Monday, April 1, 2013

Stomping on Jesus: Higher Ed, Truthiness, and Corruption in Both Politics and Religion

People in higher education may have been following the saga of the Florida Atlantic adjunct professor who is accused of ordering students to "stomp on Jesus" in his class. The case has garnered significant national attention, as well as condemnations from Florida Governor Rick Scott and hasty (and ill-considered) apologies from Florida Atlantic's administration. A good summary of the story can be found here, along with an interview with the professor at the center of the controversy:
Interview with professor at center of 'Jesus' debate at Florida Atlantic
That politicians of Mr. Scott's stature (term used advisedly) should be drawn into a tempest-in-a-teapot about which they know nothing comes as no surprise. The American political landscape is filled with opportunist politicians who can pander to various cherished constituencies (in this case, evangelicals) at the drop of a hat. If Florida elects 'leaders' of this calibre, this is what they will get.

More disturbing to me has been the wider response to the unsubstantiated (and, it turns out, incorrect) story about Professor Poole "ordering" his students to "stomp on Jesus". As it turns out, the exercise isn't about disrespect (religious or otherwise), it's about the power of symbols. No one is forced to do anything - students are free to step or not step on a piece of paper, and most of them choose not to - which is the point of the exercise. Finally, it turns out that the instructor in question is a devout and practicing Christian himself, who understands the power that the name of Jesus has. So much for accusations of evil atheist/liberal professors disrespecting religion. This story has been wrong from day one.

But rather than take the time to learn facts - any facts - dozens of people apparently decided to level death threats at the professor in question. Much internet sound and fury has ensued, including this illuminating tidbit from someone who must have gone to a different Sunday school than I did:
KIBAPosted on March 30, 2013 at 7:44pmTo ubethechange, I do. And if this lib professor stomps Jesus he should be boot-stomped till his face looks like spaghetti sauce, with meat chunks.
At this point, it's abundantly clear that this is not about religion or Christianity or Jesus. It is about a mindless left-right tribalism fueled by anger and hatred. The assumption that the professor in question is a "lib" [liberal] and a "commie" is indicative of people projecting their fear-based reality onto a situation.

What I wonder is - where are the real churches? Particular the churches in this community in Florida? Here's a useful contribution:
Some are calling for Poole and others involved to be disciplined. Pastor Mark Boykin, of Church of All Nations in Boca Raton, said his church plans to hold a protest march to FAU at 11:30 a.m. April 4.
Or you can read Catholic League President William Donohue's contribution of fuel to the fire:
Dear Dr. Poole:The assignment you gave asking students to stomp on a piece of paper with the word “Jesus” on it was reportedly an exercise in the cultural meaning of symbols taken from the textbook, “Intercultural Communications: A Contextual Approach,” 5th edition. But the word “Jesus” is never mentioned in the textbook, so that was your call. You could have asked them to stomp on the word “Obama,” but that may have made you feel uncomfortable given your activist role in the Democratic Party and the pro-Obama book you are currently writing. Get the point?William A. Donohue, Ph.D.PresidentCatholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
I search and search in the Gospels - as a believer myself - for indications of a Jesus who would have his disciplines threaten to harm a man they don't know for actions they know little about. What happened to St. Francis' prayer that we be instruments of God's peace? What happened to "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you"? Christians are called to love believers and unbelievers alike - and Poole is certainly a believer - so this is Christian love?

What saddens me most about this case is not the craven response by the FAU administration, nor the tribalist one-upmanship by the governor. It is prominent members of the church who, as representatives of the church, have allowed themselves to be corrupted by the world and its transient conflicts. This is not the message of the Easter resurrection, it is the childishness of people who are more concerned with pride and vanity (didn't the Catholic Church used to label those sins?) than with the Gospel. So long as churches allow themselves to be pawns in the petty political squabbles of our age, rather than actually reading the scriptures they spend so much time thumping, they will continue to slide further and further away from grace.

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