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JOSEPH N. BELL

Post-Measure N Era Is Fraught With Dangers

November 18, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

It's both amusing and instructive that the locals who force-fed Measure N to the citizens of Irvine are now trying to distance themselves from the inflammatory rhetoric of the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition. The head honchos of the Irvine Values Coalition held a news conference Monday to claim full credit for their work and to tell Sheldon to quit blowing his horn about the triumph of Measure N.

I suppose I find a certain amount of pleasure in the infighting, but I'm a lot more concerned about two statements made by the winners in the immediate aftermath of the election. Scott Peotter--leader of the local group that championed Measure N--said the results send a "strong message" to municipal officials in Irvine. And Sheldon--the fire-eating Anaheim fundamentalist preacher who is making a career of gay-bashing--told a Times reporter that he was now going to take his crusade to California schools.

Since Peotter's "message" was enthusiastically endorsed by several of our congressmen and state legislators, I think we can safely assume that it reaches well beyond the environs of Irvine to the county as a whole. We need to look at that message. Very hard.

It was quite accurately reflected in the mail and phone calls I received as a result of columns I wrote about Sheldon and Measure N before the election. And I think that Orange Countians who wavered on this issue or the far larger group who felt no stake in the argument (63% of the Irvine electorate didn't bother to vote) need especially to consider the message.

Sheldon's supporters and the proponents of Measure N tended to convey it more frequently by telephone than typewriter. The angry calls of protest repeated the familiar charges that homosexuals are breaking down the family structure of our society, and fundamentalist Christians are manning the ramparts to protect all of us from this imminent eventuality. And the Christian credentials of anyone who doesn't support this crusade are highly suspect.

This thesis was echoed in a letter--typical of others received--from Bonnie O'Neill of Newport Beach, who wrote: "I wonder if Mr. Bell realizes that his liberal, humanistic article and thinking is an offense to most Christians." She goes on to say: "Mr. Bell states that there wouldn't be very much fun in Rev. Sheldon's world. That couldn't be further from the truth. The closer one comes to living a life pleasing to God, the closer one is to genuine and lasting peace and joy. The happiest people I know are those who try, like the Rev. Sheldon, to follow the life outlined and practiced by Jesus."

Two things escape these people completely. First, that they are defining Christianity in a narrow, rigid, fundamentalist manner that excludes everyone who doesn't believe precisely as they do. And, second, that the words and actions of Sheldon are highly offensive to a great many Christians and non-Christians alike who don't think that Sheldon is following the teachings of Jesus at all.

All of this would be moot--simply part of the plurality of this nation--except for one fact: The people who are following Sheldon's lead tend more and more to be highly organized, motivated and committed to forcing their attitudes on the community as a whole. Not as a point of view to be weighed, along with many others, in setting policy, but as the only point of view to dictate policy because they are convinced that they have exclusive access to the will of God.

This permits them to use misinformation and half-truths, which they did in Irvine, without guilt. When such tactics--which were clearly exposed by this newspaper before the Irvine election--are wrapped in fear and hatred, they can succeed. But only when the people who are appalled at these views and tactics are disorganized and--far too often--disinterested, thus leaving a political and social void into which the fundamentalists can pour their apocalyptic visions.

Those of us who lived through the efforts of the John Birch Society to get control of Orange County's schools and municipal governments in the 1960s and '70s know this technique well. Two decades ago, the devil in Orange County was a communist; today, he's a homosexual. That's the way the trick works: Identify a devil many of us have been preconditioned to fear, scare the hell out of the populace with him, and then ride that fear into positions of power.

It's been working quite successfully for a very long time. The only antidote is an enlightened electorate that puts the same kind of energy into protecting the plurality of this society by resisting the credo that God supports one political point of view or another and insisting that all views be displayed in the marketplace of ideas to be examined, evaluated and acted on. This sometimes means a compromise of views to reach a consensus. But the people who share Sheldon's black-and-white positions are not into compromise because God has ordained their position. Or so they believe.

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