Mark Regnerus

Martyrdom And Dominion: Religious Right Conference Prepares For A 'Spiritual Battle' Against Gay Marriage

Twentieth century, let’s see, we left the secularists in charge…We had Hitler, we had Joseph Stalin and we had Mao. 120 million people [killed]. It gets worse. In the second half of the 20th century, we’ve murdered 400 [million] babies through abortion in China and 50 million in the United States. Let’s see, there are 500 million people we have killed in the 20th century. It’s one-tenth of the number of people who are living today, almost one-tenth.

How did we do that? We let the secularists in charge. You can’t let the secularists in charge! You have to get involved.

-Chuck Stetson, CEO of Essentials in Education, speaking at Skyline Church's Future Conference, June 2015

First they came for the adoption ministry, but I did not speak out, because I did not do adoptions.

Then they came for the wedding photographer, but I did not speak out, because I did not do photographic weddings. 

Then they came for the baker, and I did not speak out because I was not a baker. Then they came for the florist, but I said nothing, because I was not a florist.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

-Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, paraphrasing Martin Niemöller at the Future Conference

Last week, a few hundred pastors, parishioners and activists gathered at Jim Garlow’s Skyline Wesleyan Church outside of San Diego for what Garlow called the “Future Conference.” The name of the conference appeared to have two meanings. First, in the words of its marketing materials, that “what you thought was coming…is here now” — in other words, that a great spiritual clash in which Christians are called to be martyrs has arrived. And second, that ultimately, the future will belong to conservative Christians as they wrest control from secular authority and take “dominion” over the country and the world.

The themes of imminent martyrdom and eventual dominion dominated the four-day conference, in which 56 speakers gave what added up to more than 24 hours of TED-style speeches.

The event was heavily tinged with “seven mountains” dominionism, the idea that Christians are called by God to be leaders of or to wield dominant influence over the seven main areas, or “mountains,” of culture — not only religion and family, but also government, business, education, media and entertainment.

Garlow himself has been very active in politics, as one of the organizing forces behind the effort to pass the Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban in California and a proponent of Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the movement that encourages pastors to break the rarely-enforced IRS rule that prohibits tax-exempt churches from endorsing or opposing candidates for office. Garlow has especially close ties with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to whom he gave partial credit for inspiring the conference. Gingrich submitted a video address to the conference, as did two current Republican members of Congress, Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia and Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Speaker after speaker lamented the failure of the church to engage in the “culture” — through media, through education, and most importantly through politics. As Garlow wrote in an introductory letter to attendees:

Allow me to be direct: our nation is in trouble. Deep trouble. But you already knew that. That is one of the reasons you are at the FUTURE Conference. But why is our nation in trouble? Because of (how do I say this nicely?) the church. What is lacking? A clear proclamation of biblical answers to the messiness of our culture. Does the Bible actually speak to civic and national issues. Yes, it does!

Secular government and culture, the message was, are creating chaos at home and around the world. And pastors and believers who fail to engage in the wider world are letting it happen.

Just as important was the idea that, as Garlow put it, “you and I were made for this moment.” The going has gotten tough, the message was, not just for Christians facing violent persecution in places like Syria and Iraq, but also for conservative American Christians who claim to feel marginalized by advances in gay rights and who fear a potential Supreme Court decision striking down gay marriage bans. Glenn Beck, promoting the conference with Garlow, said that he knew of 10,000 pastors who were willing to die fighting this supposed anti-Christian persecution in America.

Most speakers were careful to point out that these threats are on very different orders of magnitude, although some hinted that American Christians were on the path to much more difficult times.

This was a spiritual battle that a disengaged church was letting the forces of darkness — radical Islam, the “redefinition of marriage,” abortion rights, pornography — win. Territory would have to be regained.

A ‘Spiritual Battle’ Against Gay Marriage

As is patently obvious, this is a spiritual battle. We need the intercession of every prayer warrior, every angel, and certainly the Holy Spirit. We must bombard the gates of Heaven ceaselessly for God Almighty to reverse our tragic cultural course and restore marriage to the venerable and beautiful institution that He did create.

-Frank Schubert, National Organization for Marriage political director, speaking at the Future Conference

While Garlow gathered speakers to talk about a host of imminent threats to American Christians including terrorism, abortion rights, an economic collapse, pornography, welfare and unbiblical movies, at the top of nearly everybody’s minds was the upcoming Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

Garlow took hope in a presentation from Troy Newman, head of the anti-choice group Operation Rescue, who boasted of a decline in abortion providers in recent years. “If America can survive long enough,” Garlow said, maybe, like in the anti-abortion struggle, a new generation will rise up and see “the casualties from same-sex marriage are so horrific, this has got to be stopped in our nation.”

He elaborated on the “horrific” consequences of marriage equality in an address to the audience the next day, referring to the thoroughly debunked study by sociologist Mark Regnerus that purported to show all manner of negative outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples.

“I’ve been concerned with how many Christians, how many pastors, cannot make the theological case or the sociological case for marriage,” he said. “The redefinition of marriage, sociologically, will be profoundly destructive, profoundly harming. The Regnerus report out of the University of Texas is going to be only one of many examples of many that will follow that are going to show the catastrophic consequences, the pain, the suffering inflicted on the human race by this redefinition of marriage.”

Schubert, a political strategist who works with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), similarly cited Regnerus’ questionable conclusions as he urged audience members to give money to NOM and to prod their pastors to speak out against marriage equality because “being silent on the most important issue of our day turns it over to the forces of darkness.” If your pastor refuses to speak out against gay marriage, he advised, “I would look for a different church.”

Schubert said that while anti-gay advocates “could very well win” the marriage case before the Supreme Court, Christians must be prepared to use “any and all efforts to encourage resistance” to a ruling they disagree with, “short of violence.” Christians, he said, should “renounce as illegitimate” any Supreme Court decision that attempts to “redefine” marriage.

NOM’s president, Brian Brown, delivered a similar message, telling attendees that the success of the LGBT equality movement means “the days of comfortable Christianity are over.”

“Things have been good for a long time for us,” he said. “We don’t experience the sort of persecution we’re witnessing in the Middle East. We don’t fear for our lives in coming together and worshipping. We’ve felt for a long time that we’re a part of dominant culture. Now in the course of the last decade or so, maybe a little longer, we’ve realized that’s not the case. Things are starting to change. And that, to put it bluntly, the days of comfortable Christianity are over.”

A Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, he said, would “put a lie into law” and “that law will be used to marginalize, repress and punish those of us who stand for the truth of marriage.”

Claiming that Obama administration policies opposing the violent repression of gay people overseas are actually persecuting people who oppose marriage equality, Brown said that what’s happening to Americans is nothing in comparison and so U.S. Christians should be “cheerful” about “being persecuted.” “What we see and we go and work with folks from around the world is a whole other level of hatred,” he said. “Be cheerful, be happy, you’re being persecuted! Quit being so weak! Okay? What I’m trying to say is, if that’s happening we must be doing something right!”

Anti-gay activist Michael Brown had a similar message, saying that previously bullied LGBT people have now become the “bullies” and that the LGBT rights movement “will not be satisfied until the church bows down.”

Garlow told the crowd that they were “moving into a time of testing” where evangelicals would have to stand up to the predominant culture. He recalled a “vision” he had all the way back in 1990 in which he spoke with God about a future in which there would be “churches being closed by government” on the basis of “the civil rights of homosexuals.”

But no speaker took the gay-marriage panic as far as Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, who spoke to the conference via video. Marriage equality, Staver warned, will cause “a cataclysmic social upheaval in every conceivable area.”

Touting a pledge to disobey any marriage equality ruling that he has recruited hundreds of prominent anti-gay activists to sign, Staver said that gay-marriage opponents must be prepared to resist such a ruling just like the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement resisted segregation and Jim Crow: “I think we’re back in the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. If they tell you to get off the bus, you don’t get off the bus. If they tell you to go to the back of the bus, you don’t go to the back of the bus.”

“This could be the best, most magnificent time for the church,” he said. “It is moments like this, where there is an unprecedented clash, where there’s impossible odds, that God will intervene for his people.”

Staver closed his speech with a rewritten version of anti-Nazi dissident Martin Niemöller’s famous “First they came for the socialists” lines, appropriating them to warn that the supposed persecution of bakers, florists and wedding photographers who deny service to gay people will open the door to a much wider persecution of Christians in America.

Beware Muslims! (Unless They Agree With You On Gay Rights)

Christians are being enslaved and beheaded and burned alive across the Middle East and he’s silent. Christians are being threatened and intimidated and sued and sequestered in Middle America and mum’s the word.

-Dr. Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, speaking of President Obama at the Future Conference

Although most speakers were careful to say that the supposed persecution of American Christian conservatives at the hands of the LGBT rights movement is on an entirely different order of magnitude than that being faced by Christians at the hands of ISIS and oppressive Islamist governments, there was a sense of joint martyrdom, that both are fighting for spiritual ground against forces allied with Satan.

As Steven Khoury, an Arab Israeli pastor, put it, “persecution is coming to America,” and he was there to help Americans learn how to stand up to it.

Garlow invited a few of the top anti-Islam activists in America to warn that the country, if it lets its guard down, risks facing subjugation at the hands of American Muslims. Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy warned that since 9/11, millions of Muslim immigrants have staged a “colonization” of America. He warned pastors in the crowd against any sort of interfaith dialogue with Muslims or letting Muslim groups use their church facilities, which he said “is really about providing political cover to Muslims who don’t deserve it.” Anti-Muslim activist Stephen Coughlin similarly warned pastors against falling for the “interfaith delusion.”

But nobody had a more dire warning than right-wing activist Avi Lipkin, who told pastors that “all” churches in America have been infiltrated by Muslim spies pretending to be Christian converts. These moles, he warned, are cataloguing Christians and Jews in order to kill them all when Muslim jihadists take over.

All of the talk of "religious liberty" and threats to the First Amendment seemed to be conveniently forgotten when Lipkin endorsed laws such as Switzerland’s ban on minarets, declaring: “Until Islam is banned and suppressed and erased, the Jews will not have any chance to survive in this country.”

However, he had some good news: Muslim immigration to America, he predicted, would drive U.S. Jews to the Middle East, setting up a conflict in which Islam will be “finished.” “I predict Islam will be terminated very soon,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

It was jarring, then, to later in the very same day, hear a speech from Austin Ruse, the head of the conservative Catholic United Nations advocacy group C-FAM, in which he said that some of his greatest allies in the fight to stop “radically secular countries” from inserting LGBT rights and reproductive health language into UN documents were representatives of Muslim countries.

“The pro-life, pro-family coalition in the United Nations is strange bedfellows,” he said. “It includes Muslims. And without a bloc of Muslim countries supporting life and family at the UN, we would have had a right to abortion a long time ago, and redefinition of family.”

Garlow took it upon himself to clarify this, taking the stage after Ruse's remarks to reassure the audience that “co-belligerency” with “people who are hostile to much of our values” is sometimes necessary when “they actually have an interest in some portion of our Kingdom values.” He compared Ruse’s work with Muslim countries at the UN to his alliance with Mormon leaders to pass Proposition 8 in California.

Throughout the conference, Israel was portrayed as a spiritual bulwark of the West against surrounding Satanic Islam — something exemplified by its relatively secular values. No one, however, mentioned, that Israel is one of what Ruse called the “radical secular countries” advocating for LGBT rights at the UN. Also ignored were policies such as Israel's public funding of abortion services or the fact that just days prior to the event, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his "blessings" to LGBT Pride marchers.

Dr. Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, tied together this idea that “secularists” are working in cahoots with radical Islam, aided by President Obama.

“For 67 years, we’ve disparaged dead, white, European males in our college classrooms,” he said. “Are we surprised that we now have a president whose first action was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the White House and send it back to the British ambassador’s home? For 67 years, we’ve sent our kids off to sit under faculty who have panned a Judeo-Christian ethic and praised its antithesis. Are we surprised that we now have a White House that is seemingly more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO than it is Benjamin Netanyahu and Franklin Graham?”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — whom Garlow partially credited with inspiring the conference — put it a different way in a video address to the event, saying that Christians are facing simultaneous attacks from “secular totalitarianism” and “Islamic supremacism,” with the two factions allied in a “war on Christianity.” Gingrich, who has spent years warning that the U.S. will soon become a "secular atheist country" that is "dominated by radical Islamists,” has been working to court pastors like Garlow who have ties to the dominionist movement.

Taking Dominion

Christians are dual citizens. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ … We are also citizens of an earthly “kingdom” … In the absence of Christians taking their dual citizenship seriously, obeying the dual commissions faithfully, and attempting to follow the dual commandments devotedly, the devil’s crowd has taken over key places of influence in our culture largely by default, even in a nation where professing Christians are still in the majority.

- Family Research Council manual for establishing a church “culture impact team,” distributed to pastors at the Future Conference

The sense of the inadequacy of secular leadership that pervaded the Future Conference was summarized by Republican Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, who told the Future Conference via video that secular government leads to rampant divorce, teen pregnancy, crime and gang violence, all of which invite a greater presence from Big Government:

Garlow painted a similarly bleak message, saying that the struggles of the city of Detroit are the result of a lack of “bold, biblical preaching and the application of scriptural truth to all components of contemporary life.”

“The absence of biblical truth being applied to a metropolitan area literally destroyed it,” he said.

Garlow didn’t specify which exact “biblical truths” Detroit is in violation of, but conservative activist Star Parker, who declared her intention to “destroy the welfare state,” might have provided some hints.

Parker told the gathering that the U.S. is “in a similar place right now in our country to where we were in the 1850s” when we were “half free and half slave.”

“And we’re at a crossroads again,” she said, “because we’re at the place where we’re half free and half slave. We’re in the battle of our lifetime, we’re in the battle for the very heart and soul of our great country, to go into a future, if we can, even as the Scriptures told us that God actually planned for us a future and a hope, and yet that future and hope is under attack.”

“We’re either going to come up out of this biblical and free,” she said, “or we gotta come up here secular and statist.”

Chuck Stetson, who runs a program that develops “biblical literacy” courses that clear the First-Amendment bar for being taught in public schools, had a similar message, claiming that the great genocides of the 20th century (in which he included abortion) were the result of leaving the “secularists in charge.”

Lamenting that “three percent of the population” (LGBT people) are defeating "70 percent of the population” (Christians), Stetson urged conservative Christians to develop a “broader concept of missions” and to get involved in politics as well as “literature, art [and] music.”

He used the metaphor of a cruise ship: Christians, he said, were gathering around the lifeboats in an effort to save souls, even while throughout the boat, “they’re breaking out the booze, bringing out the gaming tables. They need the Christians down there.”

In fact, the Future Conference, Garlow reported, started out as a sort of founding conference for the United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, a new group led by Joe Mattera, a New York minister who is a leader in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). NAR is a controversial movement within evangelical Christianity which is led by self-declared prophets and apostles. Many of NAR’s leaders promote “seven mountains” dominionism, the idea that conservative Christians must take “dominion” over all seven “mountains” of culture in order to pave the way for Christ’s return.

(NAR and dominionism began to attract press attention back in 2011 when then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry hosted a rally featuring many NAR leaders. Its adherents then began to downplay its core themes, saying they were seeking more “influence” than “dominion.”)

Along with a number of members of Mattera's new group, who held a meeting during one break in the conference, Garlow invited NAR adherents including Mattera, Lou Engle (with whom he had worked to raise support for Prop 8), Dennis Peacocke and Lance Wallnau to speak to the event.

Wallnau gave a Glenn Beck-style whiteboard presentation outlining the "seven mountains" theology for the audience, explaining that if the church doesn’t occupy each of the seven spheres of culture, “the Enemy will.”

“The reason why we’re having a problem in the United States is because, honestly, we have not been pursuing the discipling of the nation, we’ve been pursuing the evangelizing of the people and the building of ministries,” he said. “And so we’ve neglected entire territory that the Enemy was all too quick to go in and take possession of.”

Peacocke ­­­— the founder of a group that works with business and community leaders to bring “God’s kingdom to earth” — put the message succinctly when the told the enthusiastic crowd that Christians have been called to be leaders in every area: “We should be leading. Virtually every place there’s a Christian, they should be a manager, they should be management. We should have the relational skillset to manage wherever we go, because that is what Christians are called to be, responsible empowerers of other people.”

In his talk, Mattera clarified that he and his allies were calling on Christians to become “leaders of culture” not through force but through simply being the best in all fields. “We’re not called to take cities, we’re called to love them and serve them,” he said, “and once we produce the greatest problem-solvers the world has ever seen, the leaders of culture will come and beg us to lead, because they’re going to see that we’re the only ones who have the answer.”

He added that a key component of this would be to follow the scriptural commandment to “multiply” and “replenish” the Earth, which he specified means having more than two children per couple.

“In general, God has called His children to have more children than any other people,” he said, “so this way we will have the people to fill every aspect of culture, not just bodies, but trained in the covenant, because the word ‘replenish’ implies that they go and they fill the earth with God’s law, with the result being subdue the earth and have dominion.”

A practical guide to the political portion of this mission was provided by Kenyn Cureton, the head of ministerial outreach at the Family Research Council, who presented pastors and churchgoers with guides for establishing “culture impact teams” — basically political committees — within churches. Politically involved churches, he said, are “fighting a spiritual battle,” not against gay rights advocates or pro-choice groups, but against Satan, who has caught cultural liberals in his “snare.”

“Who’s behind the effort to snuff out human life through embryo-destructive research and abortion?” he asked. “Who’s behind the effort to indoctrinate our children with these alternative lifestyles, redefine marriage, and even ruin our military? Who’s behind the effort to drive God out government, Christ out of culture and faith out of public life? Who’s behind that? I mean, it’s pretty easy for us to understand as believers, it’s the Devil.”

Where Politics and Religion Collide

Although the focus of Garlow’s conference was largely on the twin evils of secularism and Islam, he also invited Black and Latino pastors with whom he had worked on resisting Prop 8 to discuss criminal justice reform, on which conservatives are increasingly engaging in bipartisan coalition work, and immigration, on which some evangelical leaders have been trying to get Republicans to adopt positions, or at least rhetoric, that is less offensive to Latino voters.

One of the most revealing moments of the conference came after a speech by Mark Gonzales, a Texas pastor who through his Hispanic Prayer Network seems to be attempting to connect the NAR movement with Latino evangelicals. Gonzales told the mostly white audience that God is using Latino immigration to bring “revival to America,” but that Satan is trying to stop that revival from happening by dividing the church on the issue of immigration.

And it’s not just religious revival that Latino immigrants will bring, he said. They will also help conservatives win elections.

“When God allows this many people to come into a nation, he’s up to something,” Gonzales said. He then made a well-rehearsed pitch to the conservative audience for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have long lived in the country if they first overcome a number of hurdles.

Immediately following Gonzales’s speech, Garlow came on stage to “clarify” for the crowd what Gonzales was saying. “What he’s talking about, so we’re all on the same page, is not amnesty,” he said.

Gonzales responded that anti-immigrant pundits do indeed call proposals like his “amnesty,” but using that word is the “biggest disservice we can do as the body of Christ.”

Parts of the audience clapped. Others did not seem sold.

Questions of biblical guidance and political expediency had, for a moment, become the same thing.

Right Wing Bonus Tracks - 5/28/15

  • It is not a good sign for Rick Santorum when even Herman Cain's website thinks his presidential campaign is a joke that is doomed to fail.
  • We can now add former New York Gov. George Pataki to the ever-growing list of candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
  • The American Family Association is taking on "Lucifer," an upcoming Fox television series.
  • Peter LaBarbera is still hard at work "exposing a homosexual 'perversion museum' (AFTAH’s description) known as the Leather Archives and Museum."
  • Finally, Mark Regnerus is attempting to defend his badly flawed anti-gay study.

Right Wing Bonus Tracks - 5/19/15

  • Gina Miller says there is a "war being waged by the militant homosexual movement, which is tyrannical at its heart.  The forcing on society of perverse sexual behavior is part of the Marxist Left’s campaign to destroy the moral foundations of the United States."
  • Scott Walker was recently in Washington, D.C., where he met with leaders of the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America.
  • Travis Weber of the Family Research Council calls for "legislation to be passed at the federal level and the state level around the country protecting people who support traditional marriage from the government, from the government discriminating against them, intruding into their affairs and penalizing them because of their beliefs.”
  • Finally, the researchers who debunked Mark Regnerus' anti-gay parenting study say that "if he were one of my students I’d make him redo the paper."

New Research Further Debunks Regnerus Study On Gay Parenting

In an upcoming article, a pair of sociologists are putting what they call the “final nail in the coffin” of the much-criticized study by University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus that purported to show that being raised by gay and lesbian parents harms children. The Regnerus study has become a favorite tool of Religious Right activists seeking to show that households led by same-sex couples are bad for children. At the same time, the study has come under scrutiny for the funding it received from anti-gay groups and for its lack of respondents who were actually raised in same-sex parent households.

Indiana University's Brian Powell and the University of Connecticut’s Simon Cheng didn’t just find methodological flaws in Regnerus’ research — they took the data he collected, cleaned it up, and redid the study, coming to a very different conclusion about families led by same-sex couples. Their article will be published in “Social Science Research,” the same journal that published the Regnerus study.

By eliminating suspect data — for example, a 25-year-old respondent who claimed to be 7’8” tall, 88 pounds, married 8 times and with 8 children, and another who reported having been arrested at age 1 — and correcting what they view as Regnerus’ methodological errors, Cheng and Powell found that Regnerus’ conclusions were so “fragile” that his data could just as easily show that children raised by gay and lesbian parents don’t face negative adult outcomes.

“[W]hen equally plausible and, in our view, preferred methodological decisions are used,” they wrote, “a different conclusion emerges: adult children who lived with same-sex parents show comparable outcome profiles to those from other family types, including intact biological families.”

In other words, as University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen put it, “when you clean the data and fix the things that are fixable, the results just don’t hold up.”

Three years ago, Regnerus published an ambitious attempt to quantify how being raised by same-sex parents affects children once they reach adulthood. His findings were dramatic and were quickly seized upon by opponents of LGBT equality around the world: People who had been raised by gay parents, Regnerus said, were more likely to suffer from depression and drug abuse, take part in criminal behavior, develop sexually transmitted infections and were more likely to have been sexually abused as children.

The Regnerus study was promptly scrutinized by fellow social scientists, who pointed out major flaws in his methodology. Many people who he categorized as having been raised by a gay or lesbian parent had spent very little time with that parent or with his or her same-sex partner. Even Regnerus admitted that his data included only two people who said they had been raised for their entire childhoods by a same-sex couple.

Yet, the Regnerus study continues to be cited by opponents of marriage equality and other LGBT rights issues across the globe, and Regnerus himself has even used his research to testify against marriage equality in the courts.

In an amicus brief opposing marriage equality in Louisiana, Regnerus and several other social science professors wrote that despite “the attention and scrutiny” to his study, it “remains in print and subsequent analyses of the (now publicly-accessible) data have revealed no analytic errors.”

“That is no longer true,” Powell told us. “There are major analytic errors in the study.”

Regnerus compared the outcomes of children raised in what he called “intact biological families” (with married biological parents) “lesbian mother” families and “gay father” families, finding differences between “lesbian mother” families and “intact biological families” in 24 of the 40 areas he looked at, and differences between “gay father” families and “intact biological” ones in 19 areas. 

But in scrutinizing Regnerus’ data, Cheng and Powell determined that of the 236 respondents whom Regnerus had identified as having been raised by a lesbian mother or gay father, one-tenth had never even lived with the parent in question and an additional one-sixth hadn’t lived with that parent for more than one year. Still more had provided inconsistent or unreliable responses to survey questions, throwing their reliability into doubt. That means, Powell says, that over one-third of the 236 people whom Regnerus classified as having been raised by a lesbian mother or gay father “should absolutely not have ever been considered by Regnerus in this study.”

Reanalyzing Regnerus’ data after eliminating respondents who offered dubious biographical information and recategorizing people who clearly were not raised by gay parents, Cheng and Powell found only three statistically significant differences between  the respondents raised by a lesbian mother and those who reported having been raised in “intact biological family” households. Only one of those differences could be considered a negative adult outcome — those respondents were more likely to have had an affair while married or cohabitating. Even that is hardly a smoking gun, says Powell: “If you study 40 different variables or outcomes…just by the law of chance, a few of them should be statistically significant.”

Cheng said that in taking on “one of the most controversial articles published in the history of social science research,” they tried to stay away from the debate about Regnerus’ ideology or the source of his funding. “What we can do is analyze the data,” he said.

 

The Right's Favorite Anti-Gay Study Is Discredited Once Again

One of the anti-gay movement’s favorite pieces of ammunition is a 2012 study by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus purporting to find that the children of gay and lesbian people are more likely to suffer negative outcomes, including drug abuse, poor school performance, and child abuse.

As soon as Regnerus’s “New Family Structures” study was released, fellow social scientists began picking apart Regnerus’s data, pointing out that barely any of the people that he interviewed had actually been raised by same-sex couples and that he failed to control for factors like family instability. Regnerus himself has acknowledged that his study didn’t actually say anything about parenting by stable same-sex couples, but that hasn’t stopped the anti-gay right from using it to bolster its case against marriage equality…and Regnerus from providing testimony in court cases against gay marriage.

This week, the Daily Texan, the newspaper of the University of Texas at Austin, published documents it had obtained from an internal review of Regnerus’s study that found a series of methodological flaws to the research.

The findings were summed up by the dean of UT’s College of Liberal Arts, Randy Diehl, who noted that while the school wouldn't conduct an ethics investigation into Regnerus's work, “no policy implications about same-sex parenting should be drawn from the study”:

The post-tenure review committee met again in January of this year and was tasked by Diehl with considering only methodological problems. Based on this charge, the committee found the following, as summarized and endorsed by Diehl: “Valid methodological concerns have been raised. … A key one is this: Because the design of the study ensured that the parental same-sex relationship variable was confounded with the family structure stability variable, it is not possible to conclude that the different life outcomes between the two groups were caused by the parental relationship variable.” Diehl, citing this finding and Regnerus’ original caution that the article did not deal with same-sex marriage legal rights, agreed that “no policy implications about same-sex parenting should be drawn from the study.” But the fact is Regnerus did use those findings in court.

Specifically, UT’s review found what other critics had noted: that the Regnerus study was not about same-sex parenting, but about family instability. From Diehl’s summary:

- The design of the NFS [New Family Structures] study survey instrument guaranteed that any participant who reported that their parent participated in a same-sex romantic relationship would have also experienced some form of family instability.

-Increased likelihood of negative outcomes for children who experience family instability are well-documented within existing scholarly literature.

Nobody is arguing that it isn’t difficult to find large-scale data about children raised by same-sex parents – even Regnerus has acknowledged some of his study’s shortcomings. But the problem with the Regnerus study is that the anti-gay Right continues to insist it proves a case against marriage equality  – no matter how often that interpretation is debunked.

Mark Regnerus Defends Flawed Research On Same-Sex Parenting

Back in 2012, University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus published a study claiming that children raised by same-sex couples are more likely to be molested, abuse drugs and alcohol, do poorly in school, and experience any number of other maladies. The study quickly made its way into anti-LGBT talking points around the world, even as Regnerus’ fellow academics began to find serious problems with his methodology.

The main issue with Regnerus’ work was that he based his conclusions on same-sex parenting on respondents who said their parent had been in a same-sex relationship at some point when they were a child – not necessarily adults who had been raised by a same-sex couple. Ultimately, only two of the people he studied were actually raised by same-sex couples. He also failed to control for destabilizing childhood events like divorce. Sociologist Darren Sherkat summarized the problems with the Regnerus study in a 2013 interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center:

The key measure of gay and lesbian parenting is simply a farce. The study includes a retrospective question asking if people knew if their mother or father had a “romantic” relationship with someone of the same sex when the respondent was under age 18. This measure is problematic on many levels.

Regnerus admits that just two of his respondents were actually raised by a same-sex couple, though I doubt that he can even know that, given his limited data. Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything.

It failed to take into account normal family effects on wellbeing, to control for known​ sources of positive or negative outcomes. Indeed, since he only had two stable lesbian “couples” (or at least a young adult who said that, retrospectively, in a non-random, convenience sample), he instead just constructed differences from a group of people who were raised in unstable environments. Sexuality has nothing to do with that.

Then, earlier this year, Catholic University professor Paul Sullins published a paper with conclusions similar to those put forth by Regnerus...and similar methodological flaws.

As Emma Green wrote in “The Atlantic” recently, most social science “suggests that there are no differences between kids raised in stable households by gay or straight parents” — in other words, most scientists are finding that it’s the stability of their household, not their gender of the parents, that most affects the wellbeing of kids.

But now Regnerus is defending the findings of his and Sullins’ studies by arguing essentially that families headed by same-sex couples are inherently unstable — so there is no need to control for stability in studying the wellbeing of children raised in by same-sex parents. Regnerus told World Magazine this week that divorce is “still, so far as I can tell, the primary means by which a child comes to be in a same-sex household,” so “I think we should evaluate reality as it exists, not complain about the ideal data situation that does not”:

Critics of Sullins’ study claim it can’t tell us anything meaningful about same-sex parenting because it includes children of divorce, who are themselves more likely to suffer from emotional, behavioral, and academic problems. In order to fairly represent gay parents, critics seem to suggest, surveys should only include children who did not experience divorce and were raised from infancy by stable gay couples. In other words, the childhoods Lopez and Barwick experienced should be tossed out of the data pool.

But such “ideal” same-sex parent situations are rare and would be difficult to measure using a random representative survey. Besides, is it fair to ignore the very factor that often precedes same-sex parenting situations: divorce?

“[Divorce] is still, so far as I can tell, the primary means by which a child comes to be in a same-sex household,” said Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas at Austin sociologist whose own survey of same-sex households in 2012 found children of gay parents were more likely to be unemployed, depressed, unhealthy, promiscuous, and to have a negative view of their childhood. “I think we should evaluate reality as it exists, not complain about the ideal data situation that does not.”

It’s not surprising that since same-sex marriage — and the child custody rights that come with that marriage status — is a relatively new development there isn’t a huge pool of data on children raised by married same-sex couples. But that doesn’t mean, as Regnerus suggests, that sociologists should simply conflate same-sex parenting with household instability.

Anti-Gay Mega-Donor Sean Fieler Is Funding Mark Regnerus' New Think Tank

Last year, University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus — author of a widely panned study on same-sex parenting that is nonetheless frequently cited on the Religious Right — helped launch a new group called the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, which has since been publishing his research on topics including pre-marital sex, divorce, religion among college students and masturbation.

According to tax records filed this summer, the Austin Institute receives much of its funding from one donor: New York hedge fund honcho and social conservative mega-donor Sean Fieler.

The 2013 tax return for Fieler’s Chiaroscuro Foundation reports two grants to the Austin Institute, totaling $250,000. Although the public copy of Chiaroscuro’s tax return obscures the dates of its fiscal year, the organization’s 2010 return indicates that its tax year runs from January through December.

Meanwhile, the Austin Institute’s return reports that it took in just $205,000 in contributions between February and June 2013, indicating that a significant portion of its initial funding came from Fieler’s charity.

Fieler’s funding of the Austin Institute shouldn’t come as a surprise. To begin with, he is a trustee of the Witherspoon Institute, the Princeton-based think tank that kicked in $700,000 for Regnerus’ now infamous “New Family Structures” study. The study claimed to show that children raised by gay and lesbian parents suffer all sorts of harmful consequences like drug use and abuse, despite only actually studying two people raised by same-sex couples.

According to the Austin Chronicle, the new group was quickly dubbed “Witherspoon Institute South” — a name stemming from its staff’s plentiful ties to the Witherspoon Institute and the Religious Right.

The Austin Institute grants were among the biggest expenditures last year by Fielder’s Chiaroscuro Foundation, many of which went to groups fighting marriage equality and abortion rights. This year, recipients include Americans United for Life ($20,000), the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty ($260,000), the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), which fights pro-choice and LGBT rights initiatives at the U.N. ($20,000), the National Abstinence Education Foundation ($50,000) and the Susan B. Anthony List ($40,000). As ThinkProgress noted yesterday, Fieler’s foundation also gave $50,000 last year to Morality in Media for its increasingly quixotic anti-porn campaign.

In 2012, the foundation gave $20,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, but seems to have snubbed the group in 2013.

The Chiaroscuro Foundation is just the beginning of Fieler’s influence: Last month, RH Reality Check delved in detail into Fieler’s political spending, including his funding of the American Principles Project and his hand in political races across the country.

While Regnerus’ research at the Austin Institute has so far made less of a splash than his faulty same-sex parenting study, he has continued to lend his voice to the effort to stop marriage equality, including testifying on behalf of a same-sex marriage ban in Michigan this year. (That move caused some of his UT colleagues to distance themselves from his work.)

The Austin Institute’s most noticeable contribution so far is a viral YouTube video applying a pop-economics veneer to the Religious Right’s favorite target, the sexual revolution. The video explains (in economic terms, of course) how contraception led to women turning against each other while men became video-game playing slobs — the only solution to which is for women to band together to withhold sex until marriage.

And the Austin Institute seems primed to provide more research to conveniently reinforce the Religious Right’s policy views — a solid investment for a donor like Fieler.

UPDATE: A reader points out that the Bradley Foundation, a conservative group that includes the Witherspoon Institute's Robert George on its board and that also helped to fund Regnerus' "New Family Structures" study, also reported a $100,000 grant to the Austin Institute last year.

Regnerus Study Backer Acknowledges That Marriage Equality Creates Family Stability

Updated

Buried in a National Catholic Register report on the biannual meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops this week is the surprising revelation that Brad Wilcox, one of the researchers behind Mark Regnerus’ infamously flawed study of same-sex parenting, admitted to attendees that most social scientists have found “no difference” between “a stable same-sex family and a stable heterosexual family.”

And when a Washington state bishop compared same-sex marriage to cohabitation, Wilcox responded that data suggests “when same-sex marriage is legalized and it is given cultural support, it will be as stable as heterosexual marriage" and that married same-sex couples “are more likely to have stable relationships when the legal regime is more supportive of their relationships.” 

Following his talk, Wilcox took a number of questions from bishops on the floor of the meeting. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput asked why, if marriage is so valuable for economic success, same-sex marriage is being legalized in so many states.

"Most of the scientists would say that there's no difference ... between a stable same-sex family and a stable heterosexual family," replied Wilcox, noting that those scientists might consider stability the "key factor, not other issues that might relate to a child's well-being."

Yakima, Wash., Bishop Joseph Tyson asked why same-sex marriage is not considered by the studies Wilcox cited to be as dangerous as cohabitation.

"I think that the assumption ... is that when same-sex marriage is legalized and it is given cultural support, it will be as stable as heterosexual marriage," Wilcox replied.

"Is there data to back that?" Tyson asked.

"The data suggest that same-sex couples -- and this is really preliminary -- are more likely to have stable relationships when the legal regime is more supportive of their relationships," Wilcox replied.

This acknowledgment of mainstream social science’s assessment of gay and lesbian parenting is important coming from someone who helped to shape the Regnerus study, the discredited attack on same-sex parenting that is still cited widely by marriage equality opponents. We wrote last year:

Documents obtained by the American Independent this year revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work through the go-between of W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia who at the time ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on LGBT parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged Regnerus to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed onto an amicus brief seeking to influence both cases, which extensively cited his own research).

Wilcox’s remark echo the Proposition 8 trial testimony of David Blankenhorn, in which he acknowledged the stability provided by marriage for same-sex couples. Blankenhorn later became a full-fledged marriage equality advocate.

UPDATE: The bishops’ group has posted video of the conference. It’s clear from the video that Wilcox isn’t completely on board with the social science on same-sex marriage, but  does acknowledge the consensus among his colleagues.

Interestingly, Wilcox did not mention same-sex marriage at all until it was brought up in the question-and-answer session.
 

Right Wing Round-Up - 4/1/14

Right Wing Round-Up - 3/5/14

Right Wing Round-Up - 3/4/14

Right Wing Leftovers - 2/24/14

  • Apparently, the First Amendment requires allowing groups to place Bibles in hotel rooms because not doing it is "the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment prohibits."
  • Joseph Farah has turned on Ann Coulter.
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott unite in trying to convince Sean Hannity to move to Texas.
  • In news that will shock nobody, Mark Regnerus' anti-gay study was orchestrated and funded by anti-gay groups.
  • Finally, Bryan Fischer recalls the time Satan inflicted him with a panic attack that almost caused him to strip off his clothes and go running through the woods.

Right Wing Round-Up - 2/19/14

Right Wing Leftovers - 1/30/14

  • The Southern Baptist Convention's ERLC will host a conference on "the gospel and human sexuality to equip pastors and church leaders to speak to these critical issues in their own congregations" that is going to feature Mark Regnerus.
  • Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Katy Perry are in need of prayer.
  • The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders is out with its long run-down of incredibly vague predictions about what the world will experience in 2014.
  • FRC prays against the legalization of marijuana: "May the American people come to their senses to reject this trend and reverse it!"
  • Finally, Gary Cass delivers a "Spiritual State of the Union" address; it is not good: "[A] small but militant minority is hell bent on destroying all vestiges of our Christian heritage. Marxist / Secularists have prosecuted their 100 year Cultural Jihad to infiltrate the media, education and politics, especially the courts, and impose their secular fundamentalism. The election and re-election of Barack Obama is sobering proof of their formidable influence."

Globalizing Homophobia, Part 3: A New Life for Discredited Research

This is the third post in a four-part series exploring how American right-wing groups have supported Russia’s recent spate of anti-gay laws and its crackdown on LGBT citizens.

When Russian lawmaker Alexei Zhuravlyov introduced a bill that would allow the state to remove children from openly gay parents – classifying homosexuality along with drug abuse and child abuse as offenses that merit the loss of custody – gay rights activists noticed something interesting in the text of the bill.

Zhuravlyov, who insisted, “In the case when a parent has sexual contact with people of their own gender, the damage that can be inflicted on the psyche of a child is enormous,” had in the text of his bill quoted extensively from a 2012 study conducted by University of Texas researcher Mark Regnerus that purports to show that having LGBT parents harms kids.

New evidence shows that the Regnerus study also influenced the architects of Russia’s ban on gay “propaganda” and its ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by gay couples and single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.

In the June 13 joint Duma committee hearing on the proposed gay adoption ban and a related “traditional values” roundtable discussion – attended by National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown and a number of far-right French activists – Regnerus’ research played a central role.

In her speech at the committee hearing, Yelena Mizulina, the chairwoman of the Duma’s committee on family, women and children and the sponsor of the “propaganda” bill, cited Regnerus to advocate for the adoption measure, claiming that Regnerus had provided the only “reliable” research on same-sex parents:

At the same time, the American scholar Mark Regnerus, who carried out an extensive study over the course of one and a half years of 3,000 people who had been raised in same-sex families, showed the opposite, and the data are absolutely stunning, they are published. They called for him to be fired from the university in Texas [where he worked]. An independent assessment was ordered, an independent commission, who totally confirmed the scientific validity of the study’s representativeness and the reliability of its conclusions.

Mizulina went on to hypothesize that gay parents would teach their children to be gay just as alcoholics would likely have children who drink, and compared the “social experiment” of marriage equality to the experiment of communism in Russia:

It is established that if the parents in a family smoke, their child will likely smoke. And in these families the share of children who smoke when they become adults is higher. If parents drink, the probability that children in these families will drink is much higher than in families where parents do not drink.

Why and on what basis is there an exception regarding imitation of the behavior of parents when we’re talking about homosexuality? Why? Where do they get that children will not imitate this particular behavior? It’s untenable, even without scientific studies. But scientific studies would of course be important here, too.

But this type of experiment, this sexual revolution as they call what is happening in Europe today, is a social experiment that the West is conducting on its own children.  Russia has had enough of social experiments.

Last century we had social experiments where the family was destroyed. It was argued that there would be no more families, that this institution would die out, and many others. And the West watched and did the opposite.

Mikhail Zoplev, a member of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, had his own take, claiming that gay couples “renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’”

Why? By creating such pair--man with man or woman with woman—they renounce the ability to have their own children, so they say, ‘Give us those of others.’ What does this represent? It seems to me some very twisted logic.

A news report about the meetings on the TV Tsentr channel included an interview with Evgenii Makushkin, a Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development psychologist, who insisted that “a same-sex pair may raise a child with a host of sexual problems.” His evidence? An American study published in the Social Science Research journal – the Regnerus study.

Makushkin: The life principles of such a child [who has been raised by homosexual parents] may be completely distorted. The child develops psychological problems, problems learning materials in school, problems integrating with peers, problems orienting themselves during puberty. Towards whom will a child who has been raised in a homosexual family orient? It’s probably that a change in sexual orientation may even occur. This is indeed a new problem. In this way, a same-sex pair will produce a child with a host of sexual problems.

Voiceover: According to the results of a study by American psychologists, 31% of children in lesbian families and 25% of children in gay families were forced to have sex with their so-called parents In typical families in the US, this indicator stands at 8%. Almost one-third (28%) of children raised by gays or lesbian mothers cannot find steady employment.

At a July 4 meeting in France, a leader of the anti-gay group French Spring praised Mizulina for her adept use of the Regnerus study in pushing anti-gay measures.

The Regnerus study has captured the imaginations of anti-gay activists throughout the world. But in reality, it is complete bunk. Shortly after Regnerus published his work, the narrative behind it unraveled. It turned out that Regnerus had relied on a slew of flawed methodology and had only studied two people raised by same-sex couples. As one sociologist charged with auditing Regnerus’ study for an academic journal put it: “Since only two respondents were actually raised in gay or lesbian households, this study has absolutely nothing to say about gay parenting outcomes. Indeed, because it is a non-random sample, this study has nothing to say about anything.”

But Regnerus had never intended to conduct an honest assessment of the outcomes of children raised by gay and lesbian parents. Instead, Regnerus was an ideologue with a point to make and funders on the Religious Right were ready to help him make it. Regnerus received significant funding for his study from Religious Right groups: $700,000 from the Princeton-based anti-gay Witherspoon Institute and over $90,000 from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. Both groups have deep ties with the movement to prevent marriage equality: National Organization for Marriage cofounder Robert George also cofounded the Witherspoon Institute and sits on the board of the Bradley Foundation. In addition, George helped draft the Manhattan Declaration, a religious conservative manifesto that has drawn the support of a who’s who of Religious Right leaders.

Documents obtained by the American Independent this year revealed that the Witherspoon Institute was closely involved in Regnerus’ work through the go-between of W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia who at the time ran Witherspoon’s program on family, marriage and democracy, which had recruited Regnerus to conduct the study on LGBT parents. Regnerus in turn hired Wilcox on contract to assist him with data analysis on the study. Along with working with Regnerus on his skewed interpretation of the data, Wilcox urged Regnerus to release the study in time to influence the U.S. Supreme Court in its upcoming marriage equality cases. (Regnerus later signed onto an amicus brief seeking to influence both cases, which extensively cited his own research).

Wilcox’s interest in the Regnerus study went beyond influencing American law and public opinion. He is also active in the Illinois-based World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay policies throughout the world. This year, Wilcox was a keynote speaker at WCF’s summit in Sydney, along with leaders from the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.

When word began to spread that Regnerus’ study was playing a key role in the Russian anti-gay movement, Regnerus backtracked, saying that the Russian effort to remove children from biological parents who are gay or lesbian was a “misuse” of his research.

While actively snatching children from gay parents might have been a step too far for Regnerus, he hasn’t stopped pushing his flawed findings around the globe. In fact, the same day that Regnerus claimed that Russian lawmakers had gone too far with his study, the anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom announced that Regnerus would join it at a panel at the United Nations seeking to inject anti-gay politics into discussions of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

In our next post, we’ll look at the role the World Congress of Families has played in promoting anti-gay laws in Russia and throughout the world.

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