Alan Turing, the Anglican priest, and the Religious Right — the trio appears as if a list from an SAT test with one of them not fitting.
However, in this case, all three flow together in an interesting progression.
Alan Turing (1912–1954) is known as the “father of computer science,” the “father of artificial intelligence,” and the cryptographer who broke the German Enigma code, helping the Allies win World War II. He is credited with ending World War II two years early and saving millions of lives.
The just-released movie “The Imitation Game” (2014), though a real-life depiction of Turing’s life, goes a bit light on some significant aspects of what made him the tortured genius that he was. In an attempt to maintain a PG-13 rating, the movie somewhat downplays Turing’s homosexuality.
In 1952, Turing’s home was burglarized; he reported the incident to the police. While taking the report, the police were surprised at how frankly Turing reported that the theft might have had something to do with the young male lover Turing had recently taken up with. (The records eventually revealed that it was not Turning’s lover who had robbed him, but a thug who had overheard the lover talking about his relationship with Turing.) Rather than addressing the robbery, the police arrested Turing and, under British sodomy laws dating back to 1885, convicted him for “gross indecency.”
Though Turing had previously earned the honor of Officer of the British Empire for his wartime work in creating the Enigma machine which broke the German forces enigma code used to transmit Nazi war plans to the troops, Turing’s loyalty to the British government came under suspicion. English government officials feared Turing knew too many national security secrets; being gay, they believed, opened him to blackmail by foreign agents. Though this notion was prevalent in both the U.S. and the U.K., it had no evidential basis.
Following his indecency conviction, Turing was stripped of his security clearances and followed by government agents wherever he went. As a penalty for his crime, the case judge offered Turing either a year in prison, or a years’ probation with chemical castration. Turing opted for the latter.
Turing had been a lithe long distance runner regularly running over 15 miles. He was forced to undergo estrogen treatments, which caused him to gain weight and grow breasts, and to suffer confused, unfocused thinking. Two years later, in 1954, Turing committed suicide by eating a cyanide-laced apple.
During the same period, from 1953–1954, several high-profile English men were arrested under sodomy laws. Sir John Gielgud and three other high-profile men were arrested and convicted under similar English indecency charges. Hence, public attention in the early 1950s brought more weight to the issue.
The Anglican Priest
An English Anglican priest, Rev. Dr. Derrick Sherwin Bailey (1910–1984), had noticed the growing tendency, starting at the end of World War II and continuing through the 1950s, to make homosexuals the scapegoat of pervasive social, moral, and family problems in England. (This was mirrored in the United States as well.)
Sensing the timing was right to challenge the prosecution of modern-day homosexuals under English sodomy laws that were decades, and in some cases even centuries, old, Bailey helped establish a call for reform. Operating within the Church of England’s Moral Welfare Council, established in the 1920s to aid prostitutes and the homeless, formed a group to investigate a simple question: Why were fornicators and adulterers not prosecuted as harshly under morality codes as were gay men?
Bailey and the Moral Welfare Council set out to help reform the harsh and unequal penalties. Gay men had been the clear target; only they were punished—never lesbians. Men caught in same-sex acts, even when private and consensual, were subject to a range of penalties, from fines to life in prison. Bailey was concerned about the abuse and mistreatment of gay prisoners and the disparate age of consent for heterosexual couples (16) and homosexual couples (21).
To study the issue from a wider base, Rev. Dr. Bailey assembled a group of leaders and experts across several disciplines. Together, theologians, medical doctors, historians, anthropologists, lawyers, and legislative leaders studied homosexuality and the sodomy laws, interviewed sexual inverts (as gays were commonly referred to at that time) who were both in and out of therapeutic situations, and concluded that, other than the negative pressures imposed by society, many sexual inverts lived “normal” lives.
Many of those interviewed informed the panel that they had never known a time when they were not attracted to the same sex. They didn’t suffer guilt about their same-sex behavior; to them, their attractions and sexual behavior were quite natural. Still others, Bailey observed, were aware that their actions violated not only established traditions but their internal “law of nature” as well. Bailey differentiated between the “sin” of those who transgressed their internal nature (sexual perversion), and the actions of those who had a clear conscience about their attractions (sexual inversion).
Hoping to persuade Parliament to treat male sexual inverts more justly, in 1954, Bailey and his group of experts published and submitted to the governing body “The Problem of Homosexuality,” a pamphlet summarizing their findings. The combination of Bailey’s pamphlet and the sensationalism surrounding the recent rash of high-profile arrests prompted Parliament to form the Wolfenden Committee, charged with studying homosexuality and prostitution and the civil penalties associated with each crime for a period of three years.
Once “The Problem of Homosexuality” was completed, Bailey returned to a book he had been working on, Homosexuality and the Western Tradition, a highly scholarly work which would be published in 1955. Until Bailey, psychoanalysts, sex experts, psychologists, and legislators had looked at homosexuality, but no modern-day theologian had done so.
Bailey went beyond simply reading translated words on the pages of the Bible. He searched ancient scriptural texts and studied church and English history to uncover and expose long-held traditions and biases and their influence on sodomy laws. He concluded that the church had an obligation to correct the part it had played in the creation and perpetuation of destructive attitudes and laws used to punish sexual inverts. Church doctrine, he said, had blurred the concepts of immoral perversion and consensual inversion. The actions condemned in the Bible, Bailey concluded, were sexual excesses in which sexual perverts engaged, as opposed to the behavior of sexual inverts, who acted according to their nature.
Upon completion, Homosexuality and the Western Tradition was submitted to the Wolfenden Committee as an additional resource. Largely due to Bailey’s contributions, at the end of the three-year study period, the Wolfenden Committee recommended doing away with criminal punishment for consensual same-sex acts and lowering the age of consent for gays and lesbians to sixteen, the same as for heterosexual couples.
The Wolfenden Report moved through to the British Parliament for debate. Parliament Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe was notoriously anti-gay. Even though the Wolfenden Report detailed excessive injustices against gays, Maxwell-Fyfe delayed the vote and petitioned for even harsher penalties, as well as additional studies. In response to Maxwell-Fyfe’s aggressive stalling, the English gay community organized itself into the Homosexual Law Reform Society and advocated for changes to the sodomy laws.
It took another decade for the Wolfenden recommendations to come to a vote, but finally, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, decriminalizing sodomy, passed by a narrow margin.
Though Bailey did not approve of same-sex acts personally or theologically, his Christian faith and sense of fairness had motivated him to protect those he felt were being treated unjustly. His work and book had paved the way to decriminalize homosexuality in England and Wales. His comprehensive, impartial, and compassionate view was groundbreaking and indeed remarkable for the time.
Meanwhile in America, the Religious Right was forming
Twenty three-year after Bailey published his book, in 1978, Anita Bryant (1940– ) began a one-woman crusade to halt proposed nondiscrimination policies that would have protected gays in her local municipality, Dade County, Florida. Bryant’s advocacy efforts were the catalyst not only for the anti-gay conservative Christian movement, but for the nationwide gay liberation movement as well.
Conservative Christian leaders in an unholy alliance with conservative political leaders, and in need of a wedge issue to both get the faithful registered and voting as Republicans, noticed that Bryant had tapped into an issue capable of stirring more passionate responses than had abortion or tax exemption for Christian institutions. Stereotyping the gay community and playing on the fears of gays destroying family, faith, and country served their needs and intentions well. They wanted to motivate the largest unregistered voting bloc to first, register, and then, vote as Republicans, and shift the Christians who had voted in the Democratic Party for born-again Carter, to now vote for Reagan.
On the coattails of Anita Bryant, conservative Christian leaders needed to “educate” and scare the faithful about the emerging gay rights movement. They began to pump out books and create organizations to engage in the “war on homosexuals.”
Tim LaHaye (1928– ), best known as the co-author of the Left Behind series, entered the “crusade against homosexuality” early on. Tyndale House Publishing approached LaHaye and urged him to write a book, pleading, “The Christian community needs a penetrating book on homosexuality. Why don’t you write it?” LaHaye consented, convinced that America was experiencing a “homosexual epidemic.”
Bailey’s Work Was Scholarly & Available, But . . .
Rev. Dr. Derrick Sherwin Bailey had already, twenty-three years before, set the tone for a scripturally and historically accurate, well-researched, medically supported, and thoughtful investigation into homosexuality with movement toward a biblical stance that was both just and compassionate. Though Bailey’s book, Homosexuality and Western Traditions, was available in the United States, the American Christian public was never given the chance to consider his findings, scholarship, and recommendation.
Instead of Bailey’s work, American conservative Christians were presented with LaHaye’s works. As a staunch fundamentalist and part of the evangelical, Christian Reconstructionist, and dominionism movements, LaHaye approached the project from his belief that God would destroy America if we did not stop “the tidal wave of homosexuality.” With absolutely no expertise on the subject of homosexuality, LaHaye authored The Unhappy Gays: What Everyone Should Know about Homosexuality (1978).
LaHaye, with earned degrees from Bob Jones University and Western Seminary, had pastored a church for twenty-five years. You might hope his book would have a compassionate pastoral tone and based upon biblical exegesis of the verses in the Bible often associated with same-sex behavior. One would also imagine that he might have referred to or used Bailey’s groundbreaking book as part of his research. Unfortunately, one would be wrong on all counts.
LaHaye’s “research” materials consisted of three books: Anita Bryant’s autobiography, Irving Bieber’s 1962 Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, LINK to blog and Eros Defiled by John White. (Bieber’s book was based on theories about gay men in therapy and had been fully discounted by the APA.) In addition to these weak book references, LaHaye cited two pamphlets, one magazine article, and a National Enquirer piece as his resources.
LaHaye’s disgust with and fear of gays are apparent on every page of his book. Although he briefly mentions the Bible verses associated with same-sex behavior, his writings place greater emphasis on how disgusting, unfaithful, rebellious, sick, and sexually depraved gay people are.
The Unhappy Gays: What Everyone Should Know about Homosexuality was the first American conservative Christian book on the subject of homosexuality, and was presumed by the church to contain expert information.
LaHaye’s book helped set the tone for the interaction between the conservative church and the gay community by escalating fear and paranoia and completely ignoring the medical and mental health experts finding in the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association. (As a point of irony, one of LaHaye’s own adult children is gay.)
The Religious Right and Conservative Political Right Delayed Progress in the Gay Civil Rights Movement
The bondage of stereotyping and misdiagnosis that had recently lifted the designation of mental illness from homosexuality in 1973 was once again slammed onto the back of the gay community, but this time, the oppression was imposed by the conservative Christian community in communion with conservative political leaders seeking voters and power.
Many years later, in fact thirty-seven years after England erased the sodomy laws criminalizing consensual sex between adult men, the United States, in Lawrence vs Texas (2003) followed suit.
The legal, cultural and biblical lessons learned by our English counterparts started in 1954 by Anglican priest Rev. Dr. Derrick Sherwin Bailey and unsurpassed for another 25 years (until John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 1980) were never offered to the American Christian church as scholarly views of homosexuality and faith. We got the works and witness of the severely anti-gay Tim LaHaye and an entourage of televangelists who followed after him.
Biblical scholars and Christian advocates working for full inclusion of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in conservative churches have the often difficult task of overcoming power-seeking and politically-motivated anti-gay biblical interpretations which have only been commonplace since the 1980s. Many speak as if anti-gay Christian beliefs have “always been.” This simply is not true. The anti-gay sentiments erupted in the late 1970s and then exploded in the 1980s and 1990s.
Conservative Christian leaders conveniently ignored the scholarship and lessons that had been so readily available to them long before they turned their focus on the gay community.
Just as the poisonous head of a tick gets implanted in the skin and remains there even long after the tick is pulled out, so have the early lies told by American conservative voices on the topic of sexual orientation and faith.
The Christian church today is faced with unraveling the mess created in the 1980s and 1990s caused by marrying theology to ideology to politics. Leaders no longer deserve a pass card in speaking the evil blend from their pulpits and labeling it “from God” or “the truth of the Bible.”
The reconciling Christian work of truth-seeking and truth-telling has recently been on a significant rise, so that we might finally repair the damage begun 40 years ago when the LGBT community started its assent out a long season of cultural, medical and political oppression.
How many more LGBT people, both brilliant and ordinary, will we destroy with the continued lies and evil attitudes we routinely accept as truthful and godly?
For a more in depth understanding of the cultural attitudes towards homosexuality in the 1940s and 1950s, and the merger of religion and politics in the 1970s through the 1990s in America, along with an expanded look at the above account, read Chapters 3 through 6 in Walking the Bridgeless Canyon – Repairing the Breach between the Church and the LGBT Community.