Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Defending 'Truth' By Telling Lies, Part 1

For more years than I care to remember, I was blindly loyal to the Exodus party line. I'm not just talking about their simplistic "Change is possible" slogan - which is technically true (change is an inevitable part of life) yet thoroughly dishonest (they know their audience assumes that they specifically mean orientation change, and one has to dig deeply to find the fine print that clarifies that they really mean change in behavior). I'm talking about nearly everything that Christian political groups say about gays.

At the lay level this is primarily an issue of misplaced trust. For my own part I have to take responsibility for all the years I unquestioningly accepted everything I was told about how irredeemably horrible the "gay lifestyle" was, without investigating any of those claims for myself.

At the leadership level, however, it's long past time for Christians to begin taking responsibility for the myths, half-truths and outright fabrications that they've spread (and continue to spread) about gays throughout the evangelical community and beyond. Individuals in positions of authority, especially those with a national audience, have a greater degree of responsibility to investigate the claims they're repeating. As such, it's no stretch at all to refer to such people as liars when they insist on regurgitating information that is widely known to be false.

Take, for example, the 'research' of Paul Cameron. Cameron's work (which paints a very dismal picture of the gay community) has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community, to the point that even many evangelical leaders have publicly backed away from him. And yet his statistics still show up all the time in Christian articles, books, speeches and websites. Even supposedly scholarly theologians like Robert Gagnon uncritically parrot his statistics, either directly or by citing secondary works that quote Cameron without qualification.

An in-depth analysis of Cameron's claims can be found here. Another good expose was published recently by The Boston Globe (note: registration is required to view the full article).

(For his part, Cameron seems to sincerely believe that his research is credible. I'll leave that between him and God.)

As an example of the quality of Cameron's work, consider his most famous statistic, the life expectancy myth. In coming up with his claim that gay men have an average life expecancy in the early to mid 40s, he examined the obituary pages of a number of gay newspapers and compared the ages he found there to numbers for the general population. It doesn't take a trained researcher to understand what's wrong with his methodology. Many deaths never get reported in any newspaper, and many gay men and lesbians aren't active enough in the gay community to get a mention in the local gay newspaper.

In short, nothing meaningful can be concluded from a survey like this. The flaws in Cameron's methodology are no secret. And yet Christian activists still repeat his life expectancy estimate as though it were a scientifically verified fact.

So to those leaders I pose this simple question: If the truth is on your side, why do you feel the need to tell lies?

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