Friday, December 14, 2007

Kommunity Relations

This morning I mentioned the two quarter-page ads, or “press releases,” that Christ Church ran for about a month in all the local papers. Here’s the first one, which appeared on Saturday, November 15, 2003; they ran it daily for two weeks:

It’s Not About Slavery.
It’s About Silencing Dissent.

FOR MORE THAN A DECADE, Christ Church, Moscow, through its various ministries, has been constant and gladly controversial in making the case that modern secularism is boring, hypocritical, and ugly (with secularism understood as the exclusion of religious life for a strictly human vision). But you can’t pierce secular sacred cows without defensive folks finally insisting on changing the subject.

Christ Church has a long published history of revealing the uglinesses and hypocrisies of the right and the left, conservatives and progressives, racists and egalitarians, religious fundamentalists and secular fundamentalists. All these groups despise the good life and deserve one another. We want no part of their family infighting.

Christ Church walks in the path of historic Christian Trinitarianism, drawing insights from Presbyterian (primarily), Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions, all of which stand against the ingrown secularisms of our day.

Obviously Against Racism
Despite our published record and debates against racism and white supremacist hideousness, some locals are trying to silence our dissent by acting as if we are part of some vast conspiracy to impose slavery on the Palouse. It’s ridiculous to have to say the obvious — that slavery has always been an evil needing to be abolished. But that has been our position from the start.

Christ Church has a deep hatred of war, and our comments against the butchery of 600,000 persons in the Civil War have been opportunistically twisted into a defense of the hell of slavery. Christianity has long been a leader in ridding slavery from the West, but it prefers nonviolent means (like Wilberforce in England) rather than the savagery of warfare. If our opponents are sincere in wanting to deal with our arguments and are not just the opportunists they appear to be, then they need to be honest and defend the superiority of unbelievable bloodshed over more peaceful means of abolishing slavery. They can side with war. We side with nonviolent abolitionism.

The Charade of Diversity
Slavery isn’t the issue. Establishment secularism can’t stand real criticism. It can’t bear real differences. It must try to erase its challengers. It must make weird twists like labeling our multiracial families as racist. It must make up lies that we are hosting a conference defending slavery. Pure smears. Pure opportunism. Fear of dialogue.

Let the protesters be honest. Let’s talk about the real issues some seek to suppress —
  • why secularism can only fake tolerance, diversity, and inclusion,

  • why secularism undermines rationality and knowledge,

  • why secularism guts beauty, play, the arts, and laughter,

  • why secularism inherently encourages racism and violence,

  • why secularism has to hate the ancient Christian message.
Christianity and secularism have plenty to disagree about without locals hiding behind fake conspiracies and self-righteous pronouncements. Always be suspicious of Darwinists bearing such dogmatic absolutes. It’s oxymoronic. It’s hypocritical. Their subtext is a demand for conformity to their ideology and a hatred of real difference.

Board of Christ Church
Moscow, Idaho

Of course, everyone in the community understood exactly what this ad meant; it was about as popular as an infectious skin disease. Citizens flooded the local papers with letters to the editor expressing outrage at the Kirk for its irresponsible PR campaign and on Tuesday, November 18, 2003, the senior editor for the Lewiston Morning Tribune published this response to the Kirk:

Condemnation begets condemnation in Moscow
By Jim Fisher, the Tribune’s editorial page editor

What was it that the leaders of Christ Church in Moscow were objecting to again? If it appeared they disapproved of blanket condemnations based on ignorant assumptions about a group’s beliefs, the appearance was mistaken.

The church has reacted to offenses against its members from some Moscow liberals — including charges of racism untethered to actual evidence — by responding in kind. Its board now accuses not just its critics, but all nonsubscribers to its old-time religion, of hypocrisy, ugliness and encouraging racism and violence.

Those charges and others appear in a paid advertisement in the weekend Moscow-Pullman Daily News. And they hardly encourage residents of the Palouse who are uncertain about calls to boycott businesses run by Christ Church parishioners, or to silence messages rather than answer them, to rally to the church’s side.

Sure, boycotts based on business people’s religious beliefs and calls for public universities to suppress certain speech are affronts to a liberal democracy. But no better are allegations that all those without religious belief “can only fake tolerance, diversity and inclusion.”

The ad is the latest volley in the communitywide furor over the Rev. Douglas Wilson’s co-authorship of a pamphlet seeking to sanitize the treatment of many American slaves. Wilson is pastor of Christ Church and has a long history of outraging his neighbors in northern Idaho’s most progressive town with his brand of biblical literalism.

For the most part, that has been healthy. No one should be protected from the mental challenge posed by contrasting beliefs. And the American way of responding to speech that is deemed false or even dangerous is not by suppressing it, but by rebutting it. Speech begets more speech, and that speech begets more speech still.

As pamphleteer, Wilson deserves repudiation for historical inaccuracy. And if he were a business person himself, he should expect to receive much of it across the counter from customers telling him what he’s full of. But his parishioners deserve better than to lose business because of something he wrote independent of his church duties.

Similarly, nonreligious people, in Moscow and elsewhere, deserve better than to be told by followers of Christ that their belief system “undermines rationality and knowledge . . . guts beauty, play, the arts and laughter . . . inherently encourages racism and violence . . . has to hate the ancient Christian message.”

With that language, the board of Christ Church has forsaken an opportunity to set the example for generosity and goodwill in a community immediately in need of both. — J.F.

Methinks the Kirk elders got the message because they went back to the drawing board and drafted this little gem, which they released on Saturday, November 29, 2003:

Why the “Not in Our Town” Campaign is So Dreadfully Boring
“He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others,” worried the dramatist Samuel Foote. The same concern arose from us when the local human rights group Equality announced its “Not in Our Town” petition against Christ Church, Moscow.

We had hoped to hear some spicy pizazz [sic], some cutting-edge criticism, but all we got were the same humorless cliches secularists have lobbed at Christians for centuries. Even the accompanying scowls hadn’t changed. Secularism needs new writers, new blood, new scowls.

Leading with a petition is so passé. Been done to death. Where is the creativity? It’s even a petition to show that some locals reject historic Christianity. Old news. And petitions are so self-congratulatory. It gives signers a cheap thrill of holiness. But who wants to hang around the self-righteous? Yawn.

An inability to grasp irony is key proof that a vision is boring. This campaign presents us with a human rights group — we note: a human rights group — trying to silence the opinions of a minority group in the name of Diversity. Now that’s comedy that can’t be bought for ready money.

The dogmatic directive “Not in Our Town” is not exactly an invitation to dialogue or a celebration of difference. It’s a blocking of the ears. “Not in Our Town” means shut-up, shut-up, go away. Only the most austere human rights group could pull that off with a straight face. As Oscar Wilde said, “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.” Secularism used to be a little more fun than this.

Guard Your Children from the Humorless
We worry that this dullness of life will spread throughout our region. Without a check on this, infants, too, will soon wag their fingers like prairie school marms, and high schoolers will fail to get punch lines. Parents should pay special attention to each signature on the “Not in Our Town” petition and not allow these people to attempt comedy near their children.

We understand the campaign’s burden. Many of us are recovering Darwinists ourselves. We remember how naturally humorless Darwinism is, what with its core values of survival, domination, subjugation, force, and infomercials. Darwinists have such a sordid history of violence that for them to defend human rights is like Grizzly bears promising to defend salmon.

Triumphing Over Pettiness
We wish it were as easy as saying lighten up, get a life. But sin and guilt make people do weird and tragic things. We don’t say these things as personal taunts but rather as a call to repentance — the living God summons us away from this soul-deadening dullness of life (Matt. 13:15). Sin is a deceptive web of excuses that we use to block out the profound joy at the heart of the Christian God, that most intriguing, unpredictable, and fascinating God. Secularism offers only pettiness and resentment.

Jesus Christ said He came to give life and to give it abundantly (John 10:10). The path to life involves an odd reversal: life comes through trusting in the person and sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the removal of the prisonhouse of sin from our lives. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the Christian gospel becomes, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works” (Eccl. 9:7).

Christ Church Board
Moscow, Idaho

Well, if at first you don’t succeed, poke them in the eye again.

Thank you.