On Monday, the day before the World Congress of Families conference opened in Salt Lake City, some of America’s most strident anti-gay voices convened for an all-day session they dubbed #Stand4Truth.
Turnout was small — about 50 during the day, a bit more in the evening — and the lunchtime press conference was delivered to a room devoid of press, but organizers filmed the speakers in hopes of turning the footage into a documentary or other resource for anti-gay activists.
The 11-hour-plus event (counting short breaks for lunch and dinner) was hosted by Sandy Rios of the American Family Association, one of the groups sponsoring the gathering. Also sponsoring the event was the Family Research Council, whose senior fellow Peter Sprigg delivered the morning keynote; Rev. Bill Owens of the National Organization for Marriage-affiliated Coalition of African American Pastors delivered the afternoon keynote.
Sprigg, who is also scheduled to speak at WCF on Wednesday, set the tone for the day by challenging the “gay identity paradigm” and urging social conservatives to avoid as much as possible using the words “gay” and “lesbian” because he said they refer to someone’s innate identity. Sprigg urged activists to separate sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and a person’s self-identification and instead to focus on gay relationships, which he called “objectively harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large.”
He was also one of many speakers who insisted that advocacy for anti-gay policies is not motivated by hate but by love. For example, Sprigg said that while he mourns the gay men who died of AIDS, “the reason they died is because they chose to have sex with men, not because conservatives told them not to. We do no one a kindness by denying the truth.”
Sprigg, who argued against legal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, was one of several speakers who spoke, directly or indirectly, in opposition to this year’s “Utah compromise,” in which the Mormon Church agreed to support passage of limited LGBT nondiscrimination protections in return for religious liberty exemptions. Sprigg warned that compromise with the LGBT rights movement is “unwise” and “unsustainable.”
Also arguing for an uncompromising stance and “zero affirmation of the gay rights paradigm” was Americans For Truth About Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera, who urged anti-gay activists to stop playing defense and go on the offense, reclaiming the moral high ground by always opposing homosexual behavior. One way to go on offense, he said, would be by proposing state bans on hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youth.
Other notable anti-gay activists who addressed the gathering included Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver (via video) and Brian Camenker of MassResistance. Camenker said he respectfully disagreed with those who called for always speaking the truth in love. “I think there is a place for being insulting and degrading, and I think I can back that up by scripture,” he said. “I think we have to look at this as a war, not as, you know, a church service.” Rios agreed, saying, “I do think that evangelicals have gotten a little bit soft and not understood warfare.”
Camenker said that in the Old Testament, “God has two sets of laws regarding how you treat your fellow man.” One is how you treat your neighbor, who you might work with and forgive. “There’s a whole different set of rules for people who want to tear down society, who want to push immorality, who want to tear down the moral structure of society.” That set of rules is “very brutal,” he said. “God says those people who want to do that must be destroyed.”
He said the LGBT movement is a “house of cards” that is “held together by force, intimidation, and propaganda” and can be destroyed by standing up to it, the way communism was. “We are in a war,” he repeated, saying of gay-rights advocates, “They would send us to concentration camps if they could.”
Among the other participants were North Carolina’s Michael Brown, Houston Pastor Dave Welch, ex-gay therapists Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, and former California lieutenant governor and anti-porn activist John Harmer.
One premise of the #Stand4Truth gathering is that the LGBT movement and their allies in the media suppress evidence about the causes of homosexuality, the medical and mental health harms associated with it, and the possibility of change through “authentic” ex-gay therapy. The evening session began with a panel seemingly designed to portray LGBT people as lost and miserable: a few “ex-gays,” a person who experienced “transgender regret” and Canadian activist Dawn Stefanowicz, an author whose book “Out From Under” recounts growing up with a gay father and his many sex partners and is portrayed as a cautionary tale against gay parenting.
More to come.