Christian Culture Warriors Come in from the Cold

It has not been easy to be anti-gay lately. In a rush, support for same-sex marriage went from fringe to front-and-center. Many conservative religious people have felt flash-frozen out of the mainstream. When it comes to LGBTQ issues, many evangelicals have been surprised to hear themselves called bigots. In her continuing role as conservative dream-maker, Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos recently moved to bring anti-LGBTQ religious activists back into the mainstream. Will it work?

DeVos lgbtq

Welcoming anti-welcomers

First, let me lay out the required clarifications. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but new folks might not know where we’re coming from here at ILYBYGTH. So here they are: I personally feel strongly about LGBTQ rights, in school and elsewhere. But in these pages—as in my recent book about educational conservatism—I’m more interested in understanding the politics involved than scoring political points one way or the other.

Second, a little background: In the past three years or so, many conservative religious folks have been surprised to find themselves so quickly tossed from the precincts of respectability when it comes to LGBTQ issues. As I’ve been working on my book about evangelical higher ed, I’ve noticed how often university leaders have bumped up against the question. At Gordon College near Boston, for example, President Michael Lindsay was surprised by the ferocious response to his reminder about Gordon’s policy against homosexuality. The issue of same-sex rights threatened to split the world of evangelical higher education in two.

As traditional evangelical notions about homosexuality were kicked out of the mainstream, evangelical intellectuals were confronted again with their perennial dilemma. Do they maintain their dissident notions and deal with the consequences? Or do they adapt their ideas as mainstream culture changes?

Today, we see that Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos has moved to reverse the tide. As reported by BuzzFeed, she invited two unapologetically anti-LGBTQ groups to an official Ed Department meeting. Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council both participated in a recent Father’s Day event. The signal couldn’t be clearer: Opposing expanding LGBTQ rights and protections does not make conservatives unwelcome in Queen Betsy’s regime.

We should not be surprised. In the twentieth century, according to progressive critics, Queen Betsy’s family foundation gave sizeable donations to both Focus on the Family and its offshoot Family Research Council. And there is absolutely no doubt that the two groups are stridently opposed to LGBTQ rights. Founder James Dobson views homosexuality and transgender as transgressions, pathways to “orgies” and sin.

Will such notions move back into the mainstream? Will groups who hold such views be allowed to participate in federally funded projects? It’s a frightening prospect, and the Trump White House makes it seem frighteningly realistic.


I command you, tide…

In the end, though, I think DeVos’s Canute strategy is doomed. She seems blithely unaware of her own separation from mainstream notions, but she will nevertheless be forced to deal with it. By including Focus and FRC, for example, she alienated the national Parent-Teacher Association, hardly a group known for its culture-war extremism.

As with her recent remarkable comments about discrimination in schools, Secretary DeVos will find herself apologizing for her inclusion of these anti-LGBTQ groups. There is no doubt she would like to welcome their ideas back into the mainstream, but she doesn’t have the power to reverse the tide.

Leave a comment


  1. What does the Family Research Council research?
    I’ll tell you what: gay porn. Lots and lots of gay porn.
    Tony Perkins watches every last bit of it, so your kids won’t have to.
    I am sure he’s just been consulted to get Betsy up to speed on the gay porn. She needs gettin’ up to speed on pretty much everything, but especially on that one, vital, horrifyingly riveting subject.

    • That reminds me of something my friends at Indiana University used to tell me. I don’t know if it’s true, but the nerds in Bloomington swear that the two biggest archived collections of pornography in the world are at 1.) Indiana University, thanks to the Kinsey Institute; and 2.) The Vatican.

  2. Why assume DeVos is trying to bring views she doesn’t share back into the mainstream by inviting these groups to an event?

    It’s possible she has that kind of dominionist agenda — the others she is allied with surely do — but the traditional view in her tradition is to try to carve out a space for coalitions of religious minorities within a pluralist society where they have state supported schools, as much political influence as they can muster, and a seat at the table. That was more apparent in DeVos’s remarks to black colleges. So, we may be seeing confusion and floundering due to a lack of shared strategy.

    Adam you seem you be conflating the views of these organizations with “traditional Christian orthodoxy.” That is impossible as they are all new pseudo-scientific positions recently contrived.

    • I posted that prematurely — I also want to emphasize how the extreme positions of FoF and FRC are not representative of many Evangelicals, maybe not even most of them, but they still have enormous, dominating influence due to their organized networks and money. With the World Congress of Families and Alliance Defending Freedom, groups like FoF and FRC have helped criminalize being gay — and being gay as an adoptive parent — in Russia and other countries outside the US where the “tide” of human rights has been, indeed, *reversed*. Their fuzzy definitions and lack of distinctions about “homosexualism” and especially “transgenderism” have more traction among the broader religious right (especially outside the west) than they would if science, public police and opinion were not moving so fast in a destabilizing world order. In the west a degraded civic, educational and journalistic environment provides a great deal of cover and amplification for polemic, conspiracy theories, and disinformation. In the current chaos, no one really has clear positions, the sides and strategies are confused, and no prediction is sound. I would guess some on the right are rethinking their belief they cannot hope to retake the culture, while others who never gave up see new opportunities. Your assumptions about an inevitable western, secular, liberal tide have been taken apart increasingly over the years. I’d pay more attention to state policy and the judiciary as key levers of influence, not the tide of malleable public opinion.

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