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Andrew Sullivan Is Being Smug And Naive

Andrew Sullivan, who like me works from home, and who unlike me has never worked in a newsroom or, to my knowledge, been on a college faculty for any length of time, says that I’m wrong to say that it is impossible now to make a “positive case” for orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, because […]
Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan, who like me works from home, and who unlike me has never worked in a newsroom or, to my knowledge, been on a college faculty for any length of time, says that I’m wrong to say that it is impossible now to make a “positive case” for orthodox Christian teaching on marriage, because (in my view) any opposition to same-sex marriage is seen as drive by bigotry. Andrew says that if orthodox Christians of goodwill want to be seen as not motivated by bigotry in their opposition to SSM, there’s something they can do about it:

And the only way to distinguish yourself from these hateful factions is to make a positive case for your position. That’s always possible. From the very beginnings of our faith, Christians have made such a positive case, even as they were being thrown to the lions. And Rod won’t do it because someone might say something mean at the office! How delicate and sensitive these Christianists can be.

How smug, naive, and completely out of touch Andrew Sullivan is being here, writing from deep inside his own bubble. Ryan T. Anderson (for example) co-authored a terrific, secular book laying out a natural law case against same-sex marriage. Watch what happened to him when he went on Piers Morgan’s show to talk about it. HuffPo’s Jon Ward wrote about it afterward:

But there is another major tension in this debate, facing another group: the growing number of Americans who favor gay marriage. The question for them is how to treat those who disagree with them.

Piers Morgan’s CNN segment on Tuesday night was a vivid illustration of this tension. Morgan invited Ryan T. Anderson, a 31-year-old fellow from The Heritage Foundation, on his program to debate the issue. But Morgan did not have Anderson to sit at a table with him and Suze Orman, the 61-year-old financial guru, who is gay. Instead, Anderson was placed about 15 feet away from Morgan and Orman, among the audience, and had to debate from a distance.

The message, in both the language used by Morgan and Orman, and the physical placement of Anderson on the set, was clear: they thought him morally inferior.

That is just one high-profile example. Here’s another: remember Scott Eckern, the Mormon theater director in California who was driven out of his job in 2008 because he donated money to Prop 8? From the NYT report:

Marc Shaiman, the Tony Award-winning composer (“Hairspray”), called Mr. Eckern last week and said that he would not let his work be performed in the theater. “I was uncomfortable with money made off my work being used to put discrimination in the Constitution,” Mr. Shaiman said. He added, however, that the entire episode left him “deeply troubled” because of the potential for backlash against gays who protested Mr. Eckern’s donation.

“It will not help our cause because we will be branded exactly as what we were trying to fight,” said Mr. Shaiman, who is gay. “But I do believe there comes a time when you cannot sit back and accept what I think is the most dangerous form of bigotry.”

Nobody reported that Eckern had been guilty of treating people in the workplace with bigotry. When it became known that he did not support SSM, and gave money to the campaign to stop it, he was compelled to resign, or see the institution he worked for ruined. Actress Susan Egan, who started the anti-Eckern protest, responded to the resignation:

But she did not intend to force Eckern to resign. “I don’t think it was anybody’s goal,” she said. “I’m really sad. I think Scott is a good man. I think he genuinely cares about the theatre. I think he’s good at his job.” She added that had he not resigned, however, “I know there are people who would not have been satisfied.”

Nice career you have there, Mr. Eckern. Sure would be a shame for something to happen to it. Nice business you have there, Mormon Restaurant Manager Lady. Sure would be a shame to have it destroyed.

Sullivan’s complaint is disingenuous. I hear all the time from religious conservatives in various fields — in particular media and academia — who are afraid to disclose their own beliefs about same-sex marriage because most people within those fields consider opposition to SSM to be driven solely by hatred. Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a man who is probably the most accomplished and credentialed legal scholar I’ve ever met, someone who is part of this country’s law elite. The fact that I can’t identify him here, or get into specifics of what he told me, indicates something important about the climate within law circles around this issue. On this issue, he lives in the closet, so to speak, within his professional circles, and explained to me why it has become too dangerous to take a traditionalist stand in law circles, unless one is prepared to sabotage one’s career. In the near future, law degrees coming from law schools that don’t adhere full-on to the new orthodoxy on gay rights (if any exist) will be taken as seriously by the legal profession as degrees from Bob Jones University are.

He also said that religious conservatives really don’t understand the McCarthyism that’s about to come at them. Simply affirming what their faith teaches about sexuality in context of the gay rights debate really is, and will increasingly be, seen not as evidence of one’s poor thinking, but rather as evidence of one’s personal evil. I told him that I understand it, because I’ve seen the same thing play out in my profession. I mentioned someone I know who works in a New York newsroom, at a senior level, who lives in the closet as an Evangelical, out of fear of her colleagues learning the truth — this, given their openly-expressed spite for Evangelicals. I mentioned another friend, a gay-marriage supporter from another New York newsroom, who told me not long ago that there is no room there for dissent on same-sex marriage. All opposition to the new orthodoxy is taken as a confession of one’s bigotry.

Does Andrew Sullivan not know this? There have been plenty of people in the recent past willing to make arguments for the traditional Christian view of sex and sexuality, but the place these arguments are made in our culture — in the media — has been indifferent or hostile to them. I point Andrew to the Pew Center’s study from last year, showing that media coverage on same-sex marriage from a critical period they studied favored the pro-SSM position by five-to-one. This kind of thing happens when the media have decided that the other side has no position worth listening to.

Has Andrew ever been threatened by a potentially career-ending complaint that expressing his beliefs create a “hostile work environment”? It has happened to me (though not about gay issues); I’ve heard from others — readers of this blog and people I have met elsewhere — who have faced similar reactions when it emerged in their places of employment that their personal views don’t agree with the new race-sex-gender orthodoxy. A tenured professor who is a Christian told me recently that if his colleagues knew that he disagreed with gay marriage, he would not lose his job (tenure protects him), but he would be ostracized within his college as a bigot. It’s very, very easy for the self-employed Andrew, who is on the power-holding side of this cultural equation, to demean as “delicate and insensitive” people who face real and significant professional consequences for their religious dissent.

It may fall to them to martyr their careers to stand up for what they believe to be true. But if they are going to do that, they should at least have a reasonable hope that their arguments will be seriously considered. That’s a ridiculous thing to hope for in our media climate today.  But it is unjust of Andrew to write as if his side is not imposing a real cost on people who even he recognizes are not true bigots, simply for expressing their Christian beliefs. Christians and other traditionalists were wrong to have demonized gay people in the past, and forced them to live in the closet for fear of their careers. Team Andrew Gay rights activists did a lot of good work to end this climate of fear, and to wake the rest of us up to the humanity of our gay brothers and sisters, and to increase tolerance for them. But it is to Team Andrew’s their great discredit that they have created a climate of intolerance and, yes, hatred, that sends traditionalist Christians into professional closets of their own. It would do Andrew good to step outside of his NYC-Provincetown-DC bubble, and listen to Catholics and other Christians who are not Westboro fundamentalists, and who are afraid to stand up for what they believe in because of the consequences they believe the new McCarthyism is likely to impose.

UPDATE: Damon Linker, who supports SSM, nails it. He says he’s thrilled by the progress gay rights have made.

But I’m also troubled by the equally stunning lack of charity, magnanimity, and tolerance displayed by many gay marriage advocates. This very much includes Mark Joseph Stern, Henry Farrell, and others who are cheering them on.

Roughly speaking, for all of recorded human history until a couple of decades ago, virtually no one even entertained the possibility that homosexuals might seek to marry, let alone advocated it. In that brief span of time — a figurative blink of an eye in cultural terms — gay marriage has gone from being an oxymoron to a lived reality in several states and an institution accepted by majorities or pluralities in most demographic categories. If that isn’t a cultural revolution, then nothing is.

Yes, it’s still underway. But at this rate, Nate Silver’s 2009 prediction that gay marriage would be accepted in all 50 states by 2024 is going to prove to be too pessimistic.

And yet, that appears to be insufficient for some gay marriage proponents. They don’t just want to win the legal right to marry. They don’t just want most Americans to recognize and affirm the equal dignity of their relationships. They appear to want and expect all Americans to recognize and affirm that equal dignity, under penalty of ostracism from civilized life.

That is an unacceptable, illiberal demand.

He explains why. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE.2: Listen, I’m not going to publish any more statements in the comboxes of this thread arguing whether or not Christian opposition to SSM is driven by bigotry. If you want to join that discussion, there are plenty of threads on this blog in which to do it, and there will no doubt be plenty more. This thread is about how gay rights supporters should treat those who disagree with them. I’m not trying to suppress your opinion because I disagree with it, but rather keep the discussion focused. Please don’t waste your time writing a general comment about supposed Christian bigotry, because I’m not going to post it.