The Truth, Mainly - 05/08/2006

On tolerating the intolerable
by Leon Satterfield

I had to admire the straight-forward front-page headline in the April 24 issue of this newspaper: "Christian students sue for right to be intolerant."

It did more to wake me up than my coffee did.

Last time I looked, "intolerant" was not a word considered to be a compliment. Last time I looked, we weren't supposed to tolerate intolerance.

It wasn't just the headline. The story that went with it kept me from going to the sports page for more than ten minutes. I read the story twice, captivated by the "Christian students" and their moral certainty that homosexuality was a sin not to be tolerated.

The story grew out of a lawsuit filed by a Georgia Tech senior against the university because of its policy outlawing any speech "that puts down others because of sexual orientation."

The plaintiff is a young woman who believes that the policy is an "unacceptable infringement on her right of religious expression…." So, the L.A. Times reported, she "went to court last month for the right to be intolerant." And "she's demanding that Georgia Tech revoke its tolerance policy." Because, I suppose, she thinks tolerance of homosexuality is intolerable.

Because the Bible tells her so? It certainly does in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament where in chapter 18, verse 22, it unequivocally tells male readers that "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination."

If you've read it recently you'll remember that Leviticus is about lots of other abominations, some of which, like the one in chapter 19, verse 27, are pretty funny: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."

It's one of those restrictions that make me want to go off to some private place and, snickering diabolically, round the corners of my head and mar the corners of my beard—if I only knew how.

I was still snickering diabolically three days later when I read another story in the April 27 Journal-Star, this one of local origin. It was about this Baptist preacher. I need to confess that I grew up, sort of, in a Baptist church in southwest Kansas, and every time I see the words "Baptist preacher," I get the fantods. The preachers in my church scared the hell out of me while they were trying to scare me out of hell.

One of them—I've told this story before—saw me jump out the window of the church just after he'd finished his final Sunday morning prayer. He always delivered the final prayer from the back of the church so nobody could leave without shaking his hand and telling him what a good sermon he'd just preached. So he saw me jump out the window and he miraculously got out the door, down the steps, and around the corner under the window—just as I hit the ground.

He was not pleased. He grabbed me by the back of my neck and marched me around in front of the church where everyone could see us. Now that I think of it, I suspect he may have been trying to round the corners of my head.

But I digress.

The Baptist preacher in the Journal-Star story was named Tony Campolo (not the sort of name I associate with Baptist preachers), and he sounds like a whole different kind of Baptist preacher than I was used to.

For one thing, he was preaching in Saint Paul United Methodist Church—and on a Wednesday.

And he told a pretty funny joke: "The difference between a Baptist and a terrorist is that you can negotiate with a terrorist."

I was hooked, so I read the whole Journal-Star piece. Rev. Campolo's message was that we ought to become "peacemakers," that the war in Iraq was an awful idea, that "the hypocrisy has got to end. I want a country I grew up in, a country where the U.S. government did not lie."

I wouldn't want this to get out, but Tony Campolo sounds like a Baptist preacher I could listen to for a long time without jumping out the window. And I'd guess that if I did jump out, he'd tolerate it.

Just like, I'm guessing—no matter what Leviticus might say—he'd welcome those that the Georgia Tech "Christian students" find intolerable.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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