05.05.10

The Christian Right's Gay Problem

Dr. George Rekers, a Christian anti-gay leader, was caught with a hooker from Rentboy.com—the latest example of hypocrisy on the religious right. Michelle Goldberg on why Ted Haggards keep happening.

In 1996, three researchers from the University of Georgia published a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology about the links between homophobia and homosexual arousal. The authors, Henry E. Adams, Lester W. Wright, Jr., and Bethany A. Lohr, started with 35 straight men identified as homophobic and 29 straight men that were not. Both groups were shown heterosexual, lesbian and gay male porn while their erectile responses were measured. “Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli,” reported the researchers.

Rekers deserves a measure of pity as well as scorn. If he portrayed homosexuality as a life-destroying temptation that only the strictest of measures could contain, that’s because, for him, it was.

It was empirical evidence for a theory long popular among psychoanalysts: that those most hostile to gay people are often driven by terror and shame about their own desires.

So it’s not terribly surprising that Dr. George Rekers, a major figure in anti-gay Christian right circles, has been caught traveling with a male prostitute who advertises on Rentboy.com—becoming the latest in a long line of disgraced culture warriors.

As Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp reported in Miami’s New Times this week, Rekers brought the escort, who advertised his “smooth, sweet, tight ass" and "perfectly built 8 inch cock (uncut)" on an all-expenses paid trip to Europe. Rekers later claimed, in a Facebook message to the blogger Joe Jervis, that he had hired the young man so as to save his immortal soul: “Like John the Baptist and Jesus, I have a loving Christian ministry to homosexuals and prostitutes in which I share the Good News of Jesus Christ with them.” Meanwhile, on his own website, Rekers offered a somewhat contradictory explanation, saying that he “requires an assistant to lift his luggage in his travels because of an ongoing condition following surgery.”

Rekers lacks the name-recognition of Ted Haggard, the megachurch pastor and former head of the National Association of Evangelicals who, in 2006, was brought down in a scandal involving a gay prostitute and crystal meth; or of anti-gay former Senator Larry Craig, who was famously arrested for “lewd conduct” in an airport restroom. Behind the scenes, though, Rekers has been a significant force in the fight against gay rights.

The founding chairman of the Family Research Council, Rekers is a leading advocate of conversion therapy to turn gay people straight. As a retired professor of neuropsychiatry and behavioral science at the University of South Carolina, he often writes in a scholarly, dispassionate manner, and his work is frequently used to give anti-gay arguments a veneer of scientific legitimacy. As he says on his website, “Dr. Rekers has delivered many invited research presentations on child and family variables before committees of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and has served as an invited expert for White House staff and several presidential Cabinet agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services.”

In 2008, Rekers was one of two expert witnesses that the state of Florida called on in its bid to defend its ban on gay adoption. Gay people, he testified, “would have less capability of providing the kind of nurturing and secure emotional environment for children.” (As the Miami Herald reported, he also suggested that Native Americans be banned from adopting because they’re prone to mental illness and substance abuse. "They would tend to hang around each other," he said. "So the children would be around a lot of other Native Americans who are... doing the same sorts of things.")

Rekers' work purports to show that homosexuality is caused by disturbances in children’s proper sex-role formation. Because his views on what constitute proper sex roles are extremely rigid, his anti-gay activism is linked to a fulsome affirmation of patriarchy. In the 1980s, he authored a paper, “The Christian World View of the Family,” for The Coalition on Revival, a group that brought together different theological strands in the Christian right, including some who advocated scrapping democracy in favor of a theocracy.

“We affirm that the husband has final say in any family dispute, insofar as he does not violate biblical principles; that a husband’s headship is irrevocable; and that if the husband is incapacitated, the wife may exercise his authority as his deputy, not as his replacement,” he wrote, going on to vigorously condemn female employment. In cases of family crisis, he allowed, “the wife may, with her husband’s approval, accept temporary outside employment, but... the family should view this as bondage, strive to liberate itself, and petition God for liberation.”

Satisfying as it is to see such a man unmasked, Rekers deserves a measure of pity as well as scorn. If he portrayed homosexuality as a life-destroying temptation that only the strictest of measures could contain, that’s because, for him, it was. He seems like he’s devoted his life to a hysterical battle to preserve his own threatened sense of masculinity, and now he stands defeated and exposed.

Michelle Goldberg is the author of The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World and Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, Glamour, and many other publications.