Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rev. Jerry Prevo's Red Herrings

--- by Mel Green

Early in his ministry, Jesus, walking along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, saw the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew at their work as fishermen and said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, KJV).

There’s no doubt that Jerry Prevo has followed the in the footsteps of these earliest of Jesus’ disciples, coming to Anchorage in 1971 as pastor of the Baptist Bible Church (average attendance 300), and building it into what is now one of Alaska’s largest churches, the Anchorage Baptist Temple (average attendance 2200). On top of that, he’s the CEO of two Christian radio stations and a Christian TV station, has a daily radio program, and his Sunday services are broadcast and rebroadcast daily as well. [See references 1 & 2 for sources.]

A fisher of men indeed.

But evidence suggests that Rev. Prevo also excels as a fisher of red herrings.

Now, I like fish. I eat it a lot. Salmon, sardines, kippers — nice, fishy, oily coldwater fish, healthily high in your essential omega-3 fatty acids. And tasty, too, at least if you like nice, fishy, oily coldwater fish, as I do. My friend Marcia doesn’t, so if i cook fish when she comes over we have tilapia, a mild white-fleshed fish that doesn’t, she says, taste or smell “fishy.”

But I mentioned kippers: some people don’t know what those are. As described by Michael Quinion of World Wide Words, kippers are “herrings that have been split, salted, dried and smoked” — a method of preparation that helped preserve fish for market in the days before refrigeration and rapid transportation.[3] Nowadays, one can also buy kippers in a can, like sardines.

Quinion goes on to explain a method of preserving herring for even longer than kippers will keep:

Red herrings are a type of kipper that have been much more heavily smoked, for up to 10 days, until they have been part-cooked and have gone a reddish-brown colour. They also have a strong smell. They would keep for months (they were transported in barrels to provide protein on long sea voyages) but in this state they were inedible and had to be soaked to soften them and remove the salt before they could be heated and served. [Ref. 3]

It’s this kind of herring from which comes the term for the kind of red herring for which Rev. Prevo has recently been fishing so fervently and with such monumental success. Known in rhetoric by the Latin name ignoratio elenchi (”ignorance of refutation”) or by the alternative English name the irrelevant thesis, the red herring is the most general and common of the fallacies of irrelevance: an argument in which the premise bears no logical relationship to the conclusion. [Ref. 4] Quinion relates that most etymologies he consulted state that red herring became the metaphor for this kind of logical fallacy because it was believed that the very smelly fish was sometimes dragged across the ground — for example, by escaped convicts — to confuse the scent being followed by tracking hounds. Quinion gives strong evidence for a different etymology. But regardless of etymology, its meaning in English usage — an argument which distracts people from the real issues involved — remains. [Ref. 3]

And a smellier, more inedible batch of red herrings it would be hard to find that could compare with those found in Rev. Prevo’s recent arguments against the equal rights ordinance proposed last week in the Anchorage Assembly.

If passed, the ordinance would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, financial practices, public accommodations, and education on the basis of “sexual orientation: and “veteran status”, thereby adding these two classes to those already included under Title 5, Anchorage’s equal rights code: race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, age, and physical or mental disability. [Ref. 5]

There are a number of red herrings that Rev. Prevo has brought up already in opposition to this proposed ordinance, but to cover them all would make for a very long post indeed from someone who already writes pretty long posts. So let me focus here on the red herring at the heart of Rev. Prevo’s current set of arguments:

The legal term sexual orientation

Rev. Prevo has a long history of opposing equal protection under the law for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. He was a prominent opponent of two antidiscrimination measures in Anchorage in 1975 and 1992-1993; the main difference this time around is the current proposal’s inclusion of actual or perceived “gender expression” and “gender identity” within the proposed ordinance’s definition of sexual orientation, which also includes actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.

On Friday, May 15, 2009, Rev. Prevo faxed a letter, addressed to community leaders, to an unknown number of people. [Ref. 6] Chief among the red herrings thrown up in the letter are Rev. Prevo’s statements regarding, as he phrases it, the “legal term ’sexual orientation’.” For example, from page 5 of his 7-page letter (not including the fax cover page):

“Sexual orientation” is a wildly expansive term that can encompass virtually any sexual temptation known to man. (See the definition in the proposed Anchorage Ordinance). If “sexual orientation” is added to the Anchorage’s nondiscrimination code, it will provide instant legal special rights to any kind of sexual behavior, no matter how perverse. [Ref. 6]

(The “special rights” argument is another of the false arguments frequently brought up by Rev. Prevo and other opponents of equal rights for LGBT people.)

Rev. Prevo goes on in a lengthy appendix to summarize a number of sexual practices described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition — also known as DSM-IV, the diagnostic “bible” of the American Psychiatric Association — thus implying that somehow the ordinance, if passed, would provide “legal special rights” to all the practices described in DSM-IV — including pedophilia (sex with children), necrophilia (sex with corpses), and zoophilia (sex with animals, also known as bestiality). [Ref. 6]

Never mind that DMS-IV is a diagnostic manual, not a manual of legal terminology.

Never mind that many of the practices — and certainly pedophilia (sexual abuse of minors) and necrophilia — are prohibited by Alaska statute and federal law, which no municipal ordinance is going to trump. (Sexual abuse of minors is a crime at four different degrees under Alaska Statutes ranging from felony to Class A misdemeanor level. [Refs. 7–10] Necrophilia is a Class A misdemeanor under AS 11.61.130, “Misconduct involving a corpse.” [Ref. 11] Zoophilia, not explicitly forbidden in Alaska law, does not appear to be covered by existing animal cruelty statutes. House Bill 6, under consideration in the Alaska Legislature, would explicitly make sexual conduct with animals a Class A misdemeanor. It’s already passed the Alaska House. [Refs. 12–14])

There is also simple fact that Rev. Prevo’s red herring obscures common legal definitions of the term sexual orientation, and (in spite of his instruction to read it) specifically ignores the definition contained in the ordinance being considered by the Anchorage Assembly.

Here, in fact, is the definition of sexual orientation found in the proposed ordinance (which can be read in full here, in PDF format):

Sexual orientation means actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality or gender expression or identity. As used in this definition, “gender expression or identity” means having or being perceived as having a self-image, appearance, or behavior different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned to that person at birth. [Ref. 5]

Keep this in mind as you read through his letter. If Rev. Prevo is not telling the truth about the legal meaning of sexual orientation — what else is he not telling the truth about?

Read the proposed ordinance here
or at the Assembly’s website.

Read Jerry Prevo’s May 15 letter here
(includes an introduction about his
“definition of sexual orientation” red herring).


1. Anchorage Baptist Temple. (n.d.) “About Our Pastor.” At Anchorage Baptist Temple website. Retrieved 21 May 2009.

2. Anchorage Baptist Temple. (n.d.) “Church History.” At Anchorage Baptist Temple website. Retrieved 21 May 2009.

3. Quinion, Michael. (25 Oct 2008). “The Lure of the Red Herring.” At World Wide Words (website). Retrieved 21 May 2009.

4. Curtis, Gary N. (n.d.) “Red Herring.” At Fallacy Files (website). Retrieved 21 May 2009.

5. AO 2009-64, “An ordinance of the Anchorage Municipal Assembly amending Anchorage Code Chapters 5.10 Equal Rights Commission and 5.20 Unlawful Discriminatory Practices.” Draft pepared for reading May 12, 2009. Anchorage Municipal Assembly, Anchorage, AK.

6. Prevo, Jerry. (15 May 2009). Faxed letter addressed to Anchorage community leaders. Includes introduction on “Jerry Prevo’s Red Herrings” by Melissa S. Green, 22 May 2009.

7. AS 11.41.434, “Sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree.” Alaska State Legislature Textual Infobases, 2008 Alaska Statutes.

8. AS 11.41.436, “Sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree.” Alaska State Legislature Textual Infobases, 2008 Alaska Statutes.

9. AS 11.41.438, “Sexual abuse of a minor in the third degree.” Alaska State Legislature Textual Infobases, 2008 Alaska Statutes.

10. AS 11.41.440, “Sexual abuse of a minor in the fourth degree.” Alaska State Legislature Textual Infobases, 2008 Alaska Statutes.

11. AS 11.61.130. “Misconduct involving a corpse.” Alaska State Legislature Textual Infobases, 2008 Alaska Statutes.

12. House Bill 6, “An Act relating to proscribing certain sexual conduct or sexual activities as cruelty to animals.” Bill History/Action for 26th Legislature. Alaska State Legislature. Retrieved 22 May 2009.

13.Lynn, Rep. Bob. (26 Feb 2009). “House Bill 6: Cruelty To Animals” (sponsor statement). The House Majority (website). Retrieved 22 May 2009.

14. Sutton, Anne. (21 Mar 2009). “Alaska and Florida Consider Bans on Bestiality.” The Huffington Post. Retrieved 22 May 2009.


AKPetMom said...

When I lived in Anchorage in the early 90's there were large signs on People Mover buses showing a smiling group of "previously gay" people that had been "fixed" by Reverend Prevo's church. These signs always made me laugh out loud. One of Prevo's sons was reportedly gay and "fixed" by dad's church. (I could be wrong and that could be just a rumor, but I always believed it).

I was appalled at Prevo's presumption that homosexuality was something that had to be "fixed". Whether gay by choice or biology humans do not need to be "cured" of their individual sexual choices.

Prevo has always been a prime example of what is wrong with religion and how it insinuates itself into areas of our lives where it does not belong.

Philip Munger said...


God has some people gay. Others choose to be gay. Who are we to presume we can tell who chose and who God chose.

Mel said...

For me, the choice I had wasn't whether or not I was a lesbian, but whether or not to accept what I am.

Now, why would God damn me for being what I was created to be? Wouldn't rejecting what I am be a blasphemous rejection of creation itself?

Philip Munger said...

Mel - and other readers -

This is one of the most astoundingly accurate sketches of this important aspect of Rev. Prevo's methods I've ever read.

Anonymous said...

Prevo is a bigot, no doubt. But so are about 70% of the voters of Alaska who, in 1998, voted to Amend the Constitution to limit the rights of same-gender couples to marry in Alaska. And many still wait in vain for President Obama to take affirmative steps to get rid of the odious "don't ask, don't tell" policies embraced by our military leadership.

The question is whether we can make any progress toward properly resolving these matters without demonizing the opposition, thus becoming what we purport to hate.

I count among my greatest heroes those who struggle to attain, and maintain high ideals, while speaking with compassionate, steady, and inclusive voice.

Phil Smith

Mel said...

A little confused here, Phil: are you accusing me of having demonized Rev. Prevo? It seemed rather to me that what I did was to to expose his lie. I don't believe it's required for us to maintain silence in the face of our enemy's lies, in order to refrain from demonizing them.

Anonymous said...

No no no. I'm not accusing anyone of anything (except Prevo of being a bigot). I absolutely got it, and agree with it. My little preachy post just contained my musings on these things, inspired to some degree by Obama's address at Notre Dame.

The other thing I wanted to point out was that Prevo is not alone, and that he has a constituency. Just trying to add a little nuance to the conversation.

I apologize if my comments were so inartfully phrased that they gave offense; none was intended.


Mel said...

Thanks for clarification! Not offended, I was just confused before, & now I'm relieved!

I'm right with you there about the 1998 AK constitutional amendment -- wrote a long post about it several days ago called Same-sex marriage: A personal history.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Jerry Prevo's Red Herrings....

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