I might be wrong. — Radiohead
So this is the way America ends. Not with a bang, or a whimper, but with the inability to make a donation.
Last week, Brendan Eich resigned after two weeks as Mozilla's CEO. Turns out, six years earlier he'd made a $1,000 donation to support the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 in California. An online dating company noticed, and organized a campaign for his ouster.
Eich's rise and quick fall is not unlike the tale of Phil Robertson who, back in December, said what he said to GQ magazine. Half of America gasped, which caused A&E Networks to suspend him until the other half of America gasped louder. A&E then put Robertson back on the show, where he remains today, camouflaged as ever.
Then, there's the news of World Vision. The Christian organization, which fights global poverty, recently announced it would begin to hire gay and lesbian employees.
Not so fast, said evangelicals, who quickly stopped their monthly donations (sending the Christ-like message that they'd rather see poor children starve than gay Americans have jobs). World Vision, faced with a huge funding shortage, reversed its decision.
Tie these three strands together -- Robertson, Eich, World Vision -- and what do we get? The fight over gayness in America. The Internet's striking ability to let people congregate around issues. The reminder that boycotts almost always work.
But larger than all this?
We are losing the ability to safely be wrong.
I don't mean evil or violent. I mean wrong, which I define as this: holding beliefs that will some day be discarded for better ones.
We all exist in varying degrees of wrongness. Rummage through my mind and heart and you'll find plenty of contradictory, unwashed and egocentric beliefs right there alongside the noble ones. None of us are totally enlightened. None.
Yet we pretend otherwise, fighting a cultural war that takes no prisoners and deals not in reconciliation but in defeat. Hard and fast, blitzkreig defeat. Hire gay people? We'll destroy you. Donate to Prop 8? We'll ruin you.
It's cultural suicide: by killing dialogue and openness among groups with divergent opinions, we ruin the very space we need for our own opinions to evolve.
Ousting Eich only further cements the hostile landscape where ideological mistakes aren't tolerated. There is no mercy, only rightness.
"Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks?" writes Andrew Sullivan. "The whole episode disgusts me -- as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today -- hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else -- then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."
The only way wrongness matures into something right is when shame is absent and honesty can safely surface. Our minds aren't changed when people tell us how dumb we are. Our opinions evolve through introspection, mentorship and disarming trust, when my wrongness and your rightness can safely share the room together.
I think of Will Campbell, the civil rights preacher who was on the side of racial justice if any white man ever was. Yet he also drank whiskey with Klansmen, getting to know them, ministering to them -- not manipulating them -- and all their wrongness simply because they, too, had value and worth.
This is not to advocate violence and discrimination. It is not to yoke one ounce more to the burden that marginalized groups carry.
But it is a defense of wrongness.
Because being wrong is part of being human; each and every one of us harbors wrong opinions about something. The work before us is not to make such opinions culturally illegal, but to rather give them the necessary conditions so they ripen and evolve.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...