Monday, February 21, 2005

Abraham Lincoln: Born-Again Evangelical, Homosexual...or BOTH!

Peter LaBarbera, a professional anti-gay activist takes aim at the recent scholarship that attempts to argue that Lincoln was gay.

Like the thief who thinks everybody steals, America's homosexual movement -- using the twisted 'scholarship' of Dr. Tripp -- is convinced that Abe Lincoln's warm friendships with other men must have been sexual," LaBarbera said.

"The tragedy is that Lincoln, who revered the Bible,* cannot defend himself from the grave, and that even debating this ridiculous charge popularizes it," he added.

Now I'm not sure about our 16th President's sexual orientation and I agree the "Lincoln was gay" thesis is more speculation than proven history. But one thing I've noticed in my studies of the early founders and religion is that some prominent figures in the religious right, figures with whom Labarbera has worked, have done the exact same thing that LaBarbera accuses "gay activists" to have done with Lincoln: claiming historical figures as "one of their own" based on evidence that is either incomplete, speculatory (is that a word?), or sometimes, outright false.

For instance, D. James Kennedy, a very important figure in the religious right, is every bit as much of an historical revisionist as C.A. Tripp, the Lincoln scholar in question, if not more so. And just as Tripp tries to claim Lincoln for gays, Kennedy attempts to claim Lincoln for fundamentalist Christians.

Kennedy bases his entire claim on some passage from an obscure historical book published in the late 1800s, purporting to quote Lincoln. The passage in question states:

"When I left Springfield I asked the people to pray for me. I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ. Yes, I do love Jesus."

As far as I know, this quote has never been vetted by serious Lincoln scholars. It's hearsay. Lincoln may or may not have said this. But there is a whole 'lot of other hearsay -- from those who knew Lincoln very well like his long time law-partner -- that demonstrates that Lincoln was a freethinking heretic who died an unbeliever in any kind of Christian orthodoxy. You can read the vast conflicting testimony here.

Lincoln, of course, never publicly declared himself to be a born-again believer. He had two years before the purported time of his conversion and his death to do so. Kennedy claims that Lincoln was about to before he was assassinated. As the Church Lady would say, "how convenient."

Kennedy also claims George Washington as an born-again evangelical Christian. In reality, there is no credible evidence that Washington was anything more than a deist-unitarian. True, he attended a Christian Church. But as historian Paul F. Boller has noted:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.

Kennedy on the other hand rests his entire case for George Washington's orthodox Christianity on Washington's mythical prayer book, which has been debunked by serious scholars.

The religious right likewise have also tried to claim Madison and even Jefferson (like Washington, both of them deist-unitarians) as fundamentalist Christians.

*When LaBarbera claims that "Lincoln revered the Bible" I'm not exactly sure what he means, perhaps intimating that Lincoln became a fundamentalist Christian. Lincoln certainly knew the Bible very well and could cite it to his political advantage. And he may very well have loved the Bible as a piece of literature; how relevant that is to the "Lincoln is gay" debate, I'm not sure -- unless one could prove that Lincoln believed the entire Bible, including its anti-gay passages, to be inerrant. Certainly there have been gay scholars of the Bible who love it as a work of historical literature, without believing in the literalness of its anti-gay passages. Jefferson knew the Bible as well as anyone else and loved parts of it, characterizing Jesus' words as "diamonds." But he also categorized other parts of it as a fraudulent "dunghill" and edited out that in which he disbelieved.


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