I remember an incident from my teenage years:
I was at a church youth camp where an uncle of mine, a respected foreign missionary, was a keynote speaker. My uncle was playing basketball with some of the young men and the game became quite competitive.
At one point, my uncle fouled another player. I, who knew little about basketball, could see this clearly. And it was plain that the other players shared this observation.
But not my uncle.
He said, “That wasn’t a foul”. And though their faces betrayed their incredulity, the other players didn’t argue. Because he was an authority figure, the game proceeded without a free throw. It wasn’t a foul.
I present this story to illustrate a point. Over time, people in positions of power or authority can come to think that they are not only right, but beyond challenge. Opinions become “true” because they say that they are.
I don’t think that my uncle was lying that day. Or cheating. But he was heavily biased against thinking that his walloping into the other player was outside of acceptable efforts to get the ball. And he was accustomed to having his opinion – whether in issues of faith or in daily whims – accepted as fact.
Of course what he said was true. After all, he had said it. And since he was a teller of truth, the things that he had to say were – by definition – true.
I think this attitude is pervasive among those who are anti/ex-gay activists. They may make the most ridiculous and obviously untrue claims but, because they are speaking “truth in love”, they feel no need to verify their claims nor any guilt when they are demonstrated to be false.
The most recent example of this is the column penned by Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, for Time magazine. Dobson publicly chastises Mary Cheney, the daughter of the Vice-President, because she is pregnant with a child that she will raise with her spouse Heather Poe.
Dobson states his opinions on traditional families and “God’s design” and “biblical truth”. And while I may disagree with him, Dobson is not at fault for telling his “truth” about such things.
However, Dobson did not stop there. Shielding himself with the mantle of “scientific findings”, he presented the writings, reputation, and authority of two psychologists, Dr. Carol Gilligan and Dr. Kyle Pruett, to add credence to his condemnation. It is not possible to read Dobson’s words without coming to the conclusion that the work of these accomplished researchers agrees with his point.
It does not.
Now most of us would be horrified to find that we had misrepresented the work of another. We would be embarrassed and profuse with apology. However, Dr. Dobson is not. He has issued no retractions nor has he admitted that he has done anything wrong.
This is not the first time that Dobson and other anti-gay activists have misquoted or misused the research of others. He has been misrepresenting both Gilligan and Pruett for years. And perhaps the most blatant example is the misrepresentation of Dr. Spitzer’s kindly intended but poorly executed look into the successes of some ex-gays. Although Dr. Spitzer has publicly complained about the dishonest representation of his conclusions, this study continues to be trumpeted falsely on most every anti-gay and ex-gay website.
While I suspect that Dobson is fully aware that he repeatedly misrepresents the research of others, on some level I don’t think he views his statements as “untrue”. Dobson is convinced of the rightness of his position and therefore what he says, though technically inaccurate, is still “the truth”. Facts are just inconvenient details that can be ignored.
It has now been twenty-five years since I watched my uncle foul a young man on a dusty cement basketball court at youth camp. And I am certain that no one who played that day recalls the foul – or even that they played the game. But I have never forgotten that incident. It was the day that I lost a measure of respect for a man who used his authority to abuse another and to let his “truth” override objective facts.
So too has James Dobson used his authority to abuse Gilligan and Pruett and run roughshod over objective facts. And though he may not know it, there are those out there who – seeing this abuse – will remember this day as the day that they lost respect for Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family.
(hat tip to Wayne Besen for his work in securing the responses from Drs. Gilligan and Pruett)