It looks like Brother Steven got just what he wanted this past week: attention, controversy, crowds and a front-page photo in Thursday’s Hatchet. I’d guess that his whole reason for being at GW is to get people fired up (one way or the other) and to call attention to himself.
Brother Steven is not a member of GW’s Interfaith Board of Chaplains and while we would support his right to say the things that are on his mind, we don’t necessarily agree with his theology or his tactics. No doubt you will experience many people who have different thoughts and ideas. GW is such a diverse and urban campus. I happen to think this diversity is great.
However, when differing opinions turn into harassing behavior, we can draw the line. The Board of Chaplains is committed to allowing a broad range of ideas and theological opinions, but if you feel harassed by anyone on campus under the guise of religious fervor (or anything else), please report it to us or to the Dean of Students’ office.
It’s a hard call whether to engage someone who’s offending us. A lot of time it depends whether one can really have a good and honest conversation or debate with that person. But some people are not really interested in conversation or debate – they believe they are the only ones who are right, and they feel compelled to tell you this. They’re not interested in what you have to say. I happen to think that if we pay a lot of attention to someone such as Brother Steven (whether in print or in person), who’s convinced that only he has the market on the truth, then he’ll just keep coming back, again and again. He’ll draw more people, as we’ve seen, and he’ll get more media coverage. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.
I don’t know what is the best thing for each of us to do, but I do know there are other ways for us to act than feeding the fire. Many years ago the Ku Klux Klan was holding a march and rally in a small town in the Midwest. It did all the legal things it had to do to march – get a permit, post signs, etc. When the town heard about the march, everyone was in an uproar. Some wanted to protest. Some wanted to throw rocks. Some wanted to bar the road into town. Eventually, however, this small town, in its great wisdom, decided that instead of confrontation, it would celebrate. And so on the day of the KKK rally they held a picnic. Right at the time when the KKK march was to begin, the entire community gathered at a field clear across town to celebrate its diversity, its belief in inclusiveness, its belief in racial harmony. And you know what happened – no one went to the KKK parade. Not one person. The leaders ended up canceling it and going somewhere else because no one was there to watch.
So maybe instead of confrontation, we here at GW need to continue finding ways to celebrate the diversity and the good things that are here at our University. And for those of us who believe in an inclusive, just, merciful and infinitely loving God, we can share our beliefs in celebration, not in confrontation.
-The writer is chair of the GW Interfaith Board of Chaplains.