As we celebrate this July 4 weekend, I’d like to offer distraught culture warriors some advice: sit by a pool with an icy drink and calm yourselves down.
Hardly a day goes by that we don’t see another dire warning that America is headed toward a second civil war. The right hates the left and the left hates the right. Trumpers loath Bideners—and vice versa. Every new development is the end of the world as we know it.
There are indeed serious matters at stake, as there are in every age. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade was a monumental decision, whatever your views on abortion. Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol continue to provide one mind-bending revelation after another.
But we also find ourselves seething over lesser matters we blow out of all proportion.
Two things recently happened that brought this to mind.
In the county where I live, Kentucky’s teacher of the year, Willie Carver, announced he’s leaving the teaching profession after 17 years.
He found that, “as a queer person in K-12 education, I have been unable to do that work without facing discrimination, heartache, and being a part of systems that cause harm, though I am immensely proud of my brilliant, hardworking, and fierce colleagues who have and continue to change that system in defense of students.”
He told the Lexington Herald-Leader that extremists had attacked him and his former students at Montgomery County school board meetings and on social media.
“The national rhetoric is turned up, and LGBTQ teachers bear the weight of a lot of hatred that catalyzes the vitriol. It’s tiring,” he said.
As far as I can recall I’ve never met Carver, but he and my wife worked together a decade ago at Montgomery County High School. Long before Carver became state teacher of the year, Liz praised him to high heaven as a wonderful man and a devoted educator—the best of the best.
No matter these days. You know how the right-wing rhetoric goes now. Teachers generally, and LGBTQ teachers particularly, are “groomers” luring their young charges into lives of debauchery, atheism and wearing green hair.
At roughly the same time as Carver’s resignation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bremerton (Wash.) High School assistant coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayers. Kennedy had a habit of kneeling briefly at midfield after football games to offer a personal prayer of thanks.
He did this alone for years, but gradually others joined him. The school ordered him to stop. His prayers became a culture wars thing. Eventually it became a court case.
Although I oppose mixing religion and state, I wrote earlier that I hoped the court would find in the coach’s favor, because in this case Bremerton school officials had wildly overstepped their bounds.
Kennedy had a right to publicly take a knee in prayer for multiple reasons, I believe, including the same reason former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a right to take a knee during the national anthem: they’re U.S. citizens exercising First Amendment protections. You don’t forfeit your citizenship by stepping onto a football field.
The conservative Supreme Court agreed with me, for what will likely be the only time ever.
But sheesh, did the limburger hit the sideline fan. People on the left howled their heads off. High school football players will now have religion forced down their gullets. They’ll be coerced into conversions. Soon we’ll all be living in a Christian theocracy.
Please. I played high school football 50 years ago. Regularly, our coach told us all to kneel in the locker room before games. We’d say the Lord’s Prayer. It wasn’t optional.
I assure you, not one guy was ever converted as a result. No one was traumatized. I think most of the players regarded the prayer as I did—as a good-luck ritual, along the lines of not washing your lucky socks on game days.
It was the raucous 1970s. We entered the locker room as wastrels and heathens, and post-prayer we emerged with our hedonism intact.
Here’s the thing. Teachers and coaches are excellent at helping kids learn math or tackling. They’re lousy at altering kids’ sexual orientation or their eternal destination. They don’t change who we fundamentally are.
In the big matters, you’re dealing with three other influences: genes, parents and peers.
Genes you can’t do much about. Kids get whatever biological cocktail they get. Blue eyes or brown. Light skin or dark. Gay or straight. Introvert or extrovert.
To the extent the big matters can be influenced by other factors, it’s mainly by parents and peers. No teacher has the influence on a kid her family and friends have.
Solution: be the best parent you can—and vigilantly monitor your child’s friends.
But having Willie Carver as an instructor was never going to turn your kid gay, if that’s your fear. Junior was only going to get a brilliant French teacher.
Having Joseph Kennedy as Junior’s football coach wasn’t going to turn him into a Bible-thumping zombie, if that’s your fear.
That’s not how life works. Things only work that way in political fundraising emails.
Calm down. Sit by the pool with your libation of choice. Listen to Jimmy Buffett tunes.
Remember that not everyone who is different from you is out to destroy truth, justice and the American way. Sometimes, they’re just different.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can email him at email@example.com.