Opinion » Viewpoint

My Turn To Teach

A grad chides her alma mater about the James Lawson case.



Dear Christian Brothers University,

You don't know me, but I am a 1997 graduate of your school, where I got a solid education and learned some stuff, too. But I must admit I'm still confused about why you forbade Reverend James Lawson to speak at CBU back in July. It seemed like you were afraid of what he might say, but I just read where Calvary Episcopal Church let Rev. Lawson speak at their place instead and he was real nice about what you did to him, so I can't figure out what you were afraid of.

I remember hearing in philosophy class that you can learn a lot by listening to other people, even if you don't always agree with what they say. (I also remember trying to reach a consensus on whether morality is relative or absolute, but we ended up ordering pizza instead.) Like all of you, I prefer to think that I'm a pretty good person. I don't shoplift, litter, or talk on the phone while driving. I donate to charity, I floss almost daily, and I love kids. Oh, and I'm also pro-choice like Rev. Lawson.

See, I really wish that we lived in a perfect world where all babies were born into loving homes. But until we teach sex education to our children, and until more pro-life adults adopt unwanted kids, and until we realize that expecting chastity from teenagers is plain silly, and until everyone has free access to birth control, and until men stop raping women -- well, it seems like we could try harder to fix the problem from the other end, you know?

I'm not afraid of your opinions, so long as you don't use bullets and bombs to make your point, and I have nothing but respect for those who truly act on the belief that all life is sacred. You've got to admire a person who speaks out equally against abortion, fur coats, capital punishment, insecticides, warfare, hamburgers, terrorism, leather shoes, euthanasia, and antibiotics. I don't actually know any people who do all of that, but I like to think they'd exist in a perfect world.

But let's talk about CBU now. Y'all must be extra-qualified to judge Rev. Lawson. I mean, didn't you risk your life on civil rights marches? Weren't you jailed for protesting injustice and war? Wasn't the hatred and saliva just hell to wash out of your hair after those sit-ins? And haven't you been banned from speaking on college campuses because people were so afraid of what you might say? I bet you have some great answers to my questions, so I will wait until I hear back before I respond to your latest alumni fund-raising appeal.

I read one of Rev. Lawson's speeches once where he explains his response to the people who enforced racial segregation: "My sense of their being human beings nevertheless in spite of their behavior towards me was forged [by] a need, at least in me at the time, to be a human being and to resist evil, not by imitating evil, but by seeking to overcome it with good."

That seems like such sensible advice (watch out, Ann Landers!) that I'm going to stick it on my fridge next to a quote from another brave man who was silenced because people were afraid of him: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." I know the grammar and spelling are kind of funny -- being as how the guy didn't have the benefit of an English degree from CBU like me -- but it's an interesting idea anyway. Don't you think?

Naomi Van Tol is a Memphian who works in the field of environmental activism.

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