The Limits of Tolerating Intolerance

I’m used to some pretty odd letters to the editor in our local paper. We’ve got a couple of regulars who would prefer a return to a pre-Roosevelt America (Teddy, that is). But the other day one of them wrote a letter that truly disturbed me. In it he counted up the number of Jews serving in congress and the White House, equated them with Zionism, alleged that they were all agents of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), and concluded that they are the puppeteers of Obama for the purpose of dismantling American democracy. Obviously there was more, but you get the idea. That kind of thinking, if it can generate any followers, is what results in violent bigotry of the worst kind.

So what’s the right response, if any? Just let it go and trust that a reasonably informed reading public will recognize it for what it is? I wrote a draft response, but my editor-in-chief (wife) turned it down. It was a bit on the snarky side; really some of my best H.L. Mencken style work. Not priestly at all, but possibly Pauline, as in one of his 2nd Corinthians temper tantrums. Made me feel better though.

I was reminded by my editor-in-chief that I have my own letters to the editor supporting a bond issue for a new police station, and occasional columns extolling the love of God in Christ Jesus, which means that a snarky Mencken style response was probably not in order. She was right of course, but what is the right response, and is any needed? I’m sort of waiting to see what, if anything, might show up in the paper over the next several days. What do you think?

12 thoughts on “The Limits of Tolerating Intolerance”

  1. CP:A great question. In general I think civility is in order, but at what point to we take the tone of Jesus in Matthew 23?I wish I had a neat and clean formula, but I do not. I do know that if we are too harsh we risk not getting our message across with too much heat and not enough light.Perhaps a calm response that is also one of conviction and recognizing nuance will do the trick. I think most people are apt to read something that is articulate and thought through as well as recognizing nuance. It tends to show the ignorance of the other side.Just my two cents for what it is worth.

  2. I have the same problems, CP! The local paper frequently has a crazy letter or another from one of the same few people basically saying \”Liberals are traitors/weak/Communists/Fascists\” or \”Obama's turning America socialist\” or something equally a little crazy. And they frequently praise Rush Limbaugh for telling the truth. Yeah. I always wonder what I'm supposed to do. I've written letters before (and received an odd letter complete with propaganda photocopied out of a far, far right wing magazine) but feel as if they have no impact because either I'm identified as one of those untrustworthy liberals or because I'm not confirming people's worldviews and opinions and therefore cannot be believed, anyway. I don't know how much people around here agree or disagree with the letter writers, but I guess since it's generally the same few it must be isolated… right?

  3. Thanks Allan and \”Karl\”. I've got company and that helps. Tomorrow is Sunday and if there will be any responses, they will be in that edition. We shall see.CP

  4. you have an excellent editor-in-chief 🙂 is there not some response in between h.l. mencken and nothing??

  5. I am in Spakane listening to Obama, the music of George Gerswin listening to Aretha Franklin and the musuc of George Gerswin. CP you are a good man who stands up to be counted and writes a good blog that is on the side of the angels. God is in history even though I can't explain how. Hope is in the future for justice and peace. Trust in God who has revealed him self in Jesus We watch and wait.old gianniGod bless you! Listen to SS.

  6. Well CP and SS, I will take a different view.A response is required, especially for those who are wounded by the comments of the offender. Why?Because every time a voice is out there that separates us from one an other, from love of neighbor, we are separated from God and the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. Any time a voice declares that hate and mistrust of other is a mandate of God is left unchallenged, we stand with Peter at the gate and say \”me, no, I don't follow him\” Any time we allow lies and untruths to go unchallenged, especially if the untruths are designed to harm others, even strangers and especially the other in our midst, we hide the light of baptism under a bushel basket and if we do that enough, we eventually starve the flame of what it needs to blaze brightly.The challenge as SS points out, is to not be 'snarky\”, however, sometimes passion wins out. We so often confuse following Jesus with institutional Christianity, the two are melded in our minds. We however often forget that Jesus came, not to create a new religion, but to right what had gone so far from God. He came to correct the notion of a God of sides, a God of us and thems. He taught and lived of a God who is of all sides and of no sides, A God who does not play us as pawns on a chess board but rather moves with us, engages with us, trusts us, hopes for us, loves us. How are we disciples of this man we claim to follow if we do less? So CP, I say turn the tables over in the writers temple of exclusion and closed revelation, you may be inviting someone to hear the Gospel for the very first time, some of whom call themselves Christian.PeaceBruno

  7. Bruno,First and most important, glad to see you back. SS and I were beginning to worry just a bit. Second, I'm working over all these comments, and especially yours, for the possibility of a response that may end up using a lot of your words. Thanks.CP

  8. CP, SS. Thanks for your worry, noticing I had fallen silent for a time.I am fine, just going through some heavy thinking on things theological, and my limited gray matter has difficulty doing multitasking, besides, I understand multitasking is dangerous for the soul.I am glad you find inspiration in my words, your words inspire me. Thank youPeaceBruno

  9. I am sorry that you let your \”editor-in-chief\” talk you out of sending that \”snarky\” letter to the editor of the U-B to respond to the letter that irritated you. I went to the papers from the last few days to see what that irritating letter said. It would have helped if you had given the name of the writer. As it happens, today Patrick Henry did respond, and gave the name of the writer–William Kelly. I was not surprised, Kelly is a regular right-wing zealot who writes in often (as Patrick Henry is, but on the opposite side!) I would have like to read your version of a 2nd Corinthians Pauline temper tantrum! A few years ago I sent a letter to the editor on the then-current letter sparring on the issue of Paul's attitudes toward homosexuals, and the letters editor, Rick Eskil, even called me to request that I resend it by e-mail instead. But he never printed it! I rather moderately (I thought) suggested that Paul's attitudes were a reflection of his personal biases, his culture, and his religious early background. The newspaper would not print my letter, but would print William Kelly's! So much for Jefferson's idea of a free press open to all viewpoints! I have never written to the WW U-B again! Dr. B

  10. So this is the letter I actually sent, with thanks to each of you and especially SS and Bruno. It has not been published.CPTo the Editor;In a recent letter Bill Kelly counted up the number of Jews serving in congress and the White House, equated them with Zionism, alleged that they are all agents of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), and concluded that, as directed by AIPAC, they are the puppeteers of Obama for the purpose of dismantling American democracy. Obviously there was more, but you get the idea. Sadly, and given enough followers, that kind of thinking can generate violent bigotry of the worst kind. It’s a classical form of scapgoating in which some particular other is separated out from society to be yoked with alleged responsibility for that which we most fear and hate.For what it’s worth, Zionism is a political movement that can be very nationalistic on issues related to Israel, but to equate the number and names of Jews serving in government to Zionist control leaves a lot of questions. I think one might want to ask questions such as: Observant or non-observant Jews; Orthodox, conservative, reform, liberal or secular Jews, and what particular brand of each; Politically liberal, conservative or centrist Jews; Sephardic or Ashkenazi Jews; and pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jews? As for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), it is a very large and quite influential lobbying organization on behalf of pro-Israeli policies. They were known to have had significant influence with the Bush administration, and they can be somewhat single minded when it comes to their agenda of assuring continued American political and financial support of Israel. Oddly enough the most vigorous opposition to AIPAC seems to come from within the American Jewish community. But these matters aside, what troubles me as an ordained member of the clergy and earnest follower of Jesus Christ is that every time there is a public voice that separates us from one another, from God’s commandment to love our neighbor, we separate ourselves from God and from the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. Any time a voice is left unchallenged that declares hate and mistrust of the other , we stand with Peter at the gate and say \”Me, no, I don't follow him!\” Any time we allow falsehoods and half-truths to go unchallenged when their clear intent is to harm others, especially the others in our midst, we hide the light of the Good News of God in Christ until we eventually starve the flame of God’s redeeming and reconciling love into submission.Sincerely,The Rev. Steven E. WoolleyWalla Walla

  11. Beatutiful!Bravo!I need you as a copy editor, you said beautifully what I tried to say.Thank you, for your clarity and your witnessPeace be upon youBruno

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