Andrew Sullivan: On Being Conservative, Christian and Gay

“I wanted to talk tonight about some things that appear to be contradictions—religions, political philosophies, that are thought to be in conflict, but are not in conflict… I want to try and argue that our politics have been too simplified and polarized, that our culture is too divided, that we need to accept the complexity and flawed nature of being human… [I want to do it] in a semi-autobiographical way, in covering three things about myself that I have been told for years cannot coexist… I want to come out tonight as a Christian. I want to come out tonight as a conservative, and I want to come out tonight—in a much less controversial way—as a homosexual. Certainly, I think Haverford would view the latter as the least provocative identity to grasp, but that’s because you haven’t heard me talk about what I believe Christianity and conservatism really are.”

With his opening words, Andrew Sullivan grabbed the attention of the audience gathered in Haverford’s Roberts Marshall Auditorium on Friday evening and held it throughout his entire presentation. Sullivan, whose February 8 talk was sponsored by the Students Council Speakers Committee, is a journalist and the creator of and central voice behind the influential blog The Dish, which boasts a readership of 1.2 million unique visitors and an average of 8 million pageviews a month.

Sullivan, who is also a prolific author (Virtually Normal, Love Undetectable, The Soul of a Conservative), acknowledged that he was an interesting choice as a speaker for Haverford.  As a Conservative and a Catholic, he recognized that he was likely a rarity within the College community. Sullivan then went on to explain his beliefs with clarity and grace.

While he challenges the Church’s position on homosexuality, Sullivan’s personal Catholicism springs from a deep faith he said he’s never been able to shake, even in dark moments.  He noted that for him religion was inherently full of doubt, but also full of love and acceptance.  Sullivan disagreed deeply with the attempts people make to control one another through religion, preferring a more open dialogue, much like the one he created during his presentation.

Besides being a Christian, said Sullivan, “I’m also a conservative. And when I come to college campuses today and say that to people, I get this bizarre and horrified response… as if I’ve committed a crime or believe in mass murder. But what I place at the core of conservatism is something that I place at the core of the Christianity I’m talking about and that is that one can believe in an idea, in a way of life, in the importance of a certain set of virtues … You should always understand that doubt about those convictions is integral both to those convictions and to their success. I don’t think anyone who’s never doubted has ever actually believed.”

Reporting by Nora Landis-Shack ’13 and Rachel Baron ’15

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6 Responses to Andrew Sullivan: On Being Conservative, Christian and Gay

  1. mark says:

    Mr Sullivan,keep your voice strong…your writings inspire me!

  2. Joan says:

    As a BMC/Hford grad of the seventies, I find Sullivan’s comments about Christianity patronizing. Haverford is the most Christian place I know–in terms of what Christianity truly means. It is the Sullivans of this world who have hijacked the term Christian to mean Conservative. As for being gay–how nice that Sullivan, a celebrity, is granted the privilege of being out in his community. He should read Reinaldo Arenas, on the “four kinds of gays.” Most conservative Christian young gays still get sent to change camp. Sullivan should go back to his own church and help them, before lecturing to Haverford about being Christian.

  3. Bob says:

    If Mr. Sullivan is being honest about his feelings that “religion is inherently full of doubt” and that doubt about one’s conservative convictions “is integral”, he is not representative of the vast majority of conservatives and very religious people in this country today. They are, instead, characterized by absolute certainty about their values and convictions, and apparently believe that we all should succumb to the true path as established by them. I would not be persuaded by Mr. Sullivan’s portrayal of the right wing.

  4. Donna says:

    Bob, you must be a conservative, since you are so absolutely certain you know what conservatives and very religious people are like.

  5. Sean Kershaw says:

    Joan: I have several reactions to your comments.
    * Most importantly, I’d urge you to read what Andrew Sullivan writes. I read him every day — religiously ;) — and see no correlation between how you characterize what he stands for and what he actually says or argues. Your assumptions don’t match his words.
    * As a Christian, I’m nervous whenever anyone claims to know “what Christianity truly means” and then essentially criticizes someone else for being a fundamentalist.

    Andrew cuts against the orthodoxy of being gay, being Catholic, and being conservative. This form of rebellion is well-suited for Haverford and it’s Quaker and intellectual tradition.

  6. Chris O'Donnell '92 says:

    Good for SCSS for inviting Andrew Sullivan. I can’t recall any conservative speakers during my four years at Haverford but I remember a lot of lip service to “listening to diverse viewpoints” and “tolerance.” Until, of course, someone actually presents the “community” with an idea that goes against liberal orthodoxy, then, well…

    It’s so easy to dismiss people with really different views as naive, or better yet, evil. Given all the talk about tolerance and critical thinking in the brochures I expected more from Haverford. I was very disappointed by the school’s failure to live up to those stated ideals without a hint of acknowledgement about the utter hypocrisy of the PC movement, backed up by the Social Honor Code. I’m glad that today’s students, judging by the fact that the reporters described the audience as “attentive,” seem a little truer to the College’s stated ideals than those of my vintage.

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