The Family Research Council is demonstrably wrong

In a recent press release, the flagrantly anti-gay Family Research Council claimed:

As more churches move away from biblical authority, their attendance suffers. Just ask the Episcopal Church, whose pews are virtually empty after the decision to endorse homosexuality. It’s time to push back on the spin that’s feeding our weak brethren who say that compromising truth in pursuit of love is the way to reach the lost.

Is any of this factually accurate? As usual, no.

First, the Episcopal Church has experienced an overall decline in attendance (PDF) of 3.7% from 2000 to 2010 – hardly “virtually empty” pews.

Second, the idea that churches have lost followers due to “compromising truth” is wholly contrary to reality. A series of studies of young Christians and ex-Christians found that three out of five of them will leave their churches for a lengthy period, often permanently, after age 15. Why? Were their former faiths just too accepting of gay people? Were they driven away by churches that prized love over “truth”, and compromised their doctrines in order to appeal to more people?

No. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Those who left their churches offered several reasons for leaving, such as the perception that Christians “demonize everything outside of the church”, that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers”, that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in”, that “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date”, that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths”, and that they feel “forced to choose between my faith and my friends”. Do these sound like people who wanted more “truth” from dogmatic churches which demand they place religious belief before reality, humanity, and love?

According to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 69% of Millennials believe “religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues”. In other words, people aren’t leaving because their churches are too tolerant of homosexuality. They’re leaving because their churches are too intolerant of homosexuality. The FRC is operating outside of reality, in a world that exists only in their fevered imagination.

Is This Really Just “Mainstream Christian Advocacy”?

Following the shooting of a security guard at the anti-gay Family Research Council, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank called it “reckless” for the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Poverty Law Center to say the FRC is a “hate group”. He further suggested that calling the FRC “hateful” is an example of “inflammatory labels” and “hurling accusations that can stir up the crazies”, and questioned why the SPLC considers the FRC a “hate group” alongside the KKK and Aryan Nations. Throughout the piece, Milbank describes the FRC as “a mainstream conservative think tank”, “a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions”, “a mainstream Christian advocacy group ” , and “driven by deeply held religious beliefs”.

But Milbank’s appraisal of the FRC as something other than hateful is only possible because of his complete refusal to examine the actual substance of the organization’s infamous “conservative Christian positions”. For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the group’s so-called “mainstream Christian advocacy”, the claim that they aren’t hateful is so plainly ridiculous that the very word “hate” is meaningless if it doesn’t include the FRC.

An accusation of hatefulness certainly isn’t something to be thrown around lightly – it has to be earned. And the FRC has been working overtime since its inception to do just that. They’ve made no effort to hide their extraordinary attacks on the LGBT community; for anyone who cares enough to look, all of this is a matter of public record.

The FRC is pervasively opposed to the recognition and acceptance of transgender people. In one edition of their “Washington Update”, they criticize the rules of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for providing undocumented transgender detainees with continued access to hormone therapy rather than forcibly de-transitioning them. As they see it, trans people as a group are not even entitled to receive their own prescribed medications. Contrary to the recommendations of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which recognize gender transition treatments as beneficial and medically necessary, the FRC considers this “exacerbating a mental health crisis like cross-dressing”.

Testifying before the Maryland State Senate, FRC senior policy fellow Peter Sprigg – whose medical qualifications include being a professional actor and an ordained Baptist minister – again claimed that trans people should only receive “mental health treatments to help them become comfortable with their biological sex”. He further added that they transition “to fulfill their sexual desires”, which he describes as “transvestic fetishism”. In a policy document on gender identity nondiscrimination ordinances, which Sprigg labels “bathroom bills”, he argues against trans people being allowed to present as their identified gender, calling them “often highly unconvincing and therefore disturbing to witnesses”. To Dana Milbank, this is just “mainstream Christian advocacy”, which apparently includes denying health care and legal protections to entire classes of people and calling them sexual fetishists who are ugly.

The FRC and its staff have also used distorted and debunked studies to claim that LGBT people are unfit parents and are more likely to molest children. FRC president Tony Perkins describes pedophilia as “a homosexual problem”, and senior fellow Timothy Dailey has claimed that “disproportionate numbers of gay men seek adolescent males or boys as sexual partners”. An FRC pamphlet from 1999 stated: “One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order.”

They’ve recently cited a widely criticized study, which included hardly any examples of long-term same-sex parenting and was found to be severely flawed in an audit by the journal that published it, to claim that children of gay parents were more likely to be sexually abused, and “fare worse on most outcomes”. The study’s author admitted that it was not representative of stable families with same-sex parents, and the journal Social Science Research believes the paper’s methodological flaws should have disqualified it from publication. The FRC called it a “gold standard” of research. Is misrepresenting the competence of same-sex parents and the welfare of their children just one of those “deeply held religious beliefs”?

Of course, the FRC isn’t content with merely opposing the recognition of our families and depicting us as sexual predators – they’ve repeatedly challenged the very legality of our consenting, adult relationships. In 2010, Peter Sprigg appeared on Hardball and stated, “I think that the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas which overturned the sodomy laws in this country was wrongly decided. I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”

The FRC was also found to have spent $25,000 lobbying Congress against approving a resolution condemning Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would institute the death penalty for anyone who had gay sex more than once. Their explanation was that while they don’t support the Uganda bill, they only wanted to remove “sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right”. It’s not that they want us dead or anything – they just don’t think we have the right to do what heterosexuals do every day without facing “criminal sanctions”, like death.

And these aren’t just exceptions to an otherwise respectable record. At the FRC, such extreme stances are the rule. Whether they’re calling to “export homosexuals from the United States”, asking public health organizations to tell people to quit being gay as if it were a cigarette habit, recommending that teenagers be discouraged from identifying as LGBT in order to reduce teen suicide, comparing gay marriage to a man marrying a horse, describing efforts against anti-gay bullying as “telling school children that it’s okay to be immoral”, or comparing gay pride events to “adultery pride” and “drunkenness pride”, the FRC has made a name for itself. And that name is hate – proud, shameless, unapologetic hate.

What does Dana Milbank have to say about this?

Offensive, certainly. But in the same category as the KKK?

I have to wonder: if the KKK restricted itself to calling people of color child abusers and immoral sexual deviants with pedophiles for prophets, and demanded that they be denied health care and subject to “criminal sanctions”, would Milbank similarly object to calling them a hate group? Or would it be obvious that these are unambiguously hateful beliefs?

In asking us not to call this hateful, we’re expected to accept people wanting us demonized, detained, deported and dead as a normal part of American political and religious life. We’re the ones being told we must tolerate this as a simple difference of opinion – after all, it’s just “mainstream Christian advocacy”. To call them hateful is “reckless” and “inflammatory” of us; to be that hateful is mainstream and conservative of them.

There’s a remarkable irony in Milbank’s attempt to gloss over the particulars of the FRC’s beliefs by simply saying they’re “Christian”. He accuses us of calling Christian and conservative beliefs hateful, and yet he’s the one claiming that this unbelievable hostility toward our lives is just another element of Christianity and conservatism. Which is really worse: calling out hate groups for truly hateful behavior, or saying that mainstream American religion involves hating every aspect of our existence?

Not all deeply held Christian beliefs are hateful, and not all conservatism is hateful. But hate is still hate regardless of its religious or political origins. If these are your deeply held religious beliefs, then your deeply held religious beliefs are hateful. If these are your conservative Christian positions, then your conservative Christian positions are hateful. And if the FRC can’t be called hateful, then what can?

Incredible hypocrisy about the FRC’s own statements

In the wake of Wednesday’s tragic shooting of a security guard at the headquarters of the Family Research Council, right wing radio hosts Janet Mefferd and Peter LaBarbera have found someone to blame other than the shooter: people who quoted what the FRC’s staff, campaigns, and official publications have actually said.

Mefferd: I was reading through for example what the Human Rights Campaign had posted the day before the shooting and they had a whole list there that was very inflammatory about the Family Research Council, ‘they want to export homosexuals from the US’ and ‘they equate homosexuals with pedophiles’ and all this stuff. I thought: if you were somewhat of an unstable person and you read this sort of stuff and you were in line with what they believe I think it could drive somebody to violence. So we’re back to the question of, to what degree should there be public pressure on some of these gay rights organizations to tone it down?

Tone it down? These quotations are not something that LGBT groups have made up out of whole cloth. The FRC and its representatives really said these things. Peter Spring, senior fellow of the FRC, did say “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States, because we believe that homosexuality is destructive to society.” Sprigg did say ” I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.” And Tony Perkins, president of FRC, did say “While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”

How exactly are we supposed to tone down their own words? If they’re really going to argue that mere exposure to their own words is sufficient to inspire violence (a notion they strangely find unthinkable when others point out that their ongoing campaign of homophobia and transphobia might be in part responsible for anti-LGBT hatred and violence, LGBT youth suicide, family rejection and homelessness), then how can they hold others accountable for simply quoting what they said, but not themselves for actually saying it? Why are they saying any of this in the first place if they don’t want anyone to know they said it, and believe that people are literally going to shoot them upon hearing what they’ve said?

It’s like they started with victim-blaming and ended up blaming everyone but themselves. When they say something, they are responsible for nothing; when we just quote what they said, we are responsible for everything. This makes no sense whatsoever. If you really don’t want anyone to notice that you said gay people are pedophiles who should be “exported” and criminalized, then there’s an easy way to avoid this: don’t say it in the first place.

Nothing good will come of this

People who walk into random businesses or public places and open fire on innocents usually aren’t disposed to rational discourse or long-term planning, but Floyd Lee Corkins’ shooting of a security guard at the headquarters of the Family Research Council (allegedly accompanied by his declaration of “I don’t like your politics”) will surely do nothing but backfire. This wasn’t just needlessly violent and intolerably destructive – it will also prove to have been actively counterproductive.

The FRC and all other anti-gay right-wing groups that share its goals won’t hesitate to exploit this incident to portray themselves as the real victims in their ongoing fight against liberal values. NOM is already at it, demanding that bigoted, hateful groups no longer be called “bigoted” or “hateful” or “hate groups” because apparently that will cause people to shoot them (raising the question of why exactly it took so long for that to happen even once). I fully expect that they’ll continue bringing this up for the foreseeable future whenever they find it convenient to make supporters of gay rights look like maniacs who want to kill them – which is to say, always.

And every single time they milk this for more sympathy, we’ll be obliged to recite ad nauseam that yes, we unambiguously deplore all violence, no, this is never an acceptable approach to civil debate in the public sphere, yes, this was a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the victim, no, this man does not represent what we stand for… and so on. Meanwhile, they’ll continue working to criminalize our relationships, ban our marriages, tear apart our families, exclude us from full participation in our society, depict us as child abusers, and fight tooth and nail against our progress at every step. And now, they’ll be forcing us to apologize along the way.

You wounded more than just one person yesterday, Floyd.