What's right? Who's left?

Posted: May 14, 2002 12:00 AM
Pundits who classify political candidates as right-wingers or left-wingers are about to encounter a multicultural earthquake. Look what happened last week when Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay opponent of immigration running for president of The Netherlands, was shot to death just as he was poised to gain up to one-third of the vote The instant labeling of Fortuyn as "right-wing" seemed curious, because gay candidates are most often on the left. It turned out that Fortuyn was classified that way because he wanted to shut down immigration to Holland. But look a little closer: He was particularly attacking Muslim immigrants because they oppose homosexuality and feminism. Fortuyn should have been placed on the far-left, but with an asterisk attached. Journalists will need lots of asterisks over the next decade, because the labeling problem will grow more severe as the assumption by Americans of the left that Third World voices are on their side no longer holds up. For example, U.S. liberals who generally sneer at abstinence-only programs in schools and support distribution of condoms were taken aback by a speech Janet K. Museveni, wife of Uganda's president, gave at the United Nations last week. Museveni said, "The young person who has been trained to be disciplined will, in the final analysis, survive better than the one who has been instructed to wear a piece of rubber and continues with 'business as usual.' When we fail to teach our young that there are some moral absolutes and they must reckon with them or perish, then we do grievous harm to the future of human race." Her plea that the U.N. should stop tossing condoms to kids is backed up by Uganda's experience: Since the AIDS-ravaged African nation left the rubber plantation and began aggressively advocating abstinence in 1995, the rate of new HIV infection has dropped by two-thirds. But how politically incorrect! Does "African right-winger" sound right in a headline? And what do we call the "Third World" bishops who have repeatedly saved the Anglican Church worldwide (and its American Episcopalian branch) from becoming a gay outpost, with a consequent exit of heterosexuals? For example, the 80 bishops from Africa and Southeast Asia who met at Kuala Lumpur five years ago opposed the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, noting that the frequent North American "setting aside of biblical teaching" on such questions is "totally unacceptable." The worldwide Anglican conference in Lambeth, England, came up with the same conclusion at its last meeting in 1998. (There won't be another until 2008.) Bishops from North America and Europe offered liberal viewpoints on issues such as homosexuality, but Nigerian bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma confronted Richard Kirker of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement and prayed repeatedly that God would deliver him from his homosexuality. Anti-gay Africans at Lambeth, Bishop Orombi said, "spoke the truth. We are quoting what is in the Scriptures. Don't you forget that the church in America and the church in England took us the Scriptures, and we are not reading anything different." What will happen when those on the left have to choose between honoring their Third World brethren and pushing some of their pet causes? The likely response has been offered by recently retired liberal bishop John Spong, who noted the African opposition to homosexuality and complained that "They've moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity." His remarks appeared under a headline, "African Christians ... a step up from witchcraft." We'll see much more of that as the American left no longer can pride itself on siding with all "the oppressed," a term purportedly encompassing not only U.S. racial and ethnic minorities along with non-Western racial majorities, but also the gender majority and a variety of sexual preference minorities. That big tent has too many flaps to keep all of them closed in the high winds of cultural conflict. It's likely that leftists who have to choose will, like Bishop Spong, side with their own constituents against the Africans, Asians and South Americans who (according to the left) just don't get it.