Ugandan activists holds placards and chant slogans during an anti-homosexuality protest rally in Jinja, Uganda in 2010. (Reuters/James Akena)
Pastor Scott Lively greets me with a skeptical smile, though we’ve talked several times by phone. I don’t blame him for his reluctance to meet in person – there aren’t many news stories that shed a favorable light on his work. But, on a warm, sunny day, he has granted me an interview in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. He is taking a hit for God, to Whose will – or, at least, Lively’s interpretation thereof – Lively has dedicated the past 20 years of his life.
“My whole life is built around standing up for the truth of the Bible,” Lively told me under the shade of a gazebo in a Springfield park, “and we’re in an age where it’s increasingly under attack, especially regarding sexual morality.”
Lively’s critics are many and vocal. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told me Lively is “a despicable man.” Wayne Besen from Truth Wins Out said, “Scott Lively cannot debate smart people.” To quote the lawsuit accusing Lively of persecution:
“Lively’s 2009 work in Uganda and his call to arms to fight against an ‘evil’ and ‘genocidal,’ ‘pedophilic’ ‘gay movement’…ignited a cultural panic and atmosphere of terror that radically intensified the climate of hatred in which Lively’s goals of persecution could advance.”
(Editor’s note: The organization that is handling the case against Lively, the Center for Constitutional Rights, has received funding for other projects from the Open Society Foundations, which also provided partial funding for this report).
Lively is a healthy 54 – just got back from a hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail – with a grandfatherly shock of whitish gray hair and beard. He is cordial and pleasant with piercing blue eyes. He does not look like the defendant in an international lawsuit accusing him of conspiring to persecute Ugandans.
Then again, what should that defendant look like?
The making of a monster?
Lively was once a liberal. He was also once a drug addict. He left them both behind when he came to Jesus.
“From the very beginning, my faith involved social activism,” Lively says. That activism would eventually take him on 40 trips abroad, where he would lecture on the “global gay agenda” – an allegedly sophisticated campaign to liberalize sexual norms. On his 2009 trip to Kampala, Uganda, he told a conference crowd, “I know more about this than almost anyone in the world.”
As a younger man, long before he went to Uganda, Lively said he had thought “live and let live about gays.” But after coming to Christ, he began to see social issues “from God’s perspective.” Lively’s faith began to fuel the fire of his activism. In 1992, he became involved in Oregon’s Ballot Measure 9, which would have amended the Oregon Constitution to summarily recognize “homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse.” (Read the full text of the measure here.)
Voters denied Lively and his colleagues a victory, but only after an ugly political battle ensued. It made a lasting impression on him.
“I think the Lord opened my eyes to things most people have never seen,” he says. “I’ve never seen any opposing campaign that was as dishonest and vicious [as the No on 9 Campaign]. I mean every political dirty trick you could think of. It was like the gates of hell kicked open and all the demons came pouring out, and that was all manifested in the form of a political campaign.”
But this trailer from the award-winning documentary “Ballot Measure 9” gives a different account.
Defeats like this would eventually lead Lively, and other American evangelicals, to pursue their strategy in countries friendlier to their agenda. In Uganda, for example, they would find influential pastors and politicians already stirring up anti-gay sentiment. But first, Lively formulated a set of beliefs based on his “personal observations” that became the core of his activism.
Homosexuality, Lively believes, has three primary causes. One: “sexual molestation as a child.” Two: “gender identity disorder in early childhood” – the notion that a child forms an inappropriate, though not sexual, bond with a parent of the opposite gender and later adopts that gender’s inclinations. Three: “rebellion against authority,” or “the old college lesbianism phenomenon,” he says. Paraphrasing Pope John Paul II – though Lively identifies as Evangelical, not Catholic – he believes “homosexuality is implicitly, inherently disordered.”
But in Lively’s world, homosexuals aren’t simply victims. Some are violent, abusive, alpha personalities, a group of men Lively calls “monsters.” What does he mean by “monster”? “This is the kind of person it takes to run a gas chamber,” he said at a conference in Uganda in 2009. These so-called “monsters” – whom Lively says represent a minority of gay people – are responsible for the Holocaust, American slavery, the Spanish Inquisition and the Rwandan genocide.
But even for these pedophiles and “serial killers,” Lively says being gay is a choice. As proof, he points to “the many thousands of people active in the ex-gay movement.”
Faith or proof
If those proofs seem light on data, they are. His calculated cause-and-effect analysis of homosexuality has zero basis in objectively recognizable fact, according to world’s most respected health professionals. (To check for yourself, you can navigate the links below.)
- Gay men do not molest children at a higher rate than straight men. The American Psychological Association says the claim that gay men are somehow more dangerous to children is “a myth and harmful stereotype.”
- “Gay therapy” – the attempt to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality – has been completely debunked.
- Lively’s definition of “gender identity disorder” does not exist in the lexicon of health care professionals.
There is no conclusive evidence about what “makes” a person’s sexual identity – but for all intents and purposes, when people tell us they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI), there is nothing medically or psychologically wrong with them.
As for “the old college-lesbianism phenomenon,” decide for yourself.
Lover or hater
I should note that Lively does not appear to hate gay people. He never uses the word hate. And that’s why he takes issue with the Southern Poverty Law Center listing his Abiding Truth Ministries as a hate group. Here he is defending himself in Uganda in 2009:
Lively doesn’t fit the mold of the Ku Klux Klan member who hates minorities. What Lively believes is quite different. He is not ineloquent, uneducated or unintelligent. For everything he believes, he has a reason, which is the barebones definition of “logic.”
But Lively’s reasons are based in mythology. And the problem is this: He purports his beliefs to be factual. When he lectures – both in the U.S. and abroad – introducing himself as a leading expert on “the global gay agenda,” he is greeted by people who share his worldview, therefore reinforcing this mythology among hardcore believers.
And no believers are more hardcore than Uganda’s anti-homosexual activists. In three trips to Uganda, before the introduction of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – a.k.a. the Kill the Gays Bill – Lively, by his own admission a fringe character in the American Evangelical community, was greeted with open arms by Uganda’s most influential anti-gay leaders.
It’s not fair to say they simply regurgitated Lively’s story because they already possessed a deeply misguided view of homosexuality. In 2009, Lively was preaching to the choir in Kampala, where they were not only open to his ideas but ready to take them to a logical extreme, an extreme even Lively backed away from.
Links for further reading
The American Psychological Association on the link between pedophilia and sexual identity
The American Psychological Association on therapeutic efforts to change sexual orientation
The American Psychiatric Association defines Gender Identity Disorder
The American Medical Association’s policies and resources on LGBTI issues
The award-winning documentary on Oregon’s Ballot Measure 9
The lawsuit accusing Pastor Scott Lively of persecution