By Michael L. Brown
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is not only “America’s most famous rabbi” and my frequent opponent in public debates. He is also a dear personal friend, which is why I was more than a little mystified to see his editorial, published one day after our November 1 debate.
The title of that debate, as proposed by Shmuley but not to my liking, was, “Is Homosexuality America’s Greatest Moral Crisis?” In my opening comments, I answered this question in the negative, stating that America’s greatest moral crisis was certainly not homosexuality but rather the lack of the knowledge and consciousness of God, because of which every area of society suffered.
I also explained that what two gay men did in private was between them and God and was certainly not our greatest moral crisis, and I stated emphatically that rampant heterosexual divorce had done more to destroy marriage and family than all the gay activists combined. I then addressed the church’s sins against the LGBT community, for which I have publicly apologized a number of times. (Those reading Shmuley’s report on the debate would not have a clue that I made any of these statements.)
It was only after this considerable introduction that I explained that my issue was with gay activism, which was something I did not go looking for but rather something that came knocking at my door and at the door of my community. I argued that it posed a serious threat to our moral foundations and our religious freedoms, which I documented in terms of the gay agenda in our educational system, the attack on the male-female gender binary, the implications of queer theology, the pervasive influence of the media in promoting gay-slanted values, and specific examples of the loss of religious freedoms as a result of gay activism.
My appeal to Shmuley was simple: Let’s stand together and address the sins of the predominant, heterosexual community, from pornography to materialism, as well as the negative effects of gay activism. Shockingly, rather than focus on these substantive issues, Shmuley pressed the question of whether I believed homosexual practice was on a par with incest or pedophilia. How in the world did this become the subject of the debate? (For the record, I stated that sin is sin, and that my own past sins were as bad as – or worse – than those of a homosexual.)
As to the alleged evangelical obsession with homosexuality (an accusation raised through the debate by Shmuley), I asked the almost entirely evangelical audience to respond to four questions: How many of them heard a sermon in the last year on the importance of marriage? Virtually every hand went up. The importance of devoting time and energy to the raising of their children? Same response. The dangers of sexual sin (and/or pornography)? The same response again. A sermon about gay activism? Not a single hand!
The truth be told, there is no “gay obsession” in evangelical churches, and, where pastors and leaders are concerned about the effects of gay activism, they are hesitant to speak up, lest they be branded intolerant bigots, homophobes, Hitlers, or jihadists, not to mention accused of inciting violence against gays.
Rabbi Shmuley wrote, “I argued passionately that evangelicals had become obsessed with homosexuality,” yet despite his best efforts to persuade and despite his considerable rhetorical skills, the audience was unaffected. “I could not move them,” he wrote. “Try as I might, my audience would not budge.”
Why was he so ineffective? It was simply because evangelicals have not become obsessed with homosexuality and, more broadly, because he was missing the whole point, which was not whether consensual homosexual acts were better or worse than consensual, adult incestuous acts (both are clearly proscribed in the Bible), nor was it whether we should ignore issues such as divorce, promiscuity, or materialism. Rather, the issue was this: Gay activism presents a serious moral threat to America in that it seeks to undermine the traditional family (which is already tottering through heterosexual failings), and by fighting for special LGBT rights and freedoms, the rights and freedoms of others are threatened.
Those who were present at the debate are well aware that my esteemed colleague completely skirted the issue of gay activism and refused to answer numerous direct and telling questions. Instead, almost by sleight of hand, he manufactured a misleading distraction from the real debate (“You believe that homosexuals are just like pedophiles!”) and turned a deaf ear to my appeal to join with the evangelical community in standing for comprehensive morality, upholding biblical values regardless of whether they are deemed
politically correct. Worse still, he argued that homosexual acts were not moral transgressions and that a committed gay couple could have a fine, Jewish home, thereby marginalizing himself from both the evangelical community and the Orthodox Jewish world.
Michael L. Brown holds a Ph.D. from New York University and is the host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show, The Line of Fire, as well as the director of the Charlotte-based Coalition of Conscience. He is a published Old Testament and Semitic scholar and the author of 20 books, including A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been (2011).