A Plea for Civility in Public Discourse

Recently I was asked to address our Faith Christian High School students about hate speech. The occasion was an approved walk-out by West Lafayette High School students that included multiple people carrying signs that read “F___ Faith.” The photos were prominently displayed, without any faces or letters shaded, in the on-line edition of our local newspaper. A petition drive featuring the same vulgar words was also announced at this public school event followed by Instagram posts with “F___ Faith” as the hashtag.

Targeted hate speech has no place in our community. Yes, people should be free to express their views on social concerns with enthusiasm and passion. However, when it crosses the line into this level of vitriol and incivility, something has gone seriously wrong.

This round of animus started earlier this year when some members of the West Lafayette City Council proposed Ordinance 31-21 threatening to fine faith-based counselors $1000 per day for showing Scripture to minors who voluntarily came seeking help from God’s Word. Faith has never practiced conversion therapy, but these political leaders chose to align themselves with national activists who have broadened the definition of that term to penalize and silence people who have a different view of human sexuality than theirs. Are the council members pleased with what these young people had to say? The reason little leopards have spots is because big leopards have spots.

Imagine if Faith Christian students had staged a protest carrying signs that contained similar vulgar slurs targeting other people groups. Individuals would be calling for the forfeiture of our state accreditation and seeking to ban us from participating in IHSAA athletics. Yet that is exactly what occurred during the instructional day at one of our state’s premier taxpayer-funded public high schools.

What is even more stunning is that also in attendance at this event was an officer of the school board, two West Lafayette City Council members, and paid school staff. While communication and action occurred after the event, it seems no one had the wisdom or courage to step up in the moment and take a stand against targeted hate speech and take down the signs that clearly violated school policy. At the very time a principled adult was desperately needed, not one could be found.

The reason I was asked to speak to our student body was because kids were asking why people at a peer institution hated us so ferociously that they would make and carry signs of this nature. Is it simply because of our faith in God and His Word? We have no desire to force our views on them – why would they stage a march to attempt to force their views on us? And why would school board members, city council members, and school staff join in their efforts?

Thankfully, Scripture presents a comprehensive world and life view that guides students during episodes of abuse and mistreatment. Principally, such occurrences provide an opportunity to choose to love those who hate you. Jesus explained as much in the Sermon on the Mount when he instructed women and men to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

I am glad we have the freedom to discuss such biblical truth openly with questioning hearts.  This and many other principles from the same Bible the West Lafayette City Council sought to criminalize must be our students’ sole authority for faith and practice.

After our school assembly, I was asked to host a voluntary question and answer session which many of our students chose to attend. Their poignant questions were heartbreaking as they wrestled with how to react to what is transpiring. One student athlete wanted to know how he and his family should respond if this kind of treatment occurs at our athletic contests with WLHS or the other public schools we play. Another young lady asked if we would enhance our school security because of this heightened level of animus towards us.

Perhaps the tenderest moment came when a student asked with tear-filled eyes if we should take greater steps to protect our elementary students because shooters often target those most vulnerable. I assume she was asking out of concern for her younger siblings.

What kind of toxic culture has been created in West Lafayette, IN that young students at any school should have to be concerned about such matters as a regular part of their school day? It is high time the adults seek to foster an environment where a variety of viewpoints on various cultural concerns can be welcomed in our diverse community. That would be a far better model for the young leopards to follow.

Advocate? Yes. Hate? No. Not now, and not ever.

Steve ViarsSteve Viars
Dr. Viars has served as a pastor and counselor at Faith since 1987. He is an author, national speaker, and Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Biblical Counseling Coalition.