Changing minds, not just itineraries

I did a lot of soul searching this week. I needed to be brutally honest with myself and try to pin down exactly why I felt a tiny bit disappointed when pastor Steven Anderson and his entourage of soul winners were denied entry into this beautiful country of ours.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as fatigued by this topic as you are. I’m tired of this sad little angry man and the free publicity he gets by spewing forth – sometimes literally spitting – his inflaming pseudo-religious rhetoric against a class of people he clearly finds threatening to his narrow world view. But I asked myself the question anyway, and I think I have an answer.

It’s because I feel we’ve missed a trick

We’ve won the battle – and we had to, perhaps with a slight sense of desperation – but we also moved a little further away from winning the war.

Before I say why I feel this way, let’s give praise where praise is due. Thank you, attorney Coenie Kukkuk and Hendrik Baird, GaySA Radio Station Manager, for standing up and taking action. You’ve set us all a courageous example of what it really means to lead, to take action, not just to complain and cajole from the sidelines of social media like the rest of us. And thank you also, from the bottom of my heart, to each and every person, gay or straight, who signed that important petition. You did it. It worked.

Yes, the largest part of me is indeed sincerely relieved and elated that our country finally took a stand and showed the rest of this troubled continent what hate speech is and that those who preach it aren’t welcome here. What went down was absolutely good and it was right.

But then there’s that little voice inside of me

It’s a little doubting Thomas I carry around. A little traitor’s heart (apologies, Rian Malan). And that little corner of my heart confessed a terrible thing to me: that it had wanted Anderson to come.

It boils down to what you believe in, you see. If you’re brutally honest with yourself – go on, try it – do you really believe that ‘once a bigot, always a bigot’? Or do you believe, against all odds and evidence, that the incisive light of reason is still powerful enough to change hearts and minds. I’m not saying immediately, it may take years. Decades. But that even the hardest, most hateful racist, homophobe, misogynist, religious fanatic, climate change denialist, or any other type of closed-minded individual hides deep within themselves the capacity for change.

Do you believe bullies have hearts that can learn to love?

My little heart insists they do.

So then I started playing the what-if game. What if the pastor didn’t grossly overplay his hand by insulting minister Gigaba? And what if the good minister didn’t come to the party as the LGBTI community had coaxed, pleaded, and eventually elbowed him into doing? In fact, what if we chose not to do what we felt was necessary by pulling out all the stops and getting this false profit banned from our shores. Let’s say we allowed Stievie-boy to come do his breakfast run to the Wimpy and his soul-snatching cat-spitting in some godforsaken East Rand hotel’s conference room. What would’ve happened? What could’ve?

See, as much as I hate to admit it, my little heart nags with the voice of reason, the irrepressible, naive little idealist that it is. My little heart wishes Anderson arrived! My little heart goes against everything my brain says, and wishes that, if  he did come, we could’ve organised a proper defense … of reason, not of counter-hate. I’m not talking about posters, slogans, shouting, spitting protesters in a hotel lobby, giving vent to years of frustration and anger at being called unnatural, paedophiles, abominations, rapists, perverts, moffies, ass bandits, and any other despicable, hateful thing we’ve been called over many years of willful ignorance by a vocal few. We are angry, believe me.  We’re foaming at the mouth and we’ve had enough!

But my little heart didn’t want a spectacle, entertaining as it could’ve been 

Instead, it wished for an honourable, upstanding committee of people, armed with facts, science, and reason. A small army of caring, loving, knowledgeable, calm, rational people – not necessarily gay – who could’ve followed old Steve around tirelessly, listened to him speak, and broke his momentum by brutally destroying every one of his stone-age arguments as soon as he went there. By offering, in public, an opposing scientific, logical view each time he opened his mouth to utter irrational falsehoods. If Anderson can claim the freedom of speech to spew forth hate, we can claim the same right to counter with cold, hard reason … and in full view of the world, cameras rolling, not just on social media.

Freedom of speech cuts both ways. That’s the trick we’ve missed.

Do I think that would’ve changed pastor Stevenson’s mind about us at all? No! Of course not. Not yet. That, I fear, will be a long and rocky road for the man to walk for many years to come. But maybe, just maybe, a public, peaceful, rational resistance – on the ground, where it really matters – could’ve opened up a few other minds to the possibility that not everything a man says, while calling upon the name of God, is necessarily the word of God himself. Isn’t that the message this world really needs to hear right now?

Instead, Anderson got off lightly. He gets to walk away. He carries on gorging his ego on attention. He carries on winning souls.



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