Approaching Dignity, Skipping the Spin

[ 18 ] April 18, AD 2014 |

Last weekend, I was one of the speakers at a pro-life rally in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. I’d never spoken at such an event, but, because I do believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every human life, which includes the unborn, I said yes. And after all, if there is any topic that can inform and bolster an event aimed at improving the appreciation of life, it is the Theology of the Body. That, or a grassroots “Caramel Awareness” movement. Call it a draw.

A week before the event, I was informed that one of the four scheduled speakers was a man widely known in the US primarily for his stance on and against homosexuality. It was rumored that the man was on a “hate speech list” in Saskatchewan and it wasn’t long before a petition was started in Weyburn, requesting that the man be un-invited from the event. The petition rapidly garnered over 1,400 signatures and a FB page organizing a “Pro-Love Rally” as a type of peaceful protest was formed. Soon, the controversy began appearing in local, provincial, and national news outlets, often with my name and picture included, simply because I was an invited speaker on the poster. This concerned me, largely because I have zero desire to be known as anti-gay, but also because the picture they used didn’t fully showcase my surprising resemblance to Brad Pitt.

So, I began to consider not attending. There is not enough space in one article to cover the wide array of topics, emotions and opinions that came into play. I don’t have time to discuss whether it was wise or foolish to invite a well-known anti-gay speaker to a pro-life event. Only time will tell if it helped or hindered their movement. Nor do I have time to explore the difference between “pro-life” and “whole life“. And, because I am woefully ignorant of politics, I won’t dare to step into the public debate about activism and morality’s place in the legislative process. Largely because they had already purchased my airfare, a type of informal contract in my eyes, I chose to attend the event.

As a result, I have a thought or two.

To start off, this was the first time I have had a front row seat to media spin. Over a 7-day period, a relatively obscure event dedicated to protecting and affirming human life turned into an internationally covered spectacle about hate speech and gay rights. I witnessed a nearly immediate polarization and formation of camps, labeled “us” and “them”–or worse, yet, “left” and “right–with no real clarification on who the two teams were comprised of. This is rarely productive for either side. One need only watch LOST to see how un-productive it is to label people as “The Others”. It does, however, allow you to draw stark lines and attempt to divide–or at least ignore–those who fall in the center.

Seeing that there was so much middle ground between the two forming camps, and not particularly wanting to be a camper (too many mosquitoes, not enough deodorant), I raised my concern to those higher on the totem pole in the pro-life movement in Saskatchewan, in a small effort to be one voice from that middle. I wasn’t sure how I’d be received, me being just a hired voice of sorts. I’m glad I did it, though, because I was finally able to experience what it’s like to be told to keep quiet and that if I did speak up, it would be to further my own purposes and not those of the provincial pro-life  movements. I felt like a disposable character on House of Cards, just waiting to “trip” in front of a subway train.

Theology on the TeacupsThe spin cycle reached “Disney Teacup” levels right about the time the controversial speaker reached immigration at the airport. Apparently, being on a hate speech list in Canada can prevent you from entering the country. After being detained, hiring a lawyer, having a hearing, and pleading his case, the man was allowed to proceed to Weyburn. To me, this seems like a pretty standard and acceptable process for someone trying to enter a country with specific laws regarding the way you use your words and who is clearly suspected of intending to break those laws. To hear it relayed after the fact, though, you’d think that Canadian immigration had started waterboarding Christians. And only Christians. And only the true Christians.

Hilariously, as he was facing his entry issues at the airport, I too was detained for two-and-a-half hours at border control. For the exact same reason. Well, mostly. The first hour-and-a-half was spent being questioned about the intent of my presence at the rally and the content of my talk. It was made clear to me that speech was allowed, but using words to incite hate wasn’t. I wholeheartedly agreed. By the time they were convinced I was not a threat, I’d gotten to tell three different border guards about Theology of the Body. The last hour, though, was because I’m an idiot. For ten years, I’ve carried a lock-picking kit with me.  Oh, and I was carrying a 3-month supply of my wife’s medication. I don’t really have to explain more, right? Break-in tools and someone else’s drugs. Total idiot, that Nic. (NOT the good kind of idiot, either).

But, let’s not forget that over half of my time in border control limbo was spent hooked up to a battery with jumper cables and reciting my enlisted number, all for the sake of fighting the (insert political party or adjective here) agenda. Or so I could spin it.

And, that’s my point. Out of all the good and bad that happened last weekend, out of all the amazing content, with all the theology–errant or otherwise–that I could bring up, out of every powerful testimony and statistic I heard, I just can’t get myself past the spin. It tastes horrible, yet people swallow it. Ultimately, it makes things worse, but we trust it because it seems to help you gain ground in the moment, or so we’re told. Like the remedy of putting butter on a burn. Spin lets you feel like you made a good point without having to back up the claim.The problem is that it’s dishonest, or, at least it overlooks the whole truth.

Which brings me to my second, more brief thought.

As Christians, we are supposed to edify, to build up in love. We are supposed to remove “all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling…along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you…”. We are supposed to be aliens to spin. We need to live truthfully, speak truthfully, and write truthfully on all fronts, all of the time. When we approach a rally, an opponent, a reporter, a story, a workplace, or a family member, we must cut through all the distracting labels and viewpoints and remember that we are approaching dignity. We are facing a person, made like God, by God. We are drawing near to someone staggering, someone of inestimable worth. They can be as wrong as wrong can be and God will still be enthralled with their very existence. As he is with yours. That is why I disagree with Mr. Controversy’s approach, and that is why I hate spin. It forgets the truth of the human person in exchange for one more point on the scoreboard.

Today is Good Friday, when God eternally, undeniably, and irreversibly affirmed our inherent worth. Today we revel in the fact that he remembered our goodness and dignity, even when we’d forgotten. Today we see the absence of spin, the absence of fig leaves, the absence of taking the cheap shot. Today, we see the winning stroke played out through abject weakness. Let us follow his lead into obscurity and servanthood. Let us lose the argument to win a friend. Let us cross battle lines with nourishment (or caramel) instead of weapons.

And if you don’t, then at the very least, don’t spin it to look like you did.

 

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Category: Columnists, Social Teaching

About the Author ()

Nic Davidson and his wife joined the Church in ’08 after growing up in the Assemblies of God. He was a youth minister in Duluth, MN and is currently working as a missionary on the Caribbean island of Dominica while his wife attends Med School there. He is also writing a 3-year youth ministry curriculum for the Diocese of Duluth, MN. While on-island, he and his wife adopted three wonderful siblings. He blogs at Death Before Death and keeps you updated on his family at The Dynamic Davidson Duo.
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  • Bethanie Ryan

    Amen. Well put. Especially the paragraph starting with, “As Christians…”

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Homosexuality is as anti-life as contraception and abortion. But good for you for playing the “non-judgemental Ignatian Spirituality” card, and taking another blow for the hatred of the heterosexual family.

    • nicdavidson

      Could you clarify and expound, Sir?

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        Jesuits are in an interesting position in this debate, due to the “plus signing” of reinterpreting every human event as orthodox, regardless of how non-orthodox the intent actually is. The fear of being seen as “anti-gay” prevents Jesuits from speaking to truth on this issue, the truth that homosexuality is not procreative and thus is forever doomed to be the lesser choice. Like pornography and contraception, the real push is a hatred of the heterosexual family and a heteronormative culture. Abortion is merely a side effect of this contraceptive mentality.

      • nicdavidson

        Ah, okay. So, was the initial comment sarcastic/snide in saying “good for you…etc”?

        As for the rest, as Leah commented below, we spent hours with some of the protestors that night, hashing through the ins and outs of the Church’s stance on homosexuality. The difference being that because we worked to force ourselves to see each other as people and not viewpoints, we were able to have amazing conversations and connections, whilst both keeping our cool and not compromising on truth.

        My issue with Mr. Controversy and the approach that gets labeled “anti-gay” is that it requires zero effort on his part to go above and beyond merely holding a stance. He’s able to let every question come back to “the left” being the cause of all ills, mostly by the “homo-fascists” and “homo-marxists”.

        Granted, it takes WAY more energy and sacrifice to spend hours face to face with someone, forcing yourself to understand and truly sympathize with their position, but it is a far better way of relaying the truth.

        Then, to top it off with the martyr complex of being so so very persecuted by all the others, well……to use common vernacular, “ugh”.

        You’ll notice that in my article I was largely commenting on approach, not content. That is for a different setting, with more than a 800-1200 word limit. Like a couple of hours in a bowling alley lounge, for instance.

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        No, I sincerely do respect the courage it takes to take a position against the Church on this issue.

        I believe you HAVE compromised on the Truth, and as an order, the Jesuits are abandoning the faith, and I don’t understand it. But I certainly respect the courage it takes to attack the heteronormative family as the basis of society. And let’s face it, hetronormative, and therefore Christ, has lost.

      • nicdavidson

        Maybe I’ve been unclear in my writing. Where have I said that I take a position against the Church or that I’ve attacked the heteronormative family as the basis of society? I stated clearly that we spent hours with the leaders of the protest, clarifying Catholic teaching on the issue of homosexuality, as well as many other aspects of the faith. I never back down from the truth, regardless of with whom I am speaking. However, I try not to allow myself to get into situations where I cannot give adequate attention to explaining the reasoning behind that truth. I try not to give a blanket statement of WHAT the Church teaches unless I have the time to explain the WHY.

        Also, why do you keep lumping me in with “the Jesuits”? I don’t know much about them. (Which would generally omit me from being considered one of them…)

        And also, I’d take issue with ever saying the words “Christ has lost”.

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        In Oregon today a Jesuit trained judge (Ignatian spirituality) who was trained to be gay at Gonzaga University, will overturn a legal vote banning same sex marriage.

        One might say I’m a bit on edge over this. But it started in Canada, where the Human Rights Commissions have been fining and threatening Catholics with arrest over the issue.

        The gays don’t take the time to explain their point of view, and homosexuality will forever be tainted by that tactic.

        Avoiding controversy just avoids Truth.

      • nicdavidson

        Paragraph 1 – That’s not linked to my article on spin or my approach to sharing the faith, though.

        Paragraph 2 – I agree, both that you’re on edge about it, but also that you have a right to. I was glad that Mr. Controversy was allowed into Canada to speak. (He was arrested two days after the rally I attended, though)

        Paragraph 3 – You actually can’t just say “the gays” don’t do something, because I know plenty of gay people who will gladly sit down and dialogue about their views. Second, there’s no way of knowing if anything will be “forever tainted” by a poor tactic. Third, one could say the same thing for the way Christianity is represented often.

        Paragraph 4 – Not intrinsically. If I am aware that someone is engaging me merely to argue, not to attempt to find truth of some kind, then the controversy will be pointless. The planners of the event all but admitted that they wanted controversy, which is to make the same mistake as avoiding it at all costs. Controversy has its place and is necessary. Sometimes. But it isn’t intrinsically good or bad.

        All that to say, you still didn’t help me see where I’ve compromised the Truth, abandoned it, or attacked the heteronormalitivistic family. I support the truth 100%, and, when pressed to the point, I will not back down. However, on occasions too many to number, taking the extremely more difficult route of forcing a conversation between people instead of hiding behind rhetoric or pre-written responses has enabled wonderful, transformational conversations, where people were more and more opened to the Truth.

        It seems to me that using terms like “the gays” and “homo-marxists” is the more fearful, weaker, and much easier way to approach the issue. It takes far more personal sacrifice and effort to take time out of our busy lives to spend hours upon hours with the person we disagree with, but it forces both parties to respect the dignity and intricacy of each human person.

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        Homosexuality is so destructive of the dignity of homosexuals, that I see no way to dialogue with them. But other than that, I do understand the wish to try.

      • nicdavidson

        Have you ever tried, though? Have you ever offered to go out to coffee with someone who is gay and just talked to them? About anything? As soon as you do, as soon as you force yourself to see them as a person, in the image and likeness of God, dialoguing with them becomes the most logical thing in the world. Like JPII said in “Love and Responsibility”, “the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” Once you force yourself to remember time and time and time again that every human, whether in “good standing with Christ and the Church” or not, is a good towards which your only adequate response is to love them, it is not difficult to converse and search for truth. After all, that’s what Christ did to you and me.

        And as for the destructive nature of homosexuality, I think the pride and arrogance I have to fight within myself every day is FAR more destructive. And look at us, we’re dialoguing! :)

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        I’ve tried. I worked for 15 years to try to get civil unions in Oregon, promised the entire time that “Civil unions are enough, we’ll never go for gay marriage”. The same year we got civil unions finally in the law, was 4 years *after* a group of dictators in Multnomah County forced open the gay marriage issue. 4 years after marriage as one man and one woman was written into the Constitution of the State of Oregon.

        And now it’s being overturned by a Jesuit-trained judge from Gonzaga University who wants to marry his male partner.

        The culture war is over, the Church has lost. Permanently. We gave them an inch, and they vandalized the church and terrorized the community until we had no hope left.

        All due to lies. All due to the inability of homosexuals to negotiate in good faith.

        I’m done, I see no reason to ever trust this community again without conversion.

      • nicdavidson

        I’m truly sorry for all of that, Sir. Thank you for having worked so hard for this long.

        I disagree that we’ve lost, because the Church can’t ultimately lose anything, culture wars included. (Battles vs. wars, I guess.) But I do understand where you’re coming from, Sir. I also understand having your trust in others broken. Don’t lose hope, though. Don’t lose faith. Love always trusts. I’ll pray for you to have strength, Sir.

        Thank you for your comments and dialoguing with me, too!

  • http://catholiccravings.com/ Laura McAlister

    Incredible article, Nic, thank you. Funny and wise and oh so true.

  • http://ryancohara.tumblr.com Ryan O’Hara

    Great work here. It seems like you walked a very fine line quite well. Thanks for sharing.

  • leahjacobson

    I too spoke at this conference with Nic; hesitantly because I also was very uncomfortable that an event that was posed to me, someone active in pro-life work, as an event focused on the issue of abortion ended up being far more about the division in the pro-life movement than anything else. I felt it was very unfortunate that one man’s presentation style was able to virtually change the entire atmosphere of the event into something very tense and polarizing. There was a lot of necessary information that the members of SPLA needed to hear and come to agreement on, the Parental Consent legislation being a key piece where unity and consensus is vital. However virtually every question presented to us four speakers at the end of the event had to do with homosexuality and were divisive in nature. There were very few attempts for unity and far more points about “them” than “us”. I do not think that it was merely the topic of homosexuality that had people so upset in Canada, but the self-promoting, self-martyring finger pointing style that does not even attempt to present truth with love. It does not pull people in to hear why you might think the way you do, but rather sounds like a clanging gong in their ears causing them to turn away and cover their ears. I know this because I am pretty certain that both Nic and I hold views that are not fully supported by the people who were protesting the event, but we were able to go out and talk theology and religion late into the night over pizzas and beer with them because we made it clear that we respected them as human beings. Just because we may think differently doesn’t mean we need to be rude or dehumanizing. There are good people on both sides of every issue and I will try harder in the future to remember that and affirm what is good. And to look past spin and see the people being used to make a “good story”. Thanks for sharing Nic.

  • http://catholicboyrich.wordpress.com Richard G Evans

    Nic I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Seeber on a number of points, first and foremost his seeming cynicism in apparently throwing away an entire segment of the population, many of whom are seeking God but do not know how to move beyond their pasts. That was me 10 years ago.
    Further to suggest that homosexuality and abortion are in the same camp is slanderous to begin with, as one is a continued condition which many of us from that background, if not most, never once chose to feel or carry within us. Abortion, even if highly pressured by others into doing so, is an act of pre-born murder. Homosexuality is a misguided search for love. They simply are not the same thing. That is not to say all of those who are actively LGBT are innocent, far from it. I certainly was not. But I am deeply pained by his opinion that we are essentially beyond hope and not worth dialoguing with.
    I “came out” 22 years ago. Just over 9 years ago my sister-in-law, the one “crazy Catholic” in my family, confronted me when I was wearing a T shirt supporting same-sex marriage at a family gathering. I was beyond offended by her words. I was furious in fact and she knew it. But she was the only person in my family to ever have the courage to tell me, and lovingly, I might add, that she loved and cared more about me going to heaven than what I thought of her, had been praying for me. It is pretty hard to argue with that.
    She was one of the very first persons I told when I returned to the Church in 2005, and she told me later on that she had been praying the Rosary for me for years and years. One person. And it took me a year or more to digest what I had then considered her “hate speech,” and to realize that she, not those who were silent, was daring to love me in a way I didn’t expect or perceive as such. I now believe that her prayers were highly instrumental in my conversion from LGBT activist of 15 years to celibate Catholic Christian.
    All to say–Nic, keep dialoguing with those of us from SSA (same sex attraction) backgrounds. And go to lunch with us (especially Perkins!). And by the way, even when I slipped a few times after my re-entry into the Church, it was you, you Nic Davidson, who steadfastly remained my friend without ever once compromising your principles. Kind confrontation and open dialogue is what we who have lived in that world need, even if it makes us angry or defensive at times. Jesus never gave up on me either–nor did the Church or the confessional–and I would gently say that thankfully it was you and not Mr. Seeber who continued to walk with me during my rocky moments. No one should be given up on. Wonderful article.