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Focus FFumbles

I missed the first act of this story when it happened last year, but what that means is that now I can relay the whole story, including the follow-up. Last May, Senator Jeff Sessions argued that "sexual orientation" should not be a relevant consideration for a Supreme Court justice. Playing the good dhimmi-to-liberalism, Senator Sessions pretended that the phrase "sexual orientation" used in such a context (when we're discussing what would happen if Obama were to appoint a "gay justice" to SCOTUS) just means thoughts and feelings in one's private mind and has nothing whatsoever to do with one's actions. He referred delicately to a person who "acknowledges that they have gay tendencies." Not, you know, a person who is proudly and openly living with his male homosexual partner or anything. Sessions evidently didn't want to talk about that.

Neither did Bruce Hausknecht, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, who told "The Plum Line" that sexual orientation “should never come up....It’s not even pertinent to the equation.” Judicial philosophy, said Hausknecht, is everything. And Ashley Horne, Focus's "federal policy analyst," echoed the statement.

"Someone's sexual orientation or their preferences, none of these things should come into consideration when we're talking about evaluating someone who will make decisions based on precedent under the law [and who will] practice judicial restraint," Horne explains. "Those are the things we look at for whether or not someone would make a fit justice on the Supreme Court."

Of course, the very idea that the first openly homosexual Supreme Court Justice, appointed by President Obama, would have an originalist judicial philosophy and do what Horne means by "practicing judicial restraint," is laughable, but Horne and Hausknecht felt they had to say the politically correct thing.

It was only with the follow-up this year that I learned about what Focus had said a year ago.

In March (but I received an e-mail reporting the event just last week), Tom Minnery, Vice President of Public Policy at Focus on the Family, sent the following "clarification" to the group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality:

It has been reported that we would not oppose any U.S. Supreme Court nominee over their ’sexual orientation.’ Our Judicial Analyst [Bruce Hausknecht] made a statement to this effect in an interview with The Plum Line. To be honest, this is one of those conversations we’d like to ‘do over.’ We can assure you that we recognize that homosexual behavior is a sin and does not reflect God’s created intent and desire for humanity. Further, we at Focus do affirm that character and moral rectitude should be key considerations in appointing members of the judiciary, especially in the case of the highest court in the land. Sexual behavior–be it heterosexual or homosexual–certainly lies at the heart of personal morality.

I actually give Focus a lot of credit for making so overt an admission that they messed up. The "do over" phrase is a good one, despite the word "clarification." It's quite clear that Hausknecht and Horne were saying something different from what Minnery is saying. They were clearly saying that a homosexual openly living in a homosexual relationship, proud of his so-called "orientation," where that of course includes the insistence that sexual acts based on that "orientation" are perfectly normal and moral, could be no problem whatsoever for a SCOTUS nominee if, per impossible (though they didn't admit that), he had what they consider to be the right "judicial philosophy." In fact, Hausknecht went so far as to say that such an "orientation" should not even come up, should not even be part of the "equation." Minnery, on the other hand, is saying that a SCOTUS justice should have good moral character and that openly living the homosexual lifestyle is contrary to a good moral character, so that is part of the equation.

I applaud Focus's correction. But how in the world did those statements last spring come to be made at all? Who authorized them? How significant is it that they came from two different Focus representatives within the same month? And...might this have anything to do with the fact that James Dobson stepped down as board chairman of FOF in February of that same year?

For extra reading: Here is a leftwing blogger criticizing some other statements by Ashley Horne--this time on hate crimes enhancements of punishment on the basis of "sexual orientation." I'm afraid I have to agree with him that her position, if her statements were accurately reported, is less than logically stellar.

Comments (22)

Gay Christians trying to lead chaste lives in accordance with orthodoxy exist, of course. True, the number who are viable judicial candidates is probably next to nil, but I don't see anything troubling in someone allowing for that possibility. If John Heard weren't Australian, I'd nominate him for the bench.

But anyone who thinks that's what the discussion here was about and was what "The Plum Line" was asking Mr. Hausknecht about, is fooling himself. That's, of course, why Minnery's clarification is a "do over." You'll notice that Minnery himself is talking about acts. He isn't ruling out (in principle) the possibility of such a chaste person as a candidate, either. But he is admitting what Sessions, Hausknecht, and Horne preferred to pretend not to know: That that isn't what anyone is talking about who talks about "appointing an openly gay candidate to the Supreme Court." This affirmation by Minnery of traditional morality regarding acts and its relevance to the character of a potential justice of SCOTUS absolutely clearly is a retrenchment by Focus. After all, Hausknecht and Horne made it very clear that "sexual orientation" _should not matter at all_ and should not even figure in the equation. You'd have to have a social tin ear not to know what that implies.

Gay Christians trying to lead chaste lives in accordance with orthodoxy exist, of course.

According to an earlier version of the word "gay", perhaps. Not any more. At least most of the time, a person who refers to himself as "gay" means not merely that he has a homosexual orientation, but that he has chosen to embrace that orientation as normal, and has chosen to live in such a way that indulging that orientation is to be expected as a matter of course.

This is distinguished from "homosexual", which can, if done carefully, still be used to denote a deep-seated internal condition that one has no direct control over, but is distinct from how one deals with that condition . Gays have spent the last 15 years hammering away at the claim (socially now an assumption with no need for argument) that such an orientation is both intrinsic to the person as such, and impossible to modify successfully - and unhealthy to try to modify. The resulting stance is that the orientation is normative for the person who has the condition, and that embracing the orientation and acting to "fulfill" that orientation is the appropriate way to act as a homosexual human. Therefore, in their eyes, being "gay" is being wholly and fully what being "homosexual" implies at root.

Needless to say, orthodox Christians reject the theory. People with homosexual tendencies in the group Courage are trying to live chaste Christian lives, but not gay lives. What's unfortunate is that so many Christians have forgotten why there is any reason to object to the gay tilting of the meaning of normal.

Lydia, you claim that it is impossible to have the "right judicial philosophy" for someone openly living in a homosexual relationship and proud of his sexual orientation.
Sorry, I just don't get it how you came to believe such a thing, even given your weird value system. To give just one example, living in a homosexual relationship does NOT entail that you deny other people's (e.g. employers, teachers etc.) right to discriminate against homosexuals.
The only thing which seems to be an inevitable part of the judicial philosophy of open homosexuals is, that they consider living in a homosexual relationship a legal thing to do, protected by the law against violent intrusion.
So, if you think an open homosexual qua being openly homosexual cannot have the right judicial philosophy (which is different from having the right moral philosophy!) you seem to suggest that open homosexuality should be forbidden by the law. However, I still hope you didn't want to suggest that.

What I said, Grobi, was that

the very idea that the first openly homosexual Supreme Court Justice, appointed by President Obama, would have an originalist judicial philosophy and do what Horne means by "practicing judicial restraint," is laughable.

This is not a statement about logical possibilities but about the real world. People are fools who talk as though the sheer logical possibility of, say, an open homosexual, appointed by President Obama as the "historic first" open homosexual on the Supreme Court, is going to be ruling like Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

In any event, I agree with Minnery that good character is a relevant consideration and that the sort of homosexual that Focus was obviously being asked about last year has a problem on the character front. Hence, the first statements by the Focus representatives that it shouldn't be an issue _at all_ were clearly wrong.

I am disturbed to learn that this happened with Focus in the first place, and I continue to wonder if it indicates countercurrents at Focus that are pulling against its several-decades mission to help conserve Christian culture.

Thank you for the clarification.
I agree, of course, that "in the real world" there is a strong (though not necessary) correlation between being openly homosexual and, say, favouring anti-discrimination laws. You should, however, avoid using terms like "per impossible".

People are fools who talk as though the sheer logical possibility of, say, an open homosexual, appointed by President Obama as the "historic first" open homosexual on the Supreme Court, is going to be ruling like Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas.

Well, that wasn't exactly the point I was making. I was responding not to the likelihood of such a person actually being appointed by Obama, but about the concern that "it indicates countercurrents at Focus that are pulling against its several-decades mission to help conserve Christian culture." I wouldn't jump to that conclusion just yet because a policy analyst or two at Focus made such a statement (that is consistent with Christian moral teaching, btw). This is Focus on the Family we're talking about. I don't follow their affairs closely, but it would take much more than that (and Dobson leaving) to convince me that they'd "gone native."

j. christian, if the statements were so evidently consistent with Christian moral teaching, why was a "clarification" needed? No, it is not _at all_ clear that the original statements were consistent with Christian moral teaching. Both of the original statements, in the context of the question asked and in the social context of our world, were very easily and plausibly taken to mean that it would be impertinent and incorrect to bring up the fact that a person nominated to the Supreme Court was an open, sexually active homosexual living with a homosexual partner. You can twist and turn all you like, but that's how the blog that addressed the question took the answer, and that's how a lot of other people took the answer, and that's why Minnery made the exact clarification that he made. Statements on such a topic by definite spokesmen for the organization should have been much more carefully reviewed to avoid any such implication from the outset. They weren't, and they came from two different spokesmen within the organization, indicating that that was taken to be a correct position, and not so narrowly either, somewhere within the organization. It was a serious "oops" moment for such an organization as Focus, and it should not have happened.

I'm not convinced that they've "gone native." I'm convinced that there are people within the organization who would like to see them be more "native," to "loosen up," that there are differing factions and forces. That's got a fairly high prior anyway, for anyone who knows anything about such organizations, and this is confirmatory evidence.


The original comments referred to orientation and preferences, and the clarification referred to behavior. Yes, a clarification was needed, but that doesn't change the fact that at least Ms. Horne's statement was technically correct. Perhaps they were poorly chosen, maybe they were strategically tone deaf, but it gets very witch-hunty to say:

I'm convinced that there are people within the organization who would like to see them be more "native," to "loosen up," that there are differing factions and forces.

To get hypothetical, what if Bruce Hausknecht and/or Ashley Horne were homosexual/SSA (I won't use "gay")? Should they be working there? Is that a net positive or net negative Christian witness?

j. christian. H. said that the issue...

should never come up....It’s not even pertinent to the equation

Horne said:

Someone's sexual orientation or their preferences, none of these things should come into consideration when we're talking about evaluating someone who will make decisions based on precedent under the law...

No, those statements are _not_ "technically correct." It would be _perfectly legitimate_ for someone to _bring up_ a person's "sexual orientation" in the context of a SCOTUS justice. Those statements mean that no one should even bring it up. You say that's "technically correct"? No way, Jose. If it gets brought up and the truthful response is, "Yes, but he's nearly in the closet and accepts the position that his preferences are objectively disordered and is living a chaste life for that reason," then that's an answer and may well take care of the matter. But that doesn't mean it's wrong for the issue to _come up_ or even to _come into consideration_.

As for your hypothetical, I will not answer it in the abstract. I would have to know _way_ more about the individuals in such a situation to know the answer. And by the way, I do think that there are some positions for which even the orientation by itself should be disqualifying, regardless of other factors--a man working at an all-boys' school, for example, the priesthood or Protestant pastoral ministry, for another.

Just a few quibbles here.

There is no such thing as an "originalist" position on the Constitution in the sense that we have a one to one correspondence with a possible outcome of a case and that outcome being found in the one, true "originalist" formulary. This may be of interest,


A footnote: "64 Arguably the most prominent academic originalists are the libertarian Randy Barnett and the moral traditionalist
Justice Scalia. They are the bookends of originalism in the legal academy and their differences were prominently on
display in Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1 (2005), in which Barnett argued for the respondent that Congress lacked
the power to ban medical marijuana use by local growers whose conduct was legal under California law. Scalia
voted against him, effectively in favor of moral paternalism over libertarianism. See Randy E. Barnett, Scalia’s
Infidelity: A Critique of ‘Faint-Hearted’ Originalism, 75 U. CIN. L. REV. 7, 14–15 (2006)."

Terms like "activist judges" and "Judicial restraint" are ideological and partisan terms that merely describe outcomes with which one agrees or disagrees and nothing more.

Sessions statement likely had nothing to do with his displaying "dhimmi-to-liberalism" as much as practical considerations with colleagues and likely future appointments by Republican presidents (more than one prominent Republican legislator is sort of in the closet at home and sort of out in DC) . While Republicans are happy to have social conservatives' votes and freely pander to them, there are limits and the really important SC decisions (from the POV of the Partys real masters - the have a lots) have nothing to do with the culture wars.

Any organization like Focus that is too close to the power structure is going to have a balance problem as they must please both the true believers and the folks who need the true believers votes but hold them in scorn privately.

Al, I'm not going to get into the originalist thing.

With your final, cynical comment, I'm unfortunately inclined to be in agreement. But I would say that _for the most part_ (though not uniformly), under Dobson's leadership Focus was inclined towards the "true believers" and inclined to be pretty careful not to be corrupted by being close to the centers of power. "Corrupted," you should understand I mean, from my partisan conservative perspective, not from your politically liberal perspective. That's why I can't help thinking that there is a non-coincidental connection between Dobson's stepping down and, two months later, these statements which were not likely to sit well (and apparently didn't sit well) with the "true believers," otherwise known as "the constituency" or "the grassroots."

Sure, that's conjectural. That's why j. christian thinks its "witch-hunty." But in any large organization like Focus there are going to be people who are somewhat dissident from the very strong conservative positions with which the organization is identified. I even know one such person myself who used to work for Focus, so I'm not even just speaking in general terms. Dobson was a strong leader, a workaholic, very, very politically conservative, and the face of the organization. While I don't say the evidence is strong enough to support a high probability, these statements are some evidence that with his stepping down the organization is loosening up.

There is further evidence for a change in Focus from Jim Daly's self-styled attempts to find common ground with pro-choicers and the like. I'm certainly not the only one to think that Daly is trying to present a contrast to Dobson, to make himself look like the good cop, the nice guy, the new, nicer face of social conservatism. See this interesting article and interview:


Jim Daly said: "I am pro-life, I am pro-traditional marriage. At the same time, I'm also a person who looks for the conversation. I do want to talk to people who wouldn't necessarily agree with me. That doesn't offend me."

Wow, what a sell-out. /sarcasm

I know that you have the "Dispatches from the 10th Crusade" banner here, and I know it's a culture "war," but is there ever the tiniest bit of introspection, Lydia, that in the pursuit of ideological purity you're actually doing more harm than good? Is even asking such a question heresy? Merely to suggest dialogue and finding common ground -- is that moral weakness?

You know, in the last election I put up the "Yes on 8" yard signs because I do believe strongly in traditional marriage. Did it win over any of my neighbors, or did it just make them dig in? I don't back down from my beliefs, but it becomes a question of strategy. If we want to win this "war," is this always the right way to go about it?

Ah, how interesting, j. christian. So your position is that one, at least plausibly, shouldn't even put up a "Yes on 8" yard sign lest it offend and be bad strategy?

Well, I'm afraid that means you and I are unlikely to agree much on strategy.

Merely to suggest dialogue and finding common ground -- is that moral weakness?

Sociologically, such phrases are code words and usually do, as an empirical matter, indicate an inclination to compromise. Again, these are sociological matters. You could interpret a lot of stupid things that silly evangelical people have said that blazon in letters large as life, "I don't want to be associated anymore too much with the Religions Right" in hyper-charitable ways that don't mean that, but doing so would be sociologically blinkered.

Again, Daly is trying to position himself in a certain way, to look a certain way. What cash value that will have in the direction the organization goes in the future remains to be seen. But let's not forget that there are other, leftward-pulling forces in the evangelical church in America today, and pretty overt ones at that, particularly in the Emergent Church movement.

Not lest it offend. If it drove more people to vote No on 8, why do it? To make me feel good? I already know what's right; did it convince anyone else?

I'm not arguing for softening one's position; I'm asking how best to harness those convictions into effective action.

Merely to suggest dialogue and finding common ground -- is that moral weakness?

In some cases, yes, it is. Quite.

Some 100 years ago, Pope Pius X put out an encyclical against modernism, in which he illustrated some of the games, techniques, and tools used by modernists in their efforts to undermine the truth. One of those was the "dialogue" ploy. They say they want to engage in dialogue, but what they are actually doing is something else, namely, moving the goal-posts frequently under the guise of hypothetical suppositions in the debate. Frequently, they enter into the debate not intending to be open to the truth, but as a political / ideological technique.

When this is the situation, engaging them in "dialogue" is bound to be fruitless and often damaging. We all like to think that the guy who doesn't agree with us right now might - probably would - agree with us if only the truth were presented in its best light . But that isn't always valid, and the effort can be dangerous to good philosophy and good morals.

Here's a concrete way in which Daly is showing himself at least dangerously clueless in that interview. He says he wants to have a dialogue with people who say they want abortion to be rare. What world is he living in? It's like he hasn't gotten the memo that the left has been saying that since Bill Clinton and *never meant it*. It's just a ploy. Moreover, in the Obama campaign, we got rubber-meets-the-road content given to that. "Let's make common ground on our shared desire to make abortion rare" was cashed out quite explicitly by Obama-supporting so-called "pro-lifers," in terms of

1) vote for Obama


2) Obama will enact more social welfare programs, including

3) national healthcare,


4) Obama will promote more contraception

and therefore,

abortion will be rarer.

_This_ was the "common ground" that came out of that "dialogue" with people who say they want abortion to be rare.

Where was Daly? Asleep?

If he's sincere, as I think he is, then he's a babe in the woods with no business holding such an important position in such an important countercultural organization.

Daly has even been openly critical of Dr. Dobson, as in his Wall Street Journal interview:

"Daly said, he has no use for the sharp personal attacks on politicians employed by Dobson. 'I don't see evil behind everything,' Daly said. ...Daly said he preferred to build bridges with others. While Dobson blasted President Barack Obama for 'fruitcake' ideas, Daly praised the president for his devotion to family and last summer attended a White House event celebrating fatherhood. On abortion, Daly said he wouldn't spend much energy fighting for a ban—though that remained his ultimate goal—but would emphasize adoption. ...Daly said he would reinvigorate the organization's central mission—'helping marriages, helping parents'—which he said had been overshadowed by Mr. Dobson's activism."


"Focus Action, the political arm of Focus on the Family, made a surprising stand (in May 2009). Bruce Hausknecht, a Focus Action judicial analyst, told a Washington Post blogger that the organization would be OK with a U.S. Supreme Court nominee who was gay.

...Today, Gary Glenn, president of the Christian group American Family Association of Michigan, applauded Focus Action for saying no to a gay Supreme Court justice. 'Focus on the Family appears to have appropriately, if belatedly, disavowed and retracted the moral surrender embodied in its obviously ‘politically correct’ statements last year on this subject,' Glenn said in a statement."



"Remember last time around when various Religious Right groups were saying that they would not oppose a Supreme Court nominee just because said nominee was gay? In fact, Focus on the Family's Bruce Hausknecht went on record saying 'the issue is not their sexual orientation. It’s whether they are a good judge or not.'

...Well, Focus received a lot of flack for that from professional anti-gay activists like Gary Glenn and Peter LaBarbera, and now Focus' Tom Minnery has 'clarified' their position to LaBarbera, stating that the organization would oppose a gay nominee because said nominee would be, by definition, sinful and immoral."



"Focus on the Family has wisely corrected statements by two of its staffers who stated last year that the 'sexual orientation' of judicial nominees – i.e., their homosexuality – would not disqualify them to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Focus had been privately correcting those comments after Gary Glenn of AFA-Michigan criticized Focus’ 'moral retreat' on homosexuality. Focus’ new position – first reported by AFTAH – is biblically sound because it focuses on behavior as helping to define a judge’s character."


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