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Cross-Bearing Sand Kickers

Thursday, 25 October 2012

[Taking a day off from Roctober for a more urgent matter.]

A woman named Elizabeth T. Wood sent a message to our school’s Facebook page. She wrote to warn that our school was engaged in “promoting a pro-homosexual agenda" by hosting a "Mix It Up Day" on our campus.

Not only was our Facebook page contacted, but emails were sent to at least five school administrators, and one phone message was left, all warning us of our participation in Mix It Up Day.

We were not the only school receiving this message.

Mix It Up at Lunch is an annual event encouraged by Teaching Tolerance, an educational offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Not to brag, but I'm quite skilled at the art of Googling, but it took a while to find what the hell Ms. Wood was talking about. Eventually, I located our name on the embedded map of a third-level page. Very non-search-friendly.

For the record, and to the best of our knowledge, no one from our school registered us as a participant in this program. We've had a couple of teachers use information from Teaching Tolerance for lessons in past years, and our best guess was that registering for these kits might have put us in the mix.

To repeat: Our school had no "Mix It Up at Lunch" event planned.

Nothing is as annoying as having to defend yourself against an accusation that is simultaneously untrue and pointless. With a single day's barrage of contacts from a single fringe group, our school found itself drawn into a polarized controversy by doing absolutely nothing!

Were any sane person to read the Teaching Tolerance page about Mix It Up Lunches, they would never close their browser window believing the goal of the event was to infect teen- and pre-teen brains with some "vicious homosexual agenda." The event was merely intended to encourage (or require?) students to sit at another table, with classmates they don't know very well. Best I could tell, this worked best if the students at any table represented a healthy spread of racial, cultural and religious beliefs. It was inspired by the poignant book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?

Therefore, when the American Family Association -- another group I knew or cared little about two weeks ago -- and its disciples aggressively launched an all-out information assault attempting to discredit this event as something that is at the least misleading if not outright false... that group's trustworthiness must be questioned.

I’m not an apologist for the SPLC, nor am I thoroughly educated on their comprehensive history. I don’t doubt the SPLC has occasionally overstepped their bounds and stepped on the wrong toes.  However, a wise way to judge an organization and its aims is to look at their actual words and their actual deeds.

At first glance, and after more examination, one of these groups certainly looks cleaner and more honorable than the other.

The SPLC informs its readers of AFA leader Bryan Fisher by revealing the man’s own words. What a hero this guy is, wielding fear and bigotry in the name of Jesus. I’m not sure what scares me more, Mr. Fisher’s screeds, or the thought that a significant number of followers are out there proactively assisting him in the name of the very same deity I worship.

For the last half of the 20th Century, the timeless image of the bully was a muscle-bound galoot kicking sand in some nerd's face on the beach. In 21st Century America, that galoot wears a golden cross necklace and pushes around the weak and needy with righteous pride. After they've kicked the sand, maybe even kicked the person, the galoot lovingly reminds them that they're going to hell. Because that's what God would want.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation might never completely recover from the zealotry that infected it last winter, and that tragedy, too, will fall at the feet of uncompromising right-wing polarizers. Obliterating charities, splitting them into shards, to accomplish their goals seems to be acceptable collateral damage.

Fearmongers and zealots are getting increasingly aggressive, often creating fictional or truth-stretched narratives, forcing organizations and individuals who have minimal involvement into defensive responses and "picking sides." They draw lines in the sand. Their mission is to drag the entire world, in all of its nuance and complexity, into their binary universe of right and wrong, heaven and hell, good and evil.

What I want, honestly, is for people to work together, to compromise, to negotiate. When did that start making us "relativists"? When did that stop making us human?

Like that nerd on the beach, I don't want to fight. I just want to hang out with my cute little beach babe and enjoy the rays. But they keep kicking sand in my face, in her face, in the faces of others who are just trying to live their lives.

At some point, we're forced to consider whether the only way to stop it is by fighting back. Unfortunately, that solution doesn't seem to be in the New Testament.

FOLLOW-UP (10/26, 8:50 a.m.): In light of rkeefe57's comment, it's worth noting that the left wing extreme has more than its share of extremists willing to bend rules and the truth for their cause. Personally, I get more aggravated at the right wing portion because they so often endorse their cause hiding behind the name of God. From PETA and Greenpeace to the SPLC, it's clear that the right doesn't hold a monopoly on these matters.

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