Trent Lott, Mike McCurry, Janet Folger, and the FRC
by Maggie Heineman September 19, 1999
Family Research Council Press Release (9/12/98)I was incensed when I read that the press secretary for the President of the United States had referred to a religious belief as "backward thinking."
"Whatever happened to religious freedom?" I fumed to the Bridges-Across Policy List.
I was immediately reminded that (as King put it) "One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda." I discovered that McCurry had said not said what he was accused of saying.
Someone posted a transcript of the press conference at which Mike McCurry used the "backward thinking" phrase. Ahh! .. It was Senator Lott's pathologizing of homosexuality, his comparing homosexuality to kleptomania, alcoholism, and sexual addiction that was referred to as backward thinking, not his statement about sin.
"It is [a sin]....You should try to show them a way to deal with that problem, just like alcohol...or sex addiction...or kleptomaniacs." - Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, Associated Press, June 15, 1998. [ref: Wired Strategies]And now, for over a year, I have been incensed that the political Religious Right has misinformed the public, the press, and their constituency about what Mike McCurry said. Imagine, if you will, that they had told the truth. Imagine that their press releases, interviews, and fund raising letters had said, "To view homosexuality as a disease is 'backward thinking,' according to President Clinton's spokesman, Mike McCurry," or, "The final straw came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry derided those who called homosexuality a disease as "backward."
Had they said those things, it would have been truthful.
When Senator Lott was asked if he believed that homosexuality is a sin, he didn't simply say yes. He said it was an illness, comparing homosexuality to sexual addiction, kleptomania, and alcoholism.
The political Religious Right is engaged in the repathologizing of homosexuality. In 1973, the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association voted to delete homosexuality as a mental disorder from the seventh printing of the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-II. Twenty five years later, Senator Lott, said homosexuality is an illness, a view that McCurry called backward.
What more effective way to make conservative Christians feel that intolerance is directed toward them, rather than toward gays, than to propagate the untruth that, from the White House itself, it had been said that their position on sin and morality is "backward thinking."
Unquestionably, there is fierce disagreement about the sin issue, but religious beliefs are constitutionally protected, and whatever his private opinion, McCurry did not, in his public role as presidential spokesman, say that to view homosexuality as immoral was "backward thinking."
However, McCurry did say that that predjudice against gay and lesbian people is "quite out of date."
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, exactly. You can see -- why would they oppose someone who is otherwise well-qualified to be a U.S. ambassador other than the prejudice that exists in their minds against people who are gay and lesbian? And that's such a clear example of why. I mean, now you understand why. It's because they have views that are, to put it charitably, quite out of date.Do those oppose the Hormel nomination do so because he has a psychiatric illness that needs to be treated? Or do they oppose the nomination because they believe that gay relationships are sinful? McCurry suggested that Senator Lott should explain his views in the respect to that of experts in the field, presumably referring to the field of psychiaty not theology.
Q Mike, you've been saying that when you refer to people who are so backward in their thinking, people who can't do rational work, and people who are prejudiced against the gay and lesbians, are you referring to Trent Lott?Three issues are jumbled together here sin, psychiatry, and how government should act toward gays.
I am disappointed that gay rights leaders didn't call Folger and FRC to task on the assertions that McCurry had called a religious belief "backward thinking. We need to distinguish carefully between pathologizing homosexuality and a religious belief that homosexual activity is sinful.
I am asking gay rights leaders for greater sophistication and clarity in specifying what there is to "agree to disagree" about (the religious convictions) and what amounts to slander (sweeping generalizations, dubious science, etc). The two are completely distinct from one another.
I am disappointed that Christianity Today and Janet Folger ignored email we sent.
I am asking pRR conservatives for a greater sophistication and honesty in specifying what amounts to religious intolerance and what amounts to fair diversity in the pluralistic marketplace of ideas. When conservatives make a debatable scientific claim or harsh sociological generalization, they should not interpret dissension -- even calling their thinking "backwards" -- as religious intolerance. Those are not religious statements to begin with. .