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.

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Weekly update

We’ve spoken at past meetings about Tom Short, a traveling Evangelical Christian preacher who, in the past, has harassed students in very inappropriate ways, including singling out students and calling them names. Well, he’s back in town as of noon on April 14 and will only be here a few days. He seems to have cleaned up his act at least a little, but nonetheless, this is a great opportunity to reach out to the ISU community with positive secular messages.

Tomorrow (Wednesday April 15), from noon to 2pm in the Free Speech Area between the Hub and Parks Library, AAS will organize a (mostly) silent protest against Tom Short. The goal of the protest isn’t 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, an alternative to hatred. We’ll also advertise our Your Choice, Our Voice event happening next week.

Paperboard and markers will be available for you to write/draw your own sign with a positive message that counters the intolerant interpretations of the bible endorsed by people like Tom (might be a good time to show off your favorite quote). We’ll sit (stand, play…) in the grass behind where Tom preaches. Invite your friends to enjoy the glorious sun with us. Come and go as you please, you don’t need to be there the whole time. People are welcome to stick around after 2, Tom usually stays till 5.

Invite your friends to this Facebook event, it would be great to have people from a variety of beliefs, cultures, etc participate, even if they can only come for a little while.

In other news – on Thursday April 16 from 11 to 2 in central campus, AAS will have a booth for Feast on the First Amendment, and next week Thursday April 23 from 11 to 2 is our Your Choice, Our Voice event in response to campus preachers as well as our regularly scheduled meeting in Room 3219 at 7pm on the 23rd (don’t forget elections).

Let’s close out this semester with a bang!