Why is one of the biggest TV producers in America, Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice), and his actress wife, Roma Downey (Touched By An Angel), signing up to lead a new coalition right alongside four of the most extreme anti-LGBT activists? Burnett and Downey's new Imago Dei coalition features Jim Daly, Mat Staver, Samuel Rodriguez, and James Robison.
As the head of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly is the leader of an organization that has been fighting LGBT equality in every way for the lesser part of three decades. In addition to his own rhetoric, which accuses marriage equality of being a fight for civilization itself and claims about homosexuality bringing forth God's judgement, Focus on the Family continues to tell people, right smack dab on its official website, that homosexuality is "a particularly evil lie of Satan." Focus on the Family carries out this view in its work regarding homosexuality, gearing all of it toward "changing" or "freeing" gay people from what they call a "lifestyle."
Mat Staver is downright hostile toward LGBT people. As head of the rabidly anti-LGBT Liberty Counsel, Staver has on multiple occasions suggested that marriage equality should lead to a new American Revolution or Civil War. A major proponent of so-called "ex-gay" therapy (Mat's org. represents "ex-gay" orgs who are fighting to repeal certain state bans on the scientifically discredited practice), Staver claims that same-sex relationships are "destructive to individuals and...to our very social fabric." And when it comes to people and groups who push back against his efforts to roll back LGBT rights in every way imaginable, Mat Staver equates the conversations he has with groups like GLAAD to "almost like negotiating with terrorists."
Samuel Rodriguez claims that "we have a moral responsibility to tell the world that adultery, pornography, homosexuality, hypocrisy, and lies will all "take you to hell." In a recent discussion on what he considers to be dangerous in modern America, he cited the Boston bombings and the "attempt to redefine a God-ordained institution" as his two examples of our "difficult times." He also claims that by fighting against marriage equality, he is really fighting against "destructive behavior," saying, "To the Latino family, traditional marriage represents the antidote to destructive social behavior such as drug activity, teenage pregnancy, gang involvement, high school dropout and many others." Oh, and he has, on several occasions, said that simply including LGBT people in immigration reform would cause him to drop his support.
Then there's televangelist James Robison, who, by his own admission, has been fighting gays since the 1970s, when he claimed that homosexuality "is against society; and it is against nature. It is almost too repulsive to imagine and to attempt to describe the horrors of it." And he hasn't stopped since. When the Supreme Court recently overturned DOMA and Prop 8, Robison called on Christians to pray to "overcome the damaging effects of twisted thinking and unnatural practices." On his website, Robison pushes the idea that homosexuality is part of "the enemy's plan." And just a few weeks ago, Mr. Robison wrote that "Jesus came to set the captives free, including homosexuals and everyone who struggles with any desire of rebellious flesh and satanic enticement." Robison continues this view on his TV show, routinely hosting "ex-gay" guests.
These are not just run of the mill conservatives. Robsion and Staver, in particular, are aggressively anti-LGBT; Daly, as head of Focus, is one of the most politically engaged leaders fighting our rights in legislatures and at the ballot. It is impossible to build a more roundly anti-LGBT collection than this one!
Worse yet, this coalition of anti-LGBT activists is actually claiming to be nice and friendly to gay people! Time magazine's Elizabeth Dias reports on this new spin:
Gays are created in the image of God. So are liberals. The rich. The undocumented. Unbelievers. Everyone, even, and most importantly, the people with whom you do not agree.
That’s the message of the Imago Dei Campaign, a new movement of prominent evangelical groups launched on Monday to erode the culture war battle lines that have helped define evangelical discourse for the better part of half a century. The Imago Dei, or Image of God, pledge is simple: “I recognize that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God; without exception. Therefore, I will treat everyone with love and respect.”
The leader behind the movement, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, says the goal is to change the narrative of evangelical engagement in the public square, especially when it comes to traditional culture war issues. Other heavy hitters have joined him. President of Focus on the Family Jim Daly, televangelist James Robison, producer of The Bible Series Roma Downey and her husband, Survivor producer Mark Burnett, and vice president of the Liberty University Mat Staver have all signed on. The launch of the website was pegged to Martin Luther King Day as a reminder that the Biblical message and justice go hand in hand.
The name of the campaign, if you missed it, is Imago Dei, which is a Latin term meaning 'Image of God'. The theology behind the phrase is old, but it emphasizes the fact that all people are made in God's image. Applying that phrase to LGBT people is also not new, as pro-LGBT Christians have also stated that LGBT people are made in the image of God, therefore making them worthy of dignity and respect. What the newly formed Imago Dei campaign doesn't seem to understand is that LGBT people are made in the image of God as the LGBT people. Not as a "particularly evil lie of Satan", a "terrorist", or certainly not as something "too repulsive to imagine and to attempt to describe the horrors of it," but as the people they were created to be.
This is just plain galling. It's not like these comments happened in another time or in a vacuum. Mat Staver, Jim Daly, Sammy Rodriguez, James Robison, and their respective organizations are doing this stuff RIGHT NOW. And daily. These men host radio programs, attend conferences, speak at rallies, host TV shows, go to court, lobby, write, fundraise, and organize communities of people to vote against LGBT people's basic rights and well-being. They work to create a culture of discrimination and misunderstanding. And yet they claim to have the capital to preach to us about justice?! Give me a break!
To me, the operative line is that their goal "is to change the narrative." That is exactly what they are doing: trying to change the conversation, since they are so quickly losing it, without changing anything substantive. It seems like a new spin on the increasibly disregarded "Love the sinner, hate the sin" idea that attempted to cover up the real harm being brought to LGBT people with their words and actions. In fact, Focus on the Family's president even confirms that in the Time piece, with Dias paraphrasing Daly as saying that but he clarified that "affirming the image of God in people does not condone their behavior." So basically they want to talk nicer and form coalitions with mainstream figures like Mark Burnett and Roma Downey because they want to put a mask of respectability on a movement that is bleeding favor with an increasingly fair-minded public. But they are not really changing anything. Not one thing.
I sincerely hope Mr. Burnett and Ms. Downey will rethink what they are doing here. I have no doubt that whoever brokered this deal sold this a bill of goods that was all about love rather than hate. The record, however, does not lie. To support this group of individuals is to support efforts to both deny and "change" LGBT people. A change in tone changes nothing.