Nov 12, 2008

Eckern Resigns From CMT

Scott Eckern has resigned from the artistic directorship of California Music Theatre. And Jeff Whitty takes exception to the LA Times' reporting in the comments section.

For the record, though I'm miles away from California, and I'm not versed on the differences between how California defines civil unions and how it would define marriage, I understand why passions run hot on both sides. But I do think the argument from "tolerance" is not a very illuminating frame of reference, finally. We "tolerate" things we deplore, until one day we're pushed too far and we don't tolerate them anymore. What's called for isn't tolerance but justice. And though the angels in this case are on the side of same-sex marriage, the road to justice--in this case, full legal rights--is not going to be an easy one.

I think a lot about an ongoing conversation I had with Bill Rauch when he headed up Cornerstone. He told me how he'd worked contentedly alongside a stage manager, an evangelical Christian, until one day he found out that she believed gays--Bill and his husband, Chris, included--were going to hell. Many of us would be tempted to sever the relationship there, but Bill isn't like most of us. Long, pained meetings with a facilitator ensued, and the limits of "tolerance" were tested. To wit: To what extent should we tolerate the views of someone we consider intolerant? Is it in turn intolerant of us not to allow a person to believe and support, in their private hearts and lives, things we find hateful? I think these questions are worth asking ourselves, honestly and with humility, when we ponder the odd, sad case of Scott Eckern. Once we've thought (and even prayed, if that's how we roll) on it, we can act, advocate, and associate in good conscience.

My answers to those questions, incidentally, would be, rolled together: We should listen respectfully to other points of view and express our own similarly, but it is not intolerance to disassociate ourselves, professionally or personally, from people whose views we find, upon reflection, truly hateful. If we're in a position of hiring or licensing authority, it's obviously thornier--but I would venture to say that it can't reasonably be called discrimination to disallow discrimination. Is Scott Eckern contributing to an anti-gay campaign a form of "discrimination"? Narrowly defined, no, which is why I think calls for his head were misplaced. Is it something Eckern's colleagues have every right to be concerned, and upset, about? Surely, and that's where the politics of letter-writing, hand-wringing, and public pressure have their place. Still, it would be great for all concerned, and for the cause of justice in particular, if a modicum of civility were preserved. One lesson we might take from last week's presidential election: Cooler heads prevail.

(Related topics, including Cornerstone's inclusion of gay Muslims in its "faith" cycle, and another illuminating glimpse of Jeff Whitty's salutary open-mindedness, were touched on here.)

UPDATE: If you haven't done so already, check out this thoughtful, evenhanded post by Sacramento critic Kel Munger, who knows whereof he speaks more than any of us East Coast armchair pundits.


Aaron Riccio said...

"We should listen respectfully to other points of view and express our own similarly, but it is not intolerance to disassociate ourselves, professionally or personally, from people whose views we find, upon reflection, truly hateful."

I was actually a little shocked by some of the responses I saw on the blogs I read, either by the bloggers or by those who comment, but am I missing something? Isn't it *EXACTLY* intolerance to disassociate ourselves on a professional level from people who we find hateful? Otherwise, aren't we opening the door for, say, an anti-gay CEO to refuse to hire anyone on moral grounds, because he finds their practices hateful?

I have no problem with the personal responses, especially since I'm distanced and insulated from them, but I just don't see what makes it right to attack someone at his place of business for something he chose to do with his own money.

I don't want to argue the point, but I am curious to learn more about the ethics of BOTH sides.

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

Yeah, I guess I should be a little clearer. If you're a citizen or an artist with choice of association, I don't think it's intolerant--or it's not actionable intolerance--to draw a line, based on your beliefs and tastes, about who you'll work with and be around. If you're an author with licensing power, same thing (so I would support Shaiman if he said, "No more Hairspray at gay-hating organizations"). If you're a boss or a board member, on the other hand, I do think you have to be able to show that someone's views affect their job, and on those grounds, by no means do I think Eckern should have been fired. Sorry if I wasn't more clear.

Kel Munger said...

This is a mess.

Kel Munger
Theater Critic
Sacramento News & Review

Me said...

Your post gave me much to think about, because I think what you said is really wise.

I believe the analogy to Eckern doesn't hold up though. Eckern donated money to pass Prop 8. So he's not just an "idea" that one can disagree with, and perhaps forgive. Eckern took a philosophy or way of thinking about gays and put it into action by donating money against them.

To me, that is very different than your evangelical stage manager example. In that case, yes, I believe the two people could agree to disagree and tolerate each other.

Ramy said...

Hi Rob,

I actually played that gay Muslim character referred to in Cornerstone's "A Long Bridge Over Deep Waters" in that American Theater article you linked to. I was at that 4 hour meeting and the way Bill Rauch was able to handle the bigotry and judgment coming his way was unbelievable. If more people were as tolerant of "others" as Bill is, then prop 8 would never exist.

Cinco said...

You make a good point, Rob. Justice is what's being sought--but (and I may be wrong here) the No on 8 campaign seemed to put more focus on labeling the opposition as being intolerant than being unjust. There were a lot of accusations of hatred and bigotry.

I believe the Yes on 8 campaign was shameless in its use of scare tactics and misinformation. They succeeded in many ways because they convinced Californians that the GLBT community had an agenda beyond marriage, that they intended to force everyone to believe the way they did, and would attack and punish anyone who didn't.
Sadly, the Scott Eckern affair seems to confirm this.

I feel bad for him. I feel bad that neither side on this issue has been capable of (or interested in) taking the high road. It's sad that the most extreme voices are the ones who always get heard.

And that's enough from me on this.

Anonymous said...

In your update, I would like to point out that the author is Kel, Munger, who is female.