Don’t tolerate intolerance

Photo: Chris Potratz/Iowa State Daily

Photo: Chris Potratz/Iowa State Daily

Edit: Sophie Prell, Daily contributor, added an article to the Daily’s Inside Faith special section (see the end of this post for details).

Our (Mostly) Silent Protest Against Tom Short on Wednesday15 April 2009 was a great success, thanks in part to the ISU LGBTA Alliance getting the message to their members. Campus Pastor Jim Shirbroun and Campus Minister Chris Hockley along with students from the Wesley Foundation of the Collegiate Methodist Church were also invited and attended the protest.

Tom Short is a professional traveling preacher who has a bit of a reputation for getting personal, for publicly singling out students for name-calling and condemnation. He seems to have tempered his speech a bit, but continues to preach intolerance of religions, cultures, lifestyles, etc. that do not match his.  Sadly, his views are far from unique. Happily, there are many people, Christian and otherwise, that do not agree. Instead, we value the similarities and differences that find in each other.

The idea for the protest was taken in part from discussions led by Chris at the Wesley Foundation’s Third Way Team meetings. The team’s goal is to organize rapid response to intolerance on campus, and to advocate a way of communication that isn’t adversarial. I followed their example in quickly organizing a respectful protest. It was only few hours between AAS member Tori Crum’s email to me with the information that Tom Short was on campus and the posting of a Facebook event for the protest.

Attendance from about 12pm to 4pm varied widely, peaking with perhaps 200 people as students stopped by between classes. It was hard to tell who was part of the protest, who was simply curious, and who was supporting Tom. AAS supplied both protesters and supporters of Tom with cardstock and crayons on which to express their own ideas. We also handed out quarter sheet flyers advertising our upcoming Your Choice, Our Voice event.

Some of the attendees didn’t stay silent, as was their right. Some attempted to engage Tom in debate, but these attempts often ended with Tom saying “stop distracting me”. Some members of the Alliance spoke out in favor of equality regarding to LGBT rights. There was also a young self-described Christian prophet who attempted to use humor and his skateboard as a counterpoint to Tom’s speech, but ended up being escorted away by police.

All in all, the members of the AAS that attended were quiet, choosing to converse among ourselves and fellow protesters, displaying our signs. A few (most notably biology major Tsadia Fisher) attempted to engage Tom in debate, using their knowledge of the bible to counter Tom’s examples, but the debate was not fruitful.

The day was a perfect example of the First Amendment in action – especially fitting because it was the day before the annual Feast on the First Amendment, at which AAS had a booth. Members of the Third Way Team had a letter to the editor published in the Daily on First Amendment Day: Find common ground and respectfully disagree (reprinted below for posterity). Their recommendations for positive discourse are something we should all aspire to.

The silent protest was covered in the ISU Daily: Atheist and Agnostic Society protests pastor on campus (reprinted below for posterity). The title of the article is misleading, as we were not protesting the man’s right to speak or even his presence on campus. We were simply showing that not everyone agrees with his interpretation of the bible, and that everyone (not just him) has a right to make their own interpretation and share their thoughts with others.

Tom Short discusses his view of the event on his website (reprinted below for posterity). It’s interesting how different his view of the day is compared to my view of the day.

Another perspective of the day’s events was shared in the Daily article In seeking attention, fundamentalist gives Christians a bad name by Sophie Prell (reprinted below for posterity). I really appreciate her story because I was so busy handing out paperboard and crayons that I didn’t have much opportunity to hear what Tom actually said (hence my not commenting on that in this post). I hope that we were able to show with our protest that not all students and, possibly more importantly, not all Christians, are like Tom. If I, as the President of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society, can find Jesus’s teachings to be (for the most part) a series of uplifting lessons about love and tolerance, what does it mean when people like Tom spend their time supposedly following Jesus but using those same teachings as an excuse to condemn and hate? In the end, we should all strive to be like the young man from Salt Company that comforted Sophie, a person who chose to embrace the positive aspects of religion rather than the negative.

What did you think? Comment with your own reaction to or story about this event.

LETTER: Find common ground and respectfully disagree

Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 9:16 PM CDT
The First Amendment is a wonderful thing. The freedoms it gives us are essential for true conversation and debate. We believe deeply in the freedom of speech — we think that people should be able to speak about what they believe. We believe that a diverse dialogue about all issues is important, including issues of faith. However, we are concerned about much of the discourse we have observed this year.There will always be disagreements on issues of faith, social justice and civil liberties. Contrasting viewpoints are an important part of our own development. Our concern arises when constructive disagreement or debate turns into something different; when people begin to be singled out and made to feel as if they are of lesser worth; when the goal is to tear the other down to rebuild them in a particular image; when ad hominem attacks are used against those with whom one disagrees.

We suggest there may be a better way. We suggest instead of standing at the extremes and yelling personal attacks at one another that we might find a Third Way. We believe that we can find common ground, even if that common ground lies in the fact that we mutually respect the fact that we disagree.

This mutuality has the potential to diffuse polarization and open us to more meaningful dialogue. When there is no commonality to be found, we can disagree with one another’s actions without attacking the worth of one another as human beings. We believe that the time for a higher public discourse has come.

The Third Way Team
Collegiate United Methodist Church/Wesley Foundation

Atheist and Agnostic Society protests pastor on campus

By Kyle Ferguson — Daily Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 8:27 PM CDT
The Atheist and Agnostic Society spoke out silently on Wednesday against Tom Short, a pastor with Tom Short Campus Ministries, who spoke in front of Parks Library.Although members of campus usually engage in debate with Short, Iowa State’s Atheist and Agnostic Society organized a silent protest.

In an e-mail sent to members of the society, the goal of the protest was “not to argue, debate or discuss with Tom or anyone else (although, of course people are welcome to do as they wish). The goal is to show people there is an alternative to intolerance, and alternative to hatred.”

Members of the group sat around Short while he talked in front of the Hub, holding signs advocating acceptance of different viewpoints, among other things.

Brian Gress, junior in psychology, said the protest was a change of pace for the group.

“Usually we try and speak with him, but that doesn’t seem to accomplish much,” he said.

Short has spent many years traveling across the country speaking on campuses, but Laurence Woodruff, research associate in biochemistry and biophysics and molecular biology – liberal arts and sciences, said Short hasn’t changed over the years.

“This is an old show — the same stuff being said by the same guy,” Woodruff said. “I’ve been around Iowa State since 1999, and he’s been here since then, at least.”

Ruth Anderson, junior in animal ecology, said she understands what Short is trying to do, and agrees with his viewpoint.

“He’s gotten the attention of a lot of different people, and he has them asking questions,” she said. “He’s just trying to spread his message.”

Woodruff called the scene “a testament to freedom of speech.”

“I disagree with about 99 percent of what he says, but he’s entitled to sharing his opinion,” Woodruff said.

Although Short tries to spread a religious message, other pastors said he may be going about it the wrong way.

Jim Shirbroun, pastor at the Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation, said Short’s combative approach to non-Christian viewpoints is ultimately doing more harm than good.

“I’ve heard a lot about him, but today is the first time I’ve heard him speak. He definitely comes at theology from a very different angle than I do,” he said. “I think he’s really just turning people off of Christianity.”

Short is known for his speeches on campus, and Woodruff said this was not the first time students protested against him.

“About five years ago, some students came up with Tom Short bingo cards. Each card had a mix of the same words, phrases and ideas that he uses,” he said. “When Tom showed up that year, they distributed the cards, played bingo, and gave candy to the winners.”

Copyright © 2009 – Iowa State Daily

April 16: Iowa State University

By Tom Short (via his website,

Tuesday morning I caught a flight to Iowa State University that didn’t arrive in time for me to start preaching at noon and there wasn’t much traffic at the 1:00 break. The crowd that did gather was moderate in size throughout the afternoon, but well-behaved and, as always, we interacted on some good topics. I was particularly encouraged by a young man named Alex who seemed deeply convicted by the message and was very sincere in seeking the Lord.

By Wednesday, word had spread via Facebook that I was on campus – particularly, I’m told, among the atheist, agnostic and gay groups on campus. They staged a “silent protest” against my “intolerance,” which only served to draw a much larger crowd. And, of course, they couldn’t keep silent for long. As usual, I was focusing my message on the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible and the claims of Jesus Christ. But the “silent protesters” wanted to know what I believed about homosexuality (surprise, surprise!) so they could accuse me of “intolerance” once I answered their questions.

Have you ever noticed the double standard when it comes to “intolerance”? Somehow its “hateful” to say, “Homosexuality is wrong,” but it perfectly fine to accuse all priests of being pedophiles, the Bible of being corrupt, the church of being power-hungry and greedy, Christians of being mean and judgmental, and creationists of being ignorant, flat-earth Neanderthals. I was accused of “forcing religion down their throats” when, in fact, there was hardly anyone present when I started preaching and people willingly chose to stop by and listen. And later in the day when a filthy-mouthed fellow who is a stand-up comedian wannabe came by and for over 30 minutes talked over me, freely calling me every cussword in the book and even mooning me, I heard no protest of his rudeness from the “intolerance” crowd. Make no mistake: most of those who scream the loudest about “intolerance” are themselves the most intolerant and are simply using this accusation to marginalize anyone who doesn’t support their immorality.

Despite the gay’s and the foul-mouthed comedian’s attempts to hijack preaching, the focus both Wednesday and Thursday was on my favorite subjects. Literally hundreds of students sat respectfully and listened as I presented why I believe Christ rose from the dead, why Jesus is different from all other people who have ever lived (including all other religious leaders), why I believe God created us, answered questions about the Bible and publicly portrayed Christ as crucified. I actually had quite lengthy times to simply preach on topics like my testimony, the nature and tactics of our Adversary (Satan), the importance of God being at the center of our worldview, how God has blessed my marriage in both good and bad times, what Judgment Day will look like, hell, heaven, grace and a whole host of other topics. It was difficult to bring each day to a conclusion as the students simply wanted to keep going, but I called it quits each day around 6:00 or so in order to make it to my evening meetings.

Days like this are so spiritually satisfying that I’m often not even hungry. On Wednesday, we had 20 minutes to get from campus to our evening meeting and had to get something to eat in between meetings. A burrito was fine, but to be honest, I had had food to eat that many never know about – for my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work! (John 4:34). Though by the end of the day my body is tired and my voice is shot, my spirit is energized and I know in my soul that I have brought glory to the Lord as I serve Him in the furtherance of the gospel.

Thursday night I spoke at Drake University and Friday night was back at The Rock @ ISU. Both nights I spoke on the Kingdom of God and Lordship of Christ. “How far do you think the Lordship of Christ extends?” I asked. I believe Jesus is to be Lord of all and Satan seeks to undermine the rule of God in every area of life. I shared my personal journey of discovering Christ’s Lordship in my personal life, extending it to my church, family, education, money, entertainment, and, in my thinking, on to our Law, government, media, etc.

I told the story of a professor at Texas A & M University who taught biochemistry. After debating me on evolution and listening to me for three days, he wanted to speak privately to me. “Tom, I’m afraid you’re turning kids off to science,” he said. He went on to explain how science can do things today that, if not held in check, will become incredibly destructive and deadly. “Tom,” he said, “most people in my field are in it for the fame or the money. But the kids who listen to you are good kids. They are driven by morals and ethics rather than money, fame and power. I shudder to think of what will happen if the good kids leave the field of science and the only ones left are the people looking for money or fame.”

I must agree with this professor. What will science look like if the good people exit the field? (And, on a side note, I wonder if this professor ever considered how much his mocking of creationists might be what is driving the “good kids” out of his field?) This is especially relevant in light of President Obama’s recent declaration overturning President Bush’s directive on embryonic stem cell research by saying, “Never again will we allow ideology to stand in the way of scientific progress.”

But I not only wonder what will happen to science if “all the good kids” leave this field, I wonder what will happen in a whole lot of areas if the good folks exit or are intimidated into silence and apathy. What will happen to government if the good folks leave it? What will happen to movies, music and other forms of entertainment if we leave it to the “bad folks”? What will happen to education if the secular humanists have total control – and, believe me, they’re just about there already. What will happen to business, corporations and Wall Street if there are no “good people” there?

These are days for believers consider the Lordship of Christ and to figure out what we believe in a whole lot of areas where we have not had to do serious thinking in the past and then to stand up boldly for what it true, become leaders in their fields and make a difference

In seeking attention, fundamentalist gives Christians a bad name

By Sophie Prell

Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 9:01 PM CDT
I like our campus.

I like having the ACLU set up their tables near the sidewalk, side-by-side with the greeks, the socialists, the anti-abortion protesters, the Christians and the LGBT community.

Some members of the student body may belong to several of these organizations, while others may be vehemently opposed to them. But we all get along, and the diversity makes me feel pretty good.

I’m not sure how I feel, though, about having someone who comes from a movement labeled more than once as a dangerous and destructive cult speak on campus and present himself as Christian.

I’m talking, of course, about Tom Short.

A visitor to our campus from April 14 to April 16, Short spoke passionately in the free-speech zone south of Parks Library. There he discussed a broad array of topics, from dinosaurs on Noah’s ark to Sarah Palin’s backbone that, as Short put it, “turned him on.”

Still, Short wasn’t exactly forthcoming about everything, especially not his somewhat marred past with his church, which is part of Great Commission Churches. Formalized in 1970 as The Blitz Movement, this fundamentalist group swept Short up and ordained him sans-seminary education shortly before renaming themselves Great Commission International.

When asked if he could speak about Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, a cult and abusive-religion recovery center, Short responded simply:

“No, let’s not talk about that.”

I’m not sure why. It’s not like the place was started by people who left Short’s movement.

Oh wait, yes it was.

To be fair, Short said it was Dr. Paul Martin, founder of Wellspring, who was abusive. Short claimed Martin’s actions forced the Great Commission’s hand, and so the doctor was forced out.

In other words, it’s Short’s words against Wellspring’s — a movement classified as an abusive and authoritarian cult against an abusive-religion recovery center.

Personally, I’m inclined to go with Wellspring on this one, considering how Short contradicted himself several times during his so-called “preaching” and his attempts at controlling information.

On his Web site,, Short’s notes from the “Frontlines” detail his travels. In one passage, he describes a “foul-mouthed fellow who is a comedian wannabe.”

“I heard no protest of his rudeness from the ‘intolerance’ crowd,” Short said, referring to the audience opposing him.

Either Short is hard of hearing or simply didn’t pay attention, as those who told the comedian to sit down and be respectful were split about 50/50 with regard to their support of Short himself. Short also fails to mention the comedian’s apology and quiet behavior the following day.

Likewise, Short omits certain facts about his own preaching.

“As usual, I was focusing my message on the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible and the claims of Jesus Christ. But the ‘silent protesters’ wanted to know what I believed about homosexuality,” his notes read.

Here, Short is suggesting that although he discusses homosexuality, he doesn’t bring it up, a statement he echoed in person on those days spent in the fresh ISU sun.

But let’s rewind.

Remember his talk about Palin? Short was certainly passionate about that.

“Did you hear about the hate crime at Sarah Palin’s church?” Short asked me.

“No,” I admitted after taking a wild guess at what he was talking about.

“Oh, I wonder why that didn’t make the news. Maybe if she was gay,” Short shot back with pointed emphasis.

I’m not sure what Palin had to do with homosexuality, but I’m at least fairly certain that nowhere in discussing her did I or anyone in the crowd mention homosexuality.

So, although “as usual” isn’t technically incorrect for Short to use since it leaves room for at least a few slips into gay talk on his part, the “Frontlines” notes paint a decidedly different picture than what actually transpired.

Short’s not perfect.

I understand that. But for him to profess imitating Christ and trying to walk a similar path one moment, and snapping a picture of me with his snazzy — and certainly not cheap — iPhone the other is a little fishy to me. Apparently, he wanted to take the picture because otherwise, his wife “just wouldn’t believe” him.

Glad to see I’m getting some exposure, I guess.

So why does Short make his way to our campus year after year?

What is his purpose?

What is his motivation?

I can’t say for certain, but it’s my opinion Short just likes to poke the hornet’s nest, prepping our generation for a “culture war” that need not even exist.

I don’t think Short is interested in converting people to Christianity. I think he wants Christians to get riled up and push forward an agenda they’re told is theirs while belittling those who believe differently.

It’s what I saw in his eyes as he announced to the crowd that he doesn’t “take pleasure when someone has a weakness” and that he “doesn’t judge people.” It’s what I saw in his teeth as he shouted, “You love the darkness” to students, or repeatedly called me by male pronouns when I specifically asked him not to, all with a smug smile slapped on his face.

As I walked away on Thursday and cried by the sidewalk, I admit I hated Short. I hated him, Christianity, God … all of it. But then, a great thing happened. A member of Salt Company, the local worship service I began attending earlier this semester, saw me.

He told me he respected me.

He told me that it wasn’t his place to say who or what I was.

He told me it wasn’t his place to judge, and he didn’t.

He only told me I was loved and gave me a hug.

That, to me, is real Christianity. That, to me, exemplifies God’s greatest gift: love.

I wiped my eyes as I pulled away from the hug and smiled. Suddenly, I wanted to be around Christians again. Real Christians like this man.

I came to the conclusion that Short is a spectacle and nothing more. I see him as a harmful, attention-seeking cultist who presents himself as Christian but behaves as anything but.

And what if there were a few less like Tom Short in the world?

Maybe there’d be more Christians.

Copyright © 2009 – Iowa State Daily

15 comments on “Don’t tolerate intolerance

  1. Anastasia says:

    There are many words in the bible that can be interpreted in many ways, not just the ways that Tom Short and other evangelicals and/or fundamentalists endorse. Krystal Pomije of UNI brought up such a passage, and offers an interpretation on the wall of our Facebook event:

    Here’s some scripture for the intolerant… 1 John 3:15 “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” So if you hate ANYONE (whether they are different in color, gender, sexuality, or lifestyle) you are going to hell!

    The word “brother” here could be narrowly interpreted to mean biological male sibling, or could be broadly interpreted to mean all humans, whether they are related biologically, culturally, etc or not. Similarly, “murderer” could be narrowly interpreted as actually killing someone or as the simple act of hate itself. Even “eternal life” could be interpreted literally as heaven or as the more ethereal idea of love that transcends time and space. I think that the attendees of the protest, if asked, would choose the more broad interpretation.

    On a completely unrelated subject, I’d like to respond to Tom’s story about the anonymous Texas A&M biochem prof who supposedly said to Tom “most people in my field are in it for the fame or the money. But the kids who listen to you are good kids. They are driven by morals and ethics rather than money, fame and power.” First, I don’t know what sort of thing this guy is into, but there isn’t any fame or money in science (except for a rare few). Second, the scientists I’ve met became scientists for two main reasons: a love of science and a strong desire to help people.

    Finally, how did “humanism” get to be a dirty word? Is it the word “secular” attached to it? Humanism is simply a way of living and thinking that emphasizes the intrinsic value and rights of each person as well as the use of critical thinking to solve problems in the world. A person need not be an atheist to be a humanist – many religious people are also humanists. What is a person who isn’t a humanist like? If we take the simple opposite of the definition of humanism, a non-humanist devalues individuals and forgoes critical thinking. This certainly doesn’t sound like someone I’d like to be around.

  2. Anastasia says:

    For some details of Tom’s past declarations as well as a really interesting discussion of gay genes (and gay fruit fly sex!), check out this blog post by an Iowa State entomology student: Tom Short, Fruitless and homosexuality

  3. Mike says:

    Yes, I have a feeling that this biochemist from Texas A & M did not say what short claims he did. No, really. It is likely made up. Great description of humanism, Anastasia.

  4. Cheshire says:

    Anastasia, about the differences between Short’s recollection of events and your recollection of events you simply need to remember that Short will play the victim whenever he can because it’s a way to deflect criticism.

  5. Anastasia says:

    Cheshire, I agree. A student in Dr. Avalos’s New Testament class (who I think is a Conservative Christian) asked Tom if he’d like to debate Dr. Avalos in class because Dr. Avalos was under the impression that Tom didn’t want to debate him again. I knew Tom would say no because the audience (the classroom only) was too small for him to properly grandstand. I read some articles about the last debate between the two and was disappointed. It sounds like they talked about completely different things so it wasn’t much of a debate at all. I wonder if a more focused topic would be appropriate.

    Mike, seriously. It has to be made up. No biochemist would say that. The only way it might be true is if he was some disgruntled adjunct professor who has nothing to do with actual science who didn’t pay any attention to his fellow students while in school because he was to busy deciding that everyone outside his prayer group was evil.

  6. Zach says:

    I like your description of humanism except I’d add one thing.

    Humanists believe that humans can solve their own problems without the need of supernatural beings.

    • Anastasia says:

      Is that a requirement of humanism, necessarily? I mean, there is religious humanism – what is the role of the supernatural and of religion itself to a religious humanist?

  7. Zach says:

    to quote from the humanist manifesto 3

    “Humanism affirms the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, and asserts that persons are responsible for the realization of their aspirations and that they have within themselves the power of achieving them.

    In essence, Humanists seek truth rather than myth, understanding in the place of dogma, reason rather than blind faith, hope rather than despair, self acceptance rather than guilt, tolerance in the place of fear, democracy rather than authoritarianism, and kindness instead of selfishness. “

  8. Zach says:

    They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live.

  9. Anastasia says:

    At the protest, a friend of mine was joking about Rickrolling Tom. Apparently, he isn’t the only one to have this thought. I’m amused at this exact opposite of our silent protest from students at the U of Nebraska captured in video, but at the same time, I don’t really like their means of protest because their expression of free speech infringed on Tom’s expression of free speech and the rights of people who want to listen to Tom. At the same time, dude isn’t exactly known for letting other people have their chance to speak so perhaps he deserved it.

  10. Some instant-photos could help against Tom arguments in it´s blog.

  11. KP UNI says:

    Ana –
    Just wanted to be sure everyone understood why I posted that bible reference.
    I wanted to point this out to those who feel they are righteous solely by believing in God. We still must abide by the commandments, which state that murder is a sin; even the expression of hate is considered murder of the mind. You can not walk into heaven with that hate in your heart.
    Therefore if you feel you are above everyone just because you are “Christian” and feel it right to tear down and judge people of a different in color, gender, sexuality, or lifestyle, you are sadly mistaken.
    Shut your mouths, you are not the judge of this earth, you did not save yourself. Learn to truly love and respect people like Jesus did if you plan on “following” him.

    1 Corinthians 13:13
    And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

    …It’s right there is the bible you so diligently read, so maybe you should live by it. If you call yourself a Christian ACT like it!

  12. […] chose to remain silent, but the president of the atheist group, Anastasia Bodnar, still says this was a very successful event: … AAS supplied both protesters and supporters of Tom with cardstock and crayons on which to […]

  13. […] Don't tolerate intolerance « Atheist and Agnostic Society […]

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