Conservative Christians and Truth-Telling
In my many years of participating in our country's cultural war, the aspect of the debate that has disheartened me the most is the religious right's sheer disdain for the truth.
God instructed Christians that "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." This ninth of the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, seems pretty straightforward. Yet conservative Christians appear to believe that this stricture can be waived when warring with the devil.
Consider a television ad the Virginia-based Christian Action Network tried unsuccessfully to run in New York during the Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio senatorial race. The spot featured pictures of Hillary with the following voice-over:
"It is rumored that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. It is rumored that Hillary Clinton supports homosexual marriage. It is rumored that Hillary Clinton will leave her husband upon taking office. It was rumored that Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Sometimes rumors are true."
When asked for the inside scoop on Hillary's supposed lesbianism, CAN's executive director Phillip Vaught conceded that "It's not like we can prove this." His justification? The ad was just "trying to ask questions the media should be asking."
The high-profile New York campaign wasn't the only one during the 2000 election season in which conservative Christians attempted to appeal to prejudice against gays and lesbians. Colorado for Family Values twice intervened in Denver-area state senate contests, first attacking Gary McPherson in the GOP primary with a mailing featuring two men kissing, and later charging Democratic challenger Sue Windels with supporting the "radical homosexual agenda." (At least this mailing varied the presentation by featuring two women kissing.) Meanwhile, in Orange County, California, the Traditional Values Coalition sent a mailing to Armenian-American voters characterizing Democratic congressional candidate Adam Schiff as "a champion of the homosexual agenda."
Is gay-baiting Christian behavior? Would Jesus have sanctioned appeals to bias? Can this genre of political advocacy be considered anything but?
In its war against the "homosexual agenda," the Christian right seems to have particular difficulty in accurately portraying the results of research by secular scientists:
- When a coalition of Christian organizations undertook a national ex-gay advertising campaign two years ago, their pitches cited the work of Boston physician Robert Garofalo as evidence that homosexuality is self-destructive. Garofalo, whose research into gay youth suicide and substance abuse led him to conclude that these behaviors were due to alienation from a rejecting society, blasted the ads as "a complete misrepresentation of what the research actually says."
- In a "Culture Facts" newsletter published only nine days after Matthew Shepard's death, the Family Research Council cited the research of Lisa Waldner, an assistant professor of sociology, for the proposition that 47.5 percent of lesbian relationships involve domestic abuse, compared to 0.22 percent of heterosexual marital relationships. When contacted by New York Times writer Frank Rich, Waldner described this portrayal of her results as "misleading" and the comparison with married women as meaningless due to incompatible research methodologies.
- Notorious anti-gay researcher Paul Cameron has cited Dr. Nicholoas Groth's work on sexual molestation of children in Cameron's efforts to link gay men with pedophilia. But Cameron, Groth says, "misrepresents my findings and distorts them to advance his homophobic views."
Not even pure fabrication appears to be beyond the conservative Christian ken. When Christian conservatives attempted to overturn a Miami anti-discrimination ordinance in 1999, the local Christian Coalition chapter circulated a fictitious "Gay Manifesto." This spurious document embraced a variety of sensational demands and ended with the ominous warning that "If all these things do not come to pass quickly, we will subject Orthodox Jews and Christians to the most sustained hatred and vilification in recent memory."
In fact, this "manifesto" originated in the fervid imagination of former congressman William Dannemeyer, who, in his 1989 book Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America, attempted to "paraphrase the argument the homosexual community is making."
Civilized societies have recognized that even warfare should be conducted according to rules. Nations have signed treaties prohibiting genocide, precluding the use of chemical weapons, and protecting the wounded and sick on the battlefield. I submit that, in analogous fashion, the ninth commandment should govern the Christian right's war against gays and lesbians.
In applying this directive, Christians must acknowledge God's demand that His commandments be followed with absolute faithfulness. Jesus instructs us to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." While we all fall far short of this goal, Christians may do nothing less than strive for it at all times.
Half-truths, misrepresentations and slanted journalism--to say nothing of fabrications--simply don't make the grade.
 Tim Thornton, "Va. organization tries to run controversial ad," The Roanoke Times (VA), Sept. 21, 2000; Stephanie Salter, "Christian group resurrects 'Hillary is a lesbian' rumor," San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 28, 2000.
 Michele Ames, Mudslinging impacts vote, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), Aug. 13, 2000; Steven Paulson (AP), Anti-gay mailing tied to Springs group denounced by Owens," The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), Oct. 28, 2000; "Ad with photo of gay couple a scare tactic, group says," Denver Post, Nov. 1, 2000.
 Jean Merl, "Religious group's anti-Schiff mailer ignites controversy," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2000.
 Anne Kornblut, "Boston doctor says ads distort his work on gays," Boston Globe, Aug. 4, 1998
 Frank Rich, "The Family Research Charade," The New York Times, Dec. 5, 1998
As to Paul Cameron, generally, see Ward Harkavy, "Slay it with a smile," Westword (Denver, CO), Oct. 3, 1996 (available here); Mark Pietrzyk, Queer science: Paul Cameron, professional sham, The New Republic, Oct. 3, 1994 (available, with rebuttal, on Cameron's website: Family Research Institute).
 Letter from Nicholas Groth to Wayne Price, Chair of the Nebraska Board of Examiners of Psychologists, Aug. 21, 1984. Copy in possession of the author.
 Liz Balmaseda, "The power of vitriol," Miami Herald, March 10, 1999. A copy of the actual Christian Coalition flyer can be found here. A more readable copy of the supposed "manifesto" can be found here.