The Spiral of Silence

Pride Parade in Sao Paulo

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, making same-sex “marriage” a constitutionally protected “right,” is rightly regarded by advocates and opponents alike as a tipping point for the nation’s sexual revolution.

The decision itself was hardly a surprise. “Blue states” had been approving homosexual marriage for years1 while the White House was busy promoting homosexual “rights” at home and abroad. Executive initiatives included:

  1. Giving “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” protected status (like age, race, and gender) under our nation’s anti-discrimination rules for federally related labor and education cases
  2. Issuing a memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons (December 6, 2011) to ensure the U.S. government engaged governments and citizens worldwide “to build respect for the human rights and development of LGBT persons,” and…
  3. Appointing a Special Envoy for Human Rights of LGBT Persons and Senior LGBT Coordinators to the U.S. diplomatic corps and international aid agency (USAID), respectively, to export the sexual revolution globally.2

What was a surprise to most, however, was how quickly the sexual revolutionaries seemed to win the day. Not unlike the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), which caught the Church off-guard, the Obergefell decision struck a decisive blow almost before Christians knew they were in a fight. In fact, the timing couldn’t have been more ironic: while The Center for Medical Progress was still busy fighting the last war (abortion) by filming its undercover videos of Planned Parenthood’s leaders, the homosexual lobby, backed by the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice, were busy turning sodomy into a basic “human right.” By the time the Obergefell decision came down, there was no great public outcry, no “Morality Matters” protests in the streets. The Church had been beaten badly in the public square—again—and left pondering if we, as Christians, could still bake wedding cakes without going to jail or being labeled bigots in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the sexual revolutionaries were busy pressing ahead with their next strategic moves. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for example, published its new list of “post-marriage” priorities almost immediately after the Obergefell decision for how the LGBT movement could build on its momentum and seize new beachheads. The priority list includes (but is not limited to):

  1. Eliminating all religious exemptions. The ACLU and other LGBT lawyers are preparing to shoot down the religious exemptions churches and religious organizations now eagerly seek. The LGBT lobby wants to deny all conservative anti-homosexual churches and religious groups the right to avoid hiring homosexuals on religious grounds. They want to deny churches and religious organizations tax exempt status, if they don’t admit or hire homosexuals. And they want to deny all religiously inclined organizations access to state and federal funding, if they oppose homosexual behavior.
  2. Passing a comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights law that adds “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to all state human rights laws, forcing courts to ban all forms of “sexual discrimination” against LGBT people.
  3. Expanding transgender rights by not requiring any proof of gender identity, by ensuring that LGBT people will have full access to single-sex spaces, such as bathrooms and locker rooms, and by gaining full access to “transition-related” health services, such as sex change operations at taxpayer expense.
  4. Changing parenting laws so that lesbians and gay men can easily adopt or provide foster care.3

The Obergefell case became a tipping point, propelling the sexual revolution forward farther and faster, because it boldly marked an official public demotion of biblical authority over moral life. The highest court in the land based its judgment not on biblical law or precedents steeped in Christian morality, but on a relativistic ethic that leaves our culture with little or no restraints against sexual immorality. The moral conscience of the nation, exemplified by the judgments of its high court, is no longer willing to call sin, sin (sadly, some surveys indicate that many Christian young people don’t think same-sex marriage can be so wrong, if two people “really love each other”). Worse, the court turned sexual morality upside down: once, sodomy was a crime; now we are only a few legal cases or legislative bills away from biblical morality becoming a crime, rejected as legally indefensible, contrary to the new sexual order, and something that must be suppressed for “the good of the public.”

An absurd example of this new upside-down sexual order is the recent Chicago-area public school case where a “transgendered” male student, who now self-identifies as a girl, is being federally “protected” from the draconian school administration which dared to suggest he/she change or shower separately from his/her classmates. The case was deemed so important for transgender rights that the U.S. Department of Education (overstepped) ordered the school to provide private showers for all or for none. Anything less would be discriminatory. As Assistant U.S. Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in a widely quoted statement, “All students deserve the opportunity to participate equally in school programs and activities—this is a basic civil right.” Apparently, the civil rights of young school girls to shower in privacy, free from the peering eyes of sexually confused (or deceptive, but still biologically) boys, are no longer “basic” in the new federally sanctioned sexual order. And if the ACLU succeeds in removing all religious exemptions, church-related schools might be forced to comply with similar federal rulings.

The Obergefell case also marks a tipping point in the creation and sustenance of the sexual revolution by its highly effective use of the social propaganda technique known as the “Spiral of Silence.” The “Spiral of Silence” theory, first identified by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann,4  explains why people remain silent, rather than speak up in opposition to views with which they strongly disagree when in a group or public setting. Pressure to remain silent can be strongly felt, if people perceive (rightly or wrongly) that their views are in the minority and subject to possible ridicule or scorn by a bold or confident majority. They are not necessarily persuaded by the perceived majority views, but their silence begins to have a negative “spiraling” effect on themselves and others who are unsure, have doubts, or hold similar minority views when no significant opposition to the majority view is expressed in public. The downward spiral is reinforced every time opinion leaders, such as pastors, teachers, major media figures, or other public figures, speak positively for the perceived majority position and suggest, however subtly, that minority views are pathetic or absurd. Mockery quickly displaces reasoned debate over the substantive merits for or against competing ideas. “Majority” or “mob” rule wins by default, regardless of the actual merits of the majority view. The social and political climate under such circumstances then becomes socially and politically repressive when minority opinions are increasingly ridiculed and deemed publicly unacceptable. Minority view holders become easily threatened (as “bigots” and “haters”) with loss of social status or political freedom. One can see similar tendencies today on campuses and in the mainstream media regarding “discussions” of political correctness, campus hate speech codes, abortion “rights,” homosexual “marriage,” and even pedophilia. The silencing of the Church and other voices opposed to the sexual revolution was no accident.

This sea change in the moral order and the spiral of silence that has stilled voices opposed to the sexual revolution confirm what author E. Michael Jones has argued in his compelling book, Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control (2000). He explains that the sexual revolution is ultimately about political control. It is a way of harnessing human lust to serve and to sustain a godless state. As he puts it, “Sexual liberation is a form of control, a way of maintaining the regime in power by exploiting the passions of the naïve, who identify with their passions as if they were their own and identify with the regime which ostensibly enables them to gratify these passions[,] . . . and are thereby molded into a powerful political force by those who are most expert in manipulating the flow of imagery and rationalization.”5

The Obergefell decision and its political spawn illustrate Jones’ point well: “The best way to control man is to do so without his awareness that he is being controlled, and the best way to do that is through the systematic manipulation of the passions, because man tends to identify his passions as his own. In defending them he defends his ‘freedom,’ which he usually sees as the unfettered ability to fulfill his desires, without, for the most part, understanding how easy it is to manipulate those passions from without.”6

Like all those who mock God’s law and the Law Giver, however, sexual revolutionaries and those seeking political domination will not have the last laugh. Sexual liberation is ultimately no liberation at all, but what the Apostle Paul and St. Augustine saw at the end of the Roman Empire and described as “slavery to sin.” The new sexual moral order is literally an order of misery and bondage. And political control is no control, unless it comes from the hand of the One who sovereignly exalts and humbles the nations, according to his holy will. The good news amidst all the sexual sin and political grasping in our day is that God’s grace alone is sufficient to save all who are slaves to sin. And he is not silent.

Dr. Roy Atwood, Ph.D., is the Abraham Kuyper Distinguished Professor at Morthland College, West Frankfort, Illinois, and the Director of the Founders Institute on Public Policy.

  1. See http://www.governing.com/gov-data/same-sex-marriage-civil-unions-doma-laws-by-state.html (accessed Nov. 20, 2015)
  2. See the related U.S. Department of State and USAID websites: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/05/242615.htm, https://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are/organization/todd-larson, and http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/240706.htm (all accessed Nov. 20, 2015).
  3. James Esseks (2015), “After Obergefell: What the LGBT Movement Still Needs to Achieve,” American Civil Liberties Union (website accessed Nov. 18, 2015). Source URL: https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/after-obergefell-what-lgbt-movement-still-needs-achieve.
  4. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010), a German political scientist and public opinion researcher once called the “George Gallup of Germany,” developed the theory in 1974. She was one of the founders of the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, a leading public opinion research organization in Germany. She served as a professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz from 1964 to 1983, president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980, and a visiting professor at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1991. Noelle-Neumann developed this theory as one way to explain how highly intelligent and well-educated Germans who opposed the rise of fascism and the National Socialist movement (Nazis) in the early 1930s were “silenced” and neutralized in the space of a decade.
  5. E. Michael Jones (2005), Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, p. 2.
  6. Ibid., p. 6.

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