Why the Levant-rant has caused far more harm than good.

As entertaining as Ezra Levant can be, at least in a face-meet-palm kind of way, I really wish that he never turned his gaze upon the Harbour City. In his 45-minute piece  he did far more harm than good. Let me explain why.

The Issue Has Already Been Resolved:

The Levant-rant if nothing else is steeped in unbridled passion. Its purpose is to inflame, to invoke righteous anger, and to elicit a response from angry viewers. He wants said viewers to make city council recognize the error of their ways. Levant wants  them to pay.  The problem, however, is that all of this seething anger, righteous or otherwise, is created in vain. As you can read in my last post, the city council has already responded by providing the thing that was of primary importance for Christians and other religious groups: a guarantee that the city would abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and be able to rent city property. The issue has been resolved.

Now in fairness to Levant, the statement issued by the mayor on behalf of the administration happened shortly before his newscast went viral. However, it certainly would not have been difficult for him to provide an update with this information attached.

Now to be sure, council’s affirmation of religious people’s rights does nothing to resolve the issue of Leadercast but Leadercast was never the primary issue for either the Christians in Nanaimo or for Ezra Levant. That issue needs to be worked out by the Daily News, Council, and Leadercast.

Misrepresentation of the Facts:

Through Exaggeration:

A significant problem with the Levant rant is that he frequently distorts the facts. He distorts first of all by exaggerating—a common strategy for our species when we really want to win an argument. For example Levant states that council voted to “ban Christians”. This is incredibly misleading. The language of the resolution does not mention Christians by name at all; there was worry from Christian groups that the language had potentially scary implications for events that they would want to host on city property. In this sense Christians and other religious groups could be seen as collateral damage but it was simply not the case that the city council of Nanaimo was deliberately and specifically targeting Christians.

A second example is found in Levant’s statement that council is trying to “drive Christians out of town” (see 20:00). This despite the fact that the mayor and some of the councilors attended the annual prayer breakfast for Christians shortly after this mess was started. The mayor even paid his respects to the Christian citizens of Nanaimo by reading some sections of the Bible. You can make the argument that council was naïve or even ignorant regarding the implications their resolution had for Christians but they certainly were not intending to drive them out of town.

Through Minimizing:

Levant also distorts by minimizing. My last post indicated that I am unable to confirm or refute the claims made about Dr. Cloud’s stance on reparative therapy. In Levant’s rant he refers to Dr. Cloud’s alleged views on reparative therapy as “funny ideas about the gays”. Reparative therapy is neither a “funny idea” in the humorous sense of the word nor in the benignly absurd sense of the word. No, reparative therapy is something that has done horrific damage to many LGBT people over the past decades. Even prominent supporters of reparative therapy from yesteryear have come forward to apologize for their prior beliefs and have distanced themselves from people who still promote it.

Through Conflating Issues:

Levant distorts by conflating issues. As I’ve mentioned there are two issues at play: the issue of cancelling Leadercast (the specific target of the motion) and the issue of Christians and other religious groups being potentially banned from renting city property (collateral damage). Levant’s-rant, however, tries to make Christians the specific target of the motion by referring to Leadercast several times in his rant as a Christian conference. This is despite the fact that the event is not religious at all but rather a conference about leadership in general.

Tone:

The second reason why Levant has done more harm than good is his poor use of tone. Christian leaders in Nanaimo worked very hard to phrase their critiques in a way that honoured and respected the councillors and the mayor. They wanted the administration to know that they aren’t despised or hated by Nanaimo’s religious groups.

Conversely Levant uses the tactic of demonizing.  As human beings it is very tempting to treat people with whom we disagree as horrible human beings with no redeeming qualities; this is basically what Levant does. He frequently refers to the councilors and the mayor as “blowhards” and “bigots”. He suggests that they are only motivated by the advancement of their own egos and is never willing to grant that they may actually be trying to do the right thing for the city.

Levant’s demonizing tactics are taken to such an extreme that he actually takes an important act of charity undertaken by one of the councillors and presents it as a vile act of self-aggrandizement. At one point Levant shows an image of councilor Pattje wearing a pair of women’s shoes. He refers to this picture as a narcissitic selfie, intended to make, in Levant’s view, some sort of political statement he cannot understand. What a horrific example of self-indulgence! That is unless one realizes that the picture was intended to raise awareness for a very important fundraiser called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”. This event, put on by the Haven Society is a walk in which men wear women’s shoes in order to raise funds to help end rape, sexual, assault, and gender violence. Thank you Mr. Pattje for participating in this important cause and shame on Mr. Levant for not recognizing this.

Now to be sure Levant in no way claims to speak as a representative of the Christians in Nanaimo but he does present himself as their advocate. If people mistake Levant’s uncharitable tone for the tone of local religious groups, then terrible damage has been done indeed.

It was also a key priority for the Christians in Nanaimo to address this issue in a way that was respectful towards the LGBT community. Regrettably, many Christians have failed to live up to their mandate to love their LGBT neighbours and as a result many Christians in town feel burdened to be better. Christian leaders want their churches to be comprised of people that respect and love LGBT people.

Yet in Levant’s rant, we see subtle digs toward the LGBT community. The one that caught my eye was when Levant referred to them as a “community” in inverted commas (see 10:45). When we call something a “community” we are effectively stating that the group in view is not something that fits the standard definition and can therefore only be called a community in a qualified sense—hence the inverted commas. As a Christian I know I would take offense if someone referred to my co-believers or my church as a “community”. This may seem like a subtle point but when we are talking about Christians and the LGBT community, we must be aware of the pain that is there. When there is a history of pain, subtlety matters even more than it does in normal conversation. Now again, Levant in no way speaks for the Christian leaders or churches of Nanaimo but if he causes more pain towards the LGBT people of Nanaimo than he has most certainly caused more harm than good.

Halfway through his 45 minute rant, Mr. Levant says that the actions undertaken by the city council of Nanaimo was for the purpose of showboating for the camera and not about the facts. The irony of this comment leaps off the screen. If only Levant was innocent of the very error he accused city council of undertaking, he would have been able to do some real good. The fact that he wasn’t leaves me mourning the pain that he caused and hoping that a blog like this one can help minimize the damage.

 

Note: There are several different versions of Levant’s piece. The one that led to the writing of this blog is the 45-minute version which can be found on youtube.

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The Story behind Levant’s Rant

         By now you have seen the headlines or watched the report from Sun News’ Ezra Levant: Nanaimo’s city council has banned Christians from renting city owned property. If your reaction is “there’s no way that’s true” well, then, you are right. However, it is not as if Ezra Levant simply made a story up out of thin air. In this post I will explain the story behind the Levant-rant by outlining: the motion passed by city council that formed the basis of Levant’s story, the significance of the motion for Christians, how the church responded to the motion, and how council responded to the church.  My next post will outline why Ezra Levant’s viral video is doing more harm than good.

The Motion:

On May 5th during a city council meeting, councilor Fred Pattje introduced the following motion:

that the City of Nanaimo advise the VICC that as owners of the facility any events that are assoiciated with organizations or people that promote or have a history of divisiveness, homophobia, or other expressions of hate, and as such advice the VICC to not permit the upcoming Leadercast event to occur in a City owned facility that is scheduled for May 9th”.

First and foremost, the grammar of this motion is a mess. It starts with a general statement about the VICC and events that are associated with people/organizations that have a history of hate but doesn’t complete that thought before abruptly moving to specific language about not permitting Leadercast on May 9th. One can only assume that the first part of Mr. Pattje’s motion was intended to ensure that no other organizations associated with “divisiveness, homophobia, or other forms of hate” could host an event at the VICC or other city owned properties. It is important to bear this in mind in order to understand the significance this motion had in the mind of Nanaimo’s religious groups.

The impetus for this motion was due to “one or two” phone calls that Mr. Pattje received from members of the LGBT community who were not happy with Leadercast coming to Nanaimo. Apparently this was also an issue last year when the Daily News wanted to sponsor Leadercast but dropped their pursuit of the event after members of city council spoke to them.

What is Leadercast?

Leadercast is an annual conference based in Atlanta that is simulcast in hundreds of communities across North America and is viewed by over a hundred thousand people each year. The conference includes speeches on leadership by well known figures including Nobel-prize winning Desmond Tutu, former First Lady Laura Bush, and the renowned, Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell. Keep in mind the conference is not religious but rather is on the topic of leadership in general.

Why did council ban Leadercast:

There were two reasons given by Fred Pattje for the banning of Leadercast. He made it clear in the meeting that either one of these reasons on their own would be sufficient reason to ban the event.

  1. The first reason was because one of the sponsors of Leadercast is Dan Cathy, the president of the fast food restaurant Chick-Fil-A. Dan Cathy is well known for his opposition to same-sex marriage. In addition, the LGBT community has been critical of Cathy for funding organizations that make some dubious claims about homosexuality. For more on Cathy and the LGBT community’s feelings about him, read this.
  2. The second issue was that one of the speakers was a man named Dr. Henry Cloud, a psychologist who allegedly supports the theory that reparative therapy can “cure” homosexual orientation. For the record I can neither confirm nor refute this claim for Dr. Cloud as my google searches on the issue proved fruitless. If any of you can be of help in confirming or denying this allegation please comment below with your source.

So What’s the Big Deal:

The passing of this motion is a big deal for many reasons. First the arguments provided for cancelling Leadercast are weak.   The reasoning is classic guilt-by-association. It should not matter if the sponsor of the event is a saint, a villain, or whatever you think Dan Cathy is. The reality is that this event would do nothing to advance Cathy’s agenda about gay marriage nor would it in some way imply that the city was endorsing Cathy’s opinions on sexuality. It strikes me as ironic that a conference that included known gay-rights activists such as Desmond Tutu and Laura Bush was cancelled because Dan Cathy was footing part of the bill. Similarly it should not matter one iota what Dr. Cloud’s opinions are on reparative therapy, particularly since he was not addressing matters of sexuality at all but leadership.

Aside from the Leadercast issues, “the big deal” from a Christian point of view resides in the language at the beginning of the motion. Given the interpretation I have outlined above, many in the Christian community saw the motion as something that could be used to ban churches or other religious groups from renting city property such as the auditorium at Beban park which is rented for an interchurch Good Friday service each year. Christian people drew this conclusion because many churches in town, particularly of the evangelical variety, share Dan Cathy’s basic belief about marriage: i.e. that from a Christian point of view marriage is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. While this issue was of primary importance, many Christian people were also upset by some of the language used during the discussion of the motion that can only be described as insulting and offensive towards Christians.

What did the Church Do About it?

The pastors of the evangelical churches in town held several meetings once they heard about what transpired in council.  They prayerfully considered how they could respond in a way that demonstrated the appropriate level of love and respect for the Nanaimo City Council, even while raising concerns about the potential of being unable to rent city property.  Many pastors wrote letters to council members outlining these concerns.  On June 16th, the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship came with an official delegation to council and outlined their concerns.  The video of this can be seen here.

How Council Responded:

Although I did not correspond directly with any members of council or the mayor, I am told that some members of the administration responded to the pastoral letters with an apology.  The mayor and some of the councilors also made their regular appearance at the annual prayer breakfast that suggests that they do value the religious citizens of Nanaimo.

Shortly after the Nanaimo Evangelical Fellowship’s delegation appeared before council, the mayor reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and guaranteed the rights of religious groups to rent city property.  It is important to note that the mayor made this statement before the Ezra Levant video went viral

Though the events at Nanaimo City Council generated a lot of hurt and passion, I am very proud of how the religious leaders responded to this issue.  The intention was never to embarrass, demean, or disrespect council but simply to urge council to recognize the rights of Nanaimo’s religious citizens.  I am also thankful for the mayor and the members of council who have reaffirmed religious people’s place in the public sphere.  My prayer is that the members of Nanaimo’s civic administration feel loved by the religious people in their city.