The Associate Press published a piece today that it's hard for me to see as anything but a hit piece. It misrepresents Focus on the Family and ties them and Sarah Palin to views more extreme than they actually hold. This has become standard fare in the media over the last couple weeks, but I'm not going to accept it as perfectly ok just because they keep doing it.
Apparently Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference called Love Won Out, sponsored by Focus on the Family. This is actually the first time I've heard of this, so everything I'm about to say is readily available on the web. The AP piece, written by Rachel D'Oro, describes the conference in their headline as promoting the conversion of gays. The first sentence reads, "Gov. Sarah Palin's church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer."
Now I looked at Love Won Out's website, and here is what they say about converting gays into heterosexuals:
Are you here to "cure" gays? Absolutely not. The only time you'll ever hear the word "cure" used in relation to our event is by those who oppose Love Won Out. They also like to claim we want to "fix" or "convert" gays and lesbians and that we believe people can "pray away the gay." Such glib characterizations ignore the complex series of factors that can lead to same-sex attractions; they also mischaracterize our mission. We exist to help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome. It is not easy, but it is possible, as evidenced by the thousands of men and women who have walked this difficult road successfully.
But your goal is still to make gays straight, right?
That is a gross and narrow oversimplification. We aren't here to "make" anybody do or become anything; we are here to offer a biblical and experiential perspective on the issue of homosexuality that is, sadly, underreported in the mainstream media. Our goals include aiding parents who want to learn how to better love their sons or daughters without compromising their faith; helping people who want to better understand the many factors that can lead to someone adopting a homosexual identity; and assisting those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions and want to discover how they might also start upon the path ― a difficult path, as noted above ― to overcoming those desires.
Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?
We do not believe anyone chooses his or her same-sex attractions. We concur with the American Psychological Association's position that homosexuality is likely developmental in nature and caused by a "complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors" (www.apa.org). We would also agree with the American Psychiatric Association when it states "some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime." If you ever hear us use the word "choice," it is in relation to men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions choosing to steward their impulses in a way that aligns with their faith convictions.
So the organization insists that they do not seek to convert gays to straights. They seek to help gay Christians who believe a lifestyle of being gay is wrong. They seek to help them live in a way that resists their same-sex attraction and keep their desires in check, the same way that Christians seek to help single heterosexuals to live a celibate life. It's clear that their language about overcoming their desires is not conversion to heterosexuality, since it's held up in contrast to exactly that.
Yet D'Oro's AP piece defines the group most fundamentally as promising to do the very thing they insist they do not seek to do.
The piece goes on to call Focus on the Family a "Christian fundamentalist organization". Focus on the Family is well within the mainstream of evangelicalism and well outside fundamentalism. Fundamentalists tend to see groups like Focus on the Family as compromised by their commitment to the kind of psychology taught in universities, as opposed to psychological principles that can be derived from the Bible directly.
Then D'Oro goes on to say that Palin herself hasn't taken a view on the so-called "Pray Away the Gay" movement. First, this expression, to my knowledge, is a derogatory way for critics of groups like Exodus Ministries to refer to them while insulting them. It's strange to see it matter-of-factly used in an AP article. It doesn't say that some groups criticize that movement with such a name. It just uses the name and inserts "so-called" to attempt to remove responsibility for using the expression. But the damage is done. Second, that expression refers to groups that really do advocate what the article falsely claims Love Won Out to be doing, but that's not what they're doing. They're counseling people who are gay who want to resist living a lifestyle they see as immoral. They accept that the cause of homosexuality are complex and that these desires may well not be removed by prayer.
Then we finally see where this is coming from. She quotes an opponent of Love Won Out, a quote that uses the same language D'Oro has used throughout the article:
"I think gay Republicans are going to run away" if Palin supports efforts like the prayers to convert gays, said Wayne Besen, founder of the New York-based Truth Wins Out, a gay rights advocacy group.
This language of converting gays comes from the opposition, and she just uses it as if it's accurate, either without bothering to check with the organization that's putting on the conference (and a quick Google search will give her all she needs for that) or because she's deliberately trying to further the aims of Truth Wins Out with a piece that's supposed to be merely reporting the news. So shame on D'Oro, and shame on the AP for publishing this piece of inaccurate reporting, perhaps even outright partisan misrepresentation.
I can't say that I know D'Oro is motivated merely by a desire to do as much damage to Palin as possible, but it's hard to resist that kind of speculation given the consistent, ongoing media misrepresentation of Governor Palin since the McCain campaign revealed her as McCain's running mate a week and a half ago. The article ends with a reflection on how this is going to lose her votes among gay Republicans. It's really hard to read that as anything other than a statement to gay Republicans that they better not vote for her. The article seems rhetorically crafted to give exactly that impression.