Thursday, October 8, 2015

Does My Advocacy Mean That I “Hate Christians”?

(I wrote this post a few days ago, but then delayed posting it to take the time to “sleep on it”…)

I hope that readers of this blog (or of my Twitter feed) will recognize that the fight for equality and against discrimination (and not just in terms of gay rights) and the constant struggle against efforts to lower the wall separating church from state have been among the driving themes and topics on which which I’ve written. In addition to this blog, I’ve been active in organizations and boards who have, among their goals, the expansion of rights and equality and the recognition and celebration of diversity. In those capacities, I’ve done everything from engaging in issue briefing trips to Washington, D.C. with local leaders, testifying before the Indiana General Assembly, speaking at Holocaust observances, and helping to organize political debates and candidate forums. And I can’t count the number of times that I’ve participating in a discussion or dialogue (in one form or another) in which equal rights or church-state were primary topic.

Thus, I don’t think anyone should be surprised when I criticize what I perceive as impermissible or unacceptable religious activities within or at the behest of the government (especially public schools). Nor should anyone be surprised when I trumpet my happiness at the adoption of a law designed to reduce discrimination (or the possibility thereof). I’m vocal in my beliefs and thoughts and anyone who reads this blog or otherwise follows me online will discover that fact very quickly.

One thing that I’ve repeated over and over on this blog (and on Twitter) is that I welcome real dialogue and conversation on complex and difficult issues (though I prefer that dialogue on a forum like this blog and the comment section rather than Twitter at 140 characters). When I receive a negative or hostile comment, I usually try to engage, though I’ll admit that when I receive an anonymous comment that offers nothing but insult, I’m more likely to respond with a degree of derision. Again, I can’t begin to count the number of times that I’ve read or heard something with which I fundamentally disagree and made an effort to be a part of the discussion.

Now, I recognize that some people gain pleasure from being intentionally provocative and insulting; it’s the nature of social media.

But sometimes…

Last week (September 30, to be exact), I attended my daughter’s choir performance. As I’ve done during prior similar performances, I posted some tweets criticizing the overtly religious song selections for a performance at a public high school (especially as it was not the “Holiday” show). I plan to write more on that subject in the next week or three. Anyway, later that evening, I got into a somewhat heated discussion with someone I consider to be a friend (at least on Twitter; we’ve only met in real life a few times); but, as heated as the discussion may have been I think that we would both (at least I hope that he would agree…) characterize the discussion as substantive and without animus. He took exception to a statement that I made and, over the course of a half hour or so we were able to discuss both the comment that angered him and the broader subject matter of religious songs in public school performances. It was a brief but substantive discussion.

The same, however, cannot be said of another very brief conversation that evolved out of my tweets about the choir program and which resumed earlier this week. A person (who I will leave unnamed) with whom I’d had just a very few brief previous interactions on Twitter (which began just a few weeks ago and which, I thought, were friendly and non-controversial, including a very brief discussion of which temple I’m a member of and why), responded to one my tweets by criticizing my criticisms of the religious content of the choir program. Actually, that’s not quite correct. He didn’t criticize the substance of my tweets; rather, he appeared to be criticizing the fact that I was offering critical commentary. I’d post the exact text of the tweet that was sent to me, but it appears that he deleted it. I found it odd that someone who I understood to be Jewish (and an alumnus of Carmel High School…) to be critical of my complaints about the inclusion of religious songs in the school program (as church-state issues tend to be one of the areas, at least in my experience, about which American Jews tend to hold relatively similar views). So, when I pushed him, just a little (“Oh. Why? Do you want your Jewish daughter praising Jesus in a public school choir? Year after year…”) I didn’t get any sort of substantive response.

I was a bit bothered by the exchange, but it was just a small blip and I was much more focused on my wife’s newly sprained ankle and the more heated exchange that I mentioned.

Until Monday night.

Over my years of writing this blog and tweeting, a lot of insults have been hurled my way. But Monday night another Jew appeared to allege that I “hate Christians”. Whoa, what?

In the wake of the Carmel City Council passing the anti-discrimination ordinance that I’ve been advocating for in my capacity as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Human Relations (and for which I posted my remarks to the City Council Finance Committee), I tweeted:

Great news! The anti-discrimination ordinance has been adopted by the Carmel City Council by a 4-3 vote. Equality wins; fear & hate lose.

In response to that tweet, the person in question tweeted:

Let the lawsuits begin.

My response:

By whom? Those who want to be treated fairly or those who scream that homosexuality is a sin (with a punishment of death…)?

Had the conversation gone where I expected, I would have pointed out that the Carmel ordinance does not provide a private cause of action by someone who believes that they have been discriminated against; in other words, a victim of discrimination cannot sue under the ordinance. Instead, they can file a complaint with the city who will then investigate and determine if further action is warranted. A lawsuit could, however, be filed by a business who feels aggrieved by the ordinance requiring that business to refrain from discriminating. That’s the direction another conversation that I was having concurrently went, but it isn’t the direction that this conversation took. Not even close.

Instead, his response:

A noun. A verb. And “I hate Christians.” We get it Mike. God you’re a fucking bore.

Then, in his next three tweets (which did not include my Twitter handle but which certainly seemed to be addressed to or discussing me), he said:

I’m quite content that I don't have to see certain schmucks at my congregation. Some people are just plainly rotten from the inside.

How many times can you listen to a guy kvetch about the same people until he is called out? My number is low.

Some old men are just living unhappy, sexless, pathetic lives. And they can only subsist by pretending they are fighting against *evil*.

Seriously. No discussion of the merits of the ordinance; no discussion of the issues at all. Just personal attacks. Of course I responded:

“I’m a fucking bore“. And here I thought we were engaging in dialogue. Guess that’s too hard for some people.

And “I hate Christians”? Really? Because I don’t like people - any people - who use religion as a sword against others?

Sorry but suggesting I “hate Christians” is beyond offensive. Goodbye.

I added two more “public” tweets not directed at him:

Because I support anti-discrimination law & oppose those who dislike gays because of the Bible, I’ve been told that I “hate Christians”.

Same guy says I’m unhappy, pathetic, pretend to fight “evil”, and am “rotten from the inside”. And he’s glad I don’t attend his synagogue.

I’m not sure why this exchange bothered me. It’s not a function of needing validation for what I do or any sort of concern that I might, in fact, harbor the sort of ill will of which I’m accused. And it certainly isn’t me just being thin-skinned; I’ve been called worse (“war crimes apologist” comes to mind). But I guess it did make me wonder how other people perceive what I do and say.

I’ll also acknowledge that the fact that the person in question is Jewish bothered me (probably more than it should). I’m the first to acknowledge that Jews on not monolithic on any idea or subject (even Israel, a fact that always seems to surprise some of my Republican friends), but even those Jews in the community with whom I have had substantive policy disagreements (come on, you know who you are…) have, for the most part (and with one major exception that I may write about some day…), kept our discussions civil and without suggestions of improper motive or personal attacks. So that sort of response coming from within my own community was … well, let’s just say unexpected.

So let me ask you the question: Do you think I hate Christians? Do you think that I hate anyone? Do the things that I’ve said or written in favor of equality (generally) or gay rights (in particular) or on the subject of “religious freedom” demonstrate that I have a particular animus for Christians? Or do you think that both my words and my deeds demonstrate that I have a commitment to find ways to reduce hate and intolerance? Are the things that I’ve said and written directed, not at any particular group, but rather at those who act upon a worldview that I believe is harmful to others? Are my comments and criticisms fair? Are my efforts in public sphere worthwhile? And are the things that I write on this blog perpetuating problems or aimed at finding resolutions?

Oh, and if I’m such a “fucking bore” why does he follow me on Twitter?

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At Thursday, October 08, 2015 6:41:00 PM , Blogger Charles said...

As to the "hating Christians" part, no, I don't think you do. I shared an apartment with you and never found the need to bolt my bedroom door when I went to sleep. Or at least not because of you. :)

As to the Christian music in the schools, it is a little boring that you criticize it during every concert. I too questioned (to my wife, if no one else) the inclusion of religious music during public school concerts, or at least I questioned the fact that no one had sued over it. But I also acknowledge that a whole lot of the music specifically written for choirs over the years has been religious in nature. Special choral arrangements of popular songs get really old, too, and, one could argue, don't do as much to showcase the choir's particular talents. Perhaps the compositions are being included despite the fact that they're religious, not because of it.

As to your more general questions about your online presence, if I think you're droning on, I stop reading, just like I do with any other online article or blog. The only time I was put off by your online attitude was what I thought would be a dialogue on Facebook last summer about a movie you enjoyed and I didn't. I thought we were going to have a dialogue, and all I got from you (two or three times) was "You're wrong." That was a bit off-putting. Other than that, like I said, I read what I find interesting, and don't read the rest.

At Friday, October 09, 2015 10:18:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Thanks for responding, Charles. I hear what you're saying about my criticism of school choir performances, but I guess I view it as a handful of tweets three or four times a year. I'd make a more concerted effort to try to get real change at the school in a direct fashion, but my teenage daughter is adamant that I not do so because she is afraid that if I make waves (well, beyond Twitter and my blog) she will be relegated to the back of the worst choir.

Choirs at our school tend to do lots of very interesting arrangements of all sorts of songs, including many songs in other languages and other cultures. They also make efforts to include modern songs as well. I understand and don't really object to the inclusion of a religious song here and there, especially if the inclusion is because of particularly interesting or challenging music elements, but that doesn't usually seem to be the determining factor in the choice of songs (at least from my perspective).

As to droning on, yeah, I know I can be long-winded. I guess that I don't worry about self-editing for brevity on the blog because, as much as anything else, it's my opportunity to vent, to work through my thoughts on an issue (often the writing process helps me really think through issues I've often not delved deeply into), and to have a place to sort of empty my brain of ideas that have been piling up. Obviously, I have to be much more brief on Twitter. So, I know that I lose people with length sometimes, but I guess that doesn't bother me too much as long as I'm happy with the content that I've posted.

Finally, as to the movie discussion you mentioned, if I recall correctly, I was trying to be funny. If I failed in that effort or if I gave offense, I apologize. And if my memory is faulty and I was being more direct and simply saying "you're wrong" in a serious way without leaving room for discussion, then that was poor behavior on my part and, again, I apologize. But I'm sure that you were wrong about whatever we were discussing.


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