Imagine a mandatory training exercise on a college campus for new Resident Advisors. During the course of this training the following image was spoken: black residents all listen to loud rap music, hold licentious parties and are probably dealing drugs out of their dorm rooms. That individual would be dragged in front of disciplinary committee after disciplinary committee. If they were lucky, they’d get off with sensitivity training.

Now, let’s change the stereotype. Let’s say the image presented is this: Christians are hateful homophobes who run around telling everyone they are going to hell. They are largely a punch of rich white kids who get a free ride from society because they are white. What would the reaction be? Most of the cognoscenti in the academy would nod their heads in agreement. If a conservative student manages to break the code of enforced silence for a moment to complain, at best, he’d be ignored, at worst, he’d be told that the stereotypes are true. After all, these same stereotypes are present in the classroom being taught by these same professors.

The same image above was recently taught as part of a sensitivity exercise at Arizona State University. The training exercise was modeled on one developed for national leadership conferences. In short, this wasn’t one campus’ bad idea.

Of course, there are Christians who fit the mold above. Every stereotype needs its poster child. Surely one can point to Fred Phelps as an example of such a hateful and judgmental Christian. However, it should also be noticed that the attempts to keep him from funerals come from the right not the left. In fact, it is the ACLU not the ACLJ that is defending his free speech rights. In this case, unfortunately, the ACLU is right. Free speech does allow one to lack all sense of social decorum.

However, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 Christian denominations running the gamut from the United Church of Christ, to the Quakers, to Roman Catholics, to Mormons, to Southern Baptists. Some denominations have no problems with gays such as the Anglicans. Other denominations say that homosexual behavior is wrong but still try to reach out in human understanding, such as Roman Catholics. Others are outright judgmental preaching homosexuals as the harbinger of death and destruction, such as Fred Phelps and his gang. The problem with stereotypes is that it takes one case and then shrinks all others and forces them into a box. As is usual, reality is much more complex.

In a bizarre attack on language and common sense, such bigotry is justified in the name of diversity and tolerance. The idea that social harmony is brought about by relentless attacks on the perceived “majority” are novel and interesting, but unconvincing. Far from building a sense of community, it entrenches a reality of division. There is an “us” and a “them”, and they are at war on campus.

To be fair, minorities do face a variety of injustices perpetuated against them. However, by attacking the perceived majority as a suspect class only turns off those who would be most likely to help. Christians, at least the serious ones, do care about the poor and down-trodden. However, when they face constant attack from the public square as being “all that is wrong with the world”, all but the most charitable respond with “to hell with you and your problems.”

Diversity and tolerance do not require cookie-cutter people thinking prefabricated thoughts. It requires an attitude of “I disagree with what you say but respect you’re right to say it.” That attitude certainly isn’t shown when someone presents a “disfavored” idea and the response is an immediate ad hominem. Capricious charges of racism are not designed to encourage debate, they are tools to shut one down and force ideas.

No sense of community can ever be created until all ideas, ethnicities and people can be respected. Even Christians.

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.

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