A Good Offense

Orlando, Florida, is home to lots of sunshine, Mickey, Donald and Goofy and Exodus International. You know about the sun and Disney but you may not have known that the world’s leading referral and support organization for former homosexuals is based in the middle of Florida. City Councilwoman, Vicki Vargo thought the presence of Exodus a good enough thing that she signed a proclamation making July 21, 2003 Exodus International Day in Orlando. Councilwoman Vargo recognized the importance of an organization based in Orlando that encourages Christian sexual ethics.

Old news, right? Not quite. According to news reports, gay activists are still incensed over the proclamation and last week succeeded in getting Mayor Buddy Dyer to review the procedures by which council members make such proclamations.

Proclamations such as the one benefiting Exodus are routinely made by Councilpersons without need for a vote. However, this proclamation has stirred more than a little controversy among Orlando’s gay rights organizations. Councilwoman Patty Sheehan, former LPGA star and lesbian was reported to have called the proclamation, “offensive and embarrassing.” Never mind that Ms. Sheehan has issued proclamations in support of the annual Orlando Gay Days, this proclamation was especially offensive. Why? I don’t know, she didn’t give a reason.

Being offended is actually a new way to win arguments and make public policy. If I don’t agree with the substance of another person or group’s position, I can be offended by it. If I am offended, then I need no rational reasons for my disagreement. It is enough just for me to declare a position or opinion “offensive” and I have made my point.

For another example of such offensive thinking, lets go to the Big Easy, where it would seem like nothing could offend. However, the University of New Orleans found a booklet distributed by the Christian Jew Foundation objectionable because it contained this sentence: “Jews should believe in Jesus.” Surely, many people disagree with this statement but is this sentence the kind of speech that should be censored on a public university campus? Apparently, the school’s leaders were concerned that this sentence could offend certain people on campus and banned its dissemination. Why should such free speech be censored? Because it advised violence? No. Because it incited prejudice? No. Were any rational reasons claimed? No. Rather, free speech and free thought were sacrificed at the altar of offense.

Does this new strategy work in all situations? No, in the case of contemporary dueling offenses, I propose a theory. When there is a clash of offenses between proponents of religious values and those proposing to change such values, the change crowd wins. Take the Alabama Ten Commandments case. Three lawyers were offended (there’s a joke in there somewhere) by the Big Ten set in stone for all to see in the state courthouse. According to news reports, the creator of the Ten Commandment monument, Judge Roy Moore, was offended by the bust of a Greek goddess in the same courthouse so fairness would also require its removal. The results: goddess in; commandments out.

If my theory is right, things don’t look good for the Exodus folks come next July. Although it would be terribly unfair, the one Exodus International Day in Orlando may have been a unique occasion in the history of Orlando proclamations. Come to think about it, the traditional values crowd may need to cultivate the ability to be offended. There are still big issues ahead in the culture.

Hang reason, logic and evidence. Apparently, what we need is a good offense.