The New Anti-Gay Argument: “The Gag Reflex”

The real reason conservatives are losing the “cultural battle” over gay marriage is because they have stopped focusing on the public’s “gag reflex,” says Baptist Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile of the The Gospel Coalition (whose founders include Mars Hill’s Mark Driscoll). 

In other words, the Christian-turned-Muslim-turned-Christian pastor argues in a lengthy blog post, the only way for conservatives to recover lost ground in the gay marriage debate is to start talking about the particulars of gay and lesbian sex. The “pro-homosexuality cause,” he argues, shifted the debate over gay marriage away from “sexual behavior” to things like “love and commitment” and “rights and equality.” Thus, conservatives should discard “politeness” and “return the discussion to sexual behavior in all its yuckiest gag-inducing truth.” 

Anyabwile then provides his own three-paragraph description of gay and lesbian sex in the graphic but clinical tone of the public school health teacher, once referring to the penis as the “male organ used to create life.”

Anyabwile then justifies his inclusion of graphic sexual detail: “That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility.” He believes, on a fundamental level, that describing gay sex in visceral detail will trigger feelings of disgust that will allow people to see the “truth” about homosexuality.

Despite all this, Anyabwile wants to be sure that none will doubt his compassion for gay people. He says that conservatives should be sure to condemn homosexuals with, “kindness, insight, warmth, and fairness.” 

The response to Anyabwile’s piece from many sectors of the Christian community has been negative.

“There isn’t any possible defense of Anyabwile,” writes Experimental Theology‘s Richard Beck, noting that disgust has itself been a form of oppression. “From kids being bullied on playgrounds to acts of genocide, disgust justifies exclusion, violence, and extermination.”

Minister Zach Hoag criticizes Anyabwile for treating straight sex as “generalized and neutered.” Anyabwile, after all, directly contrasts “a man inserting his penis into another man’s anus” with “a husband and a wife uniting with each other as God and nature designed it.” He seems unaware of the irony of said sentence: he’s more comfortable discussing the particulars of gay sex than of straight sex.

“Slacktivist” author Fred Clark went straight for the throat, writing that Anyabwile’s post reads like “excerpts from the World’s Most Awkward Sexter” and describing him as “Clumsily body-phobic,” a “creepy, creepy, creepy voyeur” and more. 

Anyabwile attempted to defend himself in another lengthy post, saying that he’d been “misrepresented and misinterpreted.” He then equates systemic violence against gay people with the “bullying and prejudice” he’s endured, concluding that his critics are trying to “systematically silence the voice of dissent.” He did regret using the term “gag reflex” for the confusion it may have caused. 

Although it may be tempting to see Anyabwile as an outlier, he’s not the only one making this sort of argument. A small but determined wing of the Christian Right is trying to return the gay marriage debate to the subject of sex. The most notable is the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, who said last week that he believes “90 percent” of Americans would find “gay sex” disgusting if they really thought about its details.

Perhaps, reeling from electoral defeat after electoral defeat on the issue of gay rights, anti-gay Christians are in the market for a new, more effective rhetorical weapon to help redefine the terms of the gay marriage debate. If the reaction to Anyabwile’s post is any indication, it’s not terribly likely to work.