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.
The 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.