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Jewish World Review May 19, 2000 /14 Iyar, 5760

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Ideological intolerance silences diverse voices

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I HAVE NOT WANTED to use this space to complain about the current controversy swirling around me lest it seem self-serving. However, the Beliefs column in The New York Times on April 29 made me realize that persistent attempts to silence me are only a small part of the much larger political strategy of a special-interest minority whose power far exceeds their numbers.

Peter Steinfels wrote about three respected Protestant theologians, whom he identified only by the letters A, B and C, at their request. Each of them had turned down the opportunity to appear on a television program. Why were these three people seeking anonymity in the newspaper? And what is it they were afraid to talk about publicly?

Well, though they span a spectrum of Christian thought from conservative to liberal, they share a common belief that the Christian church should not bless same-sex unions. They had various reasons for refusing the opportunity to talk about this on television. (Maybe they learned how dangerous it was by observing what has happened to me for talking about it on radio.)

The well-funded and well-connected homosexual activist movement has become the McCarthyism of the 21st century. Opposition to any of its goals is tantamount to being a "fellow traveler," which is what people were called in the 1950s who were merely accused (often erroneously) of being communist sympathizers. The topic is not open to debate. Accusers become judge and jury, and the mainstream media are only too happy to carry out the sentence.

Scholar A said he worried that he couldn't condense his views on this complex issue into a sound bite for TV. From personal experience, I know it wouldn't matter how good a job he did of condensing and articulating his views. He still would have been labeled a "homophobe" or a "hate-monger." All one needs to do to earn these chilling epithets is to question the wisdom of a single goal of the gay activists.

Scholar B noted that these discussions were always forced into a debate -- one in which "here's Mr. Compassion and here's me." Tell me about it.

Scholar C said that though homosexual issues were a relatively minor part of a large body of work long seen as more liberal than conservative, "in some circles I've been typecast." Though my "body of work" is no doubt seen as more conservative than liberal, I can certainly identify with being labeled and typecast. People who know me only by what they read in the newspaper or see on TV lately must think that my radio program concerns itself exclusively with the issue of homosexuality.

In fact, I can't think of any topic that takes up less of my 15 hours a week of preaching, teaching and nagging about morals, values and ethics. If there is one issue that dominates my public discourse, it is the welfare, the well-being and the defense of children in America -- all children, regardless of their race, religion, family situation or sexual orientation.

The New York Times piece goes on to say that the theologians' experience with this issue "leaves one mulling over the dynamics that reduce society's differences about sexuality, morality, religion and law to shouting matches and bumper stickers" and, I could add, hateful Web sites that target individuals. Steinfels writes that these theologians also face "the ideological intolerance and labeling rampant in university environments and the polarized atmosphere within the churches." I would add that ideological intolerance has spread well beyond universities and churches into almost every institution in the country. I can't think of another issue since the McCarthy era that has so intensely polarized the country.

He concludes: "American culture is hypersensitive to censorship. What truly constrains full and open discussion, however, may be far more subtle, but no less effective." The writer is obviously referring to attempts to smear the reputations of those who disagree and other forms of intimidation such as boycotts and protests.

I commend Peter Steinfels for the courage to write about this highly volatile subject and The New York Times for printing it.

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