Peddling Tolerance

Twenty years after I arrived and sixteen years after I graduated, I returned to my alma mater, Mercer University, to deliver their Founders Day address yesterday. It was a wonderful experience.Founders Day started in 1891, twenty years at Mercer moved its campus from Penfield, GA to Macon, GA. During the 1960’s the event declined in prominence until it stopped altogether. The year I started Mercer the Student Government Association restarted Founders Day, which made it kind of cool that I was the speaker on the twentieth anniversary of the restart.The Student Government Association at Mercer is an exceptional organization that has long had the respect of the faculty and administration. I spent three years as Parliamentarian of the student government and two as the University’s Chief Justice. As always, the SGA hosted another excellent event.As exhaustively reported in the local media, my presence caused some controversy, though clearly the press was disappointed the expected protests and walk outs did not happen at the event. Southern manners typically override everything else. Nonetheless, an event designed to be about the University became about those upset with me speaking about my time at the University. They made it about themselves and about me.In response to the controversy, the students asked me to participate in a forum on civility in politics. It was a great conversation under the beautiful arches of Penfield Hall.We had the forum because a small group of liberal mostly female professors and a handful of students decided they could be the arbiters of which alumnus was an acceptable Founders Day speaker. It was abundantly obvious from their criticisms that while they hid behind some of my statements, they really disliked my worldview as a prominent Christian evangelical conservative.Given their questions and statements, we can be certain that had the Pope himself been asked to speak, they would have been upset. Their standard seemed to be that if you believe in much of anything at all outside their beliefs, you are unacceptable no matter your accomplishments in life.This is a problem with modern discourse. When either side of the political spectrum decides it can be the arbiter of who is or is not acceptable on the other side, the system cannot work. Conservatives have no place telling liberals who is or is not acceptable on the liberal side any more than liberals have of telling conservatives who is or is not an acceptable conservative. Should either side decide that someone is acceptable to their own side, then that person really should not be said to be unacceptable in other forums because of their beliefs, views, or statements. Each side must regulate itself because the other side will always gravitate toward the opposition closest to them and seek to silence dissent.More troubling, these professors (and it was clearly serial aggrieved professors who were most upset) are all champions of tolerance and showed in their comments and hostility that they are quite closed minded and intolerant of any view contrary to their own. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia once noted “that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty — these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it’s never an end itself. . . . A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive.” Unfortunately, most peddlers of tolerance — particularly the tenured academic variety — prefer to drive from the public square views contrary to their own.Natalie Bourdon, a women’s and gender studies professor, told the Macon Telegraph I was unacceptable to speak at Founders Day because, “this specific event … [is] an event meant to celebrate Mercer’s heritage, founded on ideas of inclusivity, social justice.”Mercer was founded in 1831 by white Southern Baptist men who excluded women and blacks. Her statement is revisionist nonsense designed to set the parameters for who she can self-righteously declare unacceptable. Ironically, according to a student review online, that professor “is not very tolerant of other people’s opinions.” Tolerance is rarely necessary for those on a messianic mission of tolerance with serial ax grinding at stake. But at least we learned the white Southern Baptists in 1831 were willing to fight the Yankees thirty years later in the name of social justice.By the way, the most eye opening moment came after I said I thought we needed to treat the issue of race in this country separately from matters of women’s rights or gay rights given the number of people who have died in this country to give black men and women freedom. A student who was voluntarily subjecting herself to the women and gender studies program stood up and told me it was a debatable position that fewer people had died in the name of women’s rights. It was the one moment that left me speechless.



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