Mayor Frank Scott is all about unity, but unity sometimes might not be possible or even the right goal.
Let's say Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock is bringing an acclaimed young Baptist pastor to town to lead a discussion about race and faith.
Let's say that the website of this young pastor's ministry contains assertions, common to the Southern Baptist Convention, that homosexuality is a sin and that women should graciously submit to their husbands.
Should the unity-professing mayor permit his name to be used in the promotion of this $10-a-ticket event and agree to participate in a panel discussion with the aforementioned minister?
Actually, that's happening, at the Robinson Center grand ballroom at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 1.
A young "church planter" from Los Angeles named D.A. Horton is coming to town.
The promotional material touts that the mayor--a Baptist preacher himself, remember--will be a "special guest" along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson gets a pass. He is a long-established Republibaptist who is governor of an overpoweringly right-wing state. He's not a new mayor of a blue urban island with a significant and active gay population--not to mention a healthy quotient of women who consider themselves equal citizens.
Scott's position is that unity considerations require a mayor to engage in public dialogue with those with whom he disagrees.
Does Scott indeed disagree with those positions declared on Horton's website?
I might best cite a paragraph from a magazine piece I wrote in September 2015 about a possible future Little Rock mayor's race and the interest in it expressed by Warwick Sabin and Scott.
This is the paragraph: "Scott is an ordained Baptist preacher who believes and preaches that homosexuality is a sin. But he said in a recent interview that, in public life, it is important that everyone communicate and try to work together on policy. And that means the black community must not isolate itself from the gay community but seek common ground. He said the city can make progress only if we have effective lines of communication between the sinners we all are."
It's a classic Frank Scott position, either profound or lofty or a finesse or evasive or offensively right-wing. Or unifying. It's really a jumble of all of that from a man trying to keep his pulpit and podium in the proper or expedient lanes.
Scott says his policy on "inclusion" is clear. He says he demands it and does not waver from it. But inclusion goes all directions.
Do gays buy it? Jay Barth, the Hendrix political scientist, endorsed Scott in the runoff. I asked him what he thought now, knowing he was a good friend of Scott but that he had resisted supporting him early over Scott's religious views. (And freeway-widening ones.)
This is what Barth wrote back: "I've had a lengthy private conversation with Frank about my concerns regarding the views of the moderator of this event and his participation in it. While I won't share the details of that conversation, you'll not be surprised that I find the stances of D.A. Horton indefensible. Sadly, the denigration of women and LGBTQ individuals remains all too common in our society and in our community. It is particularly angering when a loving religion is used as a cover for continuing oppression.
"As I know well from my own experience, I do agree with Frank that change in attitude only comes about when we talk with folks across lines of difference and disagreement."
There is a tendency among some on the local left--state Sen. Joyce Elliott, prominently--to cut Scott slack in this matter, albeit with struggling exasperation.
I'm wondering if Scott wouldn't be catching about as much heat on the news that he had declined to attend a meeting on race and faith in his city that the governor was attending.
These are the questions: Is the arduous task of seeking unity in Little Rock served by Scott's participating in a religious event with a person who calls homosexuality a sin and deems women subservient to husbands? Or is there a greater risk of, and cost in, alienating a significant segment of the community that has long sustained unfair and mean discrimination?
It's possible that Scott will advance unity with the conservative Christian community by participating. It's possible that he will advance unity with the gay community by what he says while participating.
In the end, the answer lies not with Scott, but with us.
We have those understandably hurt by Scott's willing association with offensive views. We have those with intolerant views of gays and regressive views on the role of women.
Can these two groups abide a politician who talks with one and advances public policy for the other?
Or can they at least wait to see what happens?
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 02/12/2019
Print Headline: Unity in a divided world