By Sarah Wolberg
Political columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan, of The Daily Beast, spoke at Haverford last Friday night in a talk sponsored by the Haverford College Speakers Committee.
Sullivan, who recently took his political blog independent, is noted in the world of politics as a conservative whose personal politics do not exactly conform to the party lines.
Sullivan made some of his more subversive views clear in the opening lines of his speech, declaring that he wanted “to come out tonight as a Christian, to come out tonight as a conservative, and in a less controversial way, to come out as a homosexual.”
Playing off the stereotypically liberal views of his college audience, Sullivan garnered a roomful of laughs before his topic turned more serious.
“People have said these are three things in me that cannot coexist—which is like saying that I don’t exist,” Sullivan said.
He went on to speak in open detail about his life as a true political conservative—one who advocates for a free-market economy and small government—yet one who is often excluded from today’s more radical Republican party.
Sullivan differs from other conservatives in that he openly supports gay rights, something which he believes should be a universal policy of the Republican Party because it implies government non-interference in private citizens’ lives.
Sullivan also told the audience that he supports President Barack Obama, calling him “the most conservative president since Clinton.”
He also believes the gridlock in Congress the past two years “gave us the optimal outcome”—the possibility of compromise between Republicans and Democrats on pivotal issues, like the Affordable Care Act.
Sullivan condemned the fundamentalism of the modern Republican Party on some of these issues, calling it one of the biggest errors a politician could make—and also declaring that fundamentalism is a quality that does not fit into the definition of a true conservative.
“The conservative temperament is characterized by a resistance to certainty,” Sullivan said. “Fundamentalism must be undermined with the knowledge that we have been wrong, are wrong, and will continue to be wrong in the future.”
Furthermore, “anything can be turned into dogma if you’re stupid enough.”
Sullivan cemented his place as a progressive conservative by talking about his struggle coming to terms with his Christianity and the fact that he is gay.
“I’ve never been able to not believe in God,” Sullivan said, “but there was a 15-minute period of my life where I wondered if God was evil.”
This period of doubt came during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when many of Sullivan’s friends were being diagnosed with terminal AIDS—and when Sullivan himself found out that he was HIV-positive.
Sullivan learned of his HIV while spending his thirtieth birthday at the beach, only two weeks after his boyfriend had turned out to be HIV-positive as well.
“I found out I was HIV-positive and I couldn’t tell anyone because I was a public figure, because my mother was recently admitted to an institution because of her bi-polar disorder, and because I could have been deported because I was a threat to public health” and born in England, Sullivan said.
It was during this period of personal crisis however, that Sullivan gained a deeper understanding of his religion and faith and became even more committed to Christianity.
However, he decried some elements of the Church that suffer from the same fundamentalism he hates in Republicans.
“The Christianity I know has no desire to control anyone else’s soul because it does not believe it is absolutely true,” Sullivan said. “Faith that’s not freely chosen is not a faith at all.”