This Monday, for the second time in less than a month, Brother Aden and his ragtag cadre of anti-gay “preachers” took up residence at the Button for a few hours to
Don’t worry. I’m well aware nobody needs to hear my now-tired little spiel about why it’s proper that the Penn administration takes no action to prevent or disrupt these nauseating demonstrations again.
But how the University responds is only half the story. Equally important is how we, the so-called “Penn Community,” choose to react to such distasteful outbursts.
When you, the individual, turn the corner onto College Green and hear the sounds of shouting voices and see the slurs elevated on home-made cardboard signs, the choice you face is binary — to stop or not to stop. On Monday, when I was in this situation, I stopped to watch the spectacle.
The longer I stood there, however, the more I began to suspect I’d made the wrong choice, and on reflection I’ve become convinced of it.
So here’s what I’ve resolved: If Brother Aden and company come back to Penn, as it seems likely they will, I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to argue with him, or make a sign, or chant or shout back, and I think you shouldn’t either.
First off, it’s exactly what he wants. Such groups rely on the outrage they generate — particularly the accompanying crowds and media attention — to spread their message. They know full well that the nastiness of their “preaching” is the key to its effectiveness. “We use the shocking parts of the Bible to draw them in. And it works every time,” one of the protesters told The Daily Pennsylvanian.
From an evangelical-theology perspective, it’s not particularly important to them that their message be received well; it’s just important that they deliver it to people. The more people hear that message, the bigger they believe their victory to have been. By giving them an audience, even a hostile one, we encourage them to keep coming back.
The most compelling counterpoint to this line of reasoning, I think, is that response is necessary in order to avoid the appearance that, by our silence, we endorse their message; in other words, we need to respond to demonstrate to our, in this case, LGBTQ fellow Quakers that we oppose hate speech. This is distinct from the more self-centered act of “virtue signalling,” in which one seeks only to demonstrate that they themselves hold the “correct” views, vindicating themselves rather than another.
But in a community like Penn, where widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community is the overwhelming norm, the risk that silence will be reasonably perceived as endorsement is low enough that, in my opinion, it doesn’t counteract consequentialist concerns about incentivizing future return visits. We can and do refute Brother Aden’s ideology more powerfully on a daily basis by treating our LGBTQ friends and classmates with the same respect and dignity as anyone else, than we ever could by being late for class in order to shout at a homophobe.
The attempt to bring the preachers around to our presumptively more enlightened views doesn’t justify engaging either. These folks have made it clear they aren’t interested in disputation, and they respond to challenges only with vitriol and provocation. We’re not about to change their minds any more than they’re about to change ours.
And, finally, there’s the fact that these groups often rely on the more extreme manifestations of the outrage they engender as a revenue source. The notorious Westboro Baptist Church and a number of other “hate preachers” make a great deal of money suing municipalities that attempt to use unconstitutional methods to shut them down and, even more lucratively, counter-protesters who they’re able to goad into assaulting them. On the occasions when justifiably-enraged observers have allowed themselves to be provoked into hauling off and clocking members, the WBC has been able to recovers tens of thousands of dollars in civil damages per incident. I guarantee that copycats like Brother Aden have taken notice. There’s a reason the last one wore a body camera.
As he packed up his gear that afternoon, Brother Aden swore he’d return. I don’t doubt it, as I’m sure he views the crowds he drew as a fantastic success. When he does, do our whole campus a favor and join me in just walking on by.
ALEC WARD is a College senior from Washington, D.C., studying history. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TalkBackWard. “Fair Enough,” usually appears every Wednesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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