In the article, “Obama, Gay Marriage, and the Black Church Vote,” the second paragraph includes these words:

Therefore, while your daughters could not image their friends’ same-sex union parents being treated differently, you, as their father, would have the responsibility to tell them that their friends’ parents participate in immoral acts, although they might be otherwise nice people. This should not be difficult for you to share with your girls, for we suspect you teach them something similar about their friends’ parents who commit adultery, and about the subtle racism of some tax-paying Americans.

However, before one of my kind, Ivy League-educated friends read over the first draft of the article for content editing, the second paragraph originally read this way (with bold added so that I might emphasize the differences for you):

Therefore, while your daughters could not image their friends’ same-sex union parents being treated differently, you, as their father, would have the responsibility to tell them that their friends’ parents participate in immoral acts, although they might be otherwise nice people. This should not be difficult for you to share with your girls, for we suspect you teach them something similar about the subtle racism of some tax-paying Americans, and about the terrorist ideals of Al Qaeda fathers who play fútbol with their sons before they kiss them and tuck them in bed each night.

Upon reading the reference to Al Qaeda fathers, my friend wrote me these words of caution:

This paragraph I think takes things in a wrong direction. I come to the end and think…wait, this pastor thinks gay people are like Al Qaeda terrorists? Basically, they want to destroy America? I think that will not help your readers take this seriously…. I mean, parents who are Christians should be the first to say, yes, we don’t agree with how they are living, but we interact with those who do not know Christ all the time. How do we do that in a way that is faithful, loving, and truthful? And, we ourselves are the ones who can see how far short of the biblical standards for chastity and fidelity we fall. (Honestly, I am just thinking of people in your church or my church who might struggle and fight same sex attraction and this just alienates them completely and gives them no gospel hope.)

I am grateful for my friend’s sensitivity to the way the culture might (mis)read words. I know that my friend fully understood my words and their intent, and that my friend was playing the role of a common reader. However, it amazes me how people potentially could miss the nature and objects of comparison in an accessible piece of writing.

In the paragraph, I am describing the President’s fatherly task of making distinctions – for his daughters – between outwardly good-appearing parents and some not-so-good-actions of these same individuals. The comparison is between the content of what the President should teach about parents in same-sex unions and fathers who are members of Al Qaeda. That is, parents in same-sex unions can be cordial, hardworking, faithful, neighborly, self-sacrificing, and attentive to their children’s every need. They can be outstanding citizens, professional role models, philanthropists, and people who participate in crime-prevention activities in their own communities. Nevertheless, this does not mean that all of their other activities are things of which we would approve, as holds true for all heterosexual parents too.

In the same way, if we set aside images of terrorists living in cave-like compounds in the mountains of Afghanistan, we might be able to imagine a well-groomed, Eastern, business professional who runs a small business in an Arab state, but is a member of Al Qaeda. When he closes his shop for the day, he goes home and eats dinner with his family while watching Al Jazeera. He helps his son and daughter finish their eleventh-grade calculus homework, and then dad and children go outside to kick the fútbol around with a few friends living on the same street. Afterwards they come inside and have a lively discussion about the coming 2012 Olympics, and then the children each take turns showering before bed. The dad kisses both children goodnight as the children turn in for the evening.

Once dad has put the children to sleep, he leaves his house to meet with other men like him who help fund the activities of those who carry out terrorist acts. The words they use to speak of the US and their allies are angry, bitter, venomous, and vengeful, as the men assemble around a gambling table in their version of a smoke-filled war room. The dad and his friends curse Obama and his Jesus—the god of America and the West. They vow to bring down every US drone, to burn the White House with fire, and to shoot Air Force One out of the sky with weapons made in American factories. The dad in our story leaves the meeting with both a wide smile and the hope of an Al Qaeda victory, and he goes home to enjoy his wife (who has equal hatred for the US and its friends). The next morning he sends his children to school well prepared for their day, and opens his shop to offer his business with fairness and kindness toward all of his customers.

While this story is fictional, it could very well represent the lifestyle of a member or supporter of Al Qaeda. If it does, and that man lives and works in Lanham, MD rather than in an Arab state, and he is later convicted of plotting terrorism against the US, would it be wrong of me, as a father, to say to my children that their eleventh grade friends’ father, although a nice man with whom they enjoyed playing soccer on our street after school, is also vile man who participated in evil activities? No, for I would be making a good and important distinction, and one that also is truthful.

If I next said to my children that something similar holds true for two other neighboring parents of another eleventh grade friend – parents in a same-sex union – would my children understand me to be saying that homosexual activity is akin to terrorism? Or would my children understand me to be saying that seemingly nice people – like Mr. and Mr. Homosexual Dads, and Mr. Terrorist Dad – can participate in wrong acts?

Pedophiles appear to be innocent elementary school custodial workers or English teachers. Homegrown spies, who sell US secrets to our enemies, live in nice homes in gated communities. Illegal dog-fighting participants can be sports icons; identity thieves and adulterers can coach little league baseball teams. A university president can be found to dabble in telephone sex. Even the eventual First Black President (as opposed to the First Gay President), played his saxophone on late night television, but later was found to be guilty of committing inappropriate acts with one of his interns; he is a nice guy, but he still committed wrong acts.

I used exaggeration in my initial comparison so that the reader would understand that making distinctions between people’s decent public works and their wicked private works is a normal part of good parental instruction, even for the President of the United States. Unfortunately, we have so deconstructed our ability to read that we miss the point of simple analogies.

Oh, and yes: The comparison between the Presidents of the two firsts intends to exemplify what this article is about—how we read texts. Most anything else on this Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, and E. D. Hirsch, have said already.

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Resources (above)

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read A Book, rev. ed., Touchstone, 1972.

E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, Yale University Press, 1967.

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