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Fritz flubs, makes amends
Originally published inThe Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 10, December 1996/January 1997
When I arrived back at SepCon'96 from a live TV appearance with Paul Weyrich, the gala banquet was already underway. During the course of the evening, I heard that a public blessing had been said over the meal. You may think it odd that I was surprised, as I am an ardent monotheist (specifically, Christian). Maybe I should start at the beginning.
Holding an alliance together means deciding where compromises and accommodations can be made. Being able to speak truth within an alliance means holding truth as a higher value than unity, hence also deciding when compromise is inappropriate.
The first time this question hit me was in designing SepCon'95. "Would we have an open bar, cash bar, or no bar at the reception?" asked the hotel. It didn't take but a second to decide "No bar." Our alliance intends to have teetotaling evangelical Protestants as a significant part of our movement. No sense in gratuitously offending them. Imbibers, like me, can swing by the bar on our way to the reception. I decided "our policy" is not to offer alcohol at any formal Alliance function, but not to disdain it either. When our first meal together at SepCon'95 drew near, I made the same "policy decision" about saying a blessing over the meal. We wouldn't offer a public blessing, nor would I expect any Separationist or guest to scorn someone at their table who said grace over their own meal.
Then the flub at SepCon'96: I failed to communicate this "policy decision" to staff. A few minutes before the banquet, while I was away trying to explain Separation to the viewers of National Empowerment Television, a key staffer decided since there are so many Christians at SepCon'96, and since they always seem to have blessings at the meals, maybe we should, too. She asked Doug Dewey, a Christian of distinctly Catholic persuasion, "who would be a good candidate." Doug had been quite impressed with R.C. Sproul, Jr., a Christian of strong Calvinist orientation, and asked him to do the job. RC told Doug he wasn't going to give any namby-pamby universalist "to whom it may concern" type blessing; if he did it, he was going to use the J-word. So be it, said Doug.
The upshot is, several strong non-theists and non-Christian theists ate a dinner that night for which Jesus had been officially thanked. Some weren't bothered, at least not enough to mention it to me. Some were.
So here is the apology: I regret not having informed our staff adequately of our "policy," and ask you to forgive me this flub.
Now here is a funny sidebar to this story. In addition to the three non-Christian folks who complained about the meal blessing, I got warnings from an unexpected quarter: Christians. So far, four or five have volunteered to me their opinion that (a) we are doing something marvelous in the Alliance in the way that Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Agnostics, Unitarian Universalists, and Atheists can work together so smoothly, and (b) I should be careful not to mess it up by having a preponderance of Christian speakers.
This blew me away and pleased me immensely!
Here are some demographics that will help you see our "progress": SepCon'95 averaged 65 people at a time, with total attendance of 101, of whom 60% were libertarians. Christians formed maybe 50% of the total in 1995. (Christian libertarians fall in both categories.) SepCon'96 averaged 110 people (191 total), of whom 60% were conservatives, and probably 75% were Christians. I call this progress because for this movement to be victorious, it must move beyond its libertarian roots. The banner of Separation needs to be carried by a large cross-section of the population to win in America. Hence, most of our advertising for SepCon'96 was in magazines that reflect the areas in which we wanted to grow.
What about SepCon'97?
At least two other demographic areas where Separation need to become strong will be emphasized at SepCon'97: African Americans and education professors. I hope SepCon'97 triples in attendance, and I'm already working to find two score black parents, educators, journalists, pastors, and community leaders to attend. (Anybody care to chip in to a "scholarship bank" for this purpose?)
The other demographic speciality I am hoping to enlarge by ten times is "mainstream educators who have not committed to Separation." We had three at SepCon'96: Two professors of education and an executive from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. So, send me the name of an educator who might be able to examine Separation on its merits, and I'll give him/her a one year comp. subscription to this newsletter.
Super early-bird discount
Last item: Pencil in SepCon'97 on your calendar: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 21-22, 1997, again at the DoubleTree hotel in Arlington, Va. (Oh dear, one more last item: Julia Bunn in Maryland suggested that I should come up with a super-early bird discount for people who sign up by May 31. Since the regular price is $350, and the regular early bird is $295, I asked her what she wanted for the super-early bird. She suggested $200. Well, let's try it for one year and see what happens. Note: We'll continue our generous refund-if-you-can't-attend policy.)
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