Research Council letter, May 8, 1998
May 8, 1998
Early last month, I went to Harvard to give a speech on morality in foreign policy. It ended with an exchange on morality in domestic policy
- an exchange I would like you to read. (A copy is enclosed.)
The moral issue I am talking about is one most public speakers fear
- homosexuality. They fear it for a variety of reasons, some good and some not-so-good. No one wants to be heckled or shouted-down on a college campus by homosexual activists
- people who answer even the mildest criticism of their agenda with rage, personal attacks, and often violence. Fear of that kind of response is understandable.
But many public speakers, including government officials, refuse to speak out for less understandable reasons. It isn't the vocal outrage of the activists they fear, but the scorn of the cultural elite - Hollywood, the media, and academics - whose favor they curry. And so they conceal their convictions, not only weakening themselves but actually inviting the ridicule of the activists who confront them.
So I went to Harvard, knowing that in ultra-liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts, a confrontation was possible, even if the reason for my visit was topics like Saddam Hussein, not same-sex marriage. Sure enough, as soon as my remarks were over, student after student approached the microphone not to protest my views on China and religious persecution, but to challenge what I have written and said elsewhere about the sadly misnamed "gay" lifestyle.
Believe me, I was tempted to ignore these questions. And there was a graceful way to do it, too. My hosts at the Institute for Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government had invited me there to talk about the missing dimensions of human rights and moral values in U.S. diplomacy. When the first question came from a young man who asked me how I could support "persecution" of homosexuals, my first urge was to dismiss it and say something like, "Thank you, but my subject today is the relationship between the vision of people like George Marshall and Ronald Reagan and America's role in the world today. If your question is on other issues, that's a debate for another day."
Something inside me told me, however, that this was not the time for the easy response. Harvard is one of those cultural temples on whose thresholds too many conservatives now tremble. The homosexual creed is now well-established there. Though born in the early 17th century as a Christian institution dedicated to the spread of biblical wisdom, Harvard has deteriorated into a place where a same-sex wedding ceremony in the university chapel is seen as
"natural." In short, Harvard is precisely the kind of place where men and women who believe as I do must be willing to speak clearly.
Let me be plain. What I faced at Harvard was possible name-calling and likely bad press, but it was no more than that. Thanks to the support of people like you, my job as President of the Family Research Council is not at risk and my immediate future is secure. There are other people who, by speaking out about moral truths and their application to 20th- century America, risk their reputations and their very livelihoods.
Take Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers.
Reggie has built a stellar career as an All-Pro defensive lineman. He helped lead "the Pack" to victory in the 1997 Super Bowl and to near-victory in this year's game. In the off season, Reggie doubles as associate pastor of the Inner City Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
In both these roles, Reggie has won great fame for his compassion and community leadership. He won the National Football League's Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award in 1992 for "service to team, community, and country." In 1996, the Simon Wiesenthal Center gave him its Tolerance Award for his "commitment to fostering tolerance and pursuing his vision of a better America."
Now CBS television has decided that Reggie White is an unfit spokesman for its pro football broadcasts. Why? Because the Rev. Reggie White had the nerve to stand in front of the Wisconsin legislature and speak his mind about homosexuality. Reggie's hour-long speech covered a football field's worth of controversial topics, from condom distribution (he's against it), to abortion (he's for the sanctity of human life), to spanking (he defends it).
Reggie also shared his thoughts about racial issues. He tried to argue that each race is "gifted" in a different way, and that the fullness of God's love is shown through this mosaic of gifts. This section of Reggie's speech also drew criticism, but, as he said afterward, his aim was not to stereotype or to denigrate any race. Indeed, if Reggie had used more of the buzzwords of modern social discourse
- praising "diversity" and celebrating "differences"
- these comments would have passed with little notice.
No, what drew the ire of legislators and media elites alike was Reggie's bold application of the word sin to homosexuality. In his speech, he posed the question of why America is "pushing God out," and he argued that the answer was
and the desire of many people to profit from sin. "Let me explain something when I'm talking about sin," Reggie said, "and I'm talking about all sin. One of the biggest ones that has ... really [come under] debate in America is homosexuality."
"Sometimes," he went on, "when people talk about this sin they've been accused of being racist." White said that he was "offended" by this. "Any man in America deserves rights, but homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black men or black people. ... Homosexuality is a decision. It's not a race."
The echoes of the speech had hardly faded away in the Wisconsin legislature when the firestorm began. White's remarks went out over the Associated Press wire and the cable news networks. Press releases from homosexual and liberal groups condemning his words were blast faxed to newsrooms across the country. Members of the Wisconsin General Assembly rushed to the microphones to announce Reggie White's fall from grace.
These groups were not content to stop there. Instead, they went after Reggie White's livelihood. They immediately pressured CBS Sports not to hire White as a commentator. They went after his existing contracts with Campbell's Soup and Nike, urging them to dump White. Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign, a militant gay rights political action group, accused White of "ignorance" and said, "[I]t would send a chilling message if he were allowed to continue as a spokesman for the Campbell's Soup Company."
To what should be their everlasting shame, the people at CBS Sports collapsed in the face of this pressure. They announced that Reggie White, an eloquent and engaging speaker, was no longer under consideration by the network. Keep in mind that this is the same network that, in the same week, announced it is bringing "shock jock" Howard Stern to television. At a press event on April 2, announcing the new show, Stern said, "We'll have a lot of nudity and lesbians. We plan to have a lot of drunken dwarfs on the show. I don't know why it gets ratings, but it does."
To date, neither Nike nor Campbell's Soup has broken off its work with White, but the cultural message is clear. Criticize this lifestyle and you risk your livelihood. There is a deeper reality here as well. To speak the truth is always to run a risk, and if that truth reflects either biblical teaching or commonsense morality, expect the risk to be multiplied.
What an irony it is that the self-proclaimed forces of tolerance and moderation will seek to destroy any man or woman who contradicts their point of view! In this way, the stakes in our modern debate over homosexuality
- and over so many other issues - become clear. In public life, one point of view or the other will dominate. Social order seeks a "social good." For homosexual activists and their allies, that "good" is not tolerance but the enforced public acceptance of homosexuality as a positive lifestyle.
At day's end, our culture will either hold up, as heroes, men like Reggie White who exemplify a high personal standard of morality and public service, or it will enshrine men like Howard Stern, who base their careers on vulgarity and sexual exploitation. It will embrace Reggie White's code of hating the sin but loving the sinner. Or it will embrace sin, and heap abuse on any person who calls the sin what it is.
In the days after his speech in Wisconsin, I spoke to Reggie White several times. I had not known him before, but I had long admired him. In the wake of his remarks, Family Research_Council rose to his defense publicly
- and proudly._Reggie thanked me for our support and told me he would not retreat. I wrote to you last month about boldness. Reggie White is nothing if not bold. He is standing four-square behind his words, four-square for his faith.
Frankly, his words inspired me as I stood on that podium at Harvard. I addressed those young men who confronted me as I would my own son. I told them what I believe and why I believe it, and why the truth will set them free. Whether their minds were changed or their hearts were touched, I do not know, but I do know that the confrontation I might have feared never really came. I hurt for these young men, but they did not hurt me; they heard me out, and when they saw that I would not tremble or change, they left the microphone.
I pray that God will give them the moral courage it takes to change their lives. I pray that God will continue to grant the Reggie Whites of this world, few as they are, the courage to proclaim their convictions. Our world has dire need of such courage, and all of us who care about the future of our nation must band together and work and pray to meet that need.
As the summer months approach, contributions to nonprofits like Family Research
Council typically decline. If you could find it in your heart and within your means to remember us with a gift this month, it would mean so much to our work. As always, thanks for reading my letter this month, and may God bless you and your family.
P.S. It's been a busy month at FRC. In April we placed a full-page ad in USA Today, cosigned by me and Dr. James Dobson, regarding the shootings in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Drop us a note and we'll send you a free copy of the ad or ad slick if you would be willing to have it placed in
your local paper. You can also request a free copy of a talk I've called "The American Century." The good people at Grove City College, where the address was delivered, have produced a nicely printed transcript you may find of interest.
Finally, there's an item we can't (unfortunately) give away free: a brilliant new book by our Director of Cultural Studies Robert Knight, titled The Age of Consent. It's a timely book in more ways than one. Bob lays bare the ideology of moral relativism that has produced the
cultural decay we see all around us. The Age of Consent describes how America became a place where a Howard Stern can be exalted and a Reggie White derided. I don't often say this, but it's must reading. Please consider obtaining a copy for yourself for your church, or for your local library. Again, God bless you.
PP.S. Our good friends at the Citizens Flag Alliance are launching a special effort this month.
They call it "Show Your Colors, America!" To show special honor to our nation's flag, and to
boost public support for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, the Alliance is urging
Americans to hoist the flag on Memorial Day and to display it every day until Veterans Day
1998. I hope you'll answer the call and raise high the red, white and blue!
FRC is a tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. Donations to FRC are tax-deductible consistent with IRC section 170.
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