Is it hypocritical to be a pornography addict but also be the leader of an organization dedicated to the proposition that homosexuality is a moral abomination undeserving of legal protections?
Jerry W. Flowers is a self-confessed (and recovering for a decade now) “soft-core” pornography addict and anti-homosexual rights activist. And he doesn’t find the two roles, shall we say, incompatible. In fact, in his view, it gives him a certain insight into the internal emotional struggles of homosexuals that helps him empathize with them.
“Because of my own history,” Flowers says, “I try to make it a point to be sympathetic to those struggling with homosexuality. It’s definitely not my place to cast any stones at anyone,” Flowers says. “I understand more than many others what they’re facing.”
In the worldview of Flowers and many other Christian conservatives, after all, homosexuality (along with its permutationsbisexuality and transgenderism) is not some sort of innate characteristic on par with race or gender. It is, rather, a violation of God’s demand for sexual puritysomething to be repressed, condemned and, ultimately, cured. Kind of like pornography addiction.
If you don’t buy that, odds are you’re not going to like Jerry Flowers. But you wouldn’t be alone. Flowers is the founder, ringleader and chief muckraker of a Christian conservative group calling itself Nashvillians for a Brighter Future (NBF). NBF was formed in response to the push for sexual orientation nondiscrimination legislation in last year’s Metro Council, and made a major mark in last year’s Metro Council elections. NBF’s influence was most notable in the at-large races, in which Church of Christ scion Buck Dozier and the virulently anti-gay Carolyn Baldwin Tucker scored substantial victories while popular incumbents David Briley and Adam Dreadgay rights sympathizerswere forced into run-offs.
“We knew [Briley] was in some trouble early on,” Flowers says, “even if most people didn’t.”
Flowers knew because he, an active Church of Christ member, was tapped into the deep undercurrent of sentiment against the sexual orientation legislation among Nashville’s religious conservatives, which surprised even the most cynical of local political observers. Certain members and would-be members of the Metro Council were the victims of that sentiment last year. This year, though, Flowers and the NBF have set their sights on a new target: Metro’s Human Relations Commission.
In an attempt to mollify the local gay community and its allies, the commission was recently given what can best be described as limited authority to investigate alleged cases of anti-gay discrimination in the city. Flowers has therefore made it a point to monitor its activities very closely, and what he has discovered has made waves.
It was Flowers who last autumn busted members of the commission for secretly meeting in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law, ultimately resulting in the voluntary resignation of then-chairwoman Lucinda Smith. And, just two weeks ago, it was Flowers who discovered that one of the finalists for the agency’s open executive director position, Anthony L. Brown of Madison, Wis., had just last April been suspended from a similar position for a physical altercation with the Madison mayor’s chief of staff. It was a résumé buster that, Flowers gleefully notes, could have been discovered with a 20-second Google search.
In effect, Flowers is the commission’s Inspector Javert, attending every meeting and obtaining reams of internal documents, then posting his observations about the goings-on on his Web site (www.nashvillians.org). When he feels even more action is warranted, as with the Anthony Brown episode, Flowers is not above alerting local media. If you read or hear something negative about the Metro Human Relations Commission, chances are good it originated with Jerry Flowers.
All of this attention has very obviously caught the heretofore harmless, warm-fuzzy commission sorely off guard. A lunch meeting of the commission’s executive committee held last month was a painful exercise in bureaucratic caution. Over an hour of the scheduled 90-minute meeting was spent on procedural nitpicks designed to avoid further negative media coverage, or, perhaps just as bad, coverage on NBF’s Web site, where local officials are skewered. Human Relations Commissioner Art Rebrovick is “hapless.” Mayor Purcell is “Prince P.” The entire commission is “beleaguered” with “an uncanny ability to find hidden rocks under the keel of its captainless ship.” And so on.
Reading Flowers’ wordy screeds (as with many one-man-show Web sites, his desperately needs an editor), you would never guess that their author is, in person, a relatively affable fellow. So much so, in fact, that some on the other side of the political fence have warmed up to him personally, if not to his agenda. After the executive committee meeting Thursday, Lucinda Smith spent a few minutes chatting amiably with Flowers, which is certainly unexpected, given that she would still be on the commission were it not for him.
Some of this has to do with political necessity. For better or for worse, Flowers and the NBF have established themselves as players on the local grassroots levela force to be reckoned with. Even at-large council member David Briley, who says that he and Flowers got off to a “rocky start” at the beginning, acknowledges that he talks to Flowers on occasion to take the temperature of what Flowers calls Nashville’s “conservative community,” as Briley would of any group with a viable local constituency.
It’s a constituency, Flowers says, that has been neglected. “There is a feeling among Nashville’s churchgoers that their concerns and interests have been ignored. [Supporters] kept pushing that bill even though people were telling them not to, that they needed more time and more input from the community,” Flowers says. “Because of that, you got this circus atmosphere, something I warned them about as early as December of 2002.”
Flowers’ M.O. is simple. When an issue of interest arises, he contacts 18 to 20 people (he calls them “team captains”) throughout the city who then instruct people on their extensive e-mail lists to take action, whether it be contacting their council representatives, sitting in the audience of a commission meeting to make their presence known or something else. When you get right down to it, there’s really no magic to the system, but it’s been quite effective, at least so far.
Flowers is sketchy when asked to provide details about NBF itself. Who else forms the central core of NBF? Just who are all of these “team leaders” anyway? Are they based in churches? Other than noting affiliations with Bobbie Patray of the Tennessee Eagle Forum, Richard Holloman of the Sight Ministry (which caters to people with “sexual identity issues)” and Jack Wilkerson, vice president for business and finance for the Southern Baptist Convention, Flowers won’t elaborate too much. (He notes that many folks stay behind the scenes fearing personal or professional retribution.) Since NBF doesn’t contribute to political campaigns or endorse candidates (at least not directly), it doesn’t have to file any disclosures with anyone. In reality, there is no official “organization” to speak of, although there may be plans in the works for a more public “coming out”so to speakin the future.
The fact that Flowers himself is not even a Nashvillian (he lives in Williamson County) adds to the mystery and also serves to taint the whole operation. While Flowers gets testy about the issue on his Web site (“If you can’t argue with the facts, change the subject,” he writes), the fact remains that when you call your organization Nashvillians for a Brighter Future, you are the only known person involved in the organization, and you are not a Nashvillian, you’re kind of setting yourself up.
In person, Flowers acknowledges this problem, and if he could wave a magic wand, he would prefer that somebody else step in so he can focus more on other, more esoteric things, like certain problems he perceives with Metro’s procurement process. In the meantime, he will go on as he is, which is just as well to Flowers, whose own history is prime motivator.
Flowers doesn’t seem to think having his addiction publicized will undermine his mission. Though visitors to Flowers’ Web site will find no reference to it, he’s open about it in person and often uses a self-authored Power Point presentation to educate local churches on the subject of Internet pornography. Flowers’ little problem, it appears, is an open secret, as is the entire NBF itself.
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