‘Stamp Them Out’: On Josh Barro and the New Sexual Moralism

by Andrew Walker & Owen Strachan

Last night, New York Times reporter Josh Barro tweeted out a disturbing message: “Anti-LGBT attitudes are terrible for people in all sorts of communities. They linger and oppress, and we need to stamp them out, ruthlessly.”

This is rather shocking. Barro is no angry blogger writing manifestos in his basement. He is a respected reporter from a prestigious newspaper that prides itself on equanimity in the face of heated debate. Yet he seems, by any reasonable measure, to be fomenting a campaign to rout out all dissenters from the sexual revolution. Erick Erickson wrote a brief response to Barro’s tweet, to which Barro replied that he thinks that “we should make anti-LGBT views shameful like segregation. Not saying we should off people.”

Okay. But “stamp out,” intensified by the qualifier “ruthlessly,” means something quite a bit stronger than inviting your interlocutor to tea and crumpets to discuss differences.

Barro’s sexual fundamentalism wants any dissent marginalized and he’s not reluctant to admit that. This attitude, which is emblematic of the increasing intolerance in many sectors of culture towards those with traditional beliefs about sexuality, penalizes citizens for their beliefs. What we see playing out, once more, is that for liberalism to take root, it must take root by authoritarian impulse where the lies of the sexual revolution, to be cemented, must be enforced through acts of social and legal coercion.

This sort of vitriol would spell disaster for a right-leaning journalist. But there’s been little outcry from Barro’s fellow liberals or, for that matter, his employer. Mr. Barro’s employer should take umbrage at his recklessness and hold him accountable for his irresponsible rhetoric.

We wonder if Mr. Barro is willing to consider what his words can portend.

Consider the real-world actions against the Family Research Council (FRC), when a shooter in 2012 broke into its building with the intent of murdering staffers. How did this come about? The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) labeled FRC a “hate group.” The shooter, who wounded and would have killed a brave security guard, confessed that he was influenced by the materials posted on the SPLC’s website. Similarly, Barro’s words give license to those who would seek to disparage people with traditional beliefs about sexuality. Even if Barro doesn’t actually want violence to occur, his rhetoric could help incite it.

Now, two years after that awful event, Barro enters the fray, calling for his peers to “stamp out” the expression of views held by fellow Americans who simply have different beliefs about human nature and sexual ethics. This comment, we note with a chill, drew at least 87 “favorites” on Twitter. Rarely has this feature been used to worse effect.

In these tweets, Barro has shared his honest opinion: that the New Sexual Moralism will tolerate no dissent. We commend him, gravely, for his honesty. The logic of this sentiment leads to exactly one conclusion: When it comes to promoting gay rights, all must come to heel. There will be no debate. There will be no room for disagreement. To disagree, in fact, is to “linger and oppress” and cannot be allowed.

American public discourse rests on a fragile foundation that requires living amongst those who disagree with us. It’s called pluralism. This is part of what has made this country so unusual over the centuries: Even in the face of heated debate, we grant one another respect. It is remarkable that, in Barro’s citation of the civil-rights movement, he fails to see this. We wish him no ill will; in fact, we wish to preserve for him the very freedom to speak that he would seem to want to take, forcibly, from us.

We note with special interest Barro’s disavowal of “magnanimity in victory,” a phrase made famous in a different era by a man who fought tyranny with all his strength. Winston Churchill expressed this view while working to save those who were, in a very real sense, in danger of being stamped out. This kind of conviction grows out of a truly liberal spirit, one that treats fellow citizens as creatures of dignity and worth. Barro’s remarks, unfortunately, fail to accord this worth to his sparring partners. We would wish for magnanimity in this societal upheaval, but at this point, it appears that we may need to settle for survival.

— Andrew Walker is director of policy studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Owen Strachan is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College and the author of Risky Gospel.

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