by Rev. Karen Booth.
What do Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, comedian Bob Newhart and former United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer all have in common?
If you answered “Christian faith,” that would be partly correct. Robertson is a member and Bible class teacher at a local congregation of the Church of Christ―not to be confused with the ultra-liberal United Church of Christ. Newhart is a born-and-bred Catholic. And Schaefer, who recently lost his clergy credentials in a highly publicized church trial, is a brand new laity member of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC.
But what you might not have guessed is that all three of these men’s lives have been influenced by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or GLAAD for short. Since its inception in New York in 1985, GLAAD has grown to become one of the chief secular LGBT advocacy groups in the nation, and the one with the most control over programming of news and entertainment. Its overarching goal is to ensure that only positive LGBT-related images and stories appear in the national media. So it distributes a Media Reference Guide―the most recent 8th edition coming out in 2010―that instructs reporters, editors and producers on what is, or is not, considered to be “fair, accurate and inclusive” coverage. Supporters can notify GLAAD of any “offensive media incidents” that violate these “suggested” guidelines via a user-friendly online form.
If you watched TV or went online this past week, then you know that Phil Robertson was “indefinitely suspended” by A&E, the producers of Duck Dynasty, in part because of comments he made about homosexuality in an interview with GQ. What is not always highlighted, or even mentioned, is GLAAD’s role in the incident. According to GLAAD VP of Communications Rich Ferraro, the decision to suspend Robertson came only “hours after an early-morning phone call between A&E executives and GLAAD.”
No one, including GLAAD, is reporting who was involved in the phone call or what exactly was said. But it’s easy to imagine it was the same kind of pressure―a threatened cultural “blacklisting” a la Kirk Cameron―that caused Bob Newhart to withdraw from a speaking engagement with a laity-led Catholic group called Legatus. Founded by Domino Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan, Legatus has the audacity to support official Roman Catholic teaching that homosexual desire and behavior is “disordered” and that God’s will for sexual union is only within monogamous, heterosexual “natural” marriage.
GLAAD has nothing but high praise for Newhart’s concession to their demands. But in regard to Robertson, the organization acknowledges that it’s received “record levels” of negative push back. According to VP Ferraro, this has included “violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments.” (Emphasis mine) He doesn’t seem to realize that there’s a big difference between publicly criticizing Robertson’s remarks and “researching companies who use Robertson as a spokesperson,” which GLAAD has warned it will do.While civilized folk usually don’t mind the former, they draw the line at the latter, a coercive form of economic bullying.
Which brings us to former UMC pastor Frank Schaefer.
I need to say upfront that I’ve not been able to verify any direct contact between Schaefer and GLAAD other than a picture that they took of him, apparently done in his local church. But I do know that his advisors within the UMC, especially those connected to the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), have had a cozy working relationship with the organization for many years. (For example, staffers were onsite at General Conference 2012 to help coordinate the pro-gay media effort.) So it isn’t surprising that much of what’s happened with and to him smacks of GLAAD influence―from the media mantra “Love Trumps Rules” that seems to be developing post-defrocking to his surprising access to “big name” media venues such as NPR, “The View,” and “Hard Ball with Chris Matthews.”
None of this, of course, is either illegal or against church regulations. But I believe it’s ill-advised. At times, Schaefer seems to be so absorbed in the media frenzy that he is unable to accurately anticipate the results of his actions. (Or he’s just spouting RMN-inspired rhetoric, which is another option.) I believe he would have benefitted from reviewing the history of pro-gay activism in the denomination and the experiences of other men and women who once shared the media spotlight. Unless they managed to “beat the system” or create a professional protestor job for themselves, they were pretty quickly forgotten. I predict this will be the case with Schaefer as well.
And I hope and pray that United Methodists will catch some of the gutsiness of Duck Dynasty fans and rise up against the “outsider influence” and hard-ball bullying of GLAAD-influenced groups within the denomination.
(For more information about how GLAAD and other secular gay rights groups have attempted to influence The United Methodist Church and other mainline denominations, see Chapter 7 of my book Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution or check out this lengthy summary of the chapter at http://goodnewsmag.org/2012/01/outsider-influence-over-homosexuality-at-general-conference/)