On the third day of 2020, conservative Christian leaders met at a megachurch in Miami for an “Evangelicals for Trump” rally, launching a key part of the president’s re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, LGBT activist groups and websites descended on the key figures of this coalition, attacking them as “hate group” leaders and “anti-LGBTQ extremists.”
The LGBT magazine The Advocate dug up old statements and repeated the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to smear the evangelicals involved, citing research compiled by the activist group GLAAD.
“One of the best-known among them is Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Trudy Ring wrote.
The SPLC fired its co-founder last year after a racial discrimination and sexual harassment scandal that also revealed how former employees saw themselves as “part of the con,” exaggerating hate by padding the “hate group” list and “bilking northern liberals” to cut big checks. It has faced multiple defamation lawsuits and paid millions to settle them. As for FRC, a deranged shooter targeted the organization due to the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation, which is based on false and exaggerated claims.
After citing the SPLC against Perkins, Ring cited many of his (occasionally hyperbolic) statements out of context, mocking the idea that LGBT activism can be a threat to religious freedom, despite Supreme Court cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2018), in which baker Jack Phillips gladly served LGBT people at his shop but would not craft a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding.
The Advocate reported that “others who joined Trump have equally repugnant views, anti-LGBTQ and antichoice, and often bigoted against members of other faiths.” Ring cited old quotes from John Hagee, founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel. The author cited one statement Hagee had recanted shortly after saying it and another that was taken out of context. The Anti-Defamation League, which originally condemned the misunderstood statement, later reconciled with Hagee, saying, “We are grateful that you have devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the State of Israel.”
The Advocate also referenced quotes from Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, condemning same-sex sexual activity as “filthy,” “degrading” and “prone to disease.” These statements are hyperbolic but they reflect the orthodox Christian teaching that homosexual activity is sinful. Yet not satisfied with this, the magazine breathlessly added, “He has also called Islam ‘a false religion’ and denied that Mormons are Christians.” Again, these views may be offensive to many, but orthodox Christianity considers the claims of Islam false and disagrees with central claims of Mormonism.
As the Advocate article continued, the “revelations” of hyperbolic rhetoric became less surprising. The article noted Michelle Bachmann’s claim that homosexual identity comes from Satan, while ignoring the beginning of her statement: “We need to have profound compassion for the people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life, and sexual identity disorders. This is a very real issue. It’s not funny, it’s sad.”
It also quoted Ralph Reed, noting that he compared the fight for traditional marriage to the fight against slavery. Was that really the most offensive thing The Advocate could find?
Ring also cited Gary Bauer, who said the LGBT movement would “mortify” Martin Luther King Jr. Somehow, The Advocate writer seemed to think it was an argument against Bauer that MLK’s niece, Alveda King, has also supported traditional marriage and attended the Trump event. The author also cited Bishop Harry Jackson’s warning against the threat that men who identify as women pose to women in spaces where women are vulnerable, like restrooms.
Yet the attack did not end with the Advocate article seemingly orchestrated by GLAAD. Later last week, Media Matters posted a smear against Jenna Ellis, senior legal advisor to the Trump campaign and also a member of Evangelicals for Trump.
Media Matters’ Eric Hananoki branded Ellis “anti-Muslim” and “anti-LGBTQ.” The article framed her occasionally hyperbolic expression of Christian teaching against homosexual activity as vicious and harmful. It repeatedly accused her of supporting “dangerous” and “discredited” “conversion therapy.”
Therapies to change a person’s sexual orientation have a rightly notorious history, but the modern therapies that LGBT activists are trying to ban involve mainstream talk therapy. Many people do struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, and this phenomenon occasionally does trace back to childhood trauma. So long as therapy is non-intrusive, patient-driven, and following best practices, there is no reason to brand it “conversion therapy” just because a patient may struggle with these issues.
Ellis opposed A.B. 2943 — an extremely controversial bill Media Matters characterizes as fighting “conversion therapy” — because it would result in bans on any sort of literature promising hope to people who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. The California state assemblyman who sponsored the bill in the first place, Evan Low, later withdrew it after meeting with faith leaders.
Media Matters reported, “Ellis promoted ‘reference material’ falsely touting conversion therapy as safe and effective.”
The liberal outlet quoted Ellis as insisting that “Sin is always sin, even if nice people commit it,” a mainstream orthodox Christian perspective. Media Matters also quoted her as saying, “Christians cannot follow God and accept or condone or participate in homosexuality or adulterous behavior.” This is another way of saying homosexual activity and adultery are sinful, the orthodox Christian perspective.
Only two of the comments quoted in the article seem troubling: Ellis’s statement that “Islam is not freedom. It’s not peaceful. It’s not Liberty. It is not American;” and her statement that “we cannot escape God’s moral law and His supremacy” on an article about gay and bisexual men being more likely to contract HIV.
The first statement came in Ellis’s response to the horrific Orlando shooting, perpetrated by a man who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. Her condemnation was overbroad, but in context, she clearly meant to condemn the radical Islam that inspired the attack.
Her second statement seems to involve attributing disease to God’s judgment. While many conservative Christians would hesitate to connect these dots, her statement makes sense from the perspective that homosexual activity is sinful and God punishes sin, very mainstream Christian beliefs.
After the Media Matters attack, LGBTQ Nation published its own article condemning Ellis as an “anti-LGBTQ extremist.”
The SPLC piled on with a tweet sharing the LGBTQ Nation attack. “The [Trump] administration has made it clear time and again that it doesn’t care about the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Hiring a campaign advisor known for her anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric does nothing to change that,” the SPLC tweeted.
The #Trump administration has made it clear time and again that it doesn't care about the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Hiring a campaign advisor known for her anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric does nothing to change that. #YallMeansAllhttps://t.co/BQI5r6FQ09
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) January 9, 2020
GLAAD also published its own compilation of Ellis’s supposedly extreme statements, including this one: “Transgender ‘women’ are still men.” Oh, horror! She believes in biology!
— GLAAD (@glaad) January 10, 2020
Most of the “hate” and “extremism” that the LGBT activists highlighted here is merely an expression of orthodox Christian doctrine against homosexual activity.
None of this is to say that “Evangelicals for Trump” is beyond criticism. Trump has achieved many key victories for social conservatives — from originalist judges to defunding Planned Parenthood to restoring the biological definition of sex in law — but Bible-believing Christians may look askance at the inclusion of prosperity gospel preacher Paula White. Some of Trump’s remarks during the rally were indefensible. For instance, he said of former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, “All of a sudden he has become extremely religious. This happened about two weeks ago.” Buttigieg has weaponized his liberal interpretation of Christianity to attack the faith of conservative Christians, but his faith is not recent and Trump was wrong to say so.
The Advocate did note the Buttigieg attack, but it quickly pivoted to demonizing conservative Christians for being conservative Christians — a long-term strategy of the SPLC and something Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy implicitly condemned in his ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here,” he wrote.
LGBT activists would be wise to listen.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.