Tupelo, Mississippi, has given us Elvis Presley and the American Family Association.
The AFA was founded in 1977, the year Presley died, and would no doubt have joined the outraged chorus had it been around at the first sight of his swiveling hips. The rock the AFA is into is the Rock of Ages, and its strait-laced members typically accept every word in the Bible. If it said thou shalt not step on my blue suede shoes, they would obey.
Fair enough. The AFA has advanced some crackpot ideas, and does not look with charity on all God’s children, but that’s what happens to Christians of literal mind. At this festive time, let us extend a hand and wish the AFA joy in the prayerful rally it is holding at LSU next month with Gov. Bobby Jindal the star attraction.
Alas, many students and faculty at LSU are not inclined to welcome the AFA, which is so hostile to gay rights that it is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group.” A petition gathering signatures apace on campus wants permission withdrawn for the AFA to hold its jamboree, styled “The Response,” at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
We are long past being surprised when academic activists rise up to drown out voices with which they disagree, but a protest is still no substitute for rational debate. Campus sensibilities are too delicate for that, and the gay student organizing the opposition says it is “disappointing” and “hurtful” for LSU to allow fundamentalist dogma to invade its arena.
University authorities, praise be, are made of sterner stuff, and point out that this is purely a commercial transaction; AFA is paying $18,500 in rent. It is depressing that LSU felt obliged to make the self-evident point that accepting AFA’s money does not imply an endorsement of its views.
Some of those views are so batty that maybe rational argument is not the best way to counter them at that. The credulous souls within AFA, for instance, suggest that God sent Katrina and other natural disasters to show his disapproval of abortion and same-sex marriage. For those of us who do not presume to know what is in the Almighty’s head, laughter is surely the most appropriate response.
This, after all, is the season to be jolly and nothing can lighten the mood more quickly than a glance at the AFA website, which promises to “restrain evil by exposing the works of darkness” and consigns the unsaved to “the resurrection of damnation.” That seems a trifle harsh for non-residents of Christendom.
The AFA also believes that the freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment applies exclusively to Christianity because that was the only faith the Founding Fathers had to reckon with. A less blinkered view might be that the Constitution embodies broad principles to be adapted as society evolves.
Still, anyone not wanting to hear what the AFA has to say, on or off campus, need only turn a deaf ear, and, assuming that none of the speakers at The Response plans to incite a riot, only a crabbed and intolerant spirit would wish to block its conclave. The free flow of ideas was once regarded as sacrosanct in academia.
The protests, meanwhile, free AFA of any need to publicize The Response. Most people would never have heard of it but for the squawks from students and faculty who seem permanently on the look-out for a pretext to become outraged.
That Jindal should be headlining the event is hardly surprising, given that he abhors gay marriage too and has never been exactly shy about what he calls his “evangelical” Catholicism. Jindal’s declaration, in a video he made for the AFA, that “it is time to turn back to God,” is entirely consistent with the shtick he has employed throughout his public career.
Jindal says The Response is “not a political event; it’s a religious event,” although a more honest characterization might be that it could be both. Democrats are inclined to see it simply as part of his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination.
If they are right, it is obvious where Jindal is headed — Heartbreak Hotel.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.