Conservatives vs. Executing Gay People

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 12:41 PM EST

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan linked to this blog post by John Mark Reynolds, who blogs for First Things, the conservative ("theoconservative," according to some) Catholic magazine founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus. Sullivan praised Reynolds' "brilliant evisceration" of Uganda's proposed "execute gay people" law "from both a Christian and secular perspective." Here's how Reynolds launches his attack: 

Uganda may pass a law that could lead to the death penalty for homosexual behavior.

The proposed law is odious.

Due to the legacy of colonialism, Western people should be sensitive about interfering in sub-Saharan African politics and modest in making moral pronouncements regarding Africa, but this law deserves universal condemnation. Uganda experienced many evils under colonialism, including the loss of basic liberties.

Experiencing evil does not give a free pass to do evil and this bill is wicked.

It is not a close call.

No good can come of this bill and great harm will be done if it is passed.

The rest is here. I want to draw your attention to the comments section of Reynolds' post, which is pretty unique. It's not full of idiots or trolls, per se. The commenters make long, often well-reasoned arguments and show basic respect for each other. But the subjects they're arguing about are well outside mainstream political discourse. For example:

I have a friend who defends slavery on the grounds that the Bible does. No amount of quoting texts like Titus have helped. I have tried to show him the changing standards of morality that God holds us to while remaining faithful to the idea. I have hit a brick wall with him, but fell any time spent trying to talk someone out of ever saying in public that Christianity is okay with slavery is time well spent. Have you expounded on these ideas elsewhere in a fuller form that I might hopefully change his mind. Oh one other thing, what is the best introductory work on the Orthodox church, though I am Reformed, and not likely to change. I do feel there is a gap in my knowledge when I don’t know anything about a 1/3 of Christendom.

Reynolds responds—not to say that slavery is obviously wrong but instead to point to his work on the Bible's approach to slavery in a new Christian apologetic.

It's all well and good, I suppose, to offer lengthy attacks on the Ugandan law. But at this point in human history, given the experience of the twentieth century, some things should really be part of a broad moral consensus. The immorality of slavery or of executing minorities shouldn't really require long arguments.

I suspect this is why it's been hard for Sullivan to find examples of the National Review or the Weekly Standard or the American Conservative or Commentary denouncing the Ugandan law. The writers at those magazines may disagree with Sullivan on a lot of things, but I suspect they think it's pretty obvious to most Americans that executing gay people is wrong. The problem for conservatives is that it's inconvenient for them to defend any sort of gay rights—even the right not to be executed—because doing so brings up awkward questions about why conservatives want to deny other rights to gay people.

When you have to make long arguments to convince your audience to accept the basic moral consensus—slavery is wrong, executing gay people is abhorrent—it makes you (and your audience) look radical. After all, how many of us have friends who argue that slavery is okay? How many of us hang around with folks who think it would be great if gay people were executed for their "crimes"? It's fine that John Mark Reynolds spent hundreds of words attacking the murder of minorities and a chapter explaining why slavery is wrong. But he shouldn't have to do it. A quick note of opposition ("executing gay people is obviously wrong") should suffice. If that's not more than enough to convince you, you had better be ready to explain your position. When it comes to easy moral questions like enslaving people or slaughtering homosexuals, the burden of proof falls overwhelmingly on those who would buck the modern consensus.

Kevin is traveling today.

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