Tuesday, July 15, 2008

David Benkof Calls it Quits

I hesitate to give this guy any more attention. But, in "breaking" news David Benkof announced the other day that he "must withdraw from openly supporting man-woman marriage in the United States" due to recently learning "quite a bit of disturbing information that makes it impossible for me to continue supporting a movement I no longer respect." Thus, he no longer advocates "that people give time or money to the Proposition 8 campaign in California."

The willingness to change one's position in light of new information is admirable. Prior to this announcement, Mr. Benkof was no friend of the LGBT community. At least, not in the eyes of those he regularly vilified. And, this move will now likely alienate Mr. Benkof from his "marriage defense" allies just as his previous statements have alienated him from many LGBT people.

So, I suppose now we're left with the $5 question: What is it that David Benkof found out about the marriage defense movement, particularly the Propostion 8 movement in California, that caused him to withdraw his support from it?

Does anyone even care or think it's odd that he would denounce the entire "marriage defense" movement because of the wrongdoings of some members of this movement? Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled if Benkof is sincerely quitting the marriage defense movement. But, lest anyone be mistaken, Benkof still opposes same-sex marriage. Apparently, he just refuses to support a movement whose members he can no longer respect in light of some new "disturbing information." For, elaborating on his recent switch-a-roo in Pam's House Blend, Benkof writes "I have realized that I do not want to be associated with the people defending man-woman marriage."

That he would quit a movement which supports a position he still strongly believes in speaks to a tendency he has shown in his previous articles (which he is now erasing from his blog) to over-generalize-- to hold all members of a group or identity accountable for the actions of some. For, we know all too well that when he writes of the "gay community" or the "LGBT community" he does so as though it is a monolithic entity in which all members hold the same beliefs and are guilty of the same wrongdoings. So, that he now chooses to no longer support a "movement" because of information he's allegedly found out about some members of this marriage defense movement is not surprising to me.

At this point I could Benkof my article and chalk this new "disturbing information" up to proof that all marriage defenders are repugnant just because some of them are. But alas, even though saying what I'm about to say won't garner me any op-eds in "major newspapers," in the interest of not creating even more propaganda in this sound-bite world I'll decline from making such a huge generalization.

That being said, the "sins" of the people who comprise a social movement do not, in and of themselves, make the aims of that movement "wrong." Yes, it sucks that so many "marriage defenders" are homobigots. But the fact that so many are homobigots, in and of itself, doesn't make them wrong about marriage defense. It just so happens that they're wrong about marriage defense for other reasons and they're also homobigots. Which sort of sucks for them.

Always, we must look at the issue itself and form our opinions on that basis. Yet, at the same time, I can see how the "wrongdoings" of some members of a movement would repel some members from that movement. I have no special insight into why Benkof has allegedly renounced the movement. But I have a couple of theories as to why one in his position might do so.

1. Is it because some of the leaders of the movement are at least bordering on anti-semitism?

The majority of the organizations in support of California's Proposition 8 consists of evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christian groups.

The relationship between such Christians and Jews is complex. On the one hand, many evangelical Christians and congregations strongly support Israel. Yes, much of this support is grounded in the belief that "the return of Jews to the promised land will trigger the Second Coming of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon and mass conversion." But.... oh. On that note, I'm not sure that supporting Israel under the belief that by doing so Jews will eventually no longer exist is a notion all that supportive of Jews. And, of course, let's not forget what happens before this mass "conversion." By the very nature of their religious beliefs, evangelical Christians see it as their religious duty to convert non-Christians, such as Jews, to Christianity.

Are these beliefs anti-semitic?

It looks like it, although I'm sure evangelicals would strongly disagree. So, slap whatever label on this belief you want, but I would imagine that hoping that someday there will be no more Jews is quite offensive to Jewish people. I mean, as a non-Christian myself, the belief that the ideal world will be free of non-Christians is highly offensive to me. (And sounds rather boring to boot).

Yet, these are the beliefs of many organizations, individuals, and churches who support Proposition 8 and the marriage defense movement in general.

According to media watchdog MediaMatters, the American Family Association (AFA), which is one of the supporters of Proposition 8, "has long served as a platform for anti-Semitic theories and innuendo." Turnabout, however, is not fair play. In true Christian persecution manner, AFA Chairman Donald Wildmon has suggested that the Christian right would withdraw its support for Israel if the Anti-Defamation League continued to criticize the Christian right.

According to its website, the AFA has over 2.6 million supporters.

While the alleged anti-semitism of some of the marriage defense movement's leaders does not make this movement's position on marriage defense "wrong," I think it's plausible that a Jewish man would be uncomfortable being in cahoots with some of these groups.

2. Is it because many of the leaders of the movement seek to Christianize America?

To those paying attention to the so-called "culture wars," it is apparent that certain members of the Christian right are seeking to "re"-Christianize America by imposing their own brand of fundamentalist Christianity on our entire nation while claiming that, no, it's everyone else who seeks to impose their beliefs on Christians. Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, writes:

"In 1994, we sounded an alarm. In our book, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, we said that 'an exclusionist religious movement in this country has attempted to restore what it perceives as the ruins of a Christian nation by more closely seeking to unite its version of Christianity with state power.'

Alas, our call was not well heeded and we are beginning to see some of the consequences of what we identified.

As a result, today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!

Who are the major players? They include Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructures throughout the country designed not just to promote traditional 'Christian values,' but to actively pursue that restoration of a Christian nation."

As a non-Christian myself, I can see how such efforts to "restore" American back to its mythical status as a "Christian Nation" are quite threatening to other non-Christians. I can see how it could be troubling for Mr. Benkof to ally himself with the above Christian dominionists who view him both as morally flawed due to his gayness and spiritually flawed due to his religious beliefs. Yet, "defending" marriage, for many Christian dominionist groups, is the most important battle of the Secular versus Religious RightWing Christian culture war.

This belief allows such groups to justify raising and spending millions of dollars not for the more Christ-like endeavors of feeding the hungry, aiding the poor, or providing health care to the uninsured, but rather for ensuring that gay people can no longer marry in California. That, to me, is what is most repugnant about the movement. Although they are capable of raising enormous amounts of money, we rarely hear of many of these "Christian" groups taking tangible steps to help people, for instance, through distributing food, assistance, or emergency funds to the needy. Instead, we get divisive rhetoric painting the current state of affairs as some sort of vague enormous battle between good and evil. We get a movement in which a Christian theocracy is the end goal, with little or no room for other religions or moral systems, including Judaism, to flourish. For, by their very nature, dominionists are antithetical to tolerance, diversity, and religious pluralism.

To end, I'm not claiming to know why Benkof called it quits. I'm just saying here that it's understandable to me why a Jewish gay/bisexual man might want to distance himself from some of these folks. If we come out victorious in the end, and I do believe we will eventually, groups like the AFA will go down in history as having once been a threat to what is great about our nation: That many religions and types of families are able to thrive, rather than one "correct" type of each.

But, if Mr. Benkof knows anything more disturbing or sinister than the above about the marriage defense movement, and the Proposition 8 campaign in particular, I certainly hope he decides to share it.

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