heterosexual numbers of Laumann et al’s study, taken from the same period, which showed that 79.3% of heterosexual men were monogamous.

So where do these huge numbers come from? Often these statistics come from earlier days in the LGBTQ movement when, born out of the free love movement, encouraged casual sexuality, or are studies of high-promiscuity centers like densely populated urban centers. There are highly promiscuous gay men out there – just like there are highly promiscuous straight men out there. But this does not appear to be the norm for either orientation.