What The Religious Right Envisions As An Endgame After Losing The Fight Against LGBT Equality

CREDIT: YouTube/Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Pastor Denny Burk

In his new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, radio host Michelangelo Signorile warns that the LGBT movement is suffering from “victory blindness,” the notion that the struggle for equality has already been won and there aren’t still battles to fight. “There’s a disconnect between the way we talk about the strides forward and the reality on the ground,” he writes. “This narrowing of scope to talk only about successes — that’s victory blindness.” Complacency, he worries, could lead to setback, urging, “We’ve got to pay attention now perhaps more than ever before as equality’s opponents gather their forces.”

With the national corporate backlash against pro-discrimination bills in states like Indiana and Arkansas and an impending marriage equality decision expected from the Supreme Court, opponents of LGBT equality — largely conservative faith leaders — may feel backed into a corner, but many are as battle-ready as ever. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson believes a civil war could be fought over same-sex marriage. Rick Scarborough of Vision America Action believes, “This is a Bonhoeffer moment,” referring to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazi dictatorship. But without resorting to such exaggerations of violent rhetoric, one prominent faith leader has offered a more candid observation about where things stand.

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College (the undergraduate arm of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), is no stranger to anti-LGBT advocacy. Most notably, he co-authored the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution rejecting the existence of transgender identities. “At the heart of the transgender revolution,” he said at a conference in October, “is the notion that psychological identity trumps bodily identity.” After comparing trans people to individuals who desire to have limbs amputated, Burk asked, “Does the body need adjusting, or does the thinking?”

This week, he reflected on the Indiana “religious freedom” controversy, noting, “It was a moment that revealed how profoundly this country has changed in its attitudes about homosexuality, how out-of-step evangelicals are with the new sexual orthodoxy, and how willing many Americans are to punish evangelicals for their transgressive beliefs.”

Burk believes that “religious liberty took an epic beating last week” and that evangelicals have become “a bona fide minority when it comes to our commitment to Jesus’ teaching about sexuality” — a minority despised for their ideas. But he still sees the conflict as a fairly simple one. “Evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin while the rest of the culture does not,” he observed. “The heart of this conflict is a moral conflagration between those who insist that ‘gay is good‘ and those who contend that it is not.” Christians, as he defines them, must be prepared to endure the “injustice” of fines and jail time if that’s what it takes to maintain anti-LGBT beliefs, including the discriminatory actions motivated by them.

Burk admits that many conservatives will abandon their prejudiced beliefs, but “a remnant will remain who will not bow the knee to Baal and who will not betray Christ’s word no matter the cost.” Unlike the hyperbole employed by Dobson and Scarborough, his threat to the LGBT equality movement is much more realistic: “You are going to have to go all the way. And when you’ve done your worst, the Christians are still going to be here holding fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. America is a flash in the historical pan. Christianity is not. We will outlast you. Mark it down.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that Signorile says the LGBT movement cannot abide, writing, “We can’t let our wins convince us we’re offending people or pushing too hard — or not being ‘magnanimous’ — when we demand full equality now and refused to accept mere tolerance.” Speaking to ThinkProgress specifically about Burk’s remarks, he added that “we need to always challenge them, always confront them and expose them and their beliefs.”

Signorile worries that a new generation of LGBT young people won’t have their guard up and won’t be prepared for the fight the right keeps bringing. “We see some of this with women — young women often not having much of the history, or taking for granted the right to an abortion,” he explained. But as long as there are people rejecting LGBT identities, the problem will persist. “I think we have to always stand up to religious bigotry because [religious conservatives] will have children and raise them with it,” Signorile warned. “Some of those kids will be LGBT too. We can’t just let it go.”

Burk may be right; there may be a contingent that remains stalwart in their opposition to a culture that fully embraces LGBT people as equals, just as there are still many opposed to other forms of social justice equality. As Signorile writes in the epilogue of It’s Not Over, this bluff must be called. “It’s time that all of us who support LGBT equality no longer agree to disagree on full civil rights for LGBT people,” he concludes. “Anything less than full acceptance and full civil rights must be defined as an expression of bias, whether implicit or explicit. And it has to be called out — even if that means challenging our friends, coworkers, and other we know and respect — if we’re to get beyond tolerance.”