War of Words on the Right Over Anti-Gay Activist’s Use of ’Sodomy’
A disagreement among the anti-gay right wing over a GLBT conservative group’s co-sponsorship of a yearly conference has sprouted a new war of words over the way one anti-gay pundit described his interpretation of same-sex relationships.
The aggravation on the right stems from a phrase quoted at anti-gay blog Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH). The blogger behind the site, Peter LaBarbera, reported that anti-gay pundit Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel had threatened a boycott of the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a yearly gathering of conservatives. The anti-gay fringe of the right wing objected to the 2010 C-PAC being co-sponsored by GLBT conservative group GOProud.
In the course of the article, LaBarbera quoted Barber as boiling same-sex relationships down to a crude description of a single sexual act presumed by many to be the primary expression of intimacy between gay men. "It boils down to this: there is nothing ’conservative’ about--as Barber inimitably puts it--’one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it "love,"’" LaBarbera wrote.
The quotation came from a private conversation between LaBarbera and Barber, LaBarbera clarified in a follow-up posting, though not before the crudeness of the quote had shocked and angered some of their fellow conservatives, including Randy Thomas, who is with the organization Exodus International, a religious group that claims that gays can be "cured" of homosexuality through prayer and counseling.
Reputable mental health professionals view such claims with skepticism, warning that programs of so-called "reparative therapy" are liable to do more damage than good. Some individuals who say that they have "converted" to heterosexuality claim that such programs have helped them embrace mixed-gender marriage and produce offspring; others say that such programs have given them tools to suppress their sexual longings, but say that denying their essential attraction to others of the same gender remains a struggle.
Randy Thomas, in a blog posted at the Exodus International Web site, responded to LaBarbera’s article about GoProud’s co-sponsorship of C-PAC in 2010, saying that the inclusion of the Barber quote at LaBarbera’s site was "unnecessary, hurtful and foolish.
"I say foolish because homosexual behavior is never just about behavior or even about attractions," wrote Thomas, who claims to once have been a gay man himself but to have "converted" to heterosexuality. "It encompasses something deeper that goes to the core of who you believe you are --your personal and relational identity. Not being raised in the church, being gay was my first sense of identity and community. Pursuing gay partners was the only definition of love and hope for relational fulfillment I had at that point in my life. Quotes like the one [used by LaBarbera in his posting] were all to [sic] frequent and hurtful. They have left a bitter legacy that characterizes a vast majority of politically engaged Christians in a false light and alienates gay identified people, like I was, from hearing the gospel."
Added Thomas, "While Exodus is not a part of the CPAC event, we regularly say in the office that public policy matters only because people do--but how can we convey such a message when we stigmatize the very individuals we seek to reach with such a crude, horrible depiction?"
LaBarbera dismissed Thomas as having had a "politically correct overreaction," and went on to critique Liberty Counsel, which had distanced itself from the offensive quotation attributed to Matt Barber, for having issued "an apologetic statement that that was not fully accurate in that it left out a key fact: Matt’s ownership of the bold sodomy description. This could create the impression that Barber might not have made the comment, which he did."
Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver issued a statement in which he made it clear that, "Liberty Counsel promotes the traditional family of one man and one woman because we believe that such relationships are best for society and for children. While we strongly disagree with the sexual politics and agenda of activist organizations and individuals, we also believe that each person is entitled to respect."
Continued the Liberty Counsel statement, "While there are some that hate us because of our message of sexual integrity, redemption, change, and hope, we have never, and will never, confuse the person with the agenda. We have never sought to dehumanize people to promote our message. Our message is one of redemption through the power of Jesus Christ."
LaBarbera posted Barber’s own statement on what Barber called the "faux controversy" surrounding the description of the sexual act that Barber had suggested constituted the sum total of same-sex couples’ relationships. Wrote Barber, "This is for clarification only. As affirmed in Liberty Counsel’s statement, neither I nor anyone with Liberty Counsel ever publicly ’wrote or made’ the comment in question--an unapologetically direct and accurate depiction of the sin of sodomy (a sin that God directly and accurately calls both an ’abomination’ and ’detestable’)."
However, Barber did admit to having made the remark in private. "Some years before I began working with Liberty Counsel, I made the comment in private conversation with Peter LaBarbera. At the time, Peter asked if he could ’quote me on it’ and I said yes.
"On a personal note, let me take this opportunity to share with those caught-up in this particular sin lifestyle that I am no less a sinner and no better a person than they," wrote Barber, the author of a recently-published memoir titled, "Right Hook: From the Ring to the Culture War." "None of us are," continued Barber. "The good news is that, through Christ’s earth shattering sacrifice on the cross, we are redeemed. We need merely believe, call upon His name, repent and make every effort to ’go and sin no more.
"Unfortunately, however, we live in a society where this particular sin is embraced, promoted and even celebrated," Barber went on. "People erroneously equate this unnatural and sinful behavior with ’identity’ and ’orientation’ even taking ’pride’ in an objectively deviant lifestyle. My hope and prayer is that this silly faux ’controversy’ might actually make people reflect--if only for a moment--upon the emotionally, spiritually and physically destructive nature of homosexual conduct. ’Gayness’ is about what people do, not who people are. It’s about feelings and behaviors alone. But those feelings and behaviors don’t make those caught-up in them any less precious to God, to me or to anyone I know."
Barber went on to praise organizations that hold out "reparative therapy" as an option to gays and lesbians who desire a "cure" for their sexual orientations. "It breaks my heart that so many ’gays’ and ’lesbians’ continue in a lifestyle that ultimately results in spiritual and, yes, even physical death," wrote Barber. "I’m very grateful for ministries such as PFOX, Exodus and others that reach out to those who seek to escape the homosexuality snare. In the meantime, I will push forward, undeterred, on the front lines of the ongoing culture war, fighting the militant homosexual activist organizations that enable and encourage those trapped in homosexuality to continue down that changeable path of destruction. Shame on them and shame on those who support them."
While Exodus International and Liberty Counsel sought to express a philosophy of respect for individuals irrespective of conduct, real or perceived, which some might view as offensive, LaBarbera stated that his objective was to "stigmatize" gays in order to reverse the social and legal progress GLBT Americans have made over the last several decades.
"AFTAH will continue to work with Exodus even though occasionally we have philosophical and semantic disagreements with them about the proper approach toward homosexuality and the ’Gay’ Activist Lobby," wrote LaBarbera. "The reality of our movement--like all coalitions--is that different groups take different approaches, hopefully all with the same end goal in mind. Exodus has a problem with re-stigmatizing homosexual behavior; we believe doing is essential to turning back the GLBT Lobby’s gains."
In an email exchange that LaBarbera also posted, LaBarbera challenged Thomas: "Let me ask you, Randy: how would you accurately and honestly describe the act of sodomy, and are you opposed to forcefully condemning it?
"There is so much to disagree with regarding Randy’s posts that I will leave that for a formal reply on my site," LaBarbera went on. "But I do want to clarify that Matt Barber’s candid description of homosexual sodomy--typical of his bold, entertaining and decidedly non-PC style--is completely accurate; that he stands by it; and that he did indeed give me permission to use it years ago--which has nothing whatsoever to do with Liberty Counsel today.
"Next time please shoot me an e-mail and we’ll clear this up easier," Labarbera added.
"Peter, I have tried to dialog with you in person and via email in the past and it hasn’t cleared up anything before," responded Thomas. "You nod, say nice things and then go do something else that stigmatizes people who struggle with or embrace homosexuality. This time you wrote a hateful public quote attributed to someone else and contextualized it as a current reaction to the GOProud situation. We went through the direct and appropriate avenue to follow up with the person you alleged made this quote and got the above response.
"Do what you got to do Peter," Thomas added.
"Nice snippy non-response, Randy," LaBarbera shot back. "Talk about presumption. Perhaps you are correct: dialogue between us is not very productive as you seem to have one foot still in the ’gay’ camp (at least sympathy-wise) and another in the Christian pro-family camp. I sometimes wonder if you are more troubled by conservative pro-family groups like AFTAH than you are by homosexual activists. According to your loaded and misguided definition of ’hate,’ I suppose you could make the case that the God of the Bible is a ’hater’ because He calls sodomy ’detestable.’"
Added LaBarbera, "Matt and I and others are re-stigmatizing homosexual behavior, Randy--not people."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.