Can of Worms

Prison Fellowship Ministries, run by Watergate “hatchet man” Chuck Colson, is based in Loudoun County and receives a huge tax exemption from our county government. They publish a blog and a daily newsletter, and when these contain particularly funny anti-gay propaganda, I forward the trope of the day to the Equality Loudoun discussion list under the title “We ran out of prisoners again.” PFM “runs out of prisoners” a lot, and they really like to talk about the GLBT community. What they don’t like, though, is when the GLBT community talks back.

A November article on their “BreakPoint” blog by Allen Thornburgh praises the Patrick Henry College student body for their spiritual maturity and graciousness toward him after he delivered a speech that, in his words, “stunk.”

In a comment to this post, Brian G. Murphy, a West coast Soulforce Equality Rider and regular BreakPoint commenter, criticized PHC’s response to last year’s Equality Ride and attempted to engage the bloggers, saying that he wished that the students had been allowed to demonstrate those qualities during that visit. Allen was cordial and dismissive.

Should you to ever desire to visit PFM, and I hope you do, I’ll happily welcome you and look forward to discussing myriad topics over coffee or a meal…while I understand your disappointment and find it to be a reasonable response, I’m less sympathetic to the frustration and feelings of mistreatment at PHC’s hands.

To his credit, Allen admitted that he did not “know enough to have an opinion” about the Ride. However, PHC alumna and fellow BreakPoint blogger Faith Schwartz did have an opinion. She defended PHC’s response:

PHC was not hostile, they were more than happy to meet with your friends at a location off campus…But I know of several alumni and students alike who would have loved to dialog with them… and still would. The invitation is always open.

“Not hostile”? PHC “more than happy to meet with your friends”? No, they were not. We were there, and in contact with Soulforce as they tried for months to negotiate terms for a meeting. The Riders have reconciled their religion – Christianity – with their sexuality – queer – and they came here to talk about that. PHC found that topic to be totally, totally out of bounds and the college demonstrated by their own actions – a lockdown and massive police presence – that they were very, very serious about not trusting their students to be exposed to queer Christian experience.

I challenged Faith’s statement to Brian that PHC was “happy to meet with your friends at a location off campus”:

Your 2:59 comment was not factually correct. Equality Loudoun hosted an off-campus event. PHC students were discouraged from attending.

At this point, Allen and Faith quickly made it clear that this “not hostile” attitude and receptivity to Brian’s friends (including Equality Loudoun, one would think) did not include a willingness to discuss the PHC Equality Ride visit on the BreakPoint blog – especially not with first hand witnesses who could refute Faith’s made up story:

Look, I don’t see the point of continuing to beat the SoulForce drum on this thread…

To be honest, I’m doing my level best to suppress a massive eye roll about this whole matter, but it is getting increasingly difficult…

Well Jonathan, I appreciate your statement and I’m just going to leave well enough alone. As alumni, we were made aware of your coming and were invited to attend the event. But I’m not going to get into a giant debate on the topic.

And to prevent that “giant debate,” moderator Gina Dalfonzo terminated the thread. Faith, however, was not satisfied, because she still had more to say about Patrick Henry. She was personally hurt by Hanna Rosin’s book God’s Harvard and feels that the reputation of PHC has been unfairly tarnished by various media portrayals. Something had to be done, so in a “What would Colson do?” moment, Faith tried to perform a cover-up. She redirected the conversation, in a new post, to an abstraction: PHC’s “virtuous” mission:

If you want to praise someone, praise the parents who had the guts to raise their children as godly men and women — parents who emphasized culturally lost virtues like courage, patriotism, diligence, respectfulness, humility, excellence and justice…Patrick Henry College has advertised itself to families who cherish and pursue virtue, and has consequently reaped the reward from attracting that particular group of individuals.

Oh, boy, those pesky worms. Can you feel them squirming?

Faith knew that the PHC administration’s behavior during the Equality Ride poked a hole in her claim to virtue (she witnessed it too), so she ruled discussion of that topic out of bounds. “I’m not here to reopen that ridiculous can of worms,” she announced.

Fair enough. Let’s not talk about the Ride, or who expected what, or what the difference between dialogue and debate is. Let’s talk about whether the behavior of the PHC administration fits the definition of virtue. I posted this in a comment:

With respect to Patrick Henry College, I’ll refer you to the re-writing of our blog’s posting policy by the “Office of Communications, Patrick Henry College.”

That action was not virtuous. It was unethical…

Moderator Gina again quickly tried to close the persnickety can of worms:

I let the dialogue under the previous post go for so long because, as Allen pointed out, the Equality Ride visit to PHC was related at least slightly to what he had written. But Faith specifically said that this was not what her post was about, and the site rule is that commenters stick to the subjects raised in the post on which they’re commenting. Unless that rule is followed here, I will close this thread as well.

I then told David about the “conversation” and he contributed this comment – one that never made it through the PFM censor’s filter.

The topic of this post is whether PHC cultivates virtue in its students.

I have personally seen the values of justice, courage, honor and respectfulness enacted by the group of PHC students who have asked for an apology from their administration for distributing a falsified version of Equality Loudoun’s commenting policy, behavior that would have been grounds for disciplinary action had it been carried out by a student.

These students have the integrity to simultaneously disagree with the mission of our organization and to demand that their administration not bear false witness against us. They furthermore did their own research to determine that they had been lied to, and provided documentation to that effect. They, and we, are still waiting for that apology.

I would like to know how you can justify this behavior. If this is the standard of integrity being modeled by the administration, then any virtue on the part of students must come from a different source. If you are unwilling to honestly engage different viewpoints on this topic, then perhaps you should not have opened it up.

It looks like they really didn’t want to talk about virtue, either, at least not concretely. I emailed Gina and asked her to reconsider her decision to censor David’s comment. Gina responded:

Jonathan, Faith made a statement in her post about what she was and was not willing to discuss, as the Equality Ride issue had already [not] been discussed at another post, and as she had already discussed it with you elsewhere. That was her right. I kept an eye on the thread to make sure that people honored her wishes. That was my right and my responsibility as editor and moderator. You not only insisted on going against her expressed wishes and the rules of the blog, as did David…

Interesting. I don’t see anything in David’s comment about the Equality Ride; it addresses the topic of virtue, as requested.

One more time: Using the same IP address, I posted under the transparent pseudonym “Loudoun Citizen” and asked whether anyone at the college had been disciplined for their un-virtuous actions, or had apologized to Equality Loudoun. The reaction to this comment was predictable and furious: Gina, the moderator, suspended me for my “deliberate attempt at deceit.” As a blog administrator myself, I know that Gina knows my IP address; if my intent were to “deceive” her, I would have been successful. This demonstrates two things: That she is willing to block the hundreds of other potential commenters who share my IP address in order to suspend one who can reveal the deceit of BreakPoint writers, and that she is capable of recognizing “deceit” when she wants to.

It must be frustrating to have a blog, present topics for discussion, and then discover that you really didn’t want to discuss them after all. Maybe the blog was a mistake for PFM, or maybe they want the kind of blog that only presents their own viewpoint and doesn’t invite discussion.

As for Faith’s duplicity, may we bring up PHC’s abstract principles? This objective is straight from the Spiritual Profile of a Patrick Henry Graduate:

Have the humility to listen to others thoughtfully, and the conviction to stand unwaveringly for the principles of the Word of God.

In the tradition of thinking Christians like the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill and C.S. Lewis, the ability to engage the world in debate requires us to truly listen and consider the opinions of others, while never compromising our commitment to God and His Word.

The Social Profile of a PHC graduate instructs him to “Understand the culture in which he lives.”

Good principles. So why is the fact that some of their own students tried to put them into practice such a can of worms?

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5 Responses to Can of Worms

  1. Russell says:

    … “parents who emphasized culturally lost virtues like courage, patriotism, diligence, respectfulness, humility, excellence and justice” …

    Culturally lost virtues? As if PHC parents and students have a patent on those characteristics? …

    “Vanity is the quicksand of reason.” – George Sand

  2. Jonathan says:

    It’s sort of funny to see publication of this post on the same day that the Washington Post reported Judges Find Rehabilitation Program Unconstitutional Without Secular Option

    From the article:

    Fellowship ministries, run by former Watergate figure Charles W. Colson. The effort is aimed at rehabilitating prisoners through “a heavy emphasis on Christ and the Bible,” according to program materials quoted in the decision.

    In determining that the program is unconstitutional, the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit emphasized that inmates have “no genuine and independent private choice,” if they want to receive rehabilitation services from programs other than the one run by Prison Fellowship.

    Exclusivity seems to be an issue with PFM.

  3. David says:

    It didn’t escape my notice that “honesty” was not on that list. IMO, that’s the fundamental virtue. If that’s missing, all the rest are pretty hollow. Lying, then censoring comments to cover up the lying, then claiming that those exposing the deceit are lying…the hole gets really deep, really fast.

    My guess is that the PHC administration will never own up to their behavior; they’re just waiting for all the students who know what happened to graduate, or leave by other means. There is no honor there, it’s rotten to the core – and you see the fruits in people like Gina and Faith, groomed to work at an equally dishonorable organization and continue the behavior they were taught. What they all seem to have in common is thinking that they are above the moral guidelines that apply to everyone else.

    I wonder what happened to the student group trying to hold PHC to its own standards?

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