As we’ve documented many times, several strains of conservatism insist — against all evidence to the contrary — that California is an abject failure. It’s usually that we’re teetering on the brink, we’re hopelessly “ungovernable,” or we must be destroyed in order to be saved. Unquestionably, the state faces existential crises that pertain to the cost of living and to the future of the Sierra snowpack that keeps the world’s most productive agricultural region afloat and lets 40 million people flush their toilets. But we never stop hearing the end of the lies and distortions: high environmental standards caused the Mendocino fire complex, it’s a sanctuary state bleeding the federal coffers dry, we’re a corrupting force on Real America, they’re never coming back here and they really really mean it, et cetera, et cetera.
This is largely because of three undeniable facts: California is diverse, California rejects Republicanism and (almost) all that it stands for, and California recovered from the Great Recession to find itself well-prepared to face the next fiscal cliff. Although the Golden State retains the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. state to allow same-sex marriage and then take it away, it’s since become a strong protector of LGBTQ rights — and this week’s top right-wing lie wormed out of the news that California is about to join a dozen other states in banning ex-gay torture — sometimes known as “gay conversion therapy” — for adults. (The state has banned it for minors since 2012.)
In light of the state Senate passing AB 2943, many evangelicals have convinced themselves that California just banned the Bible.
This isn’t that much of a surprise. As a whopper, it’s concise and supermarket tabloid-ready, plus the Trinity Broadcast Network and other evangelical outlets are based in Orange County. Also, they tell outrageous lies all the time. Trump administration’s nonstop lie parade came straight from the playbook by which televangelists bilk their supporters. (As but two examples of what you can get away with without losing credibility, Pat Robertson once claimed that protein shakes enabled him to leg-press 2,000 pounds when he was in his mid-70s and Jim Bakker says if he wears his MAGA hat, he’ll be “murdered in the street.”)
You may have also heard about the “ex-gay movement,” which is particularly vocal on how they were able to pray away the gay — and of course, prominent ex-gays think this is a nefarious plot to trap people in a life of loneliness ending in damnation. They’re very vocal on this one. (And let’s be perfectly clear on one point: If you believe homosexuality is a sin that you’ve been cured of, you’re free to live your life. But coming after everybody else is a no-go.)
In any case, gay conversion therapy is pure pseudoscience denounced by every major professional psychological association and peddled almost exclusively by figures with close ties to the Christian right. These “therapists” blur the line between mental health and sin, preying on unhappy people who grew up hating themselves for their same-sex attraction. For obvious reasons, it has a terrible track record of success, and Gov. Jerry Brown is sure to sign the ban.
But the issue is too arcane to whip people up into a frenzy, even when they try to frame it as a “Must Stay Gay” law. So they have to claim the law secretly goes much farther than it does, and the family Bible is about to become a forbidden book. (Can you imagine that happening? The ACLU would be the first to file a lawsuit to make sure it wouldn’t.) It’s gotten swept up into all those religious-freedom cases, along with the wedding cakes and such, that are part of the newly weaponized First Amendment. So now evangelicals are praying en masse over it (read: drawing attention to it).
In their fear-mongering, they’re going all the way back to the anti-Christian emperor Diocletian. Because a few random verses in Romans and Corinthians can be construed in antigay ways, and because AB 2943 would make prohibit any “transaction intended to result or that results in the sale or lease of goods or services to any consumer” that “advertise, offer to engage in, or do engage in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual,” the Bible would therefore become forbidden. Democratic supermajorities mean exorcising it from the body politic, and some Christians think they’re all about to be tossed into the oubliette, to be judged most harshly by those militant leftists on the Oberlin student government.
Let’s put this in the context of rolling back rights for LGBTQ people, a reaction that’s gaining strength. You can still be fired for being LGBT in a lot of places. Only last week, the attorney general of Nebraska led 16 states in petitioning the Supreme Court to make it clear that “companies can fire workers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity without violating federal workplace discrimination law.” How odd to make that plea during the summer doldrums — except if Brett Kavanaugh replaces the somewhat pro-LGBT Anthony Kennedy on the Court as he’s expected to do, we already see where the pressure is coming from. This is a form of saber-rattling. They want everybody to know they’re still there and still vocal, and although they’ve probably lost same-sex marriage forever, they’re capable of rousing the troops when it counts — while claiming to be the real victims.
Maybe we can sort of take comfort in the fact that, just like the unpolished crybabies of the alt-right, evangelicals aren’t immune from the right’s cannibalism. None other than arch-Trumpster Franklin Graham, son of Billy, is now “implicated” in QAnon’s Pizzagate-esque conspiracy fantasy emanating out of an Oregon doughnut shop. If he gets some powdered sugar on his Good Book, he better lick it off without anybody seeing.