Wednesday, September 25, 2013

One Nation Under God (1993): Foundations of the Gay Agenda

One Nation Under God (1993)
dir: Teodoro Maniaci, Francine Rzeznik

"And we'll hear about Burton's slip into temptation as he was misled by the unrelenting homosexual cabal." - Mr. Show

Exodus International, a 37-year-old coalition of Christian communities who promoted the "ex-gay" movement was "dissolved" this year.  Some have said that it dissolved in order to continue its work under different names, others said that it was to escape financial troubles.  Indeed, a group called Exodus Global Alliance, which was initially derived from Exodus International, still exists even though Exodus International was formally shuttered in 2013 by Alan Chambers, then President.  Alan Chambers made the official announcement at the conference, and also made an "apologetic" show with Oprah on OWN.  Regardless of the current status of Exodus International, it did a lot of damage, and will remain one of the chapters in Christianity's history books.

Exodus International was founded in 1976 by a group of ministries who believed in the ex-gay movement.  What is ex-gay? Ex-gay is a movement in the christian community where homosexuals are trained, or bullied, into changing their orientation from gay to straight.  Many ministries still practice this belief today.  In fact, U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus Bachmann, still runs a psychiatry business where at least part of their practice is ex-gay therapy (last verified in 2012).

In 1979, two founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, left the coalition in order to live together as lovers.  In 1982, they exchanged rings and vows.  One Nation Under God explores their relationship, the work of Exodus International and its various sub-ministries, as well as briefly touching on the histories of homosexual oppression (going back through the Nazis), and the various methods of ex-gay therapy that America has gone through.

One Nation Under God is now 20 years old.  When it came out, it was a relatively fringe-y documentary that aired on PBS.  Now, One Nation provides an imperfect time capsule into the state of gay relations in 1992.  The film opens with the documentarians interviewing people off the street in New York City whether they thought homosexuality was a sin.  Even in the liberal New York City, there was still a decent percentage who would say, on camera, that homosexuality was a sin and that the gays needed to repent.  And, if NYC was thinking this...well, let's just say that the rest of America wasn't as pleasant back then.

The early '90s were an interesting point in gay rights activism.  AIDS drugs were coming online in the late 80s.  Reagan started acknowledging AIDS as a need in 1987.  ACT UP was still going strong. It's impossible to understate just how big of a disruption AIDS was in the gay political progress.  In the documentary about Rev Troy Perry, Call Me Troy, Rev Perry acknowledges how key to the gay movement the lesbians were as the gay movement had been devastated by the AIDS crisis.

In the 80s, there was a military ban on gays, which had challenges to the ban in 1990 and 1991.  In 1993, Clinton signed the first compromise of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which was actually a compromise from the outright ban that had previously been occurring.

In 1989, the gay marriage debate was really coming online.  Denmark had OK'd same-sex marriage. New York's highest court said that two same sex members counted as a family unit for rent control purposes. Andrew Sullivan had written a piece called Here Comes the Groom, about the coming divide in the gay community between the need to rebel and the need to belong. In 1990, Baehr vs Miike was initiated.  This was the lawsuit arguing for same-sex rights that would win rights in Hawaii and ultimately lead to 1996's DOMA.

Against this political backdrop, the ex-gay movement was gaining strength, and the religious right was also gaining strength in the Republican party.  In 1990, Orson Scott Card, long before he would serve on the board of NOM, wrote an article titled "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality" that called for states to not repeal sodomy laws, which had been used to persecute homosexuals at the time. His view was not uncommon in that time period as the fight for keeping the government out of the bedroom was kicking into high gear, and would continue well into the '00s (and, indeed, is still continuing with politicians still trying to put anti-sodomy laws on the books).

Right in the midst of all this comes One Nation Under God. A political time capsule that shows a pivotal era where the gay rights movements were gaining strength and the religious right was also  still, gaining power, marking the a great check-in point for the current era where certain states have ratified gay marriage, the federal government has started recognizing same-sex marriage for tax purposes, and some states have even begun banning ex-gay therapy.

One Nation Under God spends most of its time in the debate around the ex-gay movement.  It interviews leaders of the movement such as Sy Young (a former transsexual and homosexual who has a history of sexual trauma, and was President of Exodus International), Joe Dallas, and Elizabeth Moberly.  It also interviews and features Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper and their relationship.  We hear from Christian leaders and psychiatrists who fall on both sides of the debate.  We also hear from ex-gays and former ex-gays. And, both sides are given equal credence.  That's where we were in 1993.

As a documentary, One Nation Under God could use an editor.  It is trying to cram in way too much in 82 minutes.  Because it wants to focus on the ex-gay movement, and surreptitiously be a document of the gay rights movement, the structure of One Nation Under God is scattershot and random.  We jump from topic to topic in an almost stream-of-consciousness format where we're flitting over the history of gay rights for 6 minutes here, then ex-gay movement for 4 minutes, then back to gay rights for 5 minutes then to gay history then to ex-gay then to...and we keep bouncing for the whole movie.  It almost fears that if it stays on topic for longer than a few minutes, it will be labeled incorrectly.

As a time capsule, though, One Nation Under God is AMAZING and required viewing.  Even though its structure and form leave something to be desired, it is astounding to see where gay rights were in 1993, and to compare that to today.  And, since many of the topics being broached in One Nation Under God are just now coming to fruition in today's political world, it becomes a document that should be essential to historians.

I will leave you, after the jump, with the best satire of the ex-gay movement from 1995.  Mr Show with Bob and David, in their 2nd episode, did a moment of Good News featuring an ex-gay member and his continual slips into homosinuality.

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