"I consider women's liberation and gay liberation to be part of the same thing: a weakening of the moral standards of this nation. It is appalling to see parades in San Francisco and elsewhere proclaiming 'gay pride' and all that. What in the world do they have to be proud of? They're immoral, perverted and disgusting.…Men and women who allow themselves to be led blindly by the philosophies and teachers involved with gays, feminists and abortionists are courting their own destruction. Anyone who goes up against his or her God-centered nature invariably destroys himself in the long run."
These aren't the words of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, though Mr. Falwell would approve them. They appeared under the byline Nancy Reagan, in a newspaper called The Globe in March 1981. This isn't the same Globe that dominates journalism in my home town, Boston; it's something of a tabloid, and until a conservative friend sent it to me, I hadn't known of its existence. You can find it in selected supermarkets next to the National Enquirer. It sells for 40 cents the copy, and no home is complete without it.
I don't quote the paragraphs attributed to Mrs. Reagan because of her standing in the philosophical community, nor because I have any reason to think that her husband necessarily shares her every view, nor even because I don't have some doubt about their authenticity. There is at least some reason to wonder just how the article came to The Globe and whether, if they are the words of Nancy Reagan, they are as current as the publication date suggests. I quote them, however, to demonstrate the pervasiveness in some sectors of the populace of views that we might once have thought, and that some people might still hope, are confined to the rantings of the backwoods preachers and Moral Majority pamphleteers. That no vehement denial of the remarks attributed to Mrs. Reagan has come from the White House indicates either that they are properly attributed or that the White House clipping service is inadequate or that nobody with the authority to do so thought them bizarre enough to warrant some official distancing from them.
Whoever wrote the article attributed to Nancy Reagan is a recruit, whether consciously or not, to a mighty and some would say holy crusade: a war against sex. This war is waged now by an informal but increasingly harmonious coalition of organizations like Moral Majority, Christians for Reagan, the National Coalition for Decency, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, Religious Roundtable, Evangelism Explosion, Christian Women National Concerns, the National Pro-Life Political Action Committee, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), Intercessors for America, and the like.
The targets of this war are selected political candidates and various "immoral" groups, people, and thoughts. What for simplicity's sake we call the New Right is committed to a political strategy for seizing America. It is moved by a complex of attitudes, fears, hatreds, and highly emotional crusades, and it is energized by sex and sex-related matters.
Not that the New Right opposes all sex, else there would be no future generations of Moral Majoritarians to impose their will on everybody else. But outside of heterosexual relations within marriage, all sex is bad. Let us call such sex Sinful Sex. Sinful Sex is worse than murder, at least according to the executive director of Moral Majority, the Rev. Robert Billings, who served as liaison between Mr. Falwell and the Reagan campaign in 1980. At present, Mr. Billings is well-situated within both the Christian Right and the Reagan administration. According to the Fall 1980 issue of Record, a publication of Evangelicals Concerned, which has the remarks on tape, Mr. Billings said: "I know what you and I feel about these queers, these fairies. We wish we could get our cars and run them down while they march."
I am not an attorney, though I am deputy sheriff of two Massachusetts counties, and if I remember the law correctly, running people down with automobiles with malice aforethought is a crime in every state in the union. Perhaps God has dictated to Mr. Billings that He, or She, will look the other way if we get in our cars and run down these queers, these fairies.
The Rev. Mr. Billings is not alone among Moral Majority officials in championing the cause of virtue against gay people. Greg Dixon, Moral Majority's national secretary, preached a sermon at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple on August 8, 1977, in which he said of homosexuals, "I say either fry 'em or put them in the pen. Don't unleash them on the human race.…I don't know how in the world you can get a society that won't even put their murderers to death, I don't know how you can ever get them to put these homosexuals to death but God's word would uphold that. They which commit such things are worthy of death."
Mr. Dixon reiterated his remarks in March 1981 on a WIND radio program in Chicago, speaking then as a representative of Moral Majority, which hadn't been formed in 1977. In the more recent statement, in response to the question, Would God's word allow a society to execute homosexuals? Mr. Dixon said, "Absolutely correct." But he appeared vexed to be pressed on the execution proposal and indicated that he would settle for something less: "I believe that homosexuals ought to be in jail, I certainly do."
Homosexuality is just one of the monstrous sins against which the New Right-Christian Right missionaries rail. The Rev. Dan Fore, head of the New York State chapter of Moral Majority, who has expressed exceedingly sanguinary views about homosexuals, also acknowledged that he is now giving serious thought to working for the execution of women who have abortions; these women are "murderesses," said Fore at a meeting of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
We have all heard the views of Mr. Falwell and his comrades, and extensive quotation is unnecessary though blood-curdling. The "conservatism" that emerges from an analysis of the writings and preachments of these people is of course not the type of conservatism that Russell Baker of the New York Times has called "conservative chic…the ideology where the fun is…an ism whose time is here." It is authoritarian conservatism, not libertarian conservatism or fusionist conservatism; it is the conservatism not of the Grand Old Party but of those who have already leaped off the Reaganite ship in search of a new savior to press the social agenda on a supine America.
Authoritarian conservatism stresses order and the binding fabric of society: home, family, church, constitutional government (so long as the First Amendment isn't taken seriously)—a matrix of stability within which liberty, or at least its hamstrung interpretation of liberty, can function. Authoritarian conservatism preaches hot and heavy against the monster state in matters economic; it opposes the cancerous spread of bureaucracy; it dwells on the necessity for firm military action to oppose Communist dictatorships and to bolster non-Communist dictatorships; it fights forced busing and abortion and deficit spending and SALT treaties and the ERA and sex education in the schools and sex at all on television and radio and in movies and books, all of which media are assumed now to be solidly in the hands of "pornographers."
In their war against today, the authoritarians take on yesterday, as well. Tim LaHaye, another Moral Majority official, wrote in his 1980 book, The Battle for the Mind, that "the giant replica of Michelangelo's magnificent David stands nude, overlooking that beautiful city [presumably Florence]. Quite naturally, this contradicts the wisdom of God, for early in Genesis, the Creator followed man's folly by giving him animal skins to cover his nakedness.…The Renaissance obsession with nude 'art form' was the forerunner of the modern humanist's demand for pornography in the name of freedom. Both resulted in the self-destructive lowering of moral standards."
From Michelangelo to Moynihan: In the March 5, 1982, issue of National Review, George Gilder, house theorist to the Reaganauts on matters of wealth and poverty, explained why he does not number himself among the neoconservatives. You see,
"They are willing to palter over quotas while wives and daughters are drafted into the military. They stay fastidiously aloof while a flood of pornography—propaganda for degradation and viciousness that must be seen to be believed—engulfs our nation's youth. I have no doubt that at some future date, when these trends have reached some climax sufficiently catastrophic, the Neo-Conservatives will…finally grant, in essence, that Ernest van den Haag and Billy Graham were right about pornography; that Anita Bryant knows more about homosexuality than does the American Association of Psychiatrists; that Phyllis Schlafly is better at defining national priorities than is Daniel Patrick Moynihan; that the Moral Majority is a more valuable and responsible movement in our politics than is the Coalition for a Democratic Majority.
"Until then, though, the Left will maintain the initiative. Millions of American boys will be told in sex-education classes that their adolescent lusts may signify a homosexual fixation, that pornography and promiscuity provide a healthy release of tensions, that contraceptives and abortions have removed the constraints of conventional morality, that families are outmoded in an overpopulated world, that religion is a form of bigotry and superstition. Only the New Right understands the urgency and extremity of these issues."
So the graceful prose artist of supply-side returns, in the pages of the leading journal of mainstream conservatism, to the themes he enunciated years ago in Sexual Suicide—and apologizes in his "Why I Am Not a Neo-Conservative'" for having once written a book that "bitterly denounced the New Right and Phyllis Schlafly as well." The know-nothingism that typifies the New Right is now, if not totally mimicked, then at least vigorously defended by the leading lights of the responsible right.
No better instance of this comes to mind than the illuminating case of Senator Barry Goldwater, once "Mr. Conservative." When Goldwater expressed his disdain for the Moral Majority's desire to "dictate their moral convictions to all Americans" and said that "every self-respecting Christian ought to give Jerry Falwell a kick in the ass," those who once stood most enthusiastically for Goldwater abandoned him, with lesser or greater degrees of disgust.
Patrick Buchanan, the most vicious of the New Right columnists with an audience beyond his own true believers, took to his column to remind Goldwater that the senator's use of the term "uncompromised idealism of religious groups" comes ungracefully from the man who in 1964 allowed for extremism in the defense of liberty. William F. Buckley, Jr., urged Goldwater to "retreat from the line he has taken" on the religious Right, and William A. Rusher reminded his readers that Goldwater has always had "grave doubts about the so-called social conservatives."
So the leading light of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, and those who float around him in the New Right-Christian Right axis are now to be defended, even championed, by people in the center column of conservatism who once upon a time would have considered Falwell a swamp rat and his adulators primitives. It is not accidental, I think, that the most important journals of the mainstream conservative movement have increasingly taken to writing of sexual matters in terms virtually indistinguishable from those employed by Mr. Falwell. Sexual matters are mighty energizers in the rhetoric of today's conservatism.
Sexual behavior is to be regularized such that only heterosexuality within marriage can be approved. Moreover, writing about sex, or broadcast material containing sex, is to be suppressed. The Rev. George A. Zarris, Illinois chairman of Moral Majority, calls for book burning, while the kindred souls of the Joelton Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, organize themselves to punish the advertisers of "morally offensive" programs like Saturday Night Live and Dallas and The Newlywed Game. The Rev. Donald Wildmon's Coalition for Better Television singles out for attack Real People, Diff'rent Strokes, Love, Sidney, Fame, and Gimme a Break.
What the networks are trying to do, knows Wildmon, is inflict homosexuality and other horrors on America. In his column in Conservative Digest, we learned last year that the networks "think if they keep trying, they can get something on which makes the homosexual lifestyle funny and therefore acceptable." In the next month's issue of the same magazine, Mr. Wildmon shared his mail with us, including letters criticizing a PBS broadcast of a Masterpiece Theatre program wherein, "with no warning whatsoever, a scene showed a man and woman totally naked in an explicit act of fornication." Not only that, but Wildmon reprinted part of another shocked response, this "from a PhD: 'There was actual, visible nudity and passionate bedroom scenes.'"
You must understand what is happening, as Jerry Falwell told us in one of his mass mailings. What's happening here in America:
"Known practicing homosexual teachers have invaded the classrooms, and the pulpits of our churches. Smut peddlers sell their pornographic books—under the protection of the courts! And X-rated movies are allowed in almost every community because there is no legal definition of obscenity. Meanwhile, right in our own homes the television screen is full of R-rated movies and sex and violence.…Our grand old flag is going down the drain.…I believe that the overwhelming majority of Americans are sick and tired of the way the amoral liberals are trying to corrupt our nation from its commitment to freedom, democracy, traditional morality, and the free enterprise system." Accompanying this particular mailing was a petition on "Moral Issues," with five questions, on: abortion, pornography, homosexuals, school prayers, and military strength. In that order. In case you missed the point, we're falling behind the Commies because Love, Sidney is allowed to remain on TV.
The censors have virtually no opposition on the right, save possibly James Jackson Kilpatrick. Joining Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Phyllis Schlafly's Textbook Censorship Committee, along comes the Educational Research Analysts, which amounts to Mel and Norma Gabler, who have boasted of their success in banning, altering, restricting, or challenging over 250 books, among them The Diary of Anne Frank, The Grapes of Wrath, and Future Shock. The Gablers have received extensive press coverage for their national campaign to ban books, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.
Add to the Gablers:
—the Pro-Life Action League, which has attacked Ann Landers as a "lethal threat to the unborn" and an "ill-informed, secular-minded commentator misleading the public."
—the New Life Interfaith Chapel in Udall, Kansas, which burned hundreds of books, records, magazines, and paintings, among them Brave New World and The Hobbit.
—the Eagle Forum, Lafayette, Georgia, which sued to forbid the county board of education to use a supplemental high school sex education text, even though the book is used for only two weeks, in sex-segregated classes, and is taught to students who have their parents' consent, not to others.
—the Eagle Forum in St. David, Arizona, which banned a series of reading books as "anti-family" and succeeded in removing every book from one high school literature class, including classics by Conrad, Hardy, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Homer, Poe, Steinbeck, and Twain.
The world is turning against the good folk. Bob Jones III, president of the school that bears his family name, not only called for divine retribution on Secretary of State Haig but also preached to the congregation at Bethel Baptist Church in Schaumburg, Illinois, that President Reagan "broke his promise to us when he took on Mr. Bush, a devil, for his vice-president.…Mr. Reagan has become a traitor to God's people.…This is fast becoming a God-hating, devilistic country that I can't be loyal to any more."
The chosen of God know that America is going to the devil, and to alert us to that fact, they have found that sex works best as the catalyst to action and as the key to unlock the door to contributions. They wage the war on many fronts, against perversion, evil, communism, anti-Americanism, satanism, secular humanism, promiscuity, pornography, homosexuality, obscenity, and other incarnations of Sin. The Rev. Robert G. Grant, head of Stop Gay Power/National Action Center, part of American Christian Cause, is typical of the current approach. In a flyer sent out last year, complete with endorsements of American Christian Cause from Pat Boone, Sam Yorty, Lawrence Welk, Art Linkletter, and former Los Angeles police chief Ed Davis, Reverend Grant explained what's eating at him, this as he asked for a donation.
"I'll do my Christian duty! YES, Rev. Grant—you can count on me to help you stop ABC's homosexual series and defeat the militant homosexuals and other immoral, anti-God forces in our country. So the American Christian Cause National Action Center can launch the mass-media Christian counter-attacks needed to restore Biblical morality and Godliness, I'm contributing my tax-deductible gift of.…" Such examples are legion.
And the point is simple. Specific political issues may or may not bring out the troops and bring in the dollars, but so-called family issues almost certainly will do both. Ideally, the New Right-Christian Right combine likes to wed sinful sex to sinful politics. The New Right Report, a newsletter put out by the Richard Viguerie organization as an adjunct to its monthly, Conservative Digest, makes the connection explicit. In the last issue of 1979 we learned of the "45 specific communist goals taken from communist sources," among them: "Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them 'censorship' and 'a violation of free speech and free press' " and "present homosexuality, degeneracy, and promiscuity as 'normal, natural and healthy'" and "discredit the family as an institution," not to mention that undying passion of Lenin, "internationalize the Panama Canal."
As Inquiry magazine calls them, the "moral imperialists" have not only pushed for the so-called Family Protection Act but have supported efforts to legalize unlimited surveillance of citizens, to find out what individuals do sexually. As Jere Real, a citizen of Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry Falwell's home town, has pointed out in several articles in recent years, the head of the Moral Majority regards any defense of privacy in matters sexual as verification of evil.
Advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment are opposed by the Bible, insists Falwell. Women are "the weaker vessel" to be kept under the "Lordship of Jesus Christ" and their husbands. Leaders of the feminist movement are "blasphemers" and the feminist movement is "a satanic attack on the home" led by "uncaring women who have failed."
The right wing makes war not only against Satan's minions but against its own, with sex as the weapon. The presidential candidacy of Rep. Philip Crane, Republican of Illinois, though probably doomed from the moment Ronald Reagan entered the race, was dealt a blow from which it never recovered, this coming from an attack mounted in the pages of the Union Leader of Manchester, New Hampshire, the nation's most prominent conservative daily newspaper. Even though the Conservative Digest has frequently offered America a Philip Crane who stood as the epitome of family regularity, the Union Leader contended that Crane's wife was a harridan and that both Cranes were and are incorrigible party-goers and hard-drinkers to the point of obnoxiousness and, most important, that Mr. Crane had boasted of his intention to "bed" 1,000 women before he hangs it up.
When Crane bit the dust, the right wing simply shifted gears and used sex against President Carter. The Review of the News, weekly magazine of the John Birch Society, chided the incumbent for turning "the memorial to our brave war dead into a Tomb of the Unknown Sodomite." This because the Gay Activists Alliance of the District of Columbia had applied to the Department of the Army for permission to "lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery to honor any sex deviants who might have served in the military." The connecting reed is thin, but when you have sex in hand, you can hit with impunity.
The strategy in almost every single New-Right broadside is to align sinful sex, sex that is not sanctified by heterosexual marriage, with bad politics. Rock and disco music are Satan's tunes; the SALT treaties are Beelzebub's sell-out to the Commies. Nudie movies will corrupt America's youth; Justice Sandra O'Connor will sanctify the killing of babies. Billy Jean King has ruined tennis. Marijuana is rotting the brains of our youths; Tony Randall, if allowed to play in Love, Sidney on TV, will warp us all.
So along they come, these walking telegrams from Heaven, to clamp a chastity belt on America. They dwell primarily on matters sexual since this is the absolute bottom line in the crusaders' litany of complaints. It's as American as apple pie, this morbid fascination with sex and the attendant effort to wish it away. Their Jesus, you see, created only nice people like them; somebody else created all the unspeakables. H.L. Mencken might be amused though not surprised to see these folks reworking for us his definition of neo-puritanism: the haunting suspicion that someone, somewhere, may be having fun.
Those organizations that, collectively, we refer to as the New Right reduce at last to a gang of bully boys pushing their prejudices and masking their self-doubts, parading their self-righteous conviction that they have a direct pipeline to God. The New Right casts everything in the form of a crusade—ostensibly several crusades, but actually one all-consuming crusade to rid America of evil by ridding America of Sinful Sex. Abortion, of course, is anathema, but so are birth control and sex education, which might help cut the growing number of abortions. The ERA is to be defeated not only nor even primarily because it could prove to be a Pandora's box for inane judicial rulings but principally because it could lead to coed toilets and, more bizarre, in some indirect way to the validation of that most terrifying perversion of all, homosexuality.
Whatever minimal restraint is now and again shown in the New Right's incessant rhetorical diatribes against unacceptable sex, it is thrown overboard when that subject arises. It arises so often in right-wing literature that anyone coming freshly to the material might assume that the whole nation had succumbed to mass forced conversion to homosexuality. In fact, we know from the sad case of former (and would-be future) Rep. Robert Bauman that demon rum leads directly to homosexual "tendencies." But if you will only join the army of the Lord to save America, the right-wing will save your soul, too.
We are witnessing today the proliferation of crusaders hell-bent on repealing the 20th century, masquerading as good Christians while calling for the blood of others. The movement of people like Jerry Falwell from the backwaters to national notoriety is a vivid symbol of the current American receptiveness to these notions and these propagandists. These people occupy the sacred ground, whence they excoriate the "perverts" and trumpet the message that God has personally delivered into their hands. They arm themselves with divine "truth" to make their case, wrapping themselves in the flag, positioning themselves within The Family, lashing out at anybody who reads what they do not wish to read or who goes to movies that rise beyond the level of latter-day Disney or who otherwise reveals his or her attachment to the sins of the flesh as enumerated by these angels of the Lord.
Some of these people mean what they say; others are tricksters; all are in league to impose a rigid authoritarianism on everybody else. At present, their victory looms as a possibility, though not a remote one. The movement backwards is gaining force and adherents. It has claimed for itself the "moral" ground on sexual matters, from which its other positions flow. One would be suicidal to ignore it or to minimize it or to try to laugh it away. "Kill a Queer for Christ," said the bumper stickers in Dade County, Florida, during the 1977 Anita Bryant crusade. Today it is the same slogan in more sophisticated garb, or, if you will, in polyester drag. The right-wing war against sex is much the larger part of the shadow of Reaction darkening the land, a shadow that grows meaner, bigger, and uglier by the day.
Contributing Editor David Brudnoy is a radio talk show host and TV arts critic in Boston, a syndicated newspaper columnist, critic, and lecturer. Parts of this article appeared first as a talk to the Fifth Biennial International Convention of Dignity, an organization of Roman Catholic homosexuals.