Newsweek recently profiled Brian Brown, the president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage. The article presents a very sanitized picture of Brown and his work; it gives the impression that he’s some sort of moderate homophobe, not as hateful or prejudiced as the other guys. As Jeremy Hooper of Prop 8 Trial Tracker points out, this is a rather strange way to depict a straight man with a “near-daily, decade-long obsession with same-sex marriage.” Further, the article misrepresents NOM’s record, overstating its influence and success, and casts marriage equality supporters in a negative light.
Still, the article offers some insights on how Brown spins his image and his message to make it appear less homophobic than it is, and raises some interesting questions as to why Christians like Brown, a convert to Catholicism, invest so much effort and resources into opposing marriage equality. NOM has been able to raise, and spend, huge amounts of money in support of anti-gay measures:
Although NOM operates with a skeleton staff, its budget has ballooned from $500,000 in 2007, when Brown cofounded the group, to more than $13 million today. With that war chest, it was able to pour some $5 million into 100 races in the recent elections.
That’s quite a lot of money, money that could make a huge, positive difference in many lives if spent thoughtfully. NOM doesn’t disclose its donors, but it’s safe to say that most of it is coming from traditionalist Christians and churches. This is just one organization, of course, and doesn’t include the millions of dollars groups like the LDS and Roman Catholic churches have invested in anti-gay campaigns – so it only represents a fraction of the expenditure on such campaigns in the US. As always, I can’t but wonder why so many Christians think this issue is so important that it’s worth pouring so much individual and collective money into. Honestly, this is something I found disturbing even when I still accepted the fundamentalist and homophobic version of Christianity I was raised to believe. It’s one thing to believe same sex marriage is wrong, but what makes it SO wrong, so threatening, that millions of dollars are needed to deny it legal recognition? What makes it so much more urgent or important that it deserves more attention and funding than any number of causes focused on actually helping people? And if it’s really so awful, where are the millions of dollars being spent to ban divorce for straight couples?
Even if you read the Bible the way fundamentalists and evangelicals as literally as they claim it should be read, there’s no rationale for making fighting gay marriage and other LGB legal rights such a huge priority. Again, if you look at what Jesus actually said about righteous conduct, and what will get you into heaven, there’s absolutely nothing in there about fighting for the government to enforce (one version of) Christian beliefs as law, and quite a lot about Christians’ obligations to respect the government (“render unto Caesar what it Caesar’s”), and about how the kingdom of heaven has completely different values, goals, and priorities than earthly kingdoms and governments. Jesus rejected conventional measures of worth and status:
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10, ESV)
Jesus was expected to overthrow the Roman government, and instead taught that his kingdom was of another world. He taught that people who ignored the plight of the poor, hungry, sick, or downtrodden on earth would not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven, that the rich should give their money and possessions away to follow him, and that it’s easier for a rich person to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye (read: pretty damn impossible). He taught that people should be more concerned with their own failings than with other people’s shortcomings. And then there’s that pesky business about loving your neighbor as yourself and treating others the way you’d want to be treated by them.
Christian anti-gay campaigns are fundamentally an attempt to use power and privilege against people with less power, and less privilege. Their tools are wealth and political influence. Their goals are to ensure that gay couples and families are treated with less dignity and respect than straight couples and families. As such they are inherently opposed to everything Jesus stood for, and are run completely counter to how Jesus would have operated. And they’re on no firmer ground if you look at the rest of the New Testament – not unless you decide to ignore Paul and Peter they say Christians should respect ruling authorities, or decide that James is being metaphorical when he says true religion is caring for orphans and widows.
So I’m wondering again how Christians like Brian Brown justify spending millions trying to codify their version of Christian teaching into law, while simultaneously being opposed to the government – and sometimes even the church – spending money to assist people in need. Jesus was pretty specific about how both of those positions are incompatible with following him. But I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising when fundamentalists show, again, that they don’t really believe the Bible.