2/13/2005

Reframing: When it's personal, the right veers left...

Ellis Henican of Newsday writes:
Nancy Reagan supports stem-cell research after her Ronnie gets sick.
Dick Cheney opposes the gay-marriage ban after his daughter comes out.
Rush Limbaugh is suddenly an advocate of treatment - not prison - for people addicted to narcotics. Oh, I almost forgot: The epiphany comes while Rush is being investigated for drugs.
The list goes on and on: prominent conservative figures, forced to question some sweeping social principle, after being rudely interrupted by the messy realities of life.
Ain't personal experience just the worst?
There used to be a joke about liberals.
Q: What's a conservative?
A: A liberal who's been mugged.
Well, somebody probably ought to dream up a corollary or two.
Q: What's a liberal on stem-cell research?
A: A conservative with a family member who is ill.
Q: What's a liberal on homosexual rights?
A: A conservative with a gay kid.
There's no end to the potential variations. I could easily give you a hundred more. Instead, I'll introduce you to the Rev. Norman Kansfield, age 64, who has just been ousted as president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey.
He too came face-to-face with life. A self-described "conservative theologian," Reverend Kansfield is one of the most prominent and respected figures in the Reformed Church in America, which is itself one of the more conservative denominations in the National Council of Churches. But just like many of us, Reverend Kansfield has people he cares about in life, including a lovely daughter named Anne.
Anne - there is no reason to get wobbly with the facts here - is gay. And this past summer, she and her partner of many years, a woman named Jennifer Aull, decided to marry in Massachusetts, the first state in the nation where same-sex couples may legally wed. But Anne Kansfield isn't just a gay woman. She also is the daughter of a minister. And she did what minister's daughters have done for centuries when they are prepared to marry. She asked her dad to officiate. After some reflection, her father agreed. "We're a family that talks over major issues," he told The Star-Ledger of New Jersey. "I really very much wanted to do this. Anne and Jennifer consented."
Reverend Kansfield has had close gay friends since high school and his early days as a minister in Queens. He was confident, he said, that he wasn't doing anything to hurt the church he loved. "People presume I have been on a crusade," he said. "In point of fact, I'm a conservative theologian. I would not do anything that goes against the church." He mentioned his plans to the seminary board before the wedding. He didn't seek their permission, exactly. But he made certain not to hide. Apparently, no one raised much of an objection at the time. But obviously someone noticed.
When his contract came up for renewal, he was unceremoniously canned.
And what high principle did the seminary board act upon? The high principle of nervous public perception, it seems. "We decided that the president had put the seminary in an awkward position," said the Rev. Larry Williams Sr., a seminary board member. "It could have hurt the school if it divided people in our student body, if it divided our faculty, if it divided other people who support us."
And so New Brunswick Theological Seminary is soon to be without its president.
The Rev. Norman Kansfield is soon to be without a job.
His daughter got a bride out of the bargain.
And American conservatives got another principled soldier who had learned a lesson from life.
There's more trouble to come.
The Reformed Church in America, which traces its roots back 400 years to the Dutch, will convene a General Synod in Schenectady in June.
The main order of business? Formal charges against this conservative man of faith who loved his daughter - and loved that she loved someone else.
Yes, life can be messy that way.
Deep in their hearts, I'll bet Nancy, Dick and Rush would understand.

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