By Greg Moses
This strange tale begins with an eye on the Abilene Reporter News of March 15, just checking to see what might be happening on the Texas Rolling Plains. And this is where we see a heated letter to the editor in which a local landlord is advised to move his holdings to Iraq. That way he won’t have to hear the word “Jesus” again.
Curious about what might have provoked such advice, we turned back the pages of the Abilene Reporter News to Feb. 17, where we found a letter from 80-year-old Seymour Beitscher who complained that the so-called Christian identity of Abilene can be offensive. “It is offensive when we, non-Christians, must endure any prayer ending in the name of Jesus Christ during a public affair,” wrote Beitscher, identifying himself as Jewish.
There have been two other letters responding to Beitscher. “This country is a Christian nation, founded on Christian beliefs,” says a correspondent on Feb. 28. Not so fast, says a reply on March 14, the principles of the USA are not Christian, but Judeo-Christian. “The founding fathers were primarily Deists, not Christians; there were even a number of Jewish individuals involved as well.”
Turning back the pages of the Abilene Reporter News just a little further we find a Jan. 28 column by former editor Terri Burke where she describes newsroom drama over the publication of a story and photo about a notorious “Ghetto Party” at Tarleton State University, in which white students mocked the MLK holiday by dressing up as Aunt Jemima, etc.
Describing her part in the debate, Burke wrote: “We, I said, have a chance to show Abilene and the surrounding area that even folks who call themselves a ‘Christian, loving, welcoming community,’ open their arms, really, only to a limited few.”
As you can see, Burke’s reference to “Christian, loving, welcoming community” is a citation of a phrase often heard around Abilene town, home of Abilene Christian College, etc. Beitscher’s complaint slightly misreads Burke, since the columnist and former editor never says “we” say such things. She says “folks” do.
Nevertheless, Beitscher makes clear that he had heard “we Christians” too often in Abilene circles, and his complaint can be read as advice to the would-be tolerant. Please be mindful that we are not all Christians.
Which brings us to the gumballs. We picked up the gumball reference from the website of “The Traditional Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” In preparation for their rally at the Stephenville courthouse Saturday, they urge you to view the popular gumball video by Roy Beck.
For anyone schooled in basic fallacies of manipulation, the Beck gumball video offers a classic demonstration of selective framing. But fallacies work well on audiences nevertheless, as the video is diligent to show.
Some stories we dislike from the pit of the stomach. Klan stories. Stories about student “ghetto parties”. Tedious analysis of right wing propaganda. We’d rather not choose to write about such things, so long as we can spend time on other things closer to hard-fought civil rights frontiers.
There are two reasons why we will now move on. First, we agree that there is some danger is adding more coverage to areas adequately documented already. Second, there is something too easy about slamming the Klan, even the Traditional Christian kind.
If we are to repay tribute to MLK, we will remember what he wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
If we don’t miss the point that King makes, it will not be the bigot or Klan of the Rolling Plains that angers us most, but the white moderate these days.